I had never heard of Attachment Theory until I was pregnant with my first child. In fact, I had heard of only Attachment Parenting until that first child was 4 years old. Posts in the future will reflect my support of Attachment Parenting in particular, but I want to briefly discuss the Theory behind the Parenting. I am no expert, but I am learning, and certainly encourage comments to help us all understand Attachment Theory better.
Last December I invited a local psychotherapist who studies Attachment Theory to Birth Circle. She gave an overview of Attachment Theory and answered parenting questions. One of the questions that I still simmer on from that night was "What does Attachment look like with older children?" With infants there are concrete to-dos like breastfeeding and going to your baby when he cries. But once your baby (or rather, toddler?) has weaned and has learned to sleep peacefully through the night...how do you know you are still promoting the "strong emotional bond" your child needs to grow into an emotionally secure adult? When a child is small, his wants and his needs are the same. At some point, some of his wants become wants and not needs but how do you know the difference?
What I learned that night is that Attachment Theory (AT) applies to all relationships, not just those with your children. It is about meeting the needs of those we love with a mentality of understanding, cooperation and a focus on the bigger picture. We may argue with a spouse about something trivial, but there may be an underlying need for understanding or respect that has been left out of the discussion. Your 5 year old may start coming into your bed during the night after months of sleeping soundly in his own bed, but for no obvious reason: no nightmare, he isn't cold, he isn't sick..... The AT approach for this child may mean providing reassurance with kindness and flexibility, not contempt or disciplinary action.
In all relationships, you may not always know what the underlying need is, but AT teaches us to give the person the benefit of the doubt that there is a need. A need that requires the same gentle touch figuratively that you gave quite literally to the newborn.
We all have wants and we all have needs. I feel the lesson I get from Attachment Theory is to back up from challenging situations, take a deep breath and try to figure out which is which.