Facts for Living: Infant attachment and healthy relationships

By Rebecca McFarland
Frontier Extension Agent

Over the past couple of months I’ve been writing about teen relationships, more specifically about teen dating violence and healthy relationships. Dating violence is a serious problem in the United States and it can have a negative effect on health throughout life. Teens who are victims are more likely to be depressed and do poorly in school. They may engage in unhealthy behaviors, like using drugs and alcohol, and are more likely to have eating disorders. Teens who are victims in high school are at higher risk for victimization during college.

Studies show that people who harm their dating partner are more depressed and are more aggressive than peers. Other factors that increase risk for harming a dating partner include:

  • Trauma symptoms
  • Alcohol use
  • Having a friend involved in dating violence
  • Having problem behaviors in other areas
  • Belief that dating violence is acceptable
  • Exposure to harsh parenting
  • Exposure to inconsistent discipline
  • Lack of parental supervision, monitoring, and warmth

With the above information, you can conclude that relationships formed early in life, beginning in infancy, affect future relationships. For many of us, our first relationship is with our biological parents. The quality of the relationship between parents and young children is one of the most powerful factors in a child’s growth and development. The attachment relationship that a young child forms during the first two years of life takes time to develop. Typically, infants will develop this relationship with the parent(s) or person who provides the most direct, responsive care to their needs. This type of attachment with one to two significant adults is the primary attachment relationship. Then children will form supporting relationships with other caring adults.

Children who have secure attachments with their parents, tend to be popular with peers and exhibit more positive social interaction with other children and be more emotionally stable and able to express and manage their feelings well.

Children who are insecure seem more at risk for hostile, anti-social or difficult relationships with other children. They are also more likely to be emotionally unstable and have difficulty in expressing and managing their feelings.

We learn about relationships throughout our life, starting in infancy. And parents who have developed strong, secure attachments with their child still need to promote healthy relationships during the preteen and teen years. During this stage of development, young people are learning skills they need to form positive relationships with others. This is an ideal time to promote healthy relationships and prevent patterns of dating violence that can last into adulthood.

For more information about healthy relationships, you can visit the K-State Research and Extension Families website at http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/families.


McFarland_RebeccaRebecca McFarland is the Frontier Extension District family and consumer sciences agent. For more information, she can be contacted at the Extension district’s Ottawa office, 1418 S. Main, Suite 2, Ottawa, KS 66067, or call 785-229-3520, or email [email protected].

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