FAQ about Attachment

Frequently asked questions about Attachment:

What is attachment?

According to psychologist Mary Ainsworth, attachment is “an affectional tie that one person or animal forms between himself and another specific one – a tie that binds them together in space and endures over time.” Attachment is not just a connection between two people; it is a bond that involves a desire for regular contact with that person and the experience of distress during separation from that person.

Why is attachment important?

Attachment helps keep infants and children close to their caregivers so that they can receive protection and feel safe.  This important emotional bond also provides children with a secure base from which they can then safely explore their environment.

Researchers including Ainsworth, Bowlby, Main and Solomon also suggest that how a child is attached to his or her caregivers can have a major influence both during childhood and later in life.

The failure to form a secure attachment with a caregiver has been linked to a number of problems including conduct disorder and oppositional-defiant disorder. Researchers also suggest that the type of attachment displayed early in life can have a lasting effect on later adult relationships.

What is attachment-focused parenting?

Attachment-focused parenting is a style of parenting that fosters healthy attachment within infants and children. To make the parent-child relationship feel safe to the child, the parent creates a relationships that provides a “secure base” from distress of all kinds. It is also a “secure base” from which the child will feel free to explore the world. The child knows that he/she can explore the world and always come back to the “base” (parent) when he/she feels unsafe.

Daniel Hughes is a parenting expert who developed the PACE attachment-based parenting model in his book, “Attachment-Focused Parenting.

What is PACE?

PACE describes a style of attachment-based parenting that incorporates Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity, and Empathy


The parent is engaged with the child in a way that invites spontaneity, curiosity, and exploration. The parent is able to engage with the child expressively, using facial expressions, voice, and body to join in the affective and creative life of the child. A playful attitude implies that the strength of the relationship is very important, more important than any mistakes or problems that can exist. Family members with a playful attitude don’t take themselves too seriously and are able to laugh at their mistakes. The main intention of a playful attitude is to invite the other into one’s experience – to simply enjoy being together, with no spoken or unspoken goals.


Playfulness is fostered by an attitude of unconditional acceptance. The child’s safety is enhanced when he doesn’t feel rejected, ridiculed, or that he’s causing disappointment when his parents relate to him.  Rather, only the child’s behavior is subject to their evaluations and guidance, judgments, or criticism. This is a stage in which the behavior is separated from the child; that is, the behavior was disappointing, not the child was disappointing by behaving that way. The child who feels accepted knows that he is not his behavior. Acceptance, when felt completely and taken for granted, becomes a secure base upon which the child is much more likely to learn from his mistakes and to accept his parents’ decisions regarding his behavior. For true acceptance to take place, it is vital that the parent has a habit of perceiving the individual child beyond the behaviors.


Ideally, parents are very curious to know who their children are from the time they are conceived. From birth, parents are continuously involved in acts of discovery with their child. When an infant senses the impact of her actions and expressions on her parents, she becomes more aware of these actions and more likely to engage in actions that have a positive impact on her parents. Curiosity is important for discipline to be effective. An attitude of curiosity is a “not-knowing” stance that requires that the parent inquire about the child’s inner life that led to the behaviors under concern. When a parent holds this kind of attitude towards the child, the child is much more likely to feel accepted by the parent and subsequently more likely to follow any disciplinary action by the parent.


Empathy is a natural response to being with another person. Our brains are wired to experience empathy for others. If we have experienced empathy from our attachment figures, it is easy to access empathy for those who see us as attachment figures. Likewise, it is hard for us to experience empathy for others if we have not experienced empathy from others in the past. Parents often think empathy will not be that helpful, so they try to fix the problem, give advice, or eliminate the problem by dealing with it themselves. It is important that the parent be comfortable with the emotions the child is experiencing.  As the parent facilitates his/her own emotional development, s/he is also increasing his/her readiness to experience empathy for the child when the child needs it.

Want to learn more about attachment? Contact Lavinia Ball-Marian at lavinia [at] lab-inst [dot] com.


Leave a Reply