In a 1978 experiment led by psychologist Mary Ainsworth, children under the age of 2 were exposed to a situation where a child was introduced to a strange setting and exposed to the entrance of an unfamiliar person and two brief separations from the parent. Known as “The Strange Situation”, this experiment was designed to test how secure or insecure a child’s relationship was with their parent. Specifically relating to secure attachment, according to the American Psychological Association, if “the child displays confidence when the parent is present, shows mild distress when the parent leaves, and quickly reestablishes contact when the parent returns”, the infant was securely attached. In this type of parent-child relationship, when the parent leaves, the child is somewhat worried, but has faith that their parent will return. In contrast, infants with insecure attachment experience great distress when away from their parents and don’t believe that they will return.
HOW TO FORM AND IMPORTANCE
Parental experts encourage parents to attempt to form secure attachment bonds with their child through looking for and responding to body cues from the baby and not over or under stimulating the infant. Developing this type of attachment is important because while it may not seem like it matters initially, it can have long ranging consequences for how one’s child feels and behaves in the future.
HOW IT RELATES TO MENTAL HEALTH
Forming a secure attachment with one’s child as an infant is important because it can impact their mental health later in life. Children who grow up with secure attachments to their parents tend to be more self aware, trusting, considerate, empathetic and eager to learn. In contrast, children who grow with insecure attachment are known to be more likely to feel insecure with their identity, to be unable to connect and empathize with others, and have trouble learning.