Expert Articles

Establishment of Attachment Relationships

Author: Scarlett Tsoi
Psychological Counsellor

After birth, the closest relationship a newborn form is with their mother. “Attachment” refers to the active and intense emotional bond that infants establish with significant figures, typically their mother or caregiver. The “Attachment Relationship” between mother and child has a profound impact on the child’s psychological growth.

Development of attachment relationships

According to psychological research, the development of attachment relationships can be divided into three stages:

Stage 1: Indiscriminate Responsiveness (Birth to 3 Months)
During this stage, infants respond similarly to all individuals. They smile when they see a person’s face or hear a person’s voice.

Stage 2: Discriminate Responsiveness (3 months to 6 months)
Infants start to differentiate their responses to their mother or familiar caregivers from their responses to strangers. They express liking signals and engage in attachment behaviours in the presence of familiar individuals.

Stage 3: Seeking Specific Caregivers (6 months to 4 years)
During this stage, infants become highly attached to specific individuals. When the attachment figure is about to leave, infants cry and seek their presence for a sense of security. They become happy when the attachment figure returns. Infants can play and explore their surroundings confidently as long as the attachment figure is present.

Types of attachment relationships

The attachment relationship between a child and their mother can generally be classified into three types:

Secure Attachment: Infants enjoy being with their mother, feel secure in her presence, play calmly, exhibit positive attitudes, are willing to engage in social interactions, and establish connections with others.

Avoidant Attachment: When the mother is absent, infants actively seek her, but when she returns, they display indifference and avoidance. Such infants find it difficult to seek help when needed, tend to become angry, dislike being restrained, and also dislike being left alone. They are less likely to share their feelings, and they find it difficult to trust others.

Resistant Attachment: When the mother is absent, infants exhibit intense negative emotions, extreme distress, and even resistance. Even when the mother returns, they may still struggle with negative emotions and display resistant or aggressive behaviours towards her.

Establishing attachment relationships

Research indicates that when mothers and caregivers appropriately respond to infants’ needs and concerns, such as promptly responding to their cries, vocalizations, and verbal expressions, it enhances the attachment relationship between mother and child. Mothers of securely attached infants are more attentive to their children’s needs, show greater closeness, and are more accepting than mothers of other attachment types. Mothers of avoidant infants tend to have a higher propensity for anger and have difficulty expressing their own emotions or engaging in intimate physical contact with their infants. The perceived distance and rejection can lead to infant anger. Mothers of resistant infants have poorer caregiving abilities, struggle to meet their infants’ needs, and exhibit inconsistent behaviours, making it challenging for infants to establish a sense of security and control.

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Establishment of Attachment Relationships