The importance of positive attachment relationships in early childhood programs

Positive attachment experiences in the early years of childhood development are critical in the formation of socialization and relationships.  “One of the most important concepts related to attachment is attachment stability”, (Seven & Ogelman, 2012, p 767).  Within the first two years, consistency and reliability and experience lay a strong foundation of attachment between the child and the caregiver. Furthermore, “secure attachment relationship should be considered as the best single index of competence for infants and toddlers because security implies that the child is able to flexibly exercise behavior, affect, and cognition in the service of achieving developmentally salient goals”, (Verissimo, Santos, Fernandes & Vaughn, 2014, p 83).

Why should early childhood educators and administrators be concerned about attachment relationships between children, families and how it relates to our academic programs and society as a whole?  The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) stipulates that as early childcare providers and educators we that maintain positive relationships to instill a sense of self-worth and responsibility so that children in our charge can learn freely in a safe and secure environment on the roads to becoming responsible adults within our society.  How can we accomplish this task?

Branch and Brinson (2007) advice is that we must consider how attachment plays across every developmental domain that children experience.  From bedwetting or whining as a first grader or preschooler, to cognitive or behavioral developments and outbursts of second graders, attachment issues arise at different stages of a child’s life due to loss of income, divorce, addictions, mental illness or even abuse within their primary caregiver’s home.

First, through additional professional development on the understanding of attachment, we can properly prepare age-appropriate curriculums and development other tools and resources to ensure children are receiving the support and encouragement needed to fully develop.  “. In addition to the expected positive effect of responsive teacher practices on children’s social, emotional, and cognitive skills, we also expected that the increased responsivity would result in the children forming a closer relationship with their teacher and showing lower levels of behavioral and emotional problems (e.g., anxiety, aggression)”, (Landry et al., 2014, p 528).

Second, we must apply this understanding to our curriculums, interactions and conversations about the success of early childhood educational programs.  “Social justice principles of self-determination, empowerment, and transparency underlay the approach and strengths practitioners aim to facilitate change by “power with” stakeholders rather than “power over” them”, (Fenton & McFarland-Piazza, 2014, p 24).    What does strength approach entail?  According to Fenton & McFarland-Piazza (2014) there are five key elements:

  1. Listening to peoples’ stories
  2. Developing a picture of the future [visioning] and setting goals;
  3. Identifying and highlighting strengths and exceptions to problems;
  4. Identifying additional resources needed to move towards a picture of the future;
  5. Mobilizing strengths and resources through a plan of action;

Applying each of these principals to our conversations with families and children, we promote inclusion in working towards common goals, the academic and social success of children growing towards becoming responsible caring adults.


Branch, M. L., & Brinson, S. A. (2007).  Gone but not forgotten: Children’s experiences with attachment, separation and loss.  Reclaiming Children and Youth: The Journal of Strength-Based Interventions, 16(3), 41.45.

Fenton, A., & McFarland-Piazza, L. (2014). Supporting early childhood preservice teachers in their work with children and families with complex needs: A strengths approach.  Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 35(1), 22-38.

Landry, S. H., Zucker, T. A., Taylor, H. B., Swank, P. R., Williams, J. M., Assel, M., & …Klein, A. (2014). Enhancing early child care quality and learning for toddlers at risk: The responsive early childhood program.  Developmental Psychology, 50(2), 526-541.

National Association for the Education of Young Children (2016).  Position Statement.  Retrieved from

Seven, S., & Ogelman, H. G. (2012). Attachment stability in children aged 6 to 9 years in extended and nuclear families.  Early Education and Development 23(5), 766-780.

Verissimo, M., Santos, A. J., Fernandes, C., & Vaughn, B. E. (2014).  Associations between attachment security and social competence in preschool children.  Merrill-Palmer Quarterly: Journal of Developmental Psychology, 60(1), 80-99.