Social & Emotional Development
Developing Trust & Emotional Security
Core Finding: SE-TRU-C03

Infants who experience stable, sensitive, responsive care from their primary caregivers develop more secure attachments.


Infants who experience stable, sensitive and responsive care from their primary caregivers develop

secure attachments

Secure Attachment - The infants use the parent as a secure base. When separated, they may or may not cry, but if they do, it is because the parent is absent, and they prefer her to the stranger. When the parent returns, they actively seek contact, and their crying is reduced immediately.1

1. Berk, L. E. (2013). Child development (9th ed.). New Jersey, USA: Pearson Education.

1, 2, 3, 4
  1. De Wolff, M. S., & van Ijzendoorn, M. H. (1997). Sensitivity and attachment: a meta-analysis on parental antecedents of infant attachment. Child Development, 68(4), 571–591.

  2. Ahnert, L., Pinquart, M., & Lamb, M. E. (2006). Security of Children's Relationships With Nonparental Care Providers: A Meta-Analysis. Child Development, 77(3), 664–679.

  3. Howes, C., & Spieker, S. (2008). Attachment relationships in the context of multiple caregivers. In Cassidy, J., & Shaver, P. R. (Eds.), Handbook of attachment: Theory, research, and clinical application (2nd ed., pp. 317–332). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

  4. Raikes, H. (1993). Relationship duration in infant care: Time with a high-ability teacher and infant-teacher attachment. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 8(3), 309–325.

Sensitive and responsive care involving
"serve and return" interactions

Serve and Return Interactions - Serve and return interactions shape brain architecture. When an infant or young child babbles, gestures, or cries, and an adult responds appropriately with eye contact, words, or a hug, neural connections are built and strengthened in the child’s brain that support the development of communication and social skills.1

1. Harvard University. (2020, January 27). Serve and Return. Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. Retrieved December 29, 2020, from

between children and their caregivers help shape and build a child’s brain architecture. This also develops secure attachments which will help children become more resilient in future.
  1. Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2016). From Best Practices to Breakthrough Impacts: A Science-Based Approach to Building a More Promising Future for Young Children and Families. Retrieved from

Caregivers’ ability to support children’s developmental needs, for example, when they are anxious when facing new situations, helps children develop trust in their caregivers. They also become confident when exploring the world.

This kind of attachment can be formed through responsive and sensitive care for infants.
7, 8
  1. Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J., van IJzendoorn, M. H., & Juffer, F. (2003). Less is more: Meta-analyses of sensitivity and attachment interventions in early childhood. Psychological Bulletin, 129(2), 195–215.

  2. Landry, S. H., Smith, K. E., & Swank, P. R. (2006). Responsive parenting: establishing early foundations for social, communication, and independent problem-solving skills. Developmental Psychology, 42(4), 627–642.

Secure attachment develops when caregivers focus on and interact with the infants, distinguishing their needs and being attuned to their state of mind. These attachment relations are based on contingent communication where caregivers pay attention to what a child is trying to communicate and responding in a positive and consistent way. This can happen from infancy.

Research into parent-child interactions found that face-to-face interactions between parent and child such as following babies' gaze, responding to them or talking about what they are looking at help build secure relationships and later, self-regulation.

Responsive parent-child interaction provides children with a predictable and secure environment that gives them the possibility to trust that they have someone to depend on in case of need. When early attachment relationships are predominantly positive and consistent, children feel safe with caregivers who become a "secure base" from which children can feel free and confident to explore and interact with the world.

Extensive neuroscience research incorporating 47 years of programme evaluation data and multiple meta-analyses, along with examining other literature review, carried out by the Harvard Center on the Developing Child also found that sensitive and responsive care involving serve and return interactions between the child and caregiver help shape and build a child’s brain architecture. When an infant or young child babbles, gestures, or cries and an adult responds appropriately with eye contact, words or a hug, neural connections are built and strengthened in the child's brain that supports the development of communication and social skills.

Neural connections in the brains grow exponentially during early childhood. For instance, 80% of the brain is developed by three years old. As such, the quality of the caregiving can have the great long-term effects. "Serve and return" interactions form neural pathways that build attachments, develops brain functioning and social skills. Furthermore, they also help children to withstand stresses in the environment, making them more resilient in future.

Meta-analytical research involving 70 studies and 9,957 children on the effects of interventions to help improve parents’ sensitivity in parenting found that such interventions not only boosted parental sensitivity but also effectively enhanced attachment security. This supports the notion that caregiver sensitivity can shape attachments.