How do you build an enduring bond with your child that lasts? I have asked this question myself, as I want to make sure my daughter has a solid foundation that will help support her for the rest of her life. If an enduring attachment (also known as secure attachment) develops, this is associated with a lot of benefits in physical, emotional, intellectual, and social development.
I do worry about the teenage years, as I fear that this time may bring the loss of attachment. However, it is possible to build a lasting emotional bond with your child, and as you may guess, it starts from the very beginning.
Attachment can be described as an emotional bond, love, or affection. Mary Ainsworth was an attachment researcher who defined attachment as an “emotional tie formed between one animal or person and another specific individual.” John Bowlby is an attachment researcher who believes that attachment promotes survival. For example, the cries of a baby get the attention of the caregiver. This, in turn, results in the caregiver responding in some way. Generally, be believed that children are born to engage in behaviors (such as crying or clinging) that promote caregiving.
Mary Ainsworth and her colleagues helped identify different patterns of attachment. Two major types of attachment are secure and insecure attachment (there are different types of insecure attachments). Most infants in the United States are classified as secure.
In order to study patterns of attachment, the Strange Situation Procedure was used by Mary Ainsworth. In this procedure, there are a series of introductions and separations with the mother and a stranger (who is helping the researcher). For example, the mother leaves the room for a short time and then comes back. Children who are securely attached will show mild distress when the mother leaves and will be readily comforted by the mother upon her return.
There are two main types of insecure attachment, avoidant attachment and ambivalent/resistant attachment. Babies who are avoidantly attached don’t pay much attention when the mother leaves and when she returns. They are not very distressed when the mother leaves the room. Ambivalent/resistant babies show the most emotion. When the mother leaves, they show the most distress. However, when she comes back, they show ambivalence as indicated by clinging behaviors as well as pushing away from the mother. One other category of insecure attachment is disorganized-disoriented attachment, which is when these babies appear dazed, confused, and disoriented through the Strange Situation.
For young children, secure attachment is associated with being happier, more cooperative with parents, and being more sociable with unfamiliar adults. In addition, it also related to getting along better with peers. These children are less likely to be aggressive with peers and may be more apt to experience empathy. Generally, these children are more persistent in handling the challenges that they face, and in turn, are better able to cope with difficulties.
On the other hand, those with insecure attachments may be at a higher risk of experiencing psychological disorders in adolescence. This may be related to the fact that these children show more anger, anxiety, and fear. Those who are insecurely attached are also more likely to avoid other people.
Attachment is strongly related to the quality of care they receive from caregivers. For example, parents who have securely attached children are more likely to respond in a sensitive way to the smiles, cries, and other social behaviors that are expressed. For example, if the baby is crying, this parent would likely do what he or she could to soothe the baby. This may mean trying a bottle if the baby is possibly hungry. These parents are generally more affectionate and predictable in their caregiving. This helps the baby develop trust in the caregiver and that the world is a safe place.
Insecurely attached babies are likely to have mentally ill or abusive mothers. These parents are slow to meet the needs of their baby, if at all. They may also be cold and not affectionate with their baby.
1.Take care of yourself first. If you are consistently stressed, anxious, or depressed, this will affect how you respond to your baby. Babies can also pick up on your emotions, which will, in turn, affect your baby. Try to get as much sleep as you can, as this can make anyone more irritable. Also, taking care of a newborn is hard, so take help when you need it or when you can. For more ideas on self-care (especially for new parents), click here.
2.Learn your baby’s cues. As you get to know your baby, you will learn their cries and movements that indicate certain things. For example, in order to know if your baby is hungry, you can watch for certain cues. Click here for an excellent article that discusses a baby’s hunger cues. There are also certain cues that will indicate if your baby is in pain. For instance, an article from the University of Michigan provides some information on cues that baby’s will show when in pain.
As you start to learn these cues and respond to them in a sensitive and appropriate way, this will help build a strong attachment between you and your child.
3.Talk, laugh, sing, and play with your baby. Be silly with your baby. One fun and silly thing I did with my baby is “blow raspberries” on her belly. This always got her to belly laugh! And when your baby coos or giggles, do the same thing back.
Other ways to interact with your baby can include close physical, affectionate contact. This may involve “wearing” your baby or just holding your baby close while you read a book to him or her.
A particular attachment style tends to remain stable as long as the caregiving conditions remain the same. However, there are times when the type of attachment can change if the caregiving changes. For example, if a caregiver starts to abuse the child, this can result in disorganized attachment or some other insecure attachment style (if they were secure to start with). On the other hand, if a child is insecurely attached because they were abused, this can change. For instance, if this child is exposed to another supportive caregiver, this can make a big difference.
Thus, generally though, attachment styles endure into middle childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.
Some parents may be concerned about the crying that happens when their child is left with a babysitter, family member, or some other caregiver. I have been there, and I was concerned about whether something was terribly wrong when my child would cry and reach for me when I left her with different caregivers. I actually felt like an a-hole! However, for securely attached children, this is normal. As mentioned earlier (Mary Ainsworth’s study on attachment styles), when mothers leave, securely attached children will likely show mild distress.
Another concern is that leaving a child at daycare or with another family member while a parent works will actually hurt the attachment that the child has with the parent. However, most children who are taken care of in the home or at day care are securely attached.
The benefits of a secure attachment are numerous! So, as a parent, there are several things that can be done to help build an enduring bond. The first part of this is to take care of yourself. You are more likely to be attuned to your child’s needs if you take care of yourself. Then, learn your baby’s cues and respond appropriately. And last of all, play with your child!
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to create these interactions or the attachment with your child. It will come! For one thing, it’s easy to pay attention and interact with a cute baby that is yours! This is part of developing an attachment, so some of this will come naturally.
You can do this! 🙂
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Brisch, K. The advantages of secure attachment. Retrieved from https://www.safe-programm.de/english/For%20Parents/Attachment%3F/Benefits-%20secure%20attachment.html
Building a secure attachment bond with your baby. Retrieved from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/parenting-family/building-a-secure-attachment-bond-with-your-baby.htm/
Secure vs. insecure attachment. (2019). Retrieved fromhttp://www.bbbgeorgia.org/attachSecure.php.
Rathus, S. (2017). Childhood: Voyages in Development. Cengage Learning: Boston, MA.