The terms “attachment” and “bonding” are often confused. Attachment refers to a child’s emotional connection to caregivers. Bonding refers to the caregivers’ feelings and connection to the child. Both are relevant under 63.2-1205, but attachment is of primary concern as it relates more directly to the best interests of the child. It addresses crucial relationships from the point of view of the child’s needs and experiences.
In a normal intact family with competent parents, a child begins to attach to his or her primary caregiver immediately after birth, if not before birth. Extensive studies have established phases of attachment which reach a critical stage at about age two and are fully developed by age five. A secure attachment is an essential element of healthy human development, because it provides the safety, security and nourishing which a child needs in order to avoid anxiety and to have the freedom to learn and to grow. A child with a healthy attachment may explore, which is how the child learns, but a child who does not have a secure attachment is distressed and frightened and is not able to explore, because attention is otherwise directed to insecurities and fears. It is important to understand that biology means nothing whatsoever to a child. In the eyes of the child, the parent is the one who is there, and who provides what the child needs. And in a healthy parent-child relationship, attachment behavior is a two way process. The parent perceives the child’s needs from subtle cues and responds sensitively and appropriately.