Experts will extol the virtues of your baby having a secure attachment, but what does this really mean? Is it more than missing you if you leave the room? Research has shown that it has much more far-reaching effects than you might think at first; a secure attachment is vital for good emotional health as well as reasoning and social skills. The good news is that you can take steps to improve the bond you have with your child, giving them a good start in life.
What Is It?
Psychologists define attachment as the emotional bond a child develops with an adult. It’s usually with one person, often the mother since it tends to be mothers who provide most of the care a baby needs in the early months, but a child can form a bond with more than one adult.
When Does It Happen?
Newborns show a preference for humans rather than inanimate objects. By the time they’re three months old they’ve learnt to discriminate between people, but they’re still quite happy to be cuddled by strangers. By seven months they start to show a preference for one person and can show signs of anxiety when they’re away from them. They may also start to be uncomfortable around strangers. At nine months they start to become more independent and form other social bonds, perhaps with child minders or relatives; however, the person they’ve bonded with most strongly will still be at the centre of their emotional world.
How Can You Improve It?
The good news is that you’re probably doing all the right things when it comes to improving and strengthening the bond between you and your child. Responding to their non-verbal cues, giving them your full attention when you do, will teach them that they’ll be listened to and their needs valued. Being emotionally available, using eye contact and cuddles to show your support and, importantly, keeping your own anxieties to yourself, will show your baby that there’s safety with you. If you’re going to be separated from them, making sure you have one-to-one time with them before and after will reassure them that you are still there, even if it’s not physically.
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If you’re a carer, you may have a more difficult time building a strong enough bond to support a child in the absence of the key person in their life. Again, responsiveness is important with positive verbal and non-verbal feedback playing a key role. You need to recognise that sometimes a baby needs a break from the attention, signalled by them pushing you away or breaking eye contact. This needs to be balanced by the knowledge that sometimes they’ll be missing their special person and feeling in need of more support. Keeping a consistent routine, without too many stressful events, and taking breaks when the baby needs to will also help, as will finding out their likes and dislikes.
A child with a secure attachment will be less distressed if they are separated from their primary carer, more confident mixing with others, and develop stronger social skills as they venture out into the big scary world, secure in the knowledge that there is safe haven with you if they need it. You have a vital role in building that attachment.