A child’s behaviour can show symptoms of an insecure attachment

Attachment types can be seen in a child’s behaviour. Some years ago RTE Television presented a programme on attachment involving a large group of children, who were scrutinised by a psychologist, where the type of attachment of each child was clearly evident. Bowlby divided attachment into three types, secure, fearful and dismissive. These have been further refined by subsequent theorists, who suggest that there are three types of insecure attachment i.e. ambivalent (anxious-resistant/fearful/preoccupied), anxious-avoidant (dismissive) and, worst of all, disorganised (disoriented). Children with ambivalent attachment experience the most distressing fear when separated from their parents and are most likely to suffer fear of abandonment and possible core anger in adult life. Their fear can often be seen during the first week in school, when they are unable to settle and spend a lot of time in distress, wanting to return home. It seems strange that a child wishes to return to a home that is emotionally unsafe, but for the child that home is familiar, and this familiarity is probably the key to the desire to remain there. These fearful children experience inconsistent parenting. Their parents are sometimes nurturing and sometimes punitive. Because of this they have conflicted feelings about one or both of their parents. It has been suggested that children with this insecure-resistant attachment will be narcissistic in adulthood.
Children with avoidant attachment behave in a dismissive or aloof way. They rarely show emotion and unlike those with a secure attachment will not seek the comfort of a parent. Usually their parents are aloof and emotionally remote. They separate impassively and return equally impassively, effectively ignoring the caregiver. But they are inwardly distressed. Disorganised attachment is particularly difficult to define because it contains elements of the other two, but is close to ambivalent attachment. It is profoundly pathological. Children afflicted with this attachment usually have parents who are abusive and seem life-threatening. These parents can also be withdrawn through stress, anxiety or depression. In such cases children are often confused, fearful and angry. Whatever the reason for the emotional abandonment, their children suffer all their lives as a result.
Extract from Understanding and Healing the Hurts of Childhood. Publication 2018
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