Attachment matters, but how exactly?

Attachment parenting is often — to those unfamiliar with the term — viewed as simply a fad, but in truth, every parent is involved in a form of parenting that is associated with attachment, whether healthy or not.

Read more about how insecure attachment affects us from childhood through adulthood, and how it may be affecting your relationships today, and what to do about that — both for yourself and for your children — in the new ebook, Attachment Matters, available only through Attachment Parenting International (API).

With your donation of $25 or greater, you’ll receive this ebook.

Attachment parenting, as a collective of parenting behaviors, is a research-backed approach to childrearing that promotes a secure attachment between parents and their child.

“Attachment” is the scientific term for the emotional bond in a relationship, born out of Attachment Theory developed by the late psychologist-psychiatrist Dr. John Bowlby. The attachment quality — or the quality of the emotional bond — that forms between parents and children, learned from the relational patterns with caregivers from birth on, correlates with how a child perceives — and ultimately is able to experience — relationships.

While the basis of Attachment Theory is rooted in infants and toddlers, the effects of attachment quality is an important feature of lifelong human development, affecting a child’s relationships within and beyond the immediate family through childhood and through adulthood.

Attachment Quality Affects Child’s Happiness

Attachment quality has profound effects for each child over the lifetime, often much more of an impact than is realized outside scientific and clinical circles. A person with a secure, or healthy, attachment is generally able to respond to stress in healthy ways and establish more meaningful and emotionally close relationships.

A person with an insecure attachment is more susceptible to stress and less healthy relationships, and is more at risk for serious mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, addictions, and eating disorders and is when centers as polaris residential treatment programs which help with this.

However, the effects of insecure attachments don’t wait until adulthood to show. Every relationship is influenced by a child’s attachment pattern, from the earliest peer interactions to that with school teachers. Secure children tend to earn higher grades, be more cooperative, and are more goal-oriented.

Insecure infants and toddlers are less curious and more inhibited and withdrawn than secure children, who are better able to master their environment and perform related motor actions. Insecure preschoolers have poorer social skills, adjust to school slower, and tend to have problems paying attention, focusing, and learning in school.

Overall, insecure children tend to have low self-esteem. Secure children have high self-esteem, prefer to be challenged in class, and are motivated to learn because they enjoy learning.

While attachment is one of many contributing factors of child and adult well-being, it cannot be overestimated how important attachment quality is to the health of a child’s future relationships, both with peers and with eventual romantic partners.

Parenting Determines Attachment Quality

Parents develop a secure attachment by fulfilling that child’s need for trust, empathy, and affection by providing consistent, loving, and responsive care. By demonstrating healthy and positive relationship skills, the parent provides critical emotional scaffolding for the child to learn essential self-regulatory abilities.

The attachment bond that a person had with his or her primary attachment figure — usually the mother — as a child is that person’s model for how any relationship should work for the rest of that person’s life. For people who developed a secure attachment as a child, adult relationships are relatively easy, loving, and nurturing.

For people who developed an insecure attachment as a child, there may be great difficulty with adult relationships, especially related to trust.

What Kind of Parenting Creates an Insecure Attachment?

Insecure attachment develops when there are inconsistencies in the sensitive responsiveness of a child’s primary attachment model — or no responsiveness at all.

Because humans are social beings, having emotionally close relationships is essential. Without healthy relationships, humans are at a definite risk for social and learning disabilities, mental illness, and unhealthy, risky behaviors used to fill the void left by the unmet needs in the first attachment relationship — that with each child’s primary caregiver.

The success of this first attachment bond is what shapes the neural pathways in each child’s brain, influencing the way that child learns to cope with stress, perceive him-or herself, create expectations of others, and navigate relationships all through not only childhood but as adults.

Children who experience confusing, frightening, or broken emotional communication — verbal and nonverbal — may grow into adults who have difficulty understanding their own emotions and the emotions of others. This creates serious relationship deficits.

Whether secure or insecure, the parent-child attachment quality determines that child’s ability to maintain emotional balance, enjoy being his- or herself, enjoy being with others, and rebound from disappointment, discouragement, and other life stress.

The relationship skills required by both people in a healthy adult relationship include the ability to manage stress, to stay tuned in with emotions, to communicate nonverbally, to be playful in a mutually engaging manner, and to readily forgive without holding grudges. Each of these skills is most easily learned when modeled by a person’s first primary attachment as a child and that attachment quality is secure.

While overtly abusive or neglectful parenting may unsurprisingly influence attachment quality, insecure attachment also develops out of parenting approaches that promote isolation and loneliness.

An insecure attachment produces an adult who has difficulty with maintaining healthy relationships, as indicated by the 3 insecure attachment patterns:

  1. Anxious-Preoccupied — These people hunger for attachment, but because they don’t understand real trust, they are seek a partner who will rescue or “complete” them. They tend to be clingy, desperate, demanding, and possessive.
  2. Dismissive-Avoidant — These people are emotionally distant, self-centered, and insensitive. They seek not only independence but isolation, and in conflicts, they tend to shut down emotionally and easily detach from others.
  3. Fearful-Avoidant — These people are disorganized in their relationships, being afraid of becoming too emotionally close and too distant, at the same time. They are both anxious and emotionally distant. As a result, they are moody and unpredictable, often overwhelmed by their reactions, experiencing frequent emotional storms. While they understand that they need to have emotionally close relationships to have their emotional needs met, they have a strong, underlying fear of getting hurt or being abandoned when they get emotionally close to others, so they struggle with being emotionally intimate. Their relationships tend to be rocky, and there is a greater tendency toward abusive relationships.

Very simply, a child’s primary attachment bond is what determines success in all future relationships — romantic, family, work, friendship, and so on — through childhood and adulthood, unless and until an adult with an insecure attachment quality is able to work with a professional therapist to overcome attachment challenges and learn healthy relationship skills.

*Excerpt published with permission.

Attachment matters

Ideally, all children would be able to experience a secure attachment with every meaningful adult in his life.

Attachment Matters, the latest ebook from Attachment Parenting International (API), was written specifically to help you — the parent — share the importance of Attachment Parenting to other meaningful adults in your child’s life.

At Common Wealth Psychology, they are dedicated to providing the highest quality and the best child therapists. If you would like to meet with a professional therapist at Common Wealth Psychology.

Attachment Matters is now available with your donation of $25 or more to API.

Learn more about secure and insecure attachment, read touching personal stories of how Attachment Parenting helped families, and share your copy with a grandparent, mother’s helper, childcare provider, teacher, or another of your child’s caregivers.

Attachment Matters is also appropriate for health care providers, school administrators, mental health therapists, child custody attorneys, adoption agents, and other professionals who work regularly with children and parents.


  • Foreword: An Attachment Crisis
  • Why Attachment Matters
  • Can Insecure Attachment Be Healed?
  • How Secure Attachment Happens
  • Attachment-Promoting Behaviors
  • Attachment Parenting Stories, Real Life
    Why Attachment Matters to Me
    -Attachment Parenting Can Heal Intergenerational Hurts
    -Saved by Attachment Parenting, and Now 8 Kids Later (3 with Autism)
    -A Father Reflects on His Introduction to Attachment Parenting
    -Helping My Young Child Adjust to a Change in Caregivers
    -Protecting Attachment During Divorce
    -The Challenges of Becoming an Attached Father
    -Attachment Parenting Restores Security in Adopted Children
    -The Heart of Attachment Parenting
    -Was Attachment Parenting Worth It?
    -Generation AP

Reading between the lines, Part 3: Trusted Resources

Editor’s note: There are continually media reports coming out about parenting approaches, including Attachment Parenting. Some are affirming. Others are worrying. It’s important that we know how to read between the lines on media reports regarding Attachment Parenting so that we can make informed decisions. That’s why Attachment Parenting International compiled this sampling of trusted resources for parenting information, in addition to consumer media guidelines and additional guidelines for reading scientific studies:

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Reading between the lines, Part 2: Get the Most Out of a Scientific Study

Editor’s note: There are continually media reports coming out about parenting approaches, including Attachment Parenting. Some are affirming. Others are worrying. It’s important that we know how to read between the lines on media reports regarding Attachment Parenting so that we can make informed decisions. That’s why Attachment Parenting International (API) created consumer media guidelines for parents. Here are additional guidelines specific to reading scientific studies:

pixabay - question marksUnless you’re an academic, you’ll probably find research studies to not be the easiest material to digest, but if the science behind parenting matters to you, it’s important to check out studies you learn about through the media. Here are tips to help you skim through a study without getting bogged down in scientific terms:

  1. Read the title. What does it predict?
  2. Read the abstract. This is the most complete synopsis of the paper. It will outline the highlights of the study but without the necessary emphasis to allow you to make a critical assessment of the results.
  3. Read the last or second-to-last paragraph of the Introduction. This gives you what the abstract does not. But if you’re not familiar with the work, read the entire Introduction and pick out issues to explore separately.
  4. Read the first, or sometimes the last, paragraph of the Discussion. By this point, you should be able to identify the hypotheses, know what type of results to expect, and have the predictions on the experiments and their outcomes.
  5. Examine each Figure or Table in sequence. Read the Results associated to each Figure or Table for clarification. For issues concerning methodology, refer to the appropriate point in the Materials and Methods.
  6. Does the experiment address the hypothesis? Does the experiment contribute to the stated conclusions? Is the experiment central to these conclusions? Or does it provide a control? Or does it repeat previous results? Or does it contribute little to the paper?
  7. How well did you predict the experiment and the results?
  8. As you evaluate the actual results — not just the stated results — in the Figures and Tables, ask yourself: Do the results support their claim with the appropriate controls to validate the results? Do you see more in their results that they fail to address or identify? Can you identify limitations to their results or the experimental approach? Do the results address the hypotheses that you have identified?
  9. After reading through the Results, you should be able to identify the single-most important Figure or Table in the paper.
  10. Read through the Discussion to weigh the stated conclusions and claims against the evidence. Do you agree or disagree?

Reading between the lines, Part 1: Media Analysis Guidelines for Parents

Editor’s note: There are continually media reports coming out about parenting approaches, including Attachment Parenting. Some are affirming. Others are worrying. It’s important that we know how to read between the lines on media reports regarding Attachment Parenting so that we can make informed decisions. That’s why Attachment Parenting International (API) created these consumer media guidelines:

What’s Fact or Fiction in Parenting News?

Media Analysis Guidelines for Parents

pixabay - media confusionLet’s say the blogosphere is abuzz about a research study that shows that sleep-training methods like cry-it-out have no long-term effects on children or that physically punitive discipline tactics like spanking result in children who are better behaved or that birthing without drug pain relief is dangerous.

Perhaps, you’re committed to Attachment Parenting and child-rearing “news of the day” has no effect on what decisions you’ll make regarding your child in the future.

When parents who are firm in Attachment Parenting have a question about whether a child-rearing practice leads to a secure parent-child attachment bond, they feel certain that they can turn to API resources, specifically API’s Eight Principles of Parenting, the cofounders’ book Attached at the Heart, or local API Support Groups and API Leaders.

But what if you’re new to Attachment Parenting — it’s intrigued you, you’re trying it out, but you’re unsure of whether this will work for your family because it’s so different from how you were raised or how other parents around you are raising their children?

When you hear that other parenting strategies are safer and better than yours, whether that holding your baby too much will keep him from developing independence or that there’s no benefit to breastfeeding once solids are introduced — whether you’re reading this in a magazine or hearing it from your neighbor — you begin to doubt yourself and your child. You think, maybe, I got it all wrong. Maybe I should be doing this or that. Maybe I’m setting my child up for failure?

How can you know for sure that your choices in how you parent, even if opposite from others in your family, friends, or community, are right for you and your family, and are healthy for your child?

API has created these guidelines for parents to help sift through the clutter of media news reports, parenting experts, the next big thing in baby products, or even a pediatrician’s advice…basically anyone or anything that tries to influence the way you parent your child:

  • Know your beliefs, values, and how these fit (or don’t fit) into the culture around you

How we parent is rooted in the legacy that we want to pass down to our children. Moral attitudes are the core of ourselves, our identity. You can identify them by recognizing the emotions attached to your preferences regarding morals. These values and beliefs may not necessarily jive with the culture in which you live. For example, a study that urges women not to choose a birth without interventions is logical for a culture where childbirth is treated like a medical emergency rather than a natural, biological event.

  • Learn the back story

Every piece of advice, whether a formal research study or a book by a popular parenting author or a comment made by your child’s nurse or a quip from your mother-in-law, has a story. What is it?

Who is the person talking or writing? What is their specific field of study? What is their primary professional focus, like research, medical, policy, etc.? What is their sponsoring organization about? What theory are they citing? What is their credentials or experience? Is it in line with your values and belief system, with your goals for your child? Are researchers observing ethical standards in their treatment of study participants?

Are journalists following ethical guidelines? Dramatizing an article or blog post, also known as sensationalism, is a common way to pull readers into an article. A little punchiness isn’t bad, but it becomes unethical when the hook of a story turns into demoralizing one side of an otherwise harmless, though not necessarily controversial, topic. Journalists — which includes both writers and editors by trade, and those who share their thoughts through blogs and even comments — have great power in forming and shifting public opinion. This is why it is utterly important that mass communicators follow an ethical standard, and that their readers know the difference between ethical and unethical journalism.

What may be influencing the person giving you advice? Beware of any businesses whose goal is to sell a product or service for-profit. In terms of a research study, who is paying for it? It’s not uncommon for some well-publicized studies to be funded by organizations that lean strongly toward the results, such as a study that shows bedsharing to be dangerous that is paid for by an anti-cosleeping group.

  • Beware of out-of-the-ordinary claims

Does the information offer evidence-based recommendations that follow current best practices? The majority of studies show that spanking is detrimental to child development. If a study is introduced that shows spanking to have a positive effect on children, be suspicious. Such a study isn’t valid until other studies begin to show the same results.

  • Check out the facts

Any information posed as fact should have references to a credible source. An article summarizing a research study should at least provide all the information for you to look up the study yourself, if not provide you a direct link to the original abstract.

Any author or person stating something as fact, as opposed to opinion, should be able to provide you with those references. If someone quotes a statistic, look it up.

In terms of a research study itself, the sample size matters as does who is in the sample and how they were selected; random selection is desirable. What was measured and how? Are the outcome measures clearly related to the variables with which the study occurred? At least 1 long-term follow-up is desirable. When reporting observations, are the study’s authors reporting what they actually saw or are they reporting their interpretation of what they saw? Are the results of the study based on a sample of the population that would apply to you? Also, see whether the study has been replicated, if it was published in a peer-reviewed journal, and don’t forget to check out the researcher’s own discussion of limitations.

The strongest research methods for psychological studies are: qualitative findings versus quantitative; experimental rather than descriptive or correlational; controlled-experiment, meta-analysis, and observation designs over archival, case study, computational modeling, content analysis, field experiment, interview, neuroimaging, quasi experiment, self-report inventory, random sample survey, or twin study; and prospective (where subjects are recruited prior to the proposed independent effects being administered) and longitudinal (where subjects are studied at multiple time points) rather than retrospective or cross-section study.

  • Notice diversity

Information that works tends to be applicable to everyone. Seek out information that doesn’t count out differences in race, marital status, ethnicity, etc., although understandably, some information such as breastfeeding only applies to a certain gender.

  • Understand that the media sensationalizes

While their goal is accuracy in reporting, journalists only have so much room to write or time on the air and a controversial story angle and flashy headline is the best way to attract readers. Readers/viewers tend to side with people who share their identity, even when the facts disagree; that’s why throwing data and rational arguments at people doesn’t change attitudes. What does change attitudes is emotional storytelling, and that’s what the news media knows hooks readers. Another hook is in political motivations. Remember to ask yourself: What is the purpose of this message, and who is the intended audience, and what techniques are being used to grab and hold my attention? Add all of these factors together, and a news media report likely has gaps in critical pieces of information that affects how the information should be used by consumers.

Along these same lines, realize that nothing “proves” in research. Research may show a “correlation,” a “connection,” or may “suggest,” but there are simply too many factors in any one person’s life to “prove” an outcome. A website that currently does a good job at presenting information factually and without bias is

  • Seek out a balanced argument

Look for sources that readily open a discussion about parenting ideas, whether new-age or traditional, and that provide all sides of a debate: risks, benefits, and alternatives. Demand transparency: Credible sources disclose their biases and conflicts of interest.

  • Look for Attachment Parenting synonyms

While the merits of any parenting style should be weighed with your values and belief system, there are many parenting programs that are in line with API’s Eight Principles of Parenting but that are called by another name, such as connection, instinctive, empathic, sensitive, unconditional, peaceful, natural, and nonviolent parenting, and others do not refer to any name in particular. Attachment Parenting is an umbrella term; it includes every style of childrearing that creates and strengthens secure parent-child attachment bonds.

However, not all parenting styles are as inclusive as Attachment Parenting; some may discourage bedsharing for example or may advocate a certain parenting choice that API does not take a stance on such as cloth diapering or circumcision.

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