The Four Phases of Attachment

Although the process of attachment between a child and his parents is lifelong, the first three-to-five years of his life are most important because of the degree of dependency he has on his parents and their ability during this time to influence the child's view of how he sees himself. During this time, attachment evolves in four relatively predictable phases.


The first phase happens around birth and lasts until approximately two-to-three months. During this phase, a baby learns to respond to humans in general. He is beginning to orient himself and to learn how to figure out through his senses of sight and smell what a human face and voice are and how to respond to them. Within this first phase, the infant does not show any particularly strong preference for a single attachment figure.


The second phase begins gradually at the age of two-to-three months and lasts until the child is approximately seven months old. During this phase, a process of complex behavior begins to be directed toward one or more figures (including crying when the caregiver leaves and stopping crying when the caregiver returns).


The third phase begins between six and nine months and lasts until the child is approximately three years old. During this phase, the young child strives to maintain closeness with one or more care-givers through locomotion, direct communication, and other direct social signals. Three primary attachment behaviors are used:

□ Maintaining proximity (staying near and resisting separations from the attachment figure).

□ Finding a safe harbor (turning to the attachment figure for comfort and support).

□ Establishing a secure base (using the attachment figure as a base from which to engage in play and explore his world).


The fourth phase begins between two-and-a-half and three years of age. Through language and interaction, the child begins to see the world from the perspective of both himself and his attachment figure. During the fourth phase the child incorporates the goals, plans, and desires of his attachment figure into his own decision making, which results in shared plans and activities. Toward the third birthday, a child is increasingly able to recognize, understand, and talk about the feelings and behaviors of family members. By three, most children understand increasingly complex rules for social interaction, are able to interpret others' feelings and goals, and use such rules to affect others' emotions.

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