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Classification of attachment styles

The quality of relationships that children and adults have with other people, particularly those with whom there is an attachment relationship, will depend on the physical and emotional availability, sensitivity, responsiveness, reliability, and predictability of the other person.

Attachment figures who are warm and attentive, create secure attachment relationships. Relationships that are inconsistent, cold or confusing increase levels of anxiety, producing attachments that feel less secure. Each attachment type witnesses children needing to develop an internal working model of and psychological adjustment to the relationships in which they find themselves.

Consequently, children develop different attachment styles/strategies, dependent upon their care giving experience. These can be classified as:

  • Type A - Anxious avoidant
  • Type B - Secure
  • Type C - Anxious ambivalent
  • Type D - Disorganised

Type A, Anxious avoidant

Distress/crying from the child leads to parental anger or rejection. The infant learns to inhibit distress and this keeps the infant safe and parent available. Older children may become compulsively compliant or caretaking. Children may become self-sufficient and avoid emotional closeness.

Type B, Secure

Distress/crying from the child leads to prompt and reliable soothing. The infant is able to predict parental availability and sensitivity and they become secure and trusting - able to explore. Older children are able to express genuine feelings and learn easily. In addition they are able to form close relationships, develop empathy and good self-esteem.

Type C, Anxious ambivalent

Distress/crying from the child lead to an insensitive or unpredictable response. Infant learns to escalate arousal to ensure a response. Parent remains available but infant’s distress is not soothed. The older child splits the affect – alternating between positive and negative affects in order to control the parent.

Type D, Disorganised

Distress/crying from the child leads to a frightening parental response. The infant experiences unmanageable anxiety and confusion and is unable to develop a coherent strategy, they appear disorganised. This creates a dilemma for the infant in that the attachment figure who is needed to protect against danger is the source of the danger. Older children often become vulnerable and may require formal supports as a consequence of serious behavioural, emotional and cognitive difficulties

The text in the ‘See Also’ section below was used when creating this week’s materials - you can consult this for more information on the topic.

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This article is from the free online course:

Caring for Vulnerable Children

University of Strathclyde