The Four Stages of Attachment: A Comprehensive Guide

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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: This blog shares general information only, not professional advice or recommendations. Consult healthcare providers for personal guidance. Decisions based on content are the reader's responsibility. Thank you.

Clayre runs a group practice of three queer and trans therapists, including youth therapist Audrey Wolfe, RCC, LGBT therapist Camber Giberson, RCC, CCC, and gender-affirming therapist Clayre Sessoms, RP, RCT, RCC, CCC, ATR-P. Work with us: book a session.

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