A solid home base.
A sense of trust that your needs will be met.
Confidence that you can take risks.
For children, the foundation for all of these things can be found in a secure attachment with their parents and caregivers. Decades of research in psychology and child development have highlighted the importance of secure attachments between children and their caregivers. Attachment theory has had a major impact on the field of parenting education, with numerous intervention approaches developed to foster the secure attachments that provide children with a safe foundation for exploring the world around them.
A secure attachment between caregivers and children also serves as a protective factor against child abuse. In contrast, an insecure attachment can lead to anxiety, a limited sense of safety, and a lack of trust or confidence in the world around you. A growing body of research has even begun to explore how early childhood attachments set the stage for attachment in relationships in adulthood, so childhood attachment is important for setting the tone for a person’s development throughout life.
Whether or not parents and other adults ascribe fully to the Attachment Parenting framework, it’s important to consider how parenting practices, attitudes, and beliefs impact a child’s sense of attachment. In addition, a commitment to fostering secure attachments between parents/caregivers and children can help guide decisions about how to best care for children, especially during difficult times.
Parents, professionals, and other community members can help foster secure attachment in many ways, including the following:
In the family:
- Reduce or eliminate barriers to connection among people within the home. This may mean limiting technology use and being mindful of not over-scheduling family members’ time. Place value on time spent with one another in true connection.
- Whenever possible, respond in a nurturing way when children express their needs and wants. This doesn’t mean giving in to their every demand. Rather, it means validating that the things they need, and even the things they want, are important to them, and that they have a secure relationship with you in which their needs and experiences will be valued and honored.
- Remember that each child is an individual. Especially as children grow older, the types of responses from parents that are most reassuring and connecting to them will likely become more individualized, so make an effort to learn what responses make the biggest impact with each child in your life.
In organizations that serve children:
- Offer reassuring, supportive responses to children who display separation anxiety when leaving their parents. Even children with secure attachments may become distressed when they leave their parents’ presence.
- Provide additional support for children who have had difficult life experiences that impact their attachment bonds. For example, children who have faced adoption, divorce, foster care, abuse, and/or neglectful parents may need additional support and referrals to more intensive services in the community.
- Help children build strong, positive relationships with others through your organization, as appropriate. Although the primary relationship in which attachment theory has been developed is the parent-child relationship, strong bonds with other consistent adults can become important secondary attachment relationships that can play a very positive role in children’s lives.
In the broader community:
- Advocate for family-friendly policies in workplaces. Employers can help support families in nurturing secure attachment bonds with children by respecting families’ needs for time and togetherness, especially during times of transition and when children are very young.
- Donate to local organizations that work with children who face major challenges to attachment, such as adoption, foster care, and domestic violence. Consider becoming a foster family or offering support to other families who do this in your community.
- Celebrate good parenting when you see it. If you’re out at a park or museum and see a parent respond in a nurturing way to a child, give the parent a compliment about what you saw. Remember that parents often feel very alone and underappreciated for all they do for their children. A few kind words can go a long way!
Attachment is a complex phenomenon that doesn’t develop overnight. Consistent, nurturing responses to children offer them a sense of security and lay a foundation for a lifetime of positive development. As parents, professionals, and community members, we can nurture positive attachment bonds for our own children and other children in our community.