The bond that a caregiver establishes with a child is really important for their development.  In fact, we believe that a secure infant attachment is one of the most important factors in child development.  This bond helps both the child and the caregiver in many ways.  It is the building block to many social, emotional, behavioural and cognitive skills.  In this article we will explain how a good child-caregiver bond shapes the developing brain.  We will describe what a caregiver needs to do in order to create healthy attachment bonds.  There are practical games and activities that you can integrate into your home or school to assist in this process, so we hope that you enjoy reading about their enormous benefit to our kids!

Did you know that the relationship an infant has with their caregiver helps to shape their brain development?

Kids brains are growing at a really fast rate between the ages of 0 and 3 years.  The skills that they are quickly developing at this time are the foundation of their later psychological and emotional health.  One way that you can help children is to reflect on the relationship that the baby or child has with its caregiver.  This is a super important factor in child development.  The bond is built upon the interactions shared between an infant and adult.  Developmental psychiatrist Louise Newman reports that these relationships potentially have longer term effects on the social, psychological and neural development of the child.

So, we know that young brains are gooey.  They change based on the experiences that the child encounters.  One of the most important experiences for children is the quality and nature of their relationships.  This is called ‘attachment’.  We don’t talk about children as being attached or ‘unattached’.  Instead we look at what type of attachment the child shares with its caregiver by looking at the child’s behaviours and the type of interactions it has with the adult.  Good (secure) attachments arise from quality interactions between a child and their caregiver.

What helps to create a good infant-carer relationship?

When we talk about the quality of a relationship, you might wonder what this actually means!  There are several things that an infant needs and enjoys in a great relationship.

– They like to be physically close to their caregiver, and maintain contact with them (touch).

– They like to be comforted

– They like to feel secure and safe (not afraid or threatened)

– They like for the carer to relieve their stress and emotional distress (soothed)

– They like to have the caregivers attention

– They like to be interacted with

– They like a sensitive and warm caregiver

– They like to feel understood (this is called attunement)

But, more than anything, a child needs to be able to trust that the adult will take care of its most basic needs.  This helps the baby to survive and thrive!  So, its really important that the caregiver quickly and consistently responds to the survival needs of the baby such as safety, food, sleep, warmth, and shelter.

basic needs of an infant

What are the four attachment styles?

  1. Secure Attachment:

When an infant shares a secure attachment with their caregiver they will feel safe and secure whenever this adult is around them.  You will notice that this gives the infant the confidence to explore and try new things.  If this adult leaves them (for example, walks out of the room), they may protest by crying or trying to follow them.  A securely attached infant soon learns that they can trust their adult to return to them each time that they leave. So, even though they may protest they do not become highly distressed at these times.  This is the beginnings of trust! When the adult returns to them, the infant may smile or be easily comforted.  Before long, they will be busy playing and exploring again.  An infant that is securely attached will feel okay around strangers, but does show some preference toward the comfort and company of their attached caregiver.   The infant has learned that their caregiver responds quickly and consistently when they need comfort and security, and has developed trust and confidence that their caregiver can and will fill their needs.
  1. Avoidant Attachment:

When an infant shares an avoidant attachment with their caregiver you might notice that they are not interested in playing or interacting with this adult, instead preferring to play alone with toys.  They may seem emotionally distant from the caregiver.  If their caregiver leaves, the infant does not seem distressed, and they may not react when the caregiver returns.  The infant doesn’t react when the caregiver provides contact and they may either avoid this contact or ignore the adult.  The infant will not prefer their caregiver over strangers, or may even prefer the stranger at times.  The caregiver tends to be ignorant to the child’s needs, showing no response to the infants distress.  The infant might actually cry less than other children as they have learned that their needs will not be met so there is no point in communicating them anymore!  This infant has learned that caregivers cannot be trusted to meet their needs.  The avoidant attachment style is a coping strategy where the infant turns off their emotional responses.  They seem to be thinking why bother with this caregiver when they never fill my needs anyway.
  1. Ambivalent Attachment:

When an infant shares an ambivalent attachment with their caregiver they might seem anxious in their caregivers company.  The infant might be very demanding of the caregivers attention, closeness and comfort but then reject or express anger if they gain it.  They appear anxious in unfamiliar environments and get worried about separating from their caregiver.  If the caregiver leaves the infant becomes very distressed and cries.  When the caregiver returns the infant is hard to soothe and is angry toward the caregiver.  They do not re-engage in play or exploration.  The caregiver seems to respond to the infants needs when it suits them, and is inconsistent in their availability to the baby. The infant sometimes experiences responsiveness and is at other times ignored.  The infant feels that they cannot rely on the caregiver to meet their needs.  The ambivalent attachment style is a coping mechanism for the infant where they use anxiety and anger to demand the caregivers attention.  They seem to be thinking, I need to be clingy or cry louder until I am noticed so that my needs are met.
  1. Disorganised Attachment:

When an infant shares a disorganised attachment with their caregiver they seem to have no consistent coping strategy to deal with their caregiver and having their needs met in life.  They may react to their caregiver in a way that seems depressed, blank or dazed.  Others may rock back and forth or freeze.  Their caregiver might show extreme and very chaotic behaviour which may frighten the child.  At times the caregiver may make the infant feel that they are threatening their safety and life through abuse and neglect, and at other times they meet some of the child’s needs such as food and shelter.  The infant is unable to find a way to cope with the situation due to the unpredictability of the caregivers behaviour.  They understand that they need the caregiver to have their needs met, but getting their needs met might also produce terror for the infant.
types of attachment

Do I need to learn how to parent perfectly in order promote a secure attachment with my infant?

The best outcome for our children is to assist them to develop a secure attachment with a caregiver.  This caregiver can be, but does not have to be their mother.  It can be dad, a grandparent, auntie, neighbor, teacher or any adult who has the responsibility of taking care of the infants basic needs like food, shelter, love and safety.  Infants can also have multiple attachment figures – not just one.  The good news is that these people don’t have to operate as perfect ‘parents’ in order to promote a secure attachment.  If you cannot respond quickly, accurately and sensitively to the infants needs 100% of the time, this is okay!  Let’s talk a little bit now about what it means to be a ‘Good Enough Parent”.

Good enough parents do not strive to be perfect parents and do not expect perfection from their children. – Peter Gray PhD

Let’s face the reality, parenting perfection does not exist!  Even if experts could agree on what perfect parenting would look like (which they cannot) we would find it nearly impossible to put these principles in place.  Our parenting style is influenced by a large number of things, and learning what works for any particular child-parent combination is incredibly complex.  At the end of the day, we are all humans coming from a range of backgrounds trying our best with the resources that we have.  It is important that we focus on how we can improve our caring capacity to be good enough, not to be perfect.
Here are some tips:
  • Don’t worry about imperfections too much
  • Recognise that you wont always succeed.  In fact, failure can be the most powerful learning tool.
  • Recognise that love can incorporate annoyance, discouragement, disappointment and other negative feelings.  It’s okay to acknowledge and accept negative emotions.
  • Respect your kids and understand them for who they really are (unconditional positive regard).
  • Don’t argue with your kids or expect them to be able to give adult reasons for their behaviours.
  • Assist to solve problems and not exaggerate them
  • Be more concerned for their experience of childhood than with their future as an adult.
  • Provide the help that your children need and want, but not more than they need or want.
  • Don’t blindly follow the advice of “experts” or the latest parenting fads, or what other people think.
  • Use your confidence to be calm and patient, and less anxious.
  • And remember that children feel a sense of safety and security when they are around an adult who is bigger than them, stronger than them, wiser than them and kind to them.
    And, above all, try your best to respond quickly and consistently to the infants basic needs.


What are the benefits of a secure infant attachment?

  1. Good emotional health:  Kids with a secure attachment also have a mature limbic system.  This part of the brain supports emotional regulation, learning, and adapting to changing environments.  These kids have learned how to deal with difficult emotions and how to self soothe.  They often experience less frustration and aggression.
  2. Good relationships:  Infants who have a secure attachment have learned that when they need an adult, that adult will consistently be there for them.  This allows them to establish trust in people and their greater world.  This trust will help the child to establish friendships easier, be more social and to engage appropriately with strangers.  They have even found to be better at resolving conflict.
  3. More independence:  Due to their established sense of trust, kids with a secure attachment show the self-confidence to explore and master new skills.  They will more easily establish independence.  They are curious and selk help where it is needed.  Later in life they may be less affected by peer pressure.
  4. Easier to cope with stress: Securely attached infants show more resilience when faced with stressful situations, and better ability to regulate stress.
  5. Good rule followers:  Toddlers with a secure attachment are described as more cooperative and compliant.

“Playful activities can reduce stress, strengthen attachment, and solve behavior problems while bringing laughter and joy to you and the children.” (Solter, 2015, p. 3)

what activities promote a secure infant carer attachment