Attachment Theory vs Attachment Parenting

Written by Mel Gutierrez, BSN, RN

Dr. Sears created his Attachment parenting style as a way to help children become securely attached to their parents. But what exactly is secure attachment?

As humans, we naturally seek out relationships with others. The first relationship we develop is with our parents or primary caregivers. This first relationship creates the template that future relationships follow. When relationships with parents are secure, children struggle less with relationships later in life. They also do better in school and are less likely to suffer from mental illness. Attachment theory is how we understand how these relationships form and what attachment is.

This theory was first developed in the 1960s by Psychologist John Bowlby. He identified four traits of attachment that are seen when a baby is securely attached to their caregiver.

Proximity maintenance

This is a complex way to say babies seek to spend time with the caregivers they love and are happy when they are around them.

Safe Haven

When a baby is scared, they will seek out the caregiver they are attached to for comfort and support.

Secure base

When a baby explores a new environment, their caregivers are a base of security and comfort.

Separation distress

When separated from their caregivers, babies show anxiety.

These four traits of attachment become the base for all future relationships. When babies show all four of these traits in their relationship with their caregivers, the attachment is secure.

This secure attachment is formed when a caregiver responds to the needs of a babies needs with warmth most of the time. This means that when the baby is hungry, they can trust they will be fed. It means if they are uncomfortable and dirty, they will be cleaned. Some studies even find that getting it right about 60% of the time is enough for secure attachments to form. This is a good thing because it takes the pressure of parents always to respond perfectly to a baby’s needs. As long as parents make an effort to respond with warmth and care, a secure attachment is likely to follow.

This is why Attachment Parenting is separate from attachment theory. Attachment parenting gives a good set of tools to help parents and babies develop a secure bond. But it’s perfectly possible for a parent not to follow all of the recommendations and develop a secure bond. It’s also possible that following all the recommendations can make a parent so stressed they can’t emotionally connect while providing for a child’s needs, resulting in an insecure attachment.


The El Paso Center for Children has several programs and access to numerous community resources to help navigate and cherish family time. For questions, please contact us at 915.307.8043 or

The written information comes from my registered nurse education and baccalaureate psychology education. It is only intended for educational purposes. The information written for this blog is not a substitution for professional medical advice or therapy services.