A Beginner’s Guide to Attachment Theory for Parents

Attachment theory

Many people may be familiar with the term “attachment” as it relates to parenting, but what does this really mean and why it is important?

Attachment theory, as coined by John Bowlby (a British psychoanalyst) and his colleague Mary Ainsworth, refers to attachment as the proximity seeking behaviours that infants engage in to keep close to their primary caregivers, for whom their dependence upon really is a life and death matter (Bowlby, 1973).

We know from developmental psychology research that responsive caretaking contributes to development of this secure attachment (Hoffman, Cooper & Powell, 2017). Attachment theory outlines how secure attachment creates the foundation of emotional wellbeing across the lifespan (Thompson, 2016). The team at Circle of Security International have attempted to simplify attachment theory to provide a visual map of the tasks of caregiver-child attachment. The Circle as a visual guide highlights the needs of children (e.g., to be supported in exploration, to be comforted when distressed, to delight in) as they make their way around the circle; going out exploring and then returning to the safety and comfort of their parent’s presence.

Circle of Security
Image credit: Circle of Security International

Becoming a new parent can be an evocative time in which parents reflect on the ways in which their needs for attachment were met or not and can provide an unconscious template for the way they parent. Many of the new parents we see at the Centre for Clinical Psychology find that reflecting upon their experience of being parented, provides the platform for them to make choices about how they want to parent their children.

But what if I didn’t have a secure attachment with my primary caregiver/s as a child? What does that mean for me as an adult?

The good thing to know is that attachment styles are malleable, and there is a concept known as earned security (Hesse, 2016), in which through reflecting on past experiences and developing a narrative that makes sense (termed coherence), individuals can work towards attachment security.

The perinatal psychologists at The Centre for Clinical Psychology have an understanding of relational templates that develop in infancy, and how they influence our emotional well-being as adults. They collectively hold the belief that all parents are doing the best they can with the resources they have available to them, and are also interested in helping support parents to parent in a way that feels satisfying to them.

If you are struggling in your parenting and wish you discuss some of these ideas further, you can book an appointment at the Centre for Clinical Psychology by telephoning (03) 9077 0122.

Further Resources

For further information about attachment theory and parenting, you can visit the Circle of Security International website.



Bowlby, J. (1979). The making and breaking of affectional bonds. Routledge

Hesse, E. (2016) The adult attachment interview: protocol, method of analysis, and selected empirical studies: 1985-2015. In J. Cassidy & P.R. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of attachment: Theory, research, and clinical applications (3rd ed., pp.553 – 597). The Guildford Press.

Hoffman, K., Cooper, G., & Powell, B. (2017). Raising a secure child – how Circle of Security Parenting can help you nurture your child’s attachment, emotional resilience, and freedom to explore. The Guilford Press.

Thompson, R.A. (2016). Attachment and later development. Reframing the questions. In J. Cassidy & P.R. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of attachment: Theory, research, and clinical applications (3rd ed., pp.330 – 348). The Guildford Press.