Last Updated: Friday, December 30, 2022

Attachment Theory and Practice

What is this?

This article discusses the prominent psychological theory of attachment theory.

Who is this for?

​Practitioners, particularly those in in early learning and childcare settings.

​In this article (originally published in Early Years Matters magazine) Elizabeth King, Principal Educational Psychologist in South Lanarkshire Council and Editor of the Scottish Attachment in Action (SAIA) newsletter, discusses one of the most prominent psychological theories influencing clinical interventions, teaching approaches and child-care policies.

Read this article

​Bowlby defined attachment as a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings”. Attachment theory describes ‘attachment’ as the quality of the relationship from the child’s perspective, i.e. the enduring relationship which develops between a child and their caregiver prenatally and during the first two years of life.

A wealth of research across cultures has tested, challenged and advanced Bowlby’s theory (1958, 1961), and it is widely acknowledged as one of the most empirically-based conceptual frameworks with which to understand social and emotional difficulties across the lifespan. There is wide-ranging evidence that people with close social attachments are happier, healthier and live longer. Working out how we can promote meaningful attachments from infancy has great potential for our communities.

Attachment is a process which takes place within the child’s development process, although there are individual differences in how children respond to similar life conditions. Findings would indicate that this ongoing attachment process between the infant and caregiver has a direct impact on all aspects of childhood development – emotional, social, psychological, neurological and physical.

Attachment patterns can be transmitted across generations and early intervention is therefore crucial. To support children and young people with insecure attachments, we need a developmentally sensitive informed approach which creates experiences for vulnerable young children that can shape, reshape and transform their developmental journey. We need to promote emotional and social experiences for children which give them the confidence to explore the world around them and begin to learn important skills for life.

Within the last decade, there has been an increasing Scottish Government focus on prevention and early intervention in children’s services. National and international figures, as well as a range of national organisations have been promoting attachment informed practice as an essential knowledge and skill base for the workforce in Children’s Services. The National Practice Guidance on Early Learning and Childcare will include a focus on attachment theory.

A number of questions arise

  1. How can strategic leaders in education promote attachment informed practice in their policies and procedures?
  2. How does attachment theory integrate with other key theories and models for the education workforce?
  3. What would practitioners be doing differently if their practice was informed by attachment theory?
  4. What difference does it make to children? What is the impact?

A programme of research in South Lanarkshire Council is planned to investigate these questions. This research will include an exploration of the impact of a training programme for education staff on attachment theory and practice. This training programme will be developed over the next year by Elizabeth King and the Service Development Consultancy Lead from the Centre for Excellence for Looked after Children in Scotland (CELCIS). Please contact Elizabeth King for more information at


PDF File: A to Z of Attachment and resilience from South Lanarkshire Council (272KB)