By age 2 most children begin to use their parent as a “secure base” from which to explore the world around them. This means that they will increasingly venture out from their parent, but routinely check back to make sure their parent is watching over them. It may be helpful to think of this process as a need which has evolved in humans-the child needs to have the parent provide security for them, to protect them from harm. As the child grows older and gains confidence, they venture further from their parent and check back less frequently, but are secure in the knowledge that their parent is available for them should they need help.
Many children with attachment difficulties did not have a parent they could rely on as a “secure base.” Their parent may have been unavailable or inconsistent. The child loved their parent and was attached to them, but the child’s need to have the parent provide consistent, reliable security was not fulfilled by the parent. Consequently, the child may be anxious and demanding or be very distant and independent. These patterns of behavior served to help them overcome the lack of parent-provided security, but can be unhealthy in other contexts and may result in seemingly bizarre behavior. The root of this child’s problems, then, lies in the disordered attachment relationship.