Bonding & Attachment

Purple Ampersand

Bonding and Attachment go hand-in-hand. If you have a strong bond with your baby, it helps them to form a secure attachment to you. Bonding is about the love and attention you give your baby. While a secure attachment helps to make your baby feel secure and provides a strong foundation for their emotional development and self-esteem.

Here’s a bit more about bonding and attachment from Margaret Harris, Professor of Developmental Psychology.

Development of Attachment

What is attachment?

Attachment is a strong emotional bond that develops between a baby and other people who play an important part in the baby's life. Attachment grows out of the baby's early interactions, many focusing around caretaking and close physical contact. Early attachments will be to members of the baby's family circle, usually the mother, father, brother and sisters and sometimes grandparents or other close relatives.

Why is attachment important?

An attachment figure provides a secure base from which the developing infant can explore the world and periodically return in safety. From an evolutionary perspective, staying close to a familiar adult will protect a young child from harm while enabling learning and discovery. The emotional attachment of the baby also provides a model on which all other relationships are based and a secure attachment in infancy will pave the way for secure and successful relationships in adulthood.

Separation anxiety

Around the age of 8 months, babies become very distressed when they are away from a familiar family member and they see a stranger. This is known as ‘separation anxiety’. Studies carried out in the 1950s showed that babies and young children, who were separated from their parents, became very distressed. Short periods of separation are soon forgotten as soon as the parent returns but long-term separation, for example by a period of illness in hospital, can have serious consequences such as social withdrawal.

Thanks to research on separation, parents of babies and young children are able to spend as much time as possible with them during a hospital stay so that normal patterns of interaction are maintained and the child continues to feel emotionally secure.

The 'strange situation'

The way that babies react to a stranger, when there is no reassuring adult nearby, gives an indication of how well they are attached to a close family member. This can be tested using the 'strange situation' which has been developed to look at the attachment between a mother and her baby. This test involves leaving a 12-month-old alone with a stranger for a few minutes. This is likely to provoke a strong reaction - usually crying - but when the mother returns and has a cuddle, the infant happily returned to play. This kind of pattern is shown by the majority of infants but some will show a different reaction, such as ignoring the mother’s return, which may indicate the lack of a strong attachment between infant and mother.