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  • Writer's pictureJeannette Koh

Attachment theory and the 4 attachment styles

This article is the second of 2 parts. In part 1, we looked at parenting styles we experience as children and how this can influence our attachment styles throughout our lives.

In this article, we look at attachment theory and the 4 attachment styles.

Attachment theory

Attachment theory is meant to describe and explain people’s enduring patterns of relationships across their lifespan.

Mary Ainsworth is a prominent researcher who advanced the theory of attachment. Her research followed that of John Bolby, her teacher turned colleague. She investigated the security of attachments in young children (usually toddlers) who could not articulate what they were experiencing, and noted that there were individual differences in attachment which were more complex than previously thought. 

In 1969, she devised the Strange Situation Protocol, an 8-stage experiment to observe the kinds of attachment behaviour these young children displayed. Each stage lasts about 3 minutes except the first stage when the researcher introduces the mother and child to the room.

From the results of the experiment, Ainsworth identified 3 main attachment styles. A fourth attachment style was identified later after further research.

The 4 attachment styles in children

1. Secure attachment

Children with a secure attachment style feel protected by their caregivers. They are confident in depending on their caregivers’ and thus dare to explore and play more.

These children demonstrate a higher level of maturity and empathy. They are less disruptive and show less angry behaviour.

2. Ambivalent-insecure attachment

Children with an ambivalent-insecure attachment style may be over-dependent on their caregivers and suspicious of strangers. They might develop into “clingy” children.

3. Avoidant-insecure attachment

Children may develop physical and emotional independence if they do not experience their caregivers’ sensitivity to their needs.

In the long term, they may become disconnected from their own feelings and emotional needs.

4. Disoriented-disorganised attachment

In 1990, further research led to a fourth attachment style termed as disoriented-disorganised. 

This attachment style can develop in children who do not receive coherent caregiving or have experienced mistreatment and neglect by their caregiver. In these scenarios, the child does not know what to expect and thus becomes fearful and avoidant.

Behavioural patterns from this attachment style is not straightforward as it develops from trauma, fear, mistrust and sometimes abuse.

Children with this attachment style may try to seek closeness and proximity, but it is difficult for them to feel safe. They may find it hard to self-soothe and respond aggressively or exhibit emotional distress.

Reflecting on my own attachment style

I had a very secure childhood and that resulted in my development of a secure attachment style.

As I’ve shared in part 1, my parents used a combination of both authoritarian and authoritative parenting styles when my sister and I were younger.

Even so, we never doubted that our parents loved and cared for us. They were very involved in our lives academically and non-academically. Although most decisions were made by them (from the very insignificant such as what to eat or wear, to major decisions such as choice of secondary school after the PSLE), I did not resent it as I believed they had been taken in our best interests. 

By the time we were in our teens both parents were approachable and less restrictive. My father was also very supportive of my interests in sports and music, encouraging my time and effort spent on them despite it affecting my academic performance later.

To this day, my father has been extremely supportive of my accomplishments both as a mother and in my professional life. He has never failed to offer his wisdom and insight into the challenges I faced.

How an understanding of attachment styles can help teachers better relate to their students

When we understand the attachment styles of our children and students, we find ways to better relate and communicate with them.

A child’s attachment style can reveal the types of challenges children face as they grow. Their attachment styles can also help us understand how they respond and how they are likely to manage their challenges.

Additionally, understanding a child’s attachment style also lends insight into the set of expectations and beliefs he holds about himself and others. This opens a window into how the child views himself and his relationships with other people.

Fun-da-mentals Learning Centre

Established in 2009, Fun-da-mentals Learning Centre has since been a trusted learning partner for both parents and their children. We inspire inquisitive minds with our Primary, Secondary and Junior College academic programmes.

Call +65 98472637 for more information and make an appointment for a trial course today!


Fun-da-LAB is the Science enrichment branch of Fun-da-mentals Learning Centre.

With our one-of-a-kind laboratory and specially curated science enrichment programmes, we seek to nurture the scientist in every child through experiments and more-than-hands-on activities!

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