Attachment Versus Bonding

n1051794010_19776_381_2For years after adopting Casey, we focused our parental attention on bonding with our child. Certainly a nurturing and loving environment at home would erase the past; nurture would triumph over nature. But bonding was only a piece of the attachment puzzle.

The website,, has a good article on the difference between bonding and attachment which is summarized below.

As a parent or primary caretaker for your infant, you can follow all the traditional parenting guidelines, provide around-the-clock care for your baby, and yet still not achieve a secure attachment. You can tend to your baby’s every physical need, keep them safe and dry, provide the highest quality nourishment, and ensure they get all the sleep and mental stimulation they need. You can hold them, cuddle them, massage them, or even sleep with your infant without creating the kind of attachment that fosters the best development for your child. How is it possible to do such a good job of meeting a baby’s physical needs and yet have a child that does not have a secure attachment?

Casey 1990's_0039

The bond of love differs from the attachment bond

The infant’s need for survival and the parent’s need to care for their offspring create a bond of love between parent and child. However, an infant needs something more than love and caregiving in order for their brain and nervous system to develop in the best way possible.

The difference between bonding and a secure attachment
  • Refers to your feelings for and sense of connection to your child that begins before birth and usually develops very quickly in the first weeks after the baby is born.
  • Is task-oriented. You plan and attend to your baby’s regular needs such as changing diapers, feeding, and bathing.
  • You maintain your regular adult pace while attending to your infant. For example, you hurry to change the baby’s diapers so it will be done in time for you to make an important phone call.
  • You as the parent initiate interaction with your baby. For example, you want to get a cute photo of your baby laughing so you initiate play time.
  • You focus on future goals by, for example, trying to do everything you can to have the smartest, happiest baby.
  • You concentrate on planning, reading about, and talking about what your baby needs.
  • Is a process that can include many people—all those who care for your infant.
Secure Attachment:
  • Refers to your child’s emotional connection with you (as primary caregiver) that begins at birth, develops rapidly in the next two years and continues developing throughout life.
  • Requires you to focus on what is happening in the moment between you and your baby. Your infant’s cues tell you that he or she feels unhappy, for example, and you respond.
  • You follow your infant’s slower pace and take the time to decipher and respond to your baby’s nonverbal cues that communicate, for example, “I’m in no hurry, I just want to explore you and me.”
  • Your infant initiates and ends the interaction between you. You pick up on your baby’s nonverbal cue that he or she is exhausted and needs to rest, so you postpone taking a cute photo and stop trying to engage the baby in play.
  • You focus solely on the moment-to-moment experience, just enjoying connecting with your baby.
  • You concentrate on the emotional interchange that occurs between you and your baby.
  • Happens with only one person at a time—namely, the primary caretaker.
Why so much confusion about bonding and attachment?

The words bond or bonding are commonly used to describe both caretaking and the emotional exchange that forms the attachment process, even though they are very different ways of connecting with your baby.

  • One is a connection based on the care a parent provides for an infant, while the other is based on the quality of nonverbal emotional communication that occurs between parent and child.
  • Both types of parent-child interaction can occur simultaneously. While feeding or bathing your baby, for example, you can also build the emotional connection by recognizing and responding to your baby’s nonverbal cues.

Before experts understood the radical changes going on in the infant brain during the first months and years of life, both the caretaking process and the attachment process looked very similar. Now, though, they are able to recognize and painstakingly record an infant’s nonverbal responses to highlight the process of attachment.

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