The Four Stages of Attachment: A Comprehensive Guide

Two people talking with their dog between them

Attachment is a fundamental aspect of human development and shapes the way we interact with the world around us. The theory of attachment, first proposed by John Bowlby, posits that early experiences with caregivers have a significant impact on the way we form relationships throughout our lives. Researchers Rudolph Schaffer and Peggy Emerson expanded upon Bowlby’s theory by identifying four distinct phases of attachment in infants.

The first stage is the pre-attachment stage, which occurs from birth to three months of age. During this stage, infants do not show any particular attachment to a specific caregiver, but instead attract the attention of their caregiver through signals such as crying and fussing. The caregiver responds to these signals, and the infant develops a sense of trust that their needs will be met.

The second stage is the indiscriminate attachment stage, which occurs between 6 weeks and 7 months of age. During this stage, infants begin to show preferences for primary and secondary caregivers. They distinguish between familiar and unfamiliar people and respond more positively to their primary caregiver, while still accepting care from others.

The third stage is the discriminate attachment stage, which occurs from about 7 to 11 months of age. During this stage, infants form a strong attachment and preference for one specific individual, often the primary caregiver. They may display separation anxiety when separated from this caregiver and anxiety around strangers.

The final stage is multiple attachments, which occurs after approximately 9 months of age. During this stage, infants begin to form strong emotional bonds with other caregivers beyond the primary attachment figure. This often includes a second parent, older siblings, and grandparents.

Understanding these stages of attachment can be helpful in promoting healthy attachment patterns in infants and young children. Caregivers can provide consistent and responsive care during the early stages of attachment, which can lead to more secure attachment patterns later in life. Additionally, understanding the different stages of attachment can help parents and caregivers to recognize and address separation anxiety and other common challenges that arise during the attachment process.

In conclusion, attachment theory offers important insights into the way we form relationships and interact with the world around us. By understanding the four stages of attachment, we can promote healthy attachment patterns in infants and young children and help to build strong and fulfilling relationships throughout our lives.

Disclaimer: As a registered clinical counsellor and registered psychotherapist (qualifying), I'm sharing insights on my blog for informational purposes, not professional advice or treatment. My writing aims to inspire you to consult your own healthcare or mental health provider. Remember, your decisions based on the blog content are solely your responsibility. Please explore other resources if this understanding doesn't align with your expectations. Thank you.

Clayre is a trans, queer, and visually impaired psychotherapist with a busy online therapy practice. Based on the West Coast of Canada, she is a Registered Clinical Counsellor in BC (18118), a Counselling Therapist in AB (2035), a Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) in ON (13869), and a Canadian Certified Counsellor (10006504). When she isn't in session, she's reading, teaching, writing, or forest bathing. Work with Clayre: get in touch or book online.

Related Posts