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Attachment Patterns of Parenting

Figure 1

Understanding how attachments affect the psychological development of a child widens parents’ self-awareness to build an effective relationship with their children. Attachments can be described as the “cause and effect” formulation. Since each kind of attachment relationship forms unconscious responses set by the child, these responses become patterns when exposed to repetitive attachment relationships.

Overall, there are four different parenting attachment types: Secure Attachment, Avoidant Attachment, Ambivalent Attachment and Disorganized Attachment. In her book Parenting from the Inside out, Siegel describes these attachments by using a father who takes care of his baby.

Secure Attachment

In this scenario, when the baby starts crying, the father puts his newspaper down and calmly picks the baby up in his arms. With eye contact and loving arms, he prepares the milk bottle and feeds the baby. The response of the baby is that she is felt, loved, understood, known and responded to by the father. The consistent and emotionally attuned communication and the repeated experiences of love and protection with the parent provide the child emotional support when needed. The parent himself becomes a safe haven for the child.

Avoidant Attachment

When the baby starts crying, the father insists on finishing the article first ignoring the baby. Then he picks the baby up and changes her diaper. After putting the baby in her crib, he returns to the paper. Though the father gives a pacifier and a toy hoping they will calm her, the baby continues crying. Later, the father realizes that it has been over two hours since she has eaten. In that case, the baby learns that the father does not only misunderstand her but also ignores her. This insecure attachment results in avoiding closeness and emotional connection to the parent and to others.

Ambivalent Attachment

In this experience, even though the father has good intentions to soothe the baby, the fact that he does not exactly know what to do makes him anxious. His anxiety is increased when the mother criticizes his abilities as a parent. Soon, he realizes the baby is hungry; however, even while feeding her, he worries about what to do next if the baby starts crying again. This type of repeated experience leads the baby to feel uncertain about if the father is going to meet her needs. Thus, the fact that the baby experiences inconsistent availability and unreliable communication from the father develops a sense of anxiety and uncertainty about whether she can depend upon the father or others.

Disorganized Attachment

This attachment is similar to the third attachment; yet, the experiences of the baby is quite disappointing. The distress of the father not knowing what to do leads him to act rudely to the baby without any violence related intent. The repetition of his changing behaviour against the baby, the cycle of being rude and calm, causes the father to enter a trancelike state. It is stated that “negative moods and distress due to parenting stress have been related to aversive and irritable interactions with children” (Addams et al., 112). These experiences of the baby will result in her disability to control her intense emotions in the future.

Figure 2

After analyzing these attachments, it can be stated that the childhood memories such as traumas, misconnections, neglections, and senses of insecurity lead people to have unresolved or leftover issues. As long as these emotions are not healed by the parent himself, they inevitably project their unresolved issues on their children who become the object of the parent's emotions. This simple “cause and effect” formulation can be obstructed by self-understanding. By analyzing communication and behavioural approaches with their children, parents can learn about their own leftover issues waiting to be healed.

Healing Formulation

In order to build a healthy and secure attachment with the child, parents must discover and heal their own attachment issues. Siegel claims that “if our own issues remain unresolved, there is a strong possibility that the disorganization within our minds can create disorganization in our children’s minds” (163). She presents a formula called ABC to widen self-understanding to heal unresolved issues:

  • Attunement is the parent’s ability of the internal state to be in coherence with the child. It also includes the coordination of non-verbal signals such as tone of voice, eye contact, facial expression and so on.

  • Balance is the harmony between the physical presence and the attuned communication of the parent.

  • Coherence is the outcome of an adaptive, stable, and flexible understanding of the parent.

When these findings support each other, the parent’s interaction with the baby is going to form a secure attachment and nurture the psychological development of the baby. Since unhealthy projection creates disconnections, unbalanced relationships, a sense of insecurity and the possibility of passing on to the other generations, understanding how attachments work is quite crucial for parents.


  • Adam, Emma K., et al. “Adult Attachment, Parent Emotion, and Observed Parenting Behavior: Mediator and Moderator Models.” Child Development, vol. 75, no. 1, [Wiley, Society for Research in Child Development], 2004, pp. 110–22,

  • Crnic, K, Acevedo, M (1995) "Everyday stresses and parenting". In: Bornstein, M (ed.) Handbook of Parenting, Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, pp. 277–297.

  • McClain, Linda C., and Daniel Cere, editors. What Is Parenthood?: Contemporary Debates about the Family. NYU Press, 2013,

  • Siegel, Daniel J., and Mary Hartzell. Parenting from the Inside Out. Jeremy P Tarcher, 2005.

Image References


Author Photo

Melis Güven

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