Child Attachment Strategies
Helping Your Child Feel Safe Enough To Be Their Own Dora The “Explorer”
We have all seen the toddler holding onto mom or dad’s calf for dear life immobilizing them from moving further. We have heard the exhausted new parent proclaiming- “I can’t put him (her) down for a second; what do I do?”.
How do we cope with the child’s need to be so close?
There’s something about the term clinging that in our society has a negative connotation and parents frequently wonder about clinging behaviors and ask ‘is it healthy’? How do we cope with the child’s need to be so close?
In truth, when talking about children and their early needs, it is about creating a healthy balance between closeness and separation.
A child establishes a sense of safety through proximity/closeness to their caregiver.
Establish a sense of safety through staying close
In order to foster confidence to explore the environment, a child needs to feel safe. A child establishes a sense of safety through proximity/closeness to their caregiver. In developing his widely recognized theory of attachment, John Bowlby explained that a child is born with an innate behavioral system hardwired to seek out proximity in the early years. Bowbly explains that a baby shows specific attachment behaviors (smiling, clinging), which are then reciprocated by adult behaviors (touching, holding, soothing) only to then strengthen the infants attachments behaviors.
Most of us thrive better on routine. It is important to help do this for your children.
Provide a sense of safety through predictability
The second piece to building a sense of security to explore is to establish a routine or schedule. Your child needs the organization because it helps make things accessible to them. When things are predictable, we generally feel safe. Take the arrival of a new baby: it is common to hear “s/he looks just like X; or I think s/he has X’s tendency towards…; or that laugh is just like X.” A newborn is unknown and the typical human mind looks to immediately make them recognizable so it feels more known and comfortable for everyone. Think about it another way: in the morning your best days are likely when no one disrupts your routine. Most of us thrive better on routine. It is important to help do this for your children. With a routine established, a child can predict what comes next and can feel a sense of control. With routine it is essential to balance some flexibility. Life happens. When routine is too rigid it can cause increased stress.
Help your child feel heard
In addition to closeness so that the child is safe to explore, children including young babies, want to feel recognized and responded to. Babies coo and babble; toddlers ask repetitive WHY questions, and school-aged children through to adolescents look for ways to be noticed. What they are all looking for is to feel heard which develops from consistent responding by their environment. Simply put, through repeated interactions with parents/loved ones, children form what’s called “internal working models” incorporating information regarding others’ responsiveness and accessibility with what they then determine about themselves- I.e. I’m worthy of being heard, worthy of being loved.
A brief disclaimer: this does not mean there cannot be disruptions or moments when there’s delayed responding – no parent can be perfect all the time. Children respond well to a typical and predictable pattern of parental interaction so the child builds confidence to know that when they make a gesture to communicate they are heard and responded to regularly.
Some children thrive with more rough and tumble play; they love excitement, and noise. Others need a much softer approach.
Attuning to the nonverbal
It is important to listen/pay attention to not only spoken words but also unspoken words and expressed needs. For example, knowing what type of interaction style your child prefers is helpful. Some children thrive with more rough and tumble play; they love excitement, and noise. Others need a much softer approach. Whatever their particular needs, your specific response style communicates your sensitivity and care.
In summary, for a secure child attachment bond, and a sense of confidence to explore, it is paramount to establish a sense of safety in the relationship. By balancing closeness and separation, helping create structure, and attuning to/listening to verbal and nonverbal communication children can truly thrive.