Attachment between an infant and a caregiver is the deep, emotional connection an infant forms with his or her primary caregiver. It is a tie that binds them together over time and leads an infant to experience pleasure, joy, and comfort in the caregiver’s company.

Attachment theory is based on the idea that the bond between an infant and his/her primary caregiver is the crucial and primary encouragement in infant development and as such forms the basis of coping, the development of relationships and the formation of personality. Attachment refers to a relationship that emerges over time from a history of caregiver and infant interactions.

Attachment from a behavioral viewpoint is represented by a group of natural infant behaviors that serve to form the attachment bond. These natural behaviors help a child with fear and aid in the infant’s protected investigation of the world. Natural behaviors include reaching, crying, grasping, smiling, vocalizing, clinging, sucking, and moving.

Emotional attachment develops from a mutual bond in which the primary caregiver positively influences infant development through interactions and the relationship that person has with the child. Other functions that secure attachment include:

  • Learning basic trust
  • Exploring the environment with feelings of safety and security
  • Developing the ability to control behavior
  • Creating a foundation for the development of identity
  • Establishing a moral framework that leads to empathy, compassion, and conscience
  • Generating a core set of beliefs
  • Providing a defense against stress and trauma


Attachment occurs in stages, and milestones are met at different ages.

Several milestones occur during a child’s first year as infants form an attached relationship with their primary caregivers. In the first few months an infant is able to recognize the warm, sensitive, and reliable responses of caregivers. By four to six months, an infant has developed expectations on how their primary caregiver will respond to their needs and distresses. Around seven months to a year, infants show a definite preference for their primary caregiver. As they enter toddlerhood, infants use their attachment figure as a secure base from which to go out and discover the world, and as a safe haven to return to when they are scared or worried. When toddlers become preschoolers, the attachment relationship is characterized by an increased tolerance for separation and an ability to cooperate with others. The child is learning to balance his or her need for independence and self-discipline with the need for protection from caregiver.

When a caregiver does not respond in ways that are warm, friendly, loving, reliable, and sensitive to the child’s needs in the first years, several problems may occur. A child may become resistant to attachment. They may hesitant to separate from the caregiver and become quick to display anxiety. Or, a child might display avoidant attachment behavior. This occurs when a child readily separates from their primary caregiver in order to explore and may be friendly with strangers. Finally, a child may exhibit disorganized attachment. In this situation, a child shows a variety of confusion and contradictory behaviors.

Secure attachment with caregivers is the key to healthy infants, and over time allows children to grow and develop in a meaningful way.


Heather Gordon, Infant/Toddler Specialist

If you would like more information on attachment in the development of a child, contact Heather at 815-484-9442 Ext: 228




Zero to Three

Raising Children

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