How to Form a Secure Attachment with Your Child
Something absolutely magical happens as soon as a child is born and placed in the arms of the parents. If there is love at first sight, this is the moment. There is something humbling and somewhat scary about looking into those little eyes and realizing that little life is totally and completely dependent on you. Your first job as a parent is to provide the needs of your child and develop a bond.
There is a natural, biological process that takes place from the beginning. When a mother nurses their child, a huge dose of oxytocin (the bonding hormone) is released. While nursing helps this process, it is not the only way. Oxytocin is also released from skin-on-skin contact. This is especially helpful for dads and other caretakers and family members to develop a bond. Lots of cuddles, playful touches, and gentle massaging can boost this hormone and strengthen attachment.
Being responsive to your baby's needs will also increase attachment. Your baby's brain is making sense of the world and learning how their behavior brings a response from parents. Parents quickly learn the different cries their baby makes. There is a cry for hunger, being uncomfortable such as a dirty diaper, the tired cry, and the shriek of pain. When parents are responsive, the child feels comforted, confident needs will be met, and develops a healthy sense of worth. Research has proven that kids whose parents do not respond to their cries eventually quit trying to get their parents' attention. This is indicative of a sense of helplessness, which is not good at all when developing attachment.
Here is a well-made video about attachment from TRBI:
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Interactions with your child will also encourage attachment. Eye contact and speaking to your child are important. Even though your child can't speak back, they will learn to communicate to you through body language and noises. Having meaningful interactions speaks volumes to your child. It lets children know they are wanted, loved, and important.
This video of a dad and his baby having a conversation is priceless! Babies don't have to be able to speak to communicate.
Children do best when parents are consistent, routine, and predictable. If you set a rule, stick to it. Make sure you are clear about boundaries and expectations. Kids get confused when parents lash out sometimes, but do not seem to care about the same issue at other times. Kids need parents who are approachable and empathetic.
When children have a secure attachment they will feel confident to explore the world around them. Parents are a secure base they can branch out from. Toddlers will usually roam away from parents but will check back periodically to make sure the parent is watching and aware of what is going on. That tells the child that all is good and the child is safe. Securely attached children know that parents are watching for danger and are providing the boundaries needed.
It's never too late to start developing an attachment to your children. Some parents may have had a rough start in their parenting journey. That does not mean that all is lost. You can take steps today to start to build attachments with your children. All of the same behaviors are needed to build attachment with older kids, but it might look a little different. As children develop and grow, their needs change over time. You will need to consider the developmental stage your child is in to respond to them appropriately. Regardless of age, consistency, warm interactions, and unconditional love will help to strengthen the relationship. You may want to consider your parenting style an see if you need to make some adjustments.