Attachment is the powerful bond of love that exists between a caregiver and a child (or between any two people at any stage). Attachment is at the core of infancy, as well as all stages throughout the life span.
Proximity seeking behaviour refers to our need to be close to our attachment figure. This becomes active when we feel threatened at any age. This is evoked either by an internal state like feeling worried, or a danger in the world around you, like getting into a fight or losing your job. When we get older we have greater capacity to be apart from our attachment figures. But in infancy and childhood being separated from our caregivers causes distress.
At 4 months the infant enters a transitional phase called ‘attachment in the making’. At this stage the cortex in the brain is being to develop and they start showing a slight preference for their primary caregiver. At around 7 or 8 months babies start hunting for physical objects. They crawl or walk as they explore their environment. This paves the way for ‘clear-cut’ or focused attachment. This is where the infant enters the full blown attachment response. Separation anxiety and stranger anxiety are common features of this period. Babies are no longer friendly towards strangers as they move towards their first birthday, only comfortable in the arms of their caregiver.
Between years 1 and 2 this distress increases. They cling and cry if their caregiver goes to leave them. A study was carried our on infants at this age playing a park. The infants felt comfortable exploring with a radius of 200 feet away from the caregiver. The caregiver too, was uncomfortable with a distance greater than this. This is called their zone of comfort. Toddlers can be seen constantly looking back at their caregiver to see that they are still there. This is called social referencing – the baby is checking in with the caregiver to see what is safe and what is dangerous. This is something we do throughout the life time as we read others reaction to our behaviour. This period of attachment comes to an around ages 3 when the child is able to develop an internal working model (an inner representation) of the caregiver. They no longer need to be as physically close because they can hold the caregiver in their mind and gain comfort from their image.