How Anxious Ambivalent Attachment Develops in Children

Anxious ambivalent attachment is a pattern of attachment that is characterized by difficulties in regulating overall levels of anxiety and distress. It is most commonly observed in children who experience chronic stress or trauma early on.

Anxious ambivalent attachment typically develops in children in the first 18 months of life. During this formative period, a child’s caregiver may have acted nurturing and responsive one minute and unavailable or insensitive the next. Put shortly, the caregivers behaved inconsistently in response to their child’s needs. This doesn’t mean they intentionally neglected their child’s needs, but the child perceived they acted as not fully meeting them for whatever reason.

For example, perhaps when the baby cries for affection, the caregiver sometimes runs to cater to their need, but on other occasions feels like it’s best for them to self-soothe, so they ignore their cries. This might mean the child starts seeing their caregiver’s actions as unpredictable. So, they start to feel conflicted about how their caregiver will respond to them. When their parent is attentive, the child is content and happy, but when they’re not, the child is confused.

For this reason, the child may develop ambivalent attachment patterns and behaviors. They might feel distrustful of their caregiver, but they also desperately want affection to meet their emotional needs, so they cling to them.

The anxious ambivalent attachment pattern can be difficult to overcome. It can lead to difficulties in forming trusting relationships and negatively impact a child’s overall well-being. However, it is possible to improve the overall quality of life for children with this attachment pattern by addressing the underlying causes of the stress or trauma.

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