Attachment, a concept first explored by John Bowlby, is the secure bond that is established between young children and their caregivers. Attachment is the cornerstone for normal social and emotional development and although the first two years of the child’s life is a critical time for attachment building, the process of attachment continues well after the child turns two.
Babies Provide The Clues
When a baby is born, the parents take care of this baby and try to meet his or her needs as best they can. Babies will constantly provide clues (like crying) that they need attention. When an infant’s needs are met in a consistent and dependable way, the baby will develop a sense of trust in other people. This sense of trust ultimately results in the baby developing an attachment to the caring adult. Attachment theory explains how infants use adults to teach them how to survive until they can do it themselves. When children experience their caregivers as dependable and trustworthy, they feel safe enough to explore their world.
In order for a growing child to succeed in life and learn to build healthy relationships, building a strong bond with a caring adult early in life is of paramount importance. Without a healthy and secure sense of attachment, children have significant difficulty forming loving and intimate relationships later on in life. They often grow up with a distorted view that the world is unsafe and untrustworthy.
Without this basic sense of trust, children may develop anxiety about their world, they may be overly sensitive and reactive and some children begin to show behavioral and emotional difficulties. Research has shown that an insecure attachment during the first few years of life is often a predictor of future difficulties in school, work, and marriage and may often be associated with criminal and poor social behaviour.
It’s Not About Being Perfect
Helping your child develop a secure attachment bond isn’t about being a perfect parent, however. There will always be times when you are not able to meet your child’s need in the way they want. In fact, as your child grows there will be times that you deliberately do NOT meet their needs, by not allowing them to play on the monkey-bars or eat a candy bar for breakfast. Building a secure sense of trust does not mean a failure to set limits. What makes attachment secure, rather than insecure, is the quality of responsiveness with your child and a willingness to notice a missed signal. You are still responding to your child’s needs when you are saying no in an appropriate way. So what steps should a parent take to foster healthy attachment relationships with their children? Below are some strategies to help build a secure attachment with your child:
Children will come to depend and rely on you only if you are present. It’s hard with work and family demands but by doing your best to manage your schedule so that you are physically available to your child when they need you. It’s also important to remember that being physically present is not enough. Being mentally engaged with your child is paramount as well. Attachment will not develop properly if you are on the phone or blackberry when you are spending time together. When you can, put the world away and engage fully with your child. It will do both of you a world of good.
Be Quick and Consistent
Children learn trust when their needs are met promptly and consistently. Infants have no concept of waiting and adult responsiveness is essential for them to develop a healthy sense of trust. As your child grows, it’s not always possible to be as quick as they would like but by responding immediately to their cues, whether it’s by doing what they want or by letting them know you heard their request and will attend to it as soon as you can, you are still providing the attentiveness your child needs.
Children respond positively to touch. A hug, a caress, even a kiss on the cheek can go a long way in calming your child and reassuring him that you are there and present with them.
Be Sensitive & Nurturing
By being in tune with your child’s emotional needs, you will help your child feel comforted and respected. When your child is feeling sad, try to show understanding, when they are scared, try to comfort them and when you are trying to calm them down, use a gentle, calming voice. Mocking, angry reactions and rough handling will make your child feel rejected and not worthy.
Attachment is the foundation of healthy child development. Babies and children need caregivers who are reliable, caring and consistent. From their caregivers, children learn that they are values, loved and respected. Children use the template of their very first relationships as a model for future relationships. Children who develop a secure attachment early on are, in later life, more likely have stronger and healthier relationships, a strong sense of self and self-worth, they will be more able to express their emotions and will be more resilient and adaptable. So take the time and build a healthy bond with your child. It will serve as the foundation for a strong, self-confident adult later on.
- How do you help your baby become a secure child and adult? (psychologymum.wordpress.com)
- The Importance of Early Childhood Attachment (examiner.com)
- How to Raise a Happy Baby and Child (mariadorfner.wordpress.com)
- What about a mother’s needs? (psychologymum.wordpress.com)
- Attachment Style in Adult Relationships (gwizlearning.wordpress.com)
- Quality of mother-toddler relationship linked to teen obesity (sciencedaily.com)
- The Psychology of Touch (therapystew.com)