Attachment Categories in Children & Inside Out Special Needs Parenting

Psychologists describe four attachment categories in children that can affect their view & response to the world. The categories are described in this post.

Welcome back for another installment in Different Dream’s occasional series about special needs parenting from the inside out. So far the series has looked at basic functions of the parts of the brain, high road and low road parenting, the difference between implicit and explicit memory, and the brain’s 7 instinctual responses to perceived danger. Those posts provide basic background information about how the brain works.

Today’s post moves on from how the brain reacts to trauma and looks at how those brain responses affect behavior. One of the things I learned during the research for the book, Does My Child Have PTSD? What To Do When Your Child Is Hurting from the Inside Out, was the important role parents can play in helping their children process traumatic events. The ability of parents to assist children in trauma recovery often depends on the parents’ own experiences as children. Those experiences can affect the parents’ relationships with children and children’s relationships with their parents.

Four Attachment Categories in Children

Psychologists categorize these relationships into 4 basic categories of attachment in children. (Attachment is the word used in the world of psychology for “love” or “bonding.”) In their book, Parenting from the Inside Out: How a Deeper Self-Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive, Dr Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell describe 4 attachment categories in children, as does Alison Gopnik in her fascinating book, The Philosophical Baby. These attachment categories in children affect how they view and respond to the world.

Secure Attachment:

When parents are attuned to their children’s needs, children feel connected. This allows children to develop internal balance that leads to emotional regulation and flexibility so that they have a sense of coherence in their minds. Secure attachment enables kids to seek proximity to parent, go to parent as a safe haven, and makes their relationship with the parent a secure base and a model to follow.

Avoidant Attachment:

Not all parents are able to connect with their children enough to create a secure attachment. If the parent or primary caregiver is often unavailable and/or rejecting, either by choice or circumstance, a child may become avoidantly attached. These children avoid closeness and emotional connection with parent because they know that interacting with the parent often leads to more misery instead of comfort.

Ambivalent Attachment:

Other parents are available to their children, but communicate with them inconsistently. Sometimes they’re attentive, understanding parents. At other times, they’re aloof and dismissive. Or they might also become critical and demanding. In this situation, children become anxious and uncertain because they’re never sure if they can depend on their parents. And they don’t know what to expect from them. These children are often insecure and anxious.

Disorganized Attachment:

In the two previous categories, children have at least some positive interaction with parents.  But, if a parent becomes the primary source of alarm and confusion in a child’s life because the parent’s behavior is repeatedly frightening and chaotic, a child has no safe place. The person who is supposed to be the source of security is a source of terror, someone to turn away from rather than to. In that situation, the child is stuck and develops a disorganized attachment. These children are at exceedingly high risk of being traumatized.

Your Attachment Category?

With those categories in mind, now’s the time for you to reflect upon your childhood experiences and which attachment category best describes you. The next post in this series will discuss how childhood attachment affects a person’s parenting ability.

Your Thoughts about Attachment Categories in Children?

Do you have insights or questions about any of the attachment categories in children? Feel free to share them in the comment box.

Inside Out Special Needs Parenting, Part 1
Inside Out Special Needs Parenting, Part 2
Inside Out Special Needs Parenting, Part 3
Inside Out Special Needs Parenting, Part 4
Inside Out Special Needs Parenting, Part 5

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Psychologists describe four attachment categories in children that can affect their view & response to the world. The categories are described in this post.

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Meet Jolene

Jolene Philo is a published author, speaker, wife, and mother of a son with special needs.

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