Attachment and Bonding

What does secure attachment look like in babies?

 Around the age of eight months, a securely attached infant starts to get upset when their attachment figure (mum, dad or whoever is the primary carer) is out of sight. This response is called separation anxiety.  Separation anxiety at this time in life is normal. Also important is what the infant does when the attachment figure returns.  A securely attached infant is happy and can accept comforting from the attachment figure.  In other words, the securely attached infant has a strong enough bond that they feel upset when the attachment figure leaves, but also has enough trust in their attachment figure that they can relax and be comforted when the attachment figure returns.   Securely attached children can be comforted to some extent by other people, but they generally prefer the comfort of their primary attachment figure.

Trust = Emotional Regulation

 The process of getting upset and then being comforted by contact with the primary attachment figure is how infants learn to calm themselves and regulate (manage) their own emotions.  Emotional regulation is the term for this ability.  It allows us to understand and accept our own emotions, use healthy ways to handle them, and keep functioning even under stress.  Most aspects of good mental and emotional health later in life depend on this ability of emotional regulation.


What does secure attachment look like in toddlers?

As your child enters the second year of life she becomes more physically and emotionally independent.  Parts of the brain involved in speech come on-line during the second year and most children have begun to talk and deal with toilet training by the end of the third year.  This is a busy and challenging time for children and their parents.

Exploring (getting into everything!) and testing your patience by saying “no” are some of the ways a toddler tries out his new skills and develops an independent sense of self.  Toddlers have a strong desire to do things “by myself!”  At the same time, they still need to feel close to their attachment figure.  This creates internal stress and can lead to strong emotional outbursts.  This may be why people sometimes call this stage the ‘terrible twos’.

A securely attached toddler will generally be able to explore their environment with excitement and curiosity, but will also want frequent contact with their attachment figure.  The attachment bond that created trust in the first year now becomes the secure base a toddler can rely on while exploring the outside world and their inside feelings and wishes.

Think about how children this age play on their own, want to feed themselves, and so on, but still bring every toy to you to look at and want you to hold them when they are tired, hurt, or upset.  They also want you to share their joy and excitement about the world around them!

©Lifestart Foundation 2018


Key Messages about Attachment and Bonding

Bonding and attachment are different. Bonding is the binding love that a parent may feel for their infant, beginning even before he or she is born. The process of bonding refers to the intense emotional connection that the parent feels for the baby. Some parents feel this straight away and others take time to get to know their baby.

Attachment refers to the enduring ‘tie’ of affection that the baby develops towards their main carers, usually their parents. John Bowlby, a British doctor, first described how the security of the attachment that an infant makes with their parents becomes the foundation for emotional wellbeing.

  • Attachment is a process that takes place over time
  • If bonding does not happen in the first few weeks, it does not mean that it will never happen
  • A secure attachment is associated with a positive parenting style
  • The three main ingredients of a secure attachment are:
  1. Appropriate physical contact
  2. Emotional connection
  3. Safe, secure, reliable and consistent environment

Copyright Lifestart 2018

Attachment and bonding – the father’s role

Attachment with the father is equally as important as the attachment with the mother and contributes greatly to a child’s development. Some studies have shown that a high quality father-child relationship allows a child to take his explorations a little further. Fathers can do activities with their baby to promote attachment, whether or not they are the main caregiver. Here are some suggestions:

  • Use a baby carrier as much as possible. Men’s physique usually allows them to carry an older, heavier baby than a woman can.
  • Lie down with your new-born on your chest. Your heartbeat will help your baby develop trust.
  • Take a bath with your baby. Physical contact is important. If another person is present, he or she can take the baby to dress him when he comes out of the bath.
  • Provide the same affectionate responses, routines and positive discipline as the other parent, so the child feels safe, no matter which parent is looking after him.
  • Don’t hesitate to show affection to your baby or toddler.
  • Support a breastfeeding mother because breastfeeding is ideal for the baby. Look for other opportunities to spend quality time with your baby, by bringing the baby to the mother or burping him afterwards.
  • Encourage your toddler to challenge himself by developing his physical skills (climbing, jumping, etc.). Supervise him carefully but, most importantly, make him feel good for his efforts.
  • Act as a role model for your child in your intimate relationship and with those around you.
  • Consider taking parental leave to spend time with your baby and build your confidence for parenting alone.
  • Spend time alone with your baby. Start with just a few minutes at a time if you are hesitant, and then increase the time. If you don’t want to be too far away from the mother, just take your baby outside or into another room.
  • Find out about the community resources available for new parents, for example Parent & Toddler groups.
  • Watch the mother for signs of exhaustion or depression especially if she is the main caregiver. These could affect her ability to provide quality care. If you are concerned, talk to a doctor, a public health nurse or a community health nurse about it.
  • If your work takes you away from home for long periods of time, make sure you spend quality time with your child during which you learn to recognize her cues and reactions.
  • Don’t hesitate to get help if you feel overwhelmed and if your baby cries constantly. Never shake a baby.

Copyright Lifestart 2018

Capturing the moment – calling out to mums and babies

Hi I work on the Early Intervention Team in Donegal. I am currently doing a course – the Infant Care Index – which looks at the interaction between mothers and babies. As part of the course we use video observations of mothers playing with their babies. The videos we have been using are from the UK, America, Australia and Holland but I would love to have some Irish mothers.

I am looking for mothers who would be willing to be videoed for 3-5 minutes playing with their baby or toddler (the child can be aged from between birth to 4 years old)

If anyone Is interested in being involved or would like further information my email address is and mobile no is 0866683650.