Attachment theory is receiving much attention lately in all aspects of life including relationships, work and of course, parenting. Attachment is defined as a special emotional relationship that invokes an exchange of comfort, care and pleasure. These early experiences have important influence on the development of relationships with our parents and with others in later life.
Children who are securely attached tend to exhibit better overall adjustment and behavior, have higher self esteem, are less aggressive and appear to carry these traits into adulthood. They are able to develop long-lasting relationships for themselves and enjoy their own children.
Dysfunctional families often produce children who are not securely attached. Their means of discipline are too harsh, inconsistent, irrational or lacking altogether, setting the stage for their children to be confused about love, rules and the longevity of relationships. These children often have much difficulty as adults with their own relationships and raising their own children.
A question I also routinely receive is whether it is possible to raise a securely attached child while working full time or trying to build a business. The good news is that the answer is Yes! and it really doesn’t take much extra effort or work. Working full time does not make you a dysfunctional parent.
First I will clear up one misconception that I hear regularly about attachment, that it is necessary to have the child physically bound to you 24/7/365 in order to raise a securely attached child. It’s not so. Physical touch and presence are important but does not have to be constant. If you are not present, a caregiver’s touch can be just as comforting and produce the same positive results for the child. The key to touch is that it is there when they need soothing, feeding and reassuring. There will be times when the child prefers not to be touched so as to explore or unwind. They just need to know and trust that their needs are being recognized and then met. People are there for them.
Same for sleeping, it is not necessary to have the child in bed with you in order for them to develop a secure sense of attachment. It can be beneficial for them to sleep away from you so that you are rested and able to meet their needs as well as your own. This also sets the stage for developing independence. If you are tired and resentful you will not be responding to them in a positive manner. If they scream in the night or need you it is fine to go to them in order to comfort them. I am referring to toddler age and above here, not infants, often it is more beneficial for everybody just to bring the infant to bed with you for a while to comfort them.
So How Do You Raise a Securely Attached Child?
- Be sensitive to their needs and respond in a consistent and appropriate manner. This starts in infancy and goes through adolescence. You are in for the long haul if you want a well-adjusted child.
- Make sure your caregivers and partner are on board with your philosophy of the above.
- Do not use abandoning language or behaviors when disciplining your child. This is huge. An example of this would be “If you don’t behave I am going to call the orphanage and give you away.” Time out is fine or sending them to their room, grounding or taking away privileges are also fine methods. The key is not to relate love as being conditional based on good behavior.
- Validate their fears and allow them to work them out and explore solutions with you providing back up if needed. Don’t ridicule their feelings.
- If you think you may be depressed or be experiencing postpartum depression get help right away as depressed mothers typically have difficulty meeting their child’s emotional needs. Not intentionally, it just happens as a product of the depression. You may feel irritable or resentful and the child will sense this. Emotional abandonment can be as detrimental as actual physical abandonment.
- Book time with your child when you are off work. Not time to drive them around to other activities but actual time spent together, playing a game, a sport or watching a show together. This gives the child the feeling they are important and worth spending time with. You and your partner can swap shifts or evenings to accommodate social lives and other obligations.
- If you have too many activities booked for your children in the evening and weekends pare it down to a manageable level so you can engage in Number 6 above. Again if you are frazzled and irritable your child will not benefit. They will feel like a burden or that they need to be a performing monkey in order to gain your love and acceptance. You will feel better and they will feel better.
- Put down the iPhone or whatever personal device you are using when you are with your children. Being present with them lets them know they are important and worth loving.
As you can see, these are simply parenting behaviors and attitudes that you build into the time you actually spend with your child. They are not extra work and do not need to consume your work day. You do not need to feel guilty for working full time or for wanting to sleep by yourself in the evening. It is possible to raise a securely attached child that you will enjoy and that will enjoy you for a lifetime.
Please take a look around the new PsychSkills website for resources and recommendations based on Attachment Theory.
Feel good For Life!!