Attachment is an innate drive that we are all born with just like the drive for self protection. As babies, we are completely dependent on our caregivers for self protection as well as to satisfy our other basic survival needs (shelter, food, etc). Our attachment bond is directly connected with our survival. Attachment is the drive that makes parents/caregivers pay attention to their babies, to attune to their needs, by calming their distress.
The secure Attachment bond is dependent on the primary caregivers ability to read (attune) and respond to the infant’s cues consistently and predictably over time. As the infant develops and moves into subsequent developmental stages the primary caregiver is able to adapt to these changes and continue attune to their child’s needs.
Attachment As The Foundation of Self Regulation
When the primary caregiver is able to respond effectively to their babies cues in a nurturing way, neurochemicals are released (both in baby and also in the mother/parent/caregiver) that strengthen the neuronal pathways that promote self regulation, a sense safety, and bonding.
Secure attachment helps the child learn how to cope and manage stressful situations and this is the foundation of resilience.
Until we are big enough to protect ourselves we rely on the (bigger) adults in our lives to protect us. This is the feeling of safety that we all need and continue to express the need to feel even in our adult relationships. There is physical safety and there is emotional safety. Just because a parent can provide a child with physical safety doesn’t mean they know how to keep their child emotionally safe-that is be attuned to their feelings and feel comfortable enough with their chid expressing their feelings and desires. To see their child as a separate being from them who has their own preferences for things.
Secure attachment is not about being 100% perfectly attuned at every waking hour. In fact it’s impossible! Sometimes parents are tired, stressed, overwhelmed, or just not in sync with their child. Secure Attachment is about being “good enough”, a term coined by Donald Winnicott, that basically means you’re attempting to connect and attune but that sometimes you might miss the mark and that’s ok. It may surprise you that for the most part the parent/primary caregiver and infant are in sync only around 20-30% of the time (according to Dr. Ed Tronick a pioneer in Attachment work).
Why Is Secure Attachment Important
Not only does secure attachment set the foundation for our future relationships but it’s also mirror for which we determine our own self worth. Again think about it on a basic level. As a baby you cry. Maybe it’s because you’re cold or because you’re hungry. You’re in distress and uncomfortable. Your parent/caregiver responds to this cry by feeding you or wrapping you up. The distress is gone and you feel cared for. A sense of trust and safety begin to emerge when baby cries and the parent responds to this cry to alleviate the distress. This nurturance and caring makes you feel like you matter. That you are worthy of love and attention. As the baby grows and develops, increasing separation the parent supports them on this journey. When the toddler begins to talk and express themselves how does the parent respond? Do they allow their child to express their emotions or desires or is it immediately shut down? It’s a lot easier to for parents to comfort and soothe their infants than to not feel threatened or upset when their toddler begins to express their big emotions. This is where a lot of attachment ruptures happen, as parents/caregivers try to cope with their own feelings about their toddlers development.
Secure Attachment Between Parent & Child
-Parents do not hit, shake, yell, etc at their baby when they are upset
-Parents engage with their baby by making eye contact, playing, talking, snuggling, etc. When the baby becomes upset the parent will stop and attempt to do something else to ease this distress. Even if they become upset or frustrated they do not frighten or harm their baby/toddler
-The baby/toddler feels safe with their parent/caregiver. As they become mobile and explore the world they will look back and check with their caregiver to make sure they are there and continue on exploring.
-Toddler/Child may cry or show other signs of distress when the parent leaves but can be soothed by another caring adult. Upon return the child is happy
-The baby/toddler/child appears to be happy when in the prescience of their parent/caregiver
The Securely Attached Adult
-High self-esteem and self worth
-Seek out social support when they need it
-Long term lasting (healthy) relationships
-Seeking connection not out of fear or rejection but out of the natural desire and drive to bond and connect
-Expression of emotions appropriately
-The ability to self soothe or self regulate
-Feeling safe and secure within themselves and others
-Curiosity and exploration of the world
What A Securely Attached Relationship Between Adults Looks and Feels Like
-You feel comfortable in your relationship
-You feel emotionally as well as physically safe in your relationship with your partner
-You might feel nervous or anxious at times but this should not be a constant feeling throughout your relationship
-You do not fear separations-meaning time spent apart from each other. When your partner goes to work, spends time with friends, or even chooses to go out of town for the weekend alone you will miss them but you won’t feel abandoned by them.
-When there are conflicts you are able to work through them with little fear or anxiety-and if it’s present it’s normal fear around not wanting to hurt someones feelings not that they will leave or harm you
-You feel trust and cared for by your partner and sub sequentially you trust and care for your partner
-Your interactions are colored with joy not anxiety or fear
3 Tips for Parents on Developing a Secure Attachment With Your Child
#1 Respond to your baby when they cry. Sometimes they are hungry, sometimes they are afraid, and sometimes they want to play. It’s up to you to read the cues and attempt alleviate their distress. If you get it wrong the first time keep on trying until you get it right
#2 Manage your own Stress levels. Babies take a lot out of you emotionally and physically so take care of yourself. Get connected to community or friends if you do not have family support, so you can have a break. Take deep breathes and try to soothe your own body when your feeling frustrated so you don’t scream or shake your baby because you’re overwhelmed
#3 Learn your baby cues and grow accordingly. As your baby grows and develops they will want to explore their environment Encourage them to explore while remaining nearby to support them when they become scared or overwhelmed. Follow their lead and enjoy watching them see the world for the first time. Manage your own fears, anxieties and sadness that comes along as your baby transitions between developmental stages. You don’t want them to take on your fears and anxieties as they grow.
Secure attachment is not about perfectionism but its about a safe and nurturing bond (connection) with another. This starts out when we are babies with our primary caregivers and then extends to our peer relationships. Secure attachment helps children reach their individual developmental potential and has lasting emotional and physical health benefits. Stay tuned for Part 2 where I will talk about Insecure Attachment.
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