Running Head: Discuss The Importance Of Attachment In Relation To The Parent-child Relationship

  • Words 1515
  • Pages 3
Download PDF


Attachment within the parent-child relationship is vital for the healthy long-term development of the child and can contribute to the child’s growing sense of self; attachment continues throughout the lifespan. There are three key features: Proximity seeking, Secure base, and Separation protest (Schacter, D, 1987, p.501).

Many Psychologists have investigated the theory of attachment and its paradigms.

Click to get a unique essay

Our writers can write you a new plagiarism-free essay on any topic

John Bowlby (a psychoanalyst) developed an understanding and knowledge in the theory of attachment, he concluded that in order to grow up mentally healthy ‘the infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate and continuous relationship with his mother (or permanent mother substitute) in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment.’ (Harrison. L, & Australian Early Childhood Association, I, 2003). (Bowlby 1953)

A theory was needed that could explain the nature of the bond; to prove disruption had adverse effects on young children which could then be linked to behavior problems (Bretherton, I, 1997, p.34). By doing so the importance of attachment would be evident through showing the adverse effects of deprivation by the caregiver, such as lack of eye contact, aversion to touch, control issues, social detachment, anger problems, frequent lying, destructive behaviours, difficulty showing care, underdeveloped conscience, lack affectionate with parents thus creating attachment disorder.

Discuss the importance of attachment in relation to the parent-child relationship

In this essay I will be discussing the importance of an emotional bond between the caregiver and the child; the strong emotional need that shows itself as attachment is reflected in social development. Attachment presents itself in many forms. I’ll be exploring the stages that research has shown to support the attachment process; proximity seeking, Secure base, and Separation protest. I’ll also be exploring the reasons behind Reactional Attachment Disorder (RAD) which is consequential of the attachment bond not being created. I’ll then explore the interventions that prove to reverse or considerably reduce any damage caused within the parent-child attachment phase.

Attachment theories look at the stages of attachment that are most important and conducive to a happy parent-child relationship and child development. Lack of attachment can be extremely detrimental and has been considered to threaten children’s chances of survival and can create disassociation or disorder.

Harlow’s monkey test backs up the comfort, Secure base feature; Harlow tested whether young rhesus monkeys would choose a surrogate mother made of soft terry cloth, who provided no food, or one made of wire but who delivered food from an attached baby bottle. He found that the baby monkeys spent significantly more time with their cloth mother than with their wire mother. The baby monkeys would turn to their cloth mother for comfort and security and would use the cloth mother as a secure base to explore the room.

Proximity Seeking can be seen to be reflected within the test conducted by John Bowlby. Bowlby believed that children have been born programmed to form attachments that will help them survive; these are known as evolutionary attachments. Bowlby believed that all attachments are instinctive, he said that attachments are shown when the child is under conditions of feeling threatened, such as separation, fear, and insecurity. In 1969 and 1988 Bowlby suggested that fear of strangers was an important survival mechanism; he said that babies display natural behaviours, such as crying, laughing, smiling, and crawling, which ensures the baby feels in close contact with the mother and can attract attention positively.

Attachment theory continues to grow and provides a framework for both research and practice. Less obvious now is that John Bowlby’s theory of the development of a child’s tie to a mother was revolutionary. Bowlby discovered Ethology, he wove its concepts into extensive clinical observations to provide an explanation for long-lasting effects of maternal care, including separation. This volume sets the development of Bowlby’s thinking within the context of his whole life, to provide a coherent account of how a dedicated clinician came to develop an influential theory of human emotional development, from the cradle to the grave. (Van der Horst, F. C. P.2011)

The Separation protest feature was explored by Mary Ainsworth, a psychologist, who was most famous for her research and explanations of the differences between attachments. Mary Ainsworth made an assessment called ‘Strange Situations Classification;’ this was used to investigate how attachments vary. This assessment was used to observe the variety of attachment forms displayed between mothers and their children. The assessment is set up in a small room with one-way glass so the behaviour of the infant can be observed. Infants were aged between 12 and 18 months. The sample comprised about 100 middle-class American families. The assessment was observed for seven, three-minute episodes, which are: 1) Parent and infant alone. 2) Stranger joins parent and infant. 3) Parent leaves infant and stranger alone. 4) Parent returns and stranger leaves. 5) Parent leaves; infant left completely alone. 6) Stranger returns. 7) Parent returns and stranger leaves. During these episodes, the child was observed for separation anxiety, the infants’ willingness to explore, stranger anxiety.

Currently, attachment quality and attachment disorder exist in parallel, but the mutual association is still insufficiently clarified. For policymakers and clinical experts, it can be difficult to differentiate between these constructs, but the distinction is crucial to develop mental health services and effective treatment concepts. (Schröder, M, et al.2019).

Extreme attachment-related difficulties may be diagnosed as an attachment disorder. Two types are recognised; Inhibited, which is marked by hypervigilance and fear as demonstrated by withdrawal and ambivalence, and Disinhibited, which is distinguished by indiscriminate friendliness and the absence of a selective attachment to a person who is sought for comfort.

Longitudinal attachment studies indicate that risk factors identified in cross-sectional studies of aggressive school-age children, such as family adversity, parental hostility, parental depression, and child cognitive deficits, are already evident in infancy and predictive of later aggression, before the onset of coercive child behaviour. In infancy, these risk factors are associated with disorganized attachment behaviours toward the caregiver characterized by signs of fear or dysphoria, the irresolvable conflict between opposing behavioural tendencies, and elevated cortisol levels after separation. Disorganized attachment behaviours, in turn, predict aggression in school-age children with other family factors controlled. (Lyons-Ruth, K. 1996, p.64).

An example of attachment disruption and damage to the nature of the bond, which Bretherton sought a theory within (Bretherton, I, 1997, p.34), was conducted in a pilot study that examined the effectiveness of child-parent relationship therapy (CPRT; Landreth & Bratton) with 61 adoptive families. (Carnes, H. K., & Bratton, S, C,2014). Statistically significant findings and large treatment effects on all measures indicated the effectiveness of CPRT over the wait-list control condition on reducing child behaviour problems and increasing parental empathy. The results provided preliminary support for CPRT as a responsive intervention for adoptive families with children presenting with attachment difficulties. These findings provide evidence that if the attachment process is disrupted CPRT is a positive method to regain healthy attachment.

In closing, by exploring the parent-child relationship, attachment is predominantly evident through exploring the interpersonal relationships throughout an individual’s life.

Theories of attachment within the parent-child relationship clearly entail many elements, are broad in interpretation and are multi-faceted. It allows for a child to feel stability and security and for mutual bonding. Secure attachment allows a child to grow and develop a proper personality.

It is evident that considerable harm can be done where the emotional bond or relationship is lacking or non-existent; there can be long-term damage and emotional dysregulation. It has been shown that there are therapies that can be positively influential to counteract the damage caused or be greatly assistive in helping individuals affected with attachment disorders. It has been shown that children with attachment disorders will have a lack of self-esteem, trust and will fear forming bonds with people. Attachment disorder will most likely result in emotional and behavioural problems, such as a child displaying aggressive behaviour to attract negative attention. There are no set guidelines for the assessment and appropriate treatments for an attachment disorder and there are no quick fixes. Changes will be seen in small, incremental shifts in the child’s thinking and behaviour when therapy is put in place. Parenting should be targeted around actively resolving feelings about the past and building strengths for the present and the future.


  1. Bretherton, I. (1997). Bowlby’s legacy to developmental psychology. Child Psychiatry And Human Development, 28(1), 33–43.
  2. Schacter, D.L (1987) implicit memory: History and current status. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Memory and Cognition, 13, 501-18
  3. Carnes, H. K., & Bratton, S. C. (2014). The Efficacy of Child-Parent Relationship Therapy for Adopted Children With Attachment Disruptions. Journal of Counselling & Development, 92(3), 328–337.
  4. Harrison, L., & Australian Early Childhood Association, I. . W. (2003). Attachment: Building Secure Relationships in Early Childhood. AECA Research in Practice Series, 2003, 10(2).
  5. Schröder, M., Lüdtke, J., Fux, E., Izat, Y., Bolten, M., Gloger-Tippelt, G., Suess, G. J., & Schmid, M. (2019). Attachment disorder and attachment theory – Two sides of one medal or two different coins? Comprehensive Psychiatry, 95.
  6. Lyons-Ruth, K. (1996). Attachment relationships among children with aggressive behavior problems: The role of disorganized early attachment patterns. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64(1), 64–73.
  7. Van der Horst, F. C. P. (2011). John Bowlby—From psychoanalysis to ethology: Unraveling the roots of attachment theory. Wiley-Blackwell.


We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you board with our cookie policy.