Attachment Styles

Attachment styles form when we’re still babies. Attachment theory tells us that the emotional attachments we form with our primary caregivers in infancy can influence our interpersonal relationships later in life.

Things you can do to form a secure attachment style with your child include being available to their needs and more.
Being present for your child can help them form a secure attachment style.

What are attachment styles?

Attachment styles refer to the way our primary caregivers interacted with us as infants, and how those interactions affect our relationships in adulthood.

For instance, when your primary caregiver (often a parent) dropped you off with a babysitter or another caregiver, how did you react? Were you scared? Sad? Or were you OK because you knew they’d be back soon? How did you react when they returned to pick you up? Relieved? Upset? Apathetic?

The answers to these questions say a lot about your expectations in infancy — about what you experienced when it came to your needs. They also shed light on how you navigate your relationships in adulthood.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

What are the types of attachment styles?

Psychologists have identified four attachment styles:

  1. Secure attachment style.
  2. Anxious attachment style.
  3. Avoidant attachment style.
  4. Disorganized attachment style.

Insecure attachment styles include anxious, avoidant and disorganized. The goal is to move out of insecure attachment and into secure attachment.

Attachment styles in relationships

With over 50 years of extensive research on attachment theory, psychologists agree that your earliest emotional bonds with your primary caregiver can directly impact your future romantic relationships.

If you had a caregiver who was attentive and reliable, you’re more likely to have secure, stable relationships as an adult. On the other hand, if your caregiver wasn’t attentive or consistent in their care, you’re more likely to have difficulties in your adult relationships.

Is my relationship with my primary childhood caregiver the only thing that impacts my attachment style?

Most research on attachment theory centers around the relationship between you and your primary caregiver when you were a baby, specifically during the first 18 months of your life. But other people can influence your attachment style, too. Past friendships and romantic relationships can also shape the way you react to emotional cues. Even if you had a secure attachment in childhood, betrayal and other difficult experiences can cause you to develop an insecure attachment later in life.

You can also have different attachment styles with different people. Because of your past experiences, there may be certain people with whom you feel more secure.

Can I change my attachment style?

Changing your attachment style is totally possible. It starts with self-awareness. Once you recognize your emotional tendencies — and existing patterns in your adult relationships — you can “flip the script,” so to speak. Reframing old thought patterns can help you transition from an insecure attachment style to a secure one. While you can do some of this work on your own, it’s always a good idea to talk to a counselor or therapist who can help you make sense of things along the way.


What is secure attachment style?

Secure attachment is the ability to build healthy, fulfilling and long-lasting relationships.

Secure attachment style in children

Children with a secure attachment style feel safe, valued, understood and comforted by their primary caregiver. As babies, they usually cry when their caregiver leaves but find comfort in their return. When they’re scared, they seek comfort from their caregiver.

Secure attachment style in adults

Having a secure attachment style means you feel safe and confident in your adult relationships. You openly share feelings with your partners and close friends, you seek out social support when you need it and you have good self-esteem overall.

Signs of secure attachment

If you have a secure attachment style, you can probably:

  • Trust others easily.
  • Communicate effectively.
  • Regulate your emotions.
  • Feel comfortable when you spend time alone.
  • Connect with others easily.
  • Manage conflict in a healthy way.
  • Make yourself emotionally available to the people in your life.

What is anxious attachment style?

Anxious attachment is a type of insecure attachment. People with anxious attachment often have a fear of rejection and abandonment. They may seek validation from someone outside of themselves.

Other names for anxious attachment style include:

  • Preoccupied attachment style.
  • Anxious-preoccupied attachment style.
  • Anxious-ambivalent attachment style.

Anxious attachment style in children

Children with anxious attachment style become very distraught when separated from their parents. But they often don’t find comfort in their return, either. Children with anxious attachment are usually more distrustful of strangers compared to children with other attachment styles.

Anxious attachment style in adults

Adults with anxious attachment style may worry that their partners or friends don’t love them. Because of this, they may have a deep fear of rejection or abandonment. People with anxious attachment may have low self-esteem overall and need approval from others to feel validated. They’re also more prone to codependent tendencies, and they often become very distressed when relationships end.

Signs of anxious attachment

If you have anxious attachment, you might experience:

  • Feelings of unworthiness.
  • A high sensitivity to criticism.
  • Difficulty spending time alone.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Difficulty trusting other people.
  • Feelings of jealousy.
  • Fear of rejection or abandonment.


What is avoidant attachment style?

Avoidant attachment style is another type of insecure attachment. People with avoidant attachment may have difficulty building meaningful relationships due to fear of intimacy.

Other names for avoidant attachment style include:

  • Dismissive attachment style.
  • Anxious-avoidant attachment style.

Avoidant attachment style in children

Babies and children with avoidant attachment style don’t actively seek comfort from their caregiver. They might not reject comfort when offered, but they tend to avoid interactions in general. Children with avoidant attachment style typically show no preference between a primary caregiver and a complete stranger.

Avoidant attachment style in adults

As an adult, having an avoidant attachment style might mean you avoid intimacy and invest very little emotion in your relationships with partners and friends. People with this type of attachment might have a strong sense of independence and feel threatened when someone tries to get close to them. This can make it difficult to share your innermost thoughts and feelings with the people in your life.

Signs of avoidant attachment

If you have avoidant attachment style, you might:

  • Feel a strong sense of independence.
  • Dismiss others easily.
  • Have difficulty trusting others.
  • Feel uneasy when people try to get close to you.
  • Avoid intimacy (emotional or physical).
  • Have commitment issues.

What is disorganized attachment style?

Disorganized attachment style is a third type of insecure attachment. People with disorganized attachment may exhibit inconsistent behavior or have trouble trusting others.

Other names for disorganized attachment style include:

  • Fearful-avoidant attachment style.

Disorganized attachment style in children

Children with disorganized attachment style may appear confused much of the time. They may fear that something bad will happen. This is usually due to emotional inconsistencies of their primary caregiver. For example, a caregiver may give comfort to the child in some instances but instill fear in others. A child may not fully trust their caregiver because the same person who brings them harm may occasionally bring them comfort, as well. Children with disorganized attachment are often victims of abuse, trauma or neglect.

Disorganized attachment style in adults

Adults with disorganized attachment often exhibit confusing or unpredictable behavior. They crave love and belonging — yet they also fear these things. As a result, they may settle into a pattern of seeking out love only to reject it repeatedly. They might alternate between clinging to their partner and pushing them away. For example, they may be emotional one day and aloof the next.

Signs of disorganized attachment style

If you have disorganized attachment, you might have:

  • Difficulty trusting others.
  • Trouble regulating your emotions.
  • Signs of anxious and avoidant attachment styles.
  • A fear of rejection.
  • Confusing or contradictory behaviors.

What does all this mean for my child?

The emotional bond you form with your child is an important one. While attachment styles can change throughout a person’s life, the initial bond between you and your child will set them off on a particular path. Having a secure bond is like giving your child a map and a compass before they begin their journey.

It’s easier to guide your child’s emotional health during their developmental years. Think of it like cement. You can shape and mold freshly poured cement. But once that cement hardens, it takes a lot more work to change it. Forming a secure bond with your child now sets them up for success in the future.

How can I form a secure attachment with my child?

With all of this at stake, how can you ensure your child forms a secure attachment to carry them through life? First step, take a deep breath. Awareness is key when it comes to forming a healthy, secure attachment. Instinctually, you’re likely already giving your child the things they need to excel emotionally. And if you weren’t invested in your child’s well-being, you probably wouldn’t be reading this article.

Here are some things you can do to form a secure bond with your child:

  • Make yourself available to them and their needs. It’s unrealistic to give your child undivided attention 100% of the time. But you should try to do this often, especially during times your child isn’t expecting it. This tells your child that you want to spend time with them because of who they are — not because of something they’ve done.
  • Validate your child’s feelings. Take notice of the things your child might feel and help them name those emotions. Remind them that it’s normal to have emotions because they all serve a purpose — and it’s okay to feel how they feel. Helping them find healthy ways to manage tough emotions — like anger — can strengthen the attachment between you and your child.
  • Get involved in your child’s interests. Learn about your child’s hobbies and interests. Find ways to connect with them about the things they enjoy.
  • Enjoy just being together. Much of your job as a parent or caregiver involves directing or instructing your child in some way. While this is vital to your child’s development, it’s also beneficial to spend time with them just because. Interacting with your child in warm, inviting ways helps them understand that you enjoy them and delight in them. Let them know that you love them exactly as they are.

Is attachment theory the same thing as attachment parenting?

Attachment parenting is the philosophy that staying in close physical proximity and having a high level of responsiveness to your child will help form a secure attachment. Attachment parenting takes its cues from attachment theory research, but these two aren’t one and the same.

Advocates for attachment parenting usually recommend that you practice what resonates with you and leave the rest. After all, when it comes to parenting, there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

The bond you form with your child during their first 18 months can have a profound impact on the way they navigate relationships later in life. When interacting with your child, be consistent and intentional. Make sure they know you’re a safe person with whom they can share their feelings and emotions, big or small. Forming a secure attachment with your child is just one way to set them up for success in the future. To learn more about techniques that’ll work for you, talk to your child’s pediatrician.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 08/04/2023.

Learn more about our editorial process.

Call Appointment Center 866.320.4573
Questions 216.444.2200