Gary Gilles is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in private practice for over 20 years. He is also an adjunct faculty member at the University ...Read More
There are different approaches to understanding child development. But one that I believe is especially helpful draws upon research in attachment theory. Attachment is about the relationship that develops between a parent and their child. If the parent meets the young child’s needs in a nurturing, gentle and attuned way on a consistent basis, that child will likely form a secure relationship with that parent.
The attachment process between parent and child then forms the basis for how that child will build relationships with peers, teachers, coaches, members of the opposite sex, the type of people they will date, marry and even how they will raise their own children.
In other words, this attachment style that develops in those early years of life between a parent and child creates a style of relating that becomes their dominant way of connecting with people throughout their lives.
Bonding vs. Attachment
Attachment is sometimes used interchangeably with the term bonding, which is a term you are probably more familiar with. But bonding happens at a point in time. For example, a mother brings her baby home after delivery and in a couple of weeks might say, “I really feel like Janie and I are starting to bond.” This usually means that mother and child are starting to understand each other and building a rhythm to their interaction. This is part of attachment. But the bonding process happens at a point in time while the attachment process is ongoing.
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Why is emotional attachment important?
The attachment process is important because it forms the base for the parent-child relationship. It also is critical in shaping a child’s ability to:
- Learn about themselves
- Confidently interact with peers
- Securely explore their world
- Become resilient to stress
- Balance their emotions
- Makes sense of their lives through a coherent story
- Create meaningful interpersonal relationships in the future
How does attachment begin?
When a child is born he or she naturally reaches out for relationship – by necessity. An infant cannot meet any of its own needs and is utterly dependent upon others. Whether an infant attaches healthily to their parent or caregiver is not dependent upon the child, but rather upon the response of the parent. The parent is the one who sends the messages to the child to let him or her know whether it is safe to have needs and ask for them to be met.
The parent is the one who sends the messages to the child to let him or her know whether it is safe to have needs and ask for them to be met.
If the child’s parent provides attentive, tender, patient, empathic and soothing care that is consistent, the child will look to the parent as a secure base of protection and safety. What the parent is communicating through this nurture is that it is permissible for the child to have needs. And it is okay to ask for your needs to be met.
In order to provide this type of nurturing care, parents need to be connected to their own emotion so that they can help their child makes sense of their own. Our kids look to us to help them understand the world and their inner lives are a vital part of making sense of how relationships work.
Perhaps you are past the stage of having young children and wonder if a poor relationship with an older child can be repaired. Attachment research has clearly shown that even a poorly attached relationship can be changed into a more secure relationship if you change the interpersonal ways you interact with your child.
In part 2, we will explore practical ways you can begin communicating with your child, regardless of their age, to begin forming a more secure relationship. There is no magic these skills; it takes persistence and hard work. But, it is work that can pay a lifetime of dividends for you and for your child.
Update: Continue reading Building a Securely Attached Relationship with Your Child: Part 2