Bowlby suggested that attachment had a number of important functions during the childhood years and that these also had a significant impact on later life.
1. Meeting Basic Needs
Of course, the core function of a healthy attachment between caregiver and infant is to meet the safety and protection needs for a vulnerable infant or young child. An attuned, loving and protective carer would provide the necessary shelter and sustenance for the young child to survive and thrive and would also do all that they could to protect him from harm. Children with a healthy attachment experience tend to feel confident and secure in relatively safe contexts (such as home and school). However, children with poor attachment can feel anxious and fearful even in non-threatening environments.
2. Exploration Needs
Healthy attachment allows the young child to explore their environment with feelings of safety and security and this can lead to healthy cognitive and social development as they mature. However, the child with poor attachment can often feel unsafe, unprotected, unsupported and alone and, as a result, their cognitive and social development can be negatively affected.
3. Development of Trust
Healthy attachment helps a child learn basic trust and this can serve as a basis for all future emotional relationships. Infants learn to expect that their carer will respond to their needs when they cry. Children learn to trust that adults will reassure and calm them when the feel frightened. Unfortunately, children with poor attachment can have significant trouble trusting others and this can impact on relationships throughout their childhood, schooling years and adulthood.
4. Development of Resilience
Healthy attachment allows the child to initially co-regulate their emotions with the help of their carer and then to eventually build the capability to self-regulate. This leads to more effective management of impulses and emotions as they grow. It can help them to develop emotional resilience and a defence against stress and trauma. However, those with poor attachment can have difficulty with emotional self regulation and can very quickly become easily stressed and become impulsive and/or aggressive when emotionally aroused. It can inhibit the development of resilience and resourcefulness when under duress.
5. Development of Identity
Healthy attachment creates the foundation for the formation of identity and sense of self. This can include attributes such as self competence and self worth and can also lead to a healthy balance between dependence and autonomy. However, poor attachment can result in children having poor self worth and a belief that others do not value them. They can become clingy or over dependant or alternatively, become distant and relationally cold.
6. Development of Social Skills
Healthy attachment can help to establish a pro-social, moral outlook in a young person that involves empathy and compassion. However, these attributes are not easily evident in those with poor attachment and they can struggle with understanding the needs, thoughts or actions of others.
7. Development of Mindset
Healthy attachment helps to generate a world view that people and life are basically good, with reasonable exceptions. However, those with poor attachment can believe the worst of most people and of life and it is not unusual for them to exhibit signs of depression, anxiety and/or some form of self harming behaviours.
Adapted from: Distressed or Deliberately Defiant? By Judith Howard