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Attachment in the early years
Attachment in the early years

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3.1 Attachment and internal working models

According to attachment theory, the analysis of the SST indicates the three main forms that a child’s internal working model can take.

A child with a Type A attachment has a rather troubled attachment to her parent. She is often not upset at separation, and tends not to get close to her parent even when they are reunited after a separation. Often, she turns away from, rather than towards, the parent. She seems to expect the parent’s response to be inappropriate and the relationship to be difficult, and she seems to lack a solid sense of herself as worthy of affection.

A child with a Type B (secure) attachment has an image of her parent as a secure base, who is available for comfort. She also has an image of herself as worthy of her parent’s attention and love, and can gain some comfort from this when separated, having confidence that her parent will return. Her reactions to separation do not show panic; she has some capacity to contain them in the knowledge of her parent’s availability. She is able to use her parent for comfort, and shows pleasure at reunion. She has an untroubled expectation of closeness and warmth between people, and this is also shown in her being able to accept some contact with the stranger.

A child with a Type C attachment is likely to show distress at the separation, suggesting that the parent’s presence is important to her. But she seems to lack a firm belief that her parent will return, or that the parent will be able to comfort her effectively on return, and she thus fails to use her parent as a source of comfort at reunion. She is not easily able to comfort herself, nor does she seem to feel herself worthy of affection from her parent. She rejects the stranger’s attempts to console her. Her expectation seems to be a pessimistic one, that upset cannot be eased by another.

Disorganised behaviours (Type D) show a child being unable to ‘know what to do’; there seems to be a lack of clear expectations of what others can do or consistent strategies for handling stress. The child may seem to be somewhat hesitant about contact, not quite sure whether it is something to be sought or not, and there is little obvious goal seeking in the behaviour. The child may tend to turn to herself for comfort. She seems somewhat ‘dazed’ or confused, and may show repetitive, stereotyped movements.

Each type of attachment is associated with a different internal working model of self, other and the relationship. For example, the child whose behaviour is predominantly disorganised seems to lack a coherent IWM to structure their behaviour.

Following Bowlby’s theory that a child’s IWM will affect how they approach a new relationship, someone with a secure attachment, for example, might approach a relationship with a degree of confidence that the other will respond positively, while someone with an insecure-ambivalent attachment may be more likely to be hesitant and rather wary. Avoidant attachment is likely to be associated with a lack of motivation to relate to others. Insecure children with disorganised attachment-related behaviours are likely to find it hard to approach new relationships in consistent ways; for example they may ‘launch’ an attempt at relating but then fail to follow it through.