The Steps Of The Attachment Link

Attachment is the emotional bond that the child establishes with his reference figure. The one who protects him and takes care of him. It is, therefore, a survival mechanism.
The stages of the attachment bond

Some authors say that the emotional bond is our psychological immune system. What are the stages of the attachment bond and how does it develop?

Although there are many theories that define and explain attachment, the most important, which serves as a benchmark, is that established by John Bowlby. For this psychiatrist and psychoanalyst,  children are biologically programmed to bond with others in order to survive. So he believed that all the behaviors involved in creating and maintaining that bond were instinctive.

On the other hand, it is important to remember one thing: the bond of attachment will not disappear over time. In a way, it will influence us all our life through all the relationships that we are going to establish. It is therefore essential to develop a secure attachment based on feelings of trust and protection.

The stages of the attachment bond

Bowlby’s evolutionary model establishes four phases for the creation of this emotional bond. Normally,  these attachment phases are particularly noticeable in the relationship between a mother and her child,  even if it is true that this bond can also be created between another main guardian and the child.

We will now explain  how the establishment of this emotional bond evolves from Bowlby’s point of view. Let’s explore the different stages of the attachment link.

bond between a mother and her baby

1. Pre-attachment phase

This first phase takes place during the first six weeks of the baby’s life. The little one accepts easily, in general, any human being who makes him feel at ease. In other words,  it doesn’t show preference for anyone in particular.

During this stage,  the child’s repertoire of innate behaviors helps it to attract the attention of adults. It also responds to external stimuli. And seeks to establish physical contact.

During this period,  maternal recognition is very rudimentary in the baby. He does not yet display a very strong attachment link. However, at the end of the phase, a few signs start to appear.

2. Training phase

After six weeks, and up to about eight months, a  child begins to feel anxious if he is separated from other human beings. However, he does not specifically note the mother’s absence. And don’t totally reject strangers.

During this phase,  he begins to orient his behavior and respond to the mother in a clear way. Despite everything, even if he does not appreciate being away from adults, he still does not show a preference for his progenitor.

3. Attachment phase

From six or eight months, and up to about two years, the actual attachment phase begins. The baby feels angry if separated from his mother  and may even suffer from anxiety.

It is not surprising that the baby physically rejects other people  who are not his mother. For him, they represent a threat. Thus, all his actions are aimed at attracting the attention of the mother figure because he particularly seeks her presence.

mother and baby attachment

4. Phase of reciprocal relations

From the age of two, the fourth and final phase begins. It is called the phase of reciprocal relations. The little one understands that the mother’s absence is not final. If all goes well, he can calm his own anxiety.

It is also during this phase that language appears. The child is able to have mental representations of his mother. He can therefore predict her return, understands when she leaves and comes back and cries less during her absence.

Finally, once all the stages of the infantile attachment bond are complete,  a strong relationship will be created. Physical contact will no longer be so necessary even if the child will sometimes seek the presence of his mother to feel reassured. However, he knows that even if there is no physical contact, his mother will be there when he needs her.


John Bowlby's Attachment Theory
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Learn more about British psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby’s famous attachment theory and the mother-child relationship …

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