Love and Attachment


Happy Valentine’s Day to all parents and kids today! and both had great articles about how to show your kids you love them today.  While Valentine’s Day is a great day for people to be reminded about how important love is- your family and your kids need to know that you love them everyday!  So take some tips from these articles and show your kids you love them every day of the year including Valentine’s Day!

Valentine’s Day got me thinking about LOVE and so I ended up googling “Love and Psychology” and ended up on the Psychology page about Theories of Love.  Long story short, I read the first paragraph on this webpage about “liking versus loving” and Psychologist Zick Rubin and his theory that love was made up of three factors: attachment, caring, and intimacy.  Well, when a Developmental Psychologist blogging to parents about Child Development Basics reads “Attachment” you stop right there and realize this is a perfect opportunity to blog about Attachment.  Sorry Zick, your theories of love will have to wait until next Valentine’s Day. Instead, John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth and Attachment Theory here I come!

Attachment theory is one of those psychology terms and concepts that most people have heard about and/or vaguely remember from a Psychology class they once took.  John Bowlby was the main man behind Attachment Theory.  According to Bowlby, attachment is based on infants’ basic needs of safety and security which infants learn is often best provided by a particular individual (usually the mother, although this has been disputed in more recent research).  Furthermore, Bowlby argues that by forming an attachment with one person, the infant feels comfortable to explore the world around her with this individual as her “home base.” (See Origins of Attachment Theory by Inge Bretherton).

Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby’s names go hand-in-hand when talking about Attachment.   Ainsworth developed the experimental technique called the “Strange Situation” in order to assess infants attachment.  In this experiment a mother and infant are playing in a lab room, the mother is instructed to leave, the child tends to get upset during the alone period (even when another adult is with the infant in the room and tries to soothe him, and after a brief period the mother retunrs to the room and comforts the infant. This video shows the procedure for the Strange Situation.  Based on infants’ reactions to their mother returning back to the room, Ainsworth and other colleagues would determine which attachment categories the infant fit into:

1.  Securely Attached: children who uses the parent as a “home base”.  When mother leaves the room the child may or may not get upset and the child goes to the mother as soon as she returns.

2.  Avoidant:  children who do not seek close proximity to their mother.  When the mother returns to the room, the infant avoids her as if indifferent to her behavior.

3.  Ambivalent: children who show a mix of positive and negative reactions to their mothers.  The child is quite upset and distressed when the parent leaves.  When the mother returns the child may seek close contact with the mother and simultaneously hit her.

4.  Disorganized-Disoriented: children who show contradictory or inconsistent behavior when the  mother returns to the room.  For example, the child may approach the mother but not look at her. (Note.  This category wasn’t originally created by Ainsworth but was added as other researchers began conducting studies based on Ainsworth’s original Strange Situation paradigm.)

So, these are the categories, but how to parent form secure attachments with their infants? Here are some basic factors that describe parents whose infants form secure attachments:

  • sensitivity to infants needs and desires
  • awareness of child’s moods & feelings
  • responsive to face to face interactions
  • feeding when child is hungry
  • responds warmly and affectionately to child
  • responds rapidly & positively to infants social cues

More tips and information is available at

What about Dad?

While Bowlby originally only focused on moms, more recent research has indicated that infants do form attachments to their fathers as well as their mothers- even multiple individuals simultaneously (e.g., Schaffer & Emerson, 1964). For more information about attachment with Fathers and Day Care Providers see

Happy Valentine’s Day!


Bretherton, I. (1992).  The Origins of Attachment Theory: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth Developmental Psychology, 28, 759-775.  Link

Schaffer, H. R., & Emerson, P. E. (1964). The development of social attachments in infancy. Monographs for the Society for Research in Child Development, 29
(3, Serial No. 94). Psychology Psychology Mary Ainsworth

YouTube Mary Ainsworth Video:

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