4 Attachment Styles in Children & What it Means for Their Anxiety

The bond between children and their parents or caregivers (also called attachment) occurs in different ways for different kids. Psychologists often classify the different styles of attachment as secure, dismissive-avoidant, anxious-preoccupied, and fearful-avoidant. As this interplay relates to both children and parents, it can be useful to learn how these different types of attachment may relate to anxiety in children and to discuss ways in which you can help your child feel supported, no matter what type of bond they currently display.

1. Secure Attachment

Secure attachment in a child is generally regarded as the most beneficial and least likely to produce anxiety. This type of attachment is characterized by a loving parent who responds to the child’s needs consistently, from infancy onward. The child depends on the parent for comfort as well as physical care, prefers the parent to strangers, and seeks out the parent in times of difficulty or uncertainty. When this secure attachment is formed early in life, the child sees their parent as a firm base from which to explore the world. A secure attachment in childhood, the most common type, usually produces adults with higher self-esteem and self-confidence, who form healthy, lasting relationships.

2. Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment

Sometimes a child may develop an avoidant relationship with parents or caregivers. This can happen when the parent is often unresponsive to the child’s needs. Though the child may be physically cared for, they experience a marked lack of emotional support and end up avoiding the parent and relying heavily on their own resources from an early age. Although this avoidant attachment is not closely linked with anxiety, these children may find their adult relationships impacted by a tendency to push others away, preferring isolation and emotional distance.

3. Preoccupied-Anxious/Ambivalent Attachment

If a parent is very unpredictable in their interactions with a child, that child may develop an anxious attachment. Since the parent is sometimes caring and sometimes angry, insensitive or absent, the child swings between clingy, needy behavior and rejection or even aggression toward the parent. As the name suggests, the child often experiences great anxiety because of their parent’s unpredictable availability. As adults, these children may be overly dependent on romantic partners, seeking approval yet constantly suspicious and dissatisfied with the response.

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4. Disorganized or Fearful-Avoidant Attachment

The worst (and least common) type of attachment occurs when the parent is abusive or neglectful of the child. In this scenario, the child still looks to their parent for basic needs, but they also fear the person who has harmed them. These children can experience high levels of anxiety. Expecting mistreatment at every turn while unable to get away from the situation because of their age, they will do everything possible to avoid the abusive or neglectful parent. In adulthood, they may experience great difficulty forming relationships, as the old feelings of fear and patterns of avoidance resurface with each new attachment.

Signs a child has a fearful-avoidant attachment:

  • The child is always on edge
  • Crave their caregiver's attention but are frightful at the same time
  • The child responds to their parent's presence with tears or they avoid them at all costs
  • The child is in distress when a parent leaves but is equally as distressed when the parents returns

Supporting Your Child’s Attachment

It’s clear from the research that secure attachment is the most desirable type for a child’s well-being and future success in human relationships. If you see signs of one of the other types of attachment in your child’s behavior toward you, don’t panic. It’s never too late to modify your parenting style to influence your child’s attachment style. If they already experience anxiety, promote mental and emotional health through healthy lifestyle changes and safe supplements, such as Brillia. Secure attachment is related to parents who play more with their children and respond quickly to their needs. Therefore, in your daily interactions aim for a caring, empathetic response to their needs and distress. Be consistent in your response so your child can expect a logical, measured approach even when you are providing discipline for misbehavior. And don’t’ forget — play often with your kids!

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