Secure and Insecure Attachment

The closest relationship in the world between humans is the infant-parents relationship. Attachment is an emotional tie with another person; shown in young children by their seeking closeness to their caregiver and showing distress on separation. It is very important to develop secure attachment with children in the early stages because it is key for children to have trust in others.

When an infant has a need, he or she will show irritation or cry to get parents’ attention. For sensitive and responsive mothers, regarding their babies’ condition and caring for them consistently, their infants display a secure attachment. When a child has developed a secure attachment, he or she will advance through life with a sense of basic trust—a feeling that the world is predictable and reliable.

According to Sean Brotherson, a Family Science Specialist, additional benefits of secure attachment include:

  • A sense of trust is built as a child feels secure when interacting with others.
  • A willingness to explore a new environment with less anxiety.
  • A positive view of oneself that occurs when a child knows they are loved by their parents.
  • An understanding of empathy happens as a child learns how to treat others by the way parents treat them.
  • An ability to express emotions as a child feels comfortable and confident.

Furthermore, an infant who is securely attached will have learned to trust that other people will take care of them. (BBB, 2012) As children and adults, those that have experienced a secure attachment may display less fear of failure and a greater drive to achieve. (Myers, p.186)

In contrast, poor parenting or neglect may lead to insecure attachment. Without reliable care and responsiveness from parents or caregivers, a baby feels uncertain and it becomes hard to develop trust in others. They are less likely to explore surroundings or interact with others. In addition, a baby will likely express anxiety, worry and exaggerate distress when their mother is absent. Although there are many factors that may influence a child’s behavior, it is crucial to develop a secure attachment in the early years, especially the first year of live.

Body contact and familiarity are two important factors to cultivate secure attachment with an infant. Body contact, holding, rocking, skin to skin snuggling, stroking hair, and breastfeeding, enhances the attachment between caregivers and a baby. Much of the parent-infant emotional communication is done via touch. Body contact also provides infants a secure base (Myers, p.183). Familiarity enhances attachment with an infant because they become fond of what they have known. Familiarity is a signal of safety which leads to a sense of content and relaxedness in a child. A sensitive and responsive mother usually provides appropriate care to her children allowing her child to feel securely attached to their mother. There are intervention programs that can improve parental sensitivity of caring for infants and decrease infants’ insecure attachment. (Myers, p.185)

 Sean Brotherson offers these strategies to foster attachment:

  • Make yourself available. It is necessary to make time with a child a priority because parents’ presence brings comfort and meets their needs.
  • Provide a quick and consistent response to your child’s needs or cues. Infants do not understand “wait just a minute.” Responding promptly helps a baby learn quickly how to interact with others and they become willing to reach out to the world. When unable to immediately fulfill an infant’s need, try smiling, talking to and making eye contact with the child. These can be cues comforting the infant.
  • Follow your children’s lead and cooperate with them. Saying “no” to them frequently may lead to a child suppressing their emotions and curiosity. Leave some space for them to discover the world and try new things.

Healthy secure attachment early in life is a starting point for a child to learn trust and to interact with others. It may also influence self-control and problem-solving skills as a child grows into maturity.


Better Brains for Babies (BBB). (2012) Available from

Myers, D. G. (2013). Psychology. (10th ed.). New York City: Worth Publishing Company.

Sean Brotherson (2006). North Dakota State University Extension Service .


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