by Jessica Downs
Parents occupy many roles, including entertainers, drivers, providers, playmates, teachers, guides, and protectors. Stretched with responsibilities, and hopeful for the future of their children, parents frequently ask, “What is the most important thing I can do for my child?” Of all the strategies available to parents, research indicates that a secure attachment is one of the most powerful indicators of a child’s social and emotional development.
Children need caregivers who are emotionally available in times of distress, as well as in times of calm. Attachment is the part of a relationship that makes a child feel safe and secure, allowing them to develop a strong sense of self-esteem; engage meaningfully in healthy relationships; better regulate their emotions and behaviors; and effectively manage the disappointments they will face throughout life. In other words, children with secure attachments are happier, have fewer behavior problems, and are more likely to grow into well-adjusted adults.
Developing a secure attachment begins with the way a parent responds to a child’s distress. When an infant is hungry and crying, does the caregiver feed the infant? That response reassures the infant that his needs will be met, and adds to the security of his relationship to his caregiver. When a toddler stumbles and cries, does the caregiver comfort him by reaching out to embrace or hold him? When a preschooler has her first experience of being left out, does the caregiver comfort and console her by listening and validating, without dismissing the hurt she is feeling? As a caregiver consistently responds to the child in a nurturing way, the caregiver is communicating to the child that her needs matter, and that the caregiver is going to help meet those needs.
Responding to a child’s ever-changing emotions and needs may seem overwhelming: it is important to note that developing a secure attachment does not require a caregiver to respond perfectly to every distressing experience a child may face. A secure attachment grows out of having quality interactions over time. What matters is not that every interaction is perfectly handled, but that the majority of interactions are handled with sensitivity and compassion.
In addition to the way caregivers respond to their children’s distress is the need to develop an emotional bond when things are calm: the need to connect with the child. This is often referred to as an “emotional bank account.” By engaging in meaningful moments with a child, a relationship is being built that will ensure trust and stability as the child continues to develop.
- Match the energy and level of your child, and completely engage. Enjoy some “floor time” with your toddler: get in his space and play freely with him. Set aside time for this.
- Eliminate distractions to allow open conversation with your children as they grow older.
- When conflict arises, repair the damaged relationship. Be willing to apologize and discuss the feelings you have regarding the conflict. Listen to your child’s feelings regarding the conflict.
For many more ideas on how to create meaningful relationships with your children at every stage of development, visit this website: http://www.ahaparenting.com/