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  • Writer's pictureJames Marston

Kids and Attachment

Attachment is the connection that forms between a child and a caregiver in the earliest stages of childhood. This bond is partially biologically programmed into us; human babies wouldn’t survive past birth if there weren’t some emotional drive in parents to care for their offspring. That bond, though, like any other human feeling, can vary in strength and quality. It can grow with proper attention or be extinguished through neglect and rejection.

Humans need to be taken care of and to feel safe. Particularly, children need to be taken care of and made to feel safe. This bond with their parents, their attachment, is one mechanism that accomplishes this. Children raised in poverty or dangerous situations can be made to feel safe and taken care of if they have a strong attachment to their caregivers, and become more resilient. Conversely, children who are raised in a safe environment where they are taken care of, but who are not nurtured or connected with can be less resilient in some ways.

Resilience is a word we use to describe the degree of protection a person has from the psycho-social impact of negative events. Someone who is resilient is less likely to have mental illnesses, more likely to bounce back from failure, and more likely to engage in positive interactions with others.

As parents, we want to build a secure attachment with our children. There’s no one magical step you can take to do this, but there are guidelines we can keep in mind as we try to connect with our children.

We want children to see us as confident care-givers. When children are in crisis, we want them to see that we are calm and confident. When children are scared, we want them to see that we are okay. We manage their fear by showing them that we are secure and solid.

We want children to see that we are available to them when they need us. If they are hungry we will feed them. When they need a hug, we are there to give it to them. Anything that makes them question whether we are there for them should be avoided or controlled. If we withhold affection or love because we are angry, we aren’t available to them. If we put other things over their well-being, we aren’t available to them. It’s important to note here that physical reality doesn’t always allow this–we have to work, we are human and get annoyed, priorities compete for our attention–it’s a goal to work towards, but we cannot expect ourselves to be perfect in it.

We move towards these goals by trying to remain sensitive. We try to learn our child’s cues, even before they can talk, and try to understand what they are communicating. As they grow, we try to understand what their behavior means: What needs are their behaviors attempting to communicate? How can I understand and meet their needs, even if they cannot voice them yet?

Once we understand children’s needs, we try to be responsive to them. We try to help them soothe the anxiety of having unmet needs and then help them meet their needs. We build confidence that their needs will be met, even if they aren’t met immediately. We offer support and love when they need it, we give them attention when they ask for it.

We try to build a relationship that is predictable, fair, and loving. We offer the benefit of the doubt when responding to bad behaviors, responding to the implied feelings and needs rather than focusing on the behavior alone. We try to assume that bad behavior is temporary and not a sign of poor character; they are good children who are having a tough time, not bad children.

We try to discipline children in a way that is empathic, loving, and respectful. We try to avoid shame, fear, and humiliation. We avoid discipline that is cold, harsh, or threatening. We keep expectations realistic, and recognize when we are asking more than our children can give.

And lastly, we love them. As much as we can for as long as we can, at every opportunity, we love them.


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