A secure attachment is one in which the child feels confident that needs will be met in a timely and consistent way. In North America, this interaction may include an emotional connection in addition to adequate care. However, even in cultures where mothers do not talk, cuddle, and play with their infants, secure attachments can develop (LeVine et. al., 1994). Secure attachments can form provided the child has consistent contact and care from one or more caregivers. Consistency of contacts may be jeopardized if the infant is cared for in a day care with a high turn‐over of caregivers or if institutionalized and given little more than basic physical care. And while infants who, perhaps because of being in orphanages with inadequate care, have not had the opportunity to attach in infancy can form initial secure attachments several years later, they may have more emotional problems like depression or anger, or be overly friendly as they make adjustments (O’Connor et. als., 2003).
This attachment style is marked by insecurity and a resistance to engaging in activities or play away from the caregiver. It is as if the child fears that the caregiver will abandon them and clings accordingly. (Keep in mind that clingy behavior can also just be part of a child natural disposition or temperament and does not necessarily reflect some kind of parental neglect.) The child may cry if separated from the caregiver and also cry upon their return. They seek constant reassurance that never seems to satisfy their doubt. This type of insecure attachment might be a result of not having needs met in a consistent or timely way. Consequently the infant is never sure that the world is a trustworthy place or that he or she can rely on others without some anxiety. A caregiver who is unavailable, perhaps because of marital tension, substance abuse, or preoccupation with work, may send a message to the infant he or she cannot rely on having needs met. A caregiver that attends to a child’s frustration can help teach them to be calm and to relax. But an infant who receives only sporadic attention when experiencing discomfort may not learn how to calm down.
This too is an attachment style marked by insecurity. But this style is also characterized by a tendency to avoid contact with the caregiver and with others. This child may have learned that needs typically go unmet and learns that the caregiver does not provide care and cannot be relied upon for comfort, even sporadically. An insecure‐avoidant child learns to be more independent and disengaged. Such a child might sit passively in a room filled with toys until it is time to go.
This represents the most insecure style of attachment and occurs when the child is given mixed, confused, and inappropriate responses from the caregiver. For example, a mother who suffers from schizophrenia may laugh when a child is hurting or cry when a child exhibits joy. The child does not learn how to interpret emotions or to connect with the unpredictable caregiver.
How common are the attachment styles among children in the United States? It is estimated that about sixty five percent of children in the United States are securely attached. Twenty percent exhibit avoidant styles and ten to fifteen percent are resistant. Another five to ten percent may be characterized as disorganized. How would this compare with adults in the United States? (We will look at this in our lesson on early adulthood.)