Understanding Diverse Parenting Styles and The Nuances of Attachment Theory

Attachment Disorder has become a hot topic in the field of counseling. This article examines some of its nuances in relation to parenting styles...

Published on:
·8 min read
Category: Therapy

In order to establish a clearly defined frame of reference for various aspects and nuances associated with the concept of attachment, it is imperative to first conceptualize a working definition of attachment. “

Attachment style or organization is a concept that derives from John Bowlby’s attachment theory and refers to a person’s characteristic ways of relating in intimate caregiving and receiving relationships with “attachment figures,” often one’s parents, children, and romantic partners” (Levy, Ellison, Scott, & Bernecker , 2010, p. 193). Feldman (2011) in addressing relationship formation asserts, “Attachment is a positive emotional bond that develops between a child and a particular, special individual” (p. 178). Contextually, as it relates specifically to parent-child relationship, the emotional aspects during the social development of children may result in pleasure or distress (Feldman, 2011). Moreover, some researchers contend that the nature of the infantile attachment has subsequent consequences on adulthood interpersonal relationships. Minnis, et al. (2009) add further speculation to current level of understanding of attachment disorder, “Despite more than 30 years in the psychiatric nomenclature, reactive attachment disorder remains a poorly understood phenotype” (p. 931).

Conceptually, attachment is intricately connected to the nuances of sensitivity and safety. The concept of attachment is rooted in one’s confidence or lack of confidence in the attachment figure, particularly in the context of security.

The maternal role is intimately connected to developing appropriate personal sensitivity, while discerning the safety of her offspring. Feldman (2011) convincingly articulates this relationship, “ The research showing the correspondence between mothers’ sensitivity to their infants and the security of the infants’ attachment is consistent with Ainsworth’s arguments that attachment depends on how mothers react to their infants’ emotional cues” (p. 181). In other words, infants that feel a sense of security are more inclined to freely explore their immediate world. Moreover, the sense of an established and safe haven builds the infant’s confidence that parental support, protection, comfort exist in times of distress.

Any discussion on parenting styles and attachment theory would be incomplete in the absence of sharing insight from the father’s parental perspective.

Guided by the social norms and traditions of his day, it can be argued that John Bowlby’s research was skewed by his distinct worldview. However, given the parental roles that many fathers now assume due to various macro-environmental factors, it would be prudent to redress this issue. “Although infants are fully capable of forming attachments to both mother and father- as well as other individuals – the nature of the attachment between infants and mothers, on the one hand, and infants and fathers, on the other hand, is not identical” (Feldman, 2011, p. 182). At the corpus of the distinctive attachments is the qualitative nature of their individual relationships. Traditionally, the maternal relationship is primarily nurturing, whereas the paternal relationship involves more play, particularly physical and contact sporting activities. However, as previously alluded to, cultural, social, and economic factors significantly impinge on previously held views of distinctive paternal and maternal stereotypical roles.

In summary, a plethora of research continues in an effort to gain a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of attachment disorder.

In the context of this discussion, there appears to be no clear scientific links between reactive attachment disorder and attachment insecurity (Minnis, et al., 2009). On the surface, there appears to be some interactions among attachment styles, safety, confidence, and exploration. Levy, et al. (2010) explicate the importance of exploration in the context of interpersonal relationships, “Exploration of the world includes not only the physical world but also relationships with other people and reflection on one’s internal experience” (p. 193). Hypothetically, the context of future research bears the solutions. Thus, Minnis et al. (2009) succinctly conclude, “An important task of future research will be to gain a better understanding of attachment in the context of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), including the possibility that there may be differences in behavior even with the ‘secure’ category” (p. 939).


Feldman, R. S. (2011). Development across the life span. New Jersey: Pearson.

Levy, K. N., Ellison, W.D., Scott, L. N., & Bernecker, S. L. (2010). Attachment style. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 67(2), 193-203.

Minnis, H., Green, J., O’Connor, T. G., Liew, A., Glaser, D., Taylor, E., Follan, M., Young, D., Barnes, J., Gillberg, C., Pelosi, A., Arthur, J., Burston, A., Connolly, B., & Sadiq, F. A.). (2009).

An exploratory study of the association between reactive attachment disorder and attachment narratives in early school-age children. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 50(8), 931- 942.