Published on June 2, 2021
Known as avoidant attachment in adulthood, the anxious avoidant attachment style typically develops in the first 18 months of life. During this formative period, a child’s caregiver may have been emotionally unavailable to them a lot of the time.
They may also have disregarded their child’s needs by not responding to their cues and behaved in a “rejecting” manner. These caregivers may also frown upon displays of emotion from their child, both negative and positive.
A child’s attachment style is formed through the type of bond that develops between themselves and their caregivers. Through the way that their parents met their needs, a child forms expectations about their world and the people in it.
This outlook has a big impact on many other areas of the child’s life; from how willing they are to explore their world, to how they socialize with other children and adults, and even to how they behave in adult relationships.
The following table contains the different attachment style names, including how they change from childhood to adulthood:
|Attachment Style||In Childhood||In Adulthood|
This style of parenting tends to encourage a premature sense of independence in children. This isn’t to say that these caregivers intentionally acted this way or neglected their child’s needs.
However, they still didn’t meet their child’s specific emotional needs for whatever reason. It might be helpful to note that oftentimes caregivers tend to parent in the way that they themselves were parented.
As a response to their caregiver’s actions, the avoidant attached child learns that seeking out their caregiver for comfort when distressed or frightened is a fruitless activity.
Thus, they suppress their innate desire because they have learned at an early age that outward displays of emotion will likely lead to rejection, scorn, or punishment.
In fact, through suppressing their need to express their emotions they are at least able to fulfill one of their attachment needs – they will be able to maintain closeness to their caregiver.
Children who grow up in this type of emotionally barren environment tend to feel rejected. And as a result, they shut down their attachment system. This means that they disconnect from their needs.
Emotionally, they know that they will have to self-soothe and nurture themselves, and, in time, they develop a false sense of independence. This leads them to feel like they don’t need the support of other people in their lives. They have always taken care of their own emotional needs and will continue to do so.
However, despite their outward appearance that they didn’t need their caregiver, they acted just as distressed during the separation period as did the securely attached children. They just didn’t show it. These children were later identified as having anxious avoidant attachment.
As children with an anxious-avoidant style start to develop, they adopt a strong outward feeling of independence – one that is beyond their years.
They are self-contained “little adults” and rarely show any signs of needing closeness, love, or nurturance.
Although they may enjoy the company of others, avoidant children may struggle to connect with them. They feel like they shouldn’t be dependent on anyone else.
Yet, when physiologically assessed during periods of separation from their caregivers, avoidant attached children showed the same reactions as other children.
This implies that they are far more anxious about being detached from their caregivers than they let on. For this reason, avoidant children usually seek to maintain physical closeness with their caregiver, but they avoid actually interacting with them.
There is no parenting handbook, so, at times, it can be a tricky area to navigate.
How much attention and love are too little, and how much is smothering? Fortunately, children are born with strong survival instincts based on their inability to survive on their own and their reliance on adults for nurturance and protection.
Thus, they give out signals to notify their caregivers that they need something. How the parent responds to these cues from their children can differ between a secure and insecure attachment style.
In order to successfully raise a securely attached child, there are five areas that a caregiver should strive to fulfill (Brown & Elliott, 2016):
Firstly, a child needs to feel secure and safe in their world so as to flourish.
For a baby or toddler, their caregiver is their prime source of safety. If they are around, the child will feel confident that no harm will come to them, they know that they will be fed, and kept warm.
Yet it’s important to cater to the child’s needs with a certain amount of sensitivity; they should allow them the chance to develop independence while still letting them know that they are nearby.
The caregiver is the child’s barrier against harm, letting them know that they are protected and loved.
Secondly, for a young child, their cries and signals are their outward voice to let their caregiver know what they need.
It is, therefore, important that the caregiver interprets these cues accurately. If the parent is in tune with the child’s cues they will respond in the appropriate way.
The child then knows that when they need something, they can signal for it and it will be given. This gives the child a sense of autonomy; their world is reliable, and they can exert a certain amount of control over it.
Certainly, to raise a securely attached child, parents need to be open, warm, and inviting; the world can sometimes be a scary place to a small child.
If they experience any disappointments in their otherwise-pleasant-day, they need to know that their caregivers will be there to help them soothe away their sadness and distress.
In time, the child learns to recognize this as the norm and as they grow up, they use their caregiver’s actions as the template for managing their own upsets.
The process of developing healthy self-esteem and value for who we are as a person starts in infancy. Caregivers should aim to express happiness and pride over who their child is rather than over what the child does.
The child starts to realize that they are valuable – unconditionally – from what they achieve.
Lastly, a child should feel supported to contentedly explore their environment.
To achieve this, a caregiver needs to believe in their child’s ability, as well as stay close to them lest anything go wrong; they’re allowing them to grow while watching from a safe distance.
Doing so will enable the child to develop a sense of freedom to explore and a strong sense of self.
This article is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to knowing how to raise a child with a secure attachment.
If you’re interested in knowing more, then we can suggest reading our articles on avoidant attachment in adult relationships, and secure attachment from childhood to adult relationships.
Bowlby, J. (2012). A secure base: Clinical Applications of Attachment Theory. London: Routledge.
Brown, D. P., Elliott, D. S. (2016). Attachment Disturbances in Adults: Treatment for Comprehensive Repair. New York: W.W. Norton.
Salter, M.D., Ainsworth, M.C., Blehar, E.W., Wall, S.N. (2015). Patterns of Attachment: A Psychological Study of the Strange Situation. New York: Taylor & Francis.