How separation and behaviour in children can be impacted by attachment styles in children
‘Please don’t leave me!’
Those first days, weeks, months and years when a child is brought into the world are the most important when bonding and forming attachments to caregivers.
It is not uncommon to see children who find it hard to be leave their parents’ side. On the flip side of that, it is also not uncommon to see some children who find it hard to make social connections with parents or caregivers and often detach physically as well as emotionally. By why is this? Why does this happen? What could it mean?
It is first important to understand what the four attachment styles are in order to understand how they can impact children’s behaviour and reaction to separation. Using a common example, each attachment style will be briefly explored to help you get an idea about what attachment style you child may be.
The scenario: A young child is playing in a room with the parent present. The parent then leaves the room. How would each child react in this situation?
Attachment Traits: Confidence, resilience, reciprocal and non-reactive.
How a child will behave with a Secure Attachment: Generally, a child with a secure attachment will show some signs of missing a parent during a period of separation. In the scenario, if a child is faced with a stranger to comfort them, they would chose preference over the stranger. When reunited with the parent after the period of separation, a child with secure attachment will actively greet the parent and initiate physical contact (for example a hug). Once the reunion is established the secure child will settle and resume play.
Attachment Traits: Isolated, emotionally distant, ambivalent, ambiguous.
How a child will behave with an Avoidant/Dismissive attachment: A child with avoidant or dismissive attachment style often will fail to cry when separated from a parent. When reunited with a parent, the child may avoid or ignore the parent (for example they may turn away or move away). The child will show little or no proximity and will not demonstrate behaviours which suggest that they are distressed or angry at the prospect of being separated. The child may present as being unemotional and may tend to focus on playing with their toys and the environment that they are in opposed to the caregiver.
Attachment Traits: Emotional, lack of nurturing, turbulent.
How a child will behave with an Anxious/Preoccupied/Resistant attachment: Achild with this type of attachment will show little exploration of the environment that they are in and may present as being distressed or anxious prior to separation. They may seem preoccupied with location of the parent and this may come across as being passive or angry. A child with this style of attachment may not take comfort from the parent when they are reunited but may focus on the parent. After reunion, they will remain disinterested in the environment and not explore it.
Attachment Traits: Internal conflict, dramatic, unpredictable, ambivalent.
How a child will behave with a Fearful/Disorganised/Avoidant attachment: A child with this attachment style is usually associated with mistreatment from a parent. The parent will cause fear for the child which will impact how the child presents themselves. The child may behave in a disorientated or disorganized manner in the presence of the parent, for example they may freeze, enter a trance-like state or may cry.
If you are wanting more information or are concerned about your child’s attachment style or your parent style, contact My Family Psychologist to discuss how we can help. We have services specifically designed to explore attachment issues and separation anxieties as well as Solution Focused Family Therapy.
Image of the Four Different Attachments is from medium.com.
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