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Parenting Styles & Infant Attachment

by Cara Batema, studioD

In the first few years of life, infants and children often heavily favor the company of their parents. The attachment bond responsible for this behavior is an emotional connection that helps your infant trust you, which eventually aids in relationship development later in life. The degree to which your infant attaches to you depends on your parenting style.

Authoritative Parenting and Secure Attachment

Diana Baumrind, clinical and developmental psychologist, outlined three parenting styles, the most optimal being the authoritative parenting style. This style is characterized by a balanced mixture of high control and parental warmth, which produces children who feel secure and have positive social relationships throughout childhood and adulthood. An authoritative parent suggests her own perspective but respects her child’s interests. For example, she may take her infant to music class by her own choice but purchase a toy that she sees her child enjoys. Infants who have authoritative parents tend to be lively and happy and feel confident to explore and play, which are all signs of secure attachment. According to HelpGuide.org, secure attachment develops the areas of your infant’s brain responsible for social and emotional development and communication.

Permissive Parenting

Permissive-style parenting is similar to authoritative in that it shows warmth, but the lack of control gives an infant extreme freedom. Parents who operate in this style are very responsive to a child’s physical and emotional needs. The parent who won't put her baby down because she always starts crying or who always goes immediately to take the baby out the crib if she gets upset when waking in the middle of the night adheres to the permissive style, also referred to as "indulgent." Infants who attach with this parenting style often need the parent in the room to encourage her to play and explore. Developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth investigated the response of infants around parents and strangers, and infants who've had permissive parenting might show anxious-ambivalent attachment, in which they become distressed when parents leave and anxious around strangers.

Authoritarian Parenting

Not to be confused with authoritative style, the authoritarian parenting style is a combination of high control and low warmth. These parents might have limited interaction with their infant and tend to be demanding. This parenting style often results in one of two types of attachment: dependent and submissive (particularly for girls) or hostile and rebellious (more likely for boys). Infants might seem anxious, withdrawn or generally unhappy.

Neglectful Parenting

A fourth style of parenting added after Baumrind’s three styles is neglectful parenting, which involves both low warmth and low control. Parents who seem to show no interest in their child or who see their child as a burden display the neglectful style. Additionally, mothers who have postpartum depression might display this style before seeking treatment. In Ainsworth’s attachment model, children exposed to neglectful parenting might engage in anxious-avoidant insecure attachment, in which the child treats the parent and stranger the same and does not explore much. The result of this parenting style is an infant who does not meet milestones and who is likely to develop psychological and social problems.

About the Author

Cara Batema is a musician, teacher and writer who specializes in early childhood, special needs and psychology. Since 2010, Batema has been an active writer in the fields of education, parenting, science and health. She holds a bachelor's degree in music therapy and creative writing.

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