Explain theoretical perspectives on emotional well-being

Qualification: NCFE CACHE Level 3 Diploma for the Early Years Educator
Unit: Unit 1.4: Promote children’s emotional well-being
Learning outcome: Understand children’s needs in relation to emotional well-being
Assessment criteria: Explain theoretical perspectives on emotional well-being


Emotional wellbeing is important for children to feel safe, secure, content, happy, confident, and have good self-esteem.

When children have emotional wellbeing they are more likely to trust people, have fulfilling relationships, feel good about themselves, and be successful in school and in their future life.


Many things help promote emotional wellbeing in children, such as having a loving and nurturing family, being part of a supportive community, having access to quality education and healthcare, feeling culturally connected, and feeling physically safe. It is important for adults to nurture emotional wellbeing in children so they can reach their full potential.

Several scholars have attempted to explain emotional wellbeing. Some of these theories will be explored below.


Bowlby’s Attachment Theory

Attachment theory is a psychological model that attempts to describe the nature and function of human relationships. The theory was originally developed by John Bowlby, and it has since been expanded upon by other theorists.

The basic premise of attachment theory is that children are born with a need to form attachments with others, and that these attachments are essential for the child’s survival. According to the theory, a child has an innate need to attach to one main attachment figure, and this attachment is critical for the child’s development. Bowlby proposed a sensitive period of up to 2.5 years (layer amended to 5 years) during which attachments can be formed.


Bowlby’s maternal deprivation hypothesis suggests that the continual disruption of the attachment between infant and primary caregiver could result in long-term cognitive, social, and emotional difficulties for that infant. This is because the internal working model, which is based on the relationship with a primary caregiver, becomes a prototype for all future social relationships. If this prototype is disrupted, it can lead to problems in social interactions later in life. Therefore, it is important to ensure that the attachment between the infant and the primary caregiver is maintained in order to promote healthy social development.

Harlow’s Wire Mother Experiment

Harlow developed and carried out an experiment with monkeys to understand if baby monkeys formed attachments with the caregiver that met their physical needs, which had been the dominant theory at the time (behaviourist theory of attachment).


This experiment separated baby monkeys from their parents and put them in a cage with two artificial monkeys. One artificial monkey was made of wire and had a bottle attached to it that dispensed milk. The other artificial monkey was made of soft cloth and had no food attached to it.

The baby monkeys spent more time with the artificial monkey, which was soft and cuddly, even though it did not provide them with food. From this experiment, Harlow concluded that monkeys form attachments with their caregivers not just because they provide food but also because of their physical contact and comfort.


This experiment provides evidence for attachment theory, as it shows that children need more than just food from their caregivers. They also need physical affection and comfort in order to develop properly.

Ainsworth’s Strange Situation Experiment

Ainsworth conducted an experiment to observe attachment behaviours in young children. The experiment, known as the Strange Situation, involved bringing a child into a room with their mother and then leaving them alone for a short period of time. The child’s reaction was observed when the mother left the room, and a stranger entered the room.


The results of the experiment showed that there are three different types of attachment styles: secure, anxious-ambivalent, and anxious-avoidant.

Secure attachment is when the child shows visible distress when the parent leaves the room, crying when left alone but being easily comforted by the parent on their return. The child can be somewhat comforted by the stranger. This is the predominant style, comprising of about 70% of the children.


Anxious-ambivalent attachment is when the child becomes very distressed upon the parent leaving. When the parent returns, they will approach the parent but resist contact and may show signs of anger and frustration. The child will avoid and may be fearful of the stranger.

Anxious-avoidant attachment is when the child does not seem to care much when the parent leaves and does not show any particular reaction upon their return. The child’s reactions towards both parent and stranger are very similar.


A securely attached infant is one who has a strong emotional bond with their primary caregiver. This type of attachment is typically associated with sensitive and responsive primary care, where the child’s needs are consistently met.

In contrast, an anxious-ambivalent attached infant is one who does not have a strong emotional bond with their primary caregiver. This can be due to inconsistent primary care, where the child’s needs are sometimes met and sometimes ignored.


An anxious-avoidant attachment can be caused by unresponsive primary care, where the child believes that communicating their needs will have no effect on the caregiver.

Ultimately, secure attachment is associated with better physical and mental health outcomes, while insecure attachment can lead to poorer outcomes.


All of these theories are based on emotional attachment; however, there are also psychological perspectives relating to emotional wellbeing. These theories are discussed in Unit 3.12.

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