Such selective attachments begin to form from birth.  Early infancy is a critical period for their development, but there are further key stages throughout childhood.  During the toddler years, mobility, play and language develop, providing opportunities to extend attachment relationships to siblings and close adults. By the age of 4 years, secure children are able to think about other people's thoughts and feelings key to managing relationships with peers and at school.

[Emily and sibling Philip] [Katie and sibling Jamie]

During the pre-school and primary years, secure children develop the capacity to hold the secure base relationships in mind when they are separated from them (for example, at nursery or school), providing freedom for exploration and learning.

Also during this stage, children continue to learn to manage their feelings, co-operate with others, and take into account the thoughts and feelings of others.

During adolescence, young people become increasingly confident and competent. Their thinking is more complex and more reflective. There may be experimentation with the rejection of parental norms and values and moving away from the secure base.  However, family ties and the knowledge that the secure base is still available in times of difficulty remain very important.

Over time, the quality of early life experiences will influence the ability to explore the world, develop peer relationships and, ultimately, develop intimate adult relationships.  Interestingly, a study of Kibbutz arrangements in Israel, where children who slept away from their parents in a house devoted to the children, and were cared for by a matapalet (a kibbutz children's nurse) found that it did not work and was eventually discontinued.  It has been suggested that these children tended to form insecure attachments and to display difficulties in developing adult intimate relationships.

As a child reaches adolescence, a new dimension is given to attachment.  Although the relationship between adolescents and their parents do not become less important, the adolescent becomes less dependent on the parent.  The attachment bonds are "treated by many adolescents more like ties that restrain than like ties that anchor and secure, and a key task of adolescence is to develop autonomy so as no longer to need to rely (as much) on parents' support when making one's way through the world".  (Allen & Land)  They continue, however, to rely on the fact that parents are available for them, even though they wish to become less dependent upon them.  This is when they begin to transfer their attachment from parents to peers.  And this is not always an easy task for adolescents.  Those that are insecure in the first place, will experience difficulty in balancing their desire for autonomy with their need for attachment.  Such adolescents , with little confidence in the stability of their attachment relationships, will go into avoidance mode, wheres secure adolescents will tend to meet any problem head on and resolve it.

"Avoidance by insecure adolescents can cause future problems within attachment relationships and can lead to depression and other problems. Adolescent depression has also been related to maternal attachment insecurity. There is moodiness, tension, and emotional instability. At this point in time both the parents and child need to be sensitive to the fact that their relationship is changing, and this is impacting the attachment system dramatically. At this point, the adolescent needs their parents the most, even though the adolescent is trying to become independent from the parents.

"In conclusion, friendship attachments are important during adolescence because they are sources of emotional security and support, contexts for growth in social competence, and prototypes for later relationships." (Seiffge-Krenke, 1993).

The formation and development of attachment relationships continue through the lifespan, so that adult children's relationships with their parents will change and, for example, as adults we both care for and receive care from our partners.

[Full circle.  Emily and her mother 40 years after our picture above of her mother and brother]