Attachment theory refers to a group of psychological theories regarding the development of interpersonal relationships between individuals. It is often used in context of the way children become attached to their parents over their psychosocial development. The theories describe how children or individuals become attached to another person and seek out their closeness. The person feels comfortable when the other person is nearby; however, when the person is not close, the attached person may become anxious (Bretherton, 1992).
In an attempt to gain some insight into attachment theory, I spent some time at a local shopping mall. I spent a Saturday afternoon there in an attempt to see parents and their children interact together. I believed that a Saturday afternoon would be best because many parents work during the week. I noted a number of interesting episodes as a result of my observation. The first case I noted was a young woman with her infant. The woman appeared to be in her early twenties. She carried an infant in an over-the-shoulder harness. The infant appeared to be her only child, as she did not have any strollers or other small children with her. The mother repeatedly clung to the harness, almost as if she wanted to make sure that the infant was still there. Obviously, there would be no way that an infant could escape one of these harnesses. The mother appeared to be extremely anxious about ensuring the safety and closeness of her baby. I imagine that as a new mother, and a younger one, this likely was a normal response for her. There is a biological and evolutionary aspect to this type of attachment. The mother knows that her baby needs to have all of his needs taken care of; the baby cannot protect itself. The mother must do this.
Other mothers, however, appeared to be more relaxed. A family was shopping. The mother and father were present. They had three-year old identical twins, a baby in a stroller and a child who looked to be about six years old. They walked the length of the mall, possibly as a way to simply escape their home with the weather. The mother tended to the infant only when it cried. She did not appear to fuss excessively over the infant. I did note that one of the twins reached for her hand more so than the other twin. The father had been holding the hands of the twins; one would repeatedly go to his mother though. I found this quite interesting. The six year old boy hung onto the stroller. I believe that he was trying to distance himself from his attachment to his mother. I questioned if this were a natural response of his development or if the recent addition of another baby influenced his attempt to move away physically, and therefore, psychologically from the parent. There are individual differences noted in this attachment. The twins responded differently, despite being in the same circumstances.
I saw one father who clearly struggled with his son. His son was a four year old, who appeared to be highly active. The father struggled to force the child to hold his hand. The son clearly did not want to have his hand held by his father. I wondered if this were related to the location or related to the boy’s attachment to the father. The father appeared nervous whenever the child managed to escape from his grasp. I noted that the father ran after the child several times. It appeared that the child did not have the appropriate level of attachment for the father. I realized that this may not be the child’s father, but also an uncle or a friend of the family. In this case, the child would not have as great a level of attachment. In addition, this occurred near the food court, which also had those small rides for children to play upon and a playground. The child may have simply wanted to run off to play on the amusements. This indicates that the role of context is important in understanding the attachment of the child. The child would likely behave differently in a different context.
I did note that there were not as many small children as I would have thought. I spent several hours there and recognized that there were mostly adults shopping without children, and also multiple groups of teenagers. Adults often had a teenage daughter with them; likely they were shopping for clothes. Obviously, there is no way to know if these adults have children or not. The adults may have left the children with another caretaker; it is difficult to shop with a small child. However, in my time at the mall, I did note a number of different levels of attachment between adults and children. It was a rather interesting afternoon.