There are several things that can be considered risk factors for developing an insecure attachment relationship. These include:
A parent’s depression or psychological distress can make it more difficult for them to engage sensitively and responsively to their baby’s needs.
A parent’s recollection of their own childhood experiences with their parents also affects the attachment relationship. When a parent recalls unfavourable relationships in their past, it may compromise the development of secure attachment.
Some (but not all) literature suggests that if an infant has a difficult temperament, it may affect the quality of attachment.
Poor infant health (e.g. premature birth) may also compromise the quality of attachment, because those infants may be more at risk for developmental delays and physical, cognitive and visual impairments. As a result, attachment behaviours such as smiling, crying and resistance to separations may look very different in these infants.
In these cases, a child might experience less optimal patterns of having their needs met, and may not develop a secure attachment.
If a child were to consistently experience rejection (from an unresponsive parent who did not meet their needs), they would be likely to develop an avoidant attachment style. The child may learn that expressing their needs has no ability to influence their parent, so instead they suppress their feelings. They tend to avoid or ignore the parent – staying close enough for protection, but not so close that they might experience rejection.
If a child sometimes experiences their needs being met, but at other times doesn't, they are likely to develop an ambivalent attachment style. These children may engage in a pattern of angry, then helpless, behaviours to keep their parent close. Their ‘angry’ outbursts gain their parents attention, and their ‘helpless’ behaviours are attempts to keep the parent close. The child perceives the parents as unpredictable or neglecting, and might become overly clingy and needy – the child lacks attention and starts working harder to get it.
Finally, some children experience a parent who is scary or even dangerous. If the parent shows highly contrasting behavior, which is inconsistent and unpredictable, the child does not know what to expect. They also don’t know when the parent will meet their needs, if at all. A child in this situation is in a difficult position, as the person who is supposed to be meeting their needs is actually harming them. The child may be torn between love and affection, and stress and fear and would be described as having a disorganised attachment style.