Each month, Dr. Levy answers a common question he has received from professionals, caregivers and parents during three decades of pioneering work on attachment theory, treatment and training.
Developing an attachment to a principal caregiver (e.g., mother, father, other consistent caregiver) occurs during four main developmental stages.
During the first stage, from birth to about 10 weeks, the infant’s behavior is mostly reflexive. Newborns seek contact with and can be comforted by different people.
In the second stage, from about 10 weeks to 6 months, infants develop social and cognitive abilities and can discriminate between their principal caregiver’s physical attributes and others. They also gain more control over their gross motor skills and can direct attachment behaviors (e.g., crying, clinging) toward consistent caregivers.
At approximately 6 to 7 months of age, babies reach the third stage. During this time their strong attachment to a specific caregiver is fully formed. Babies can crawl and soon walk, enabling them to seek out and maintain contact with their attachment figures when upset or in need of protection or comfort. Thus, they can communicate, attachment behaviors more actively, receive need-fulfilling responses from their caregivers, and create a strong, consistent, and reciprocal attachment relationship. This is a critical developmental milestone; these bonds are essential to subsequent key areas of development and will persist over the course of the lifespan.
The fourth stage of attachment development begins around 30 months. At this point, young children have achieved more advanced social and cognitive capacities, and are learning to cope with separations and reunions in everyday life. For instance, they now understand that their caregiver will return after a few hours away, and do not experience the distress of an infant earlier in development. Young children feel more secure at this time, and therefore, reduce their contact- and proximity-seeking behavior. They are developing autonomy and becoming more interested in exploring their world away from the primary attachment figures.
Previous articles addressed questions about the Seven Functions of Secure Attachment, the Dependency Paradox, the importance of talking about trauma, traits of successful and healthy adult relationships, the importance of hope as a part of treatment for trauma, the core concepts of child development, parenting strategies for deescalating conflict, the importance of touch to fostering attachment, the 10Cs of Healing Parenting, why family rituals and routines are important, the seven steps of anger management and the importance of “looking in the mirror” for healing parents.