What's the deal with attachment?
I talk a lot about the importance of our relationship with our children. But what does that mean? Well, in order to explain it better let's take a look at attachment.
What is attachment?
In simplest terms, attachment is the relationship that forms between a caregiver and a child. It starts at birth and continues through a life time. There has been a lot of research done in regards to different attachment styles and how these form but I am going to focus on creating a "secure attachment" since that is ideally what we want. A secure attachment is when the child has a safe and positive view of themselves, the world and others that comes from the relationship they have with their parents.
Why is it important?
Attachment is important because it shapes the view of ourselves, others, and the world. Our relationship with our parents is the first relationship that we have in this world and so it isn't surprising that this sets the foundation for future relationships. A child that is "securely attached" to their caregiver sees the world as a safe place to explore, in part because they know that they have a safe home base to return to in their caregiver. Attachment also strengthens (or hinders) our ability to focus, be aware of our feelings, and to calm ourselves. It can effect development as well (emotional , social, and cognitive). Attachment can effect every aspect of a person from self esteem to school performance, not to mention how we relate to the world and others as an adult.
How do we promote secure attachment?
Since attachment begins at birth (we are all hardwired to attach), it is important to note that how we respond to babies impacts the relationship we have with them. The simplest way to begin this process is to consistently respond to your baby and their needs (feeding them, holding them, etc). This consistent response to their needs allows them to feel safe and taken care of. If no one responds to the baby, they begin to learn that no one will help them and that the world isn't safe. Even more sad, they learn that their needs don't matter. You can imagine how this impacts their self esteem , ability to handle stress, and even their future relationships.
As children grow the ways in which we can foster our relationship with them changes too.
Focusing on your relationship with your child may seem easier when they are a newborn. As children grow and develop, their needs change. It gets a little harder to look past behaviors and see the needs that your child is trying to communicate.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as your child gets older to help you continue building your relationship with your child:
1) Take Care of yourself. It is hard to manage the needs of others if you are struggling managing your own. Get support, get help if needed. Getting a handle on the anxiety that we all feel at times is also important as it can often cause us to stifle our children and their need to explore and become more independent.
2) Tune in to your child. Watch for their signs and signals, and tune into their needs. When a baby cries for food , feed them. If your toddler is acting up and trying to get your attention, give them our attention. If your older child s having a hard time managing emotions, be there to support them instead of reprimanding them. We have a million opportunities a day to tune in. Notice what your child needs or what they are struggling with. This doesn't mean fix the problem but you can offer support and empathy. Just be with them. That is better than them having to manage their challenges alone. This shows your child that you are there. Whether they are 5 or 15 this is always a helpful strategy . Avoid judging, criticizing, or reprimanding and just be with them in the moment.
3) Play and have fun together. Having positive interactions with one another in and of itself won't create a secure attachment, but coupled with responding to your child's needs and tuning in, it can feed that positive relationship you have established. Play with your child, spend time doing an activity you both love. Go out and see new things together. All of these things that are great for our relationships in general, are also important for our relationship with our child.
4) Honor who your child is. Let go of expectations and ideas. See your child as an individual who has their own thoughts, feelings, and dreams, which may not match yours. Allow your child to express their differing opinions or share their thoughts. Avoid trying to force your child to conform if it doesn't match who they are. Recognizing that our children are unique individuals and giving them space to express this, allows our children to again feel accepted, loved, and safe. This is especially important to receive from their parents as their peers may not always be as open and accepting. This also allows you to be the safe home base for them.
It is important to keep in mind that attachment is not just a one time event. It is a relationship that must be nurtured and taken care of. It impacts our children's development and the type f adults that they will grow into. It impacts how they view the world and themselves in it. Throughout our parenting journey, being mindful of this relationship can help guide your parenting decisions. When in doubt ask "what does my child need in this moment?". This will always bring your focus to your child and then you can work within your relationship to manage the issues at hand.
Claudia Glassman is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Registered Play Therapist, and Parenting Coach who offers one on one coaching services. Claudia is passionate about helping parents find joy and gain confidence in their parenting abilities. Her vision is to share her knowledge and bring awareness to the importance of the relationship that we have with our children.