Sarah Borton and Emory Fox
Everyone wants to raise a healthy infant and foster a healthy attachment with her new baby. But what is the proper way to go about developing a secure bond with your child? As defined by Robert Siegler in How Children Develop, attachment is “an emotional bond with a specific person that is enduring across space and time. Usually [they] are discussed in regard to the relation between infants and specific caregivers.” Below we will discuss the stages of forming attachments, the types of attachment that may result from different parenting techniques, and advice for forming a healthy and secure attachment with your child.
Once your child is born, he or she will be in the pre-attachment stage, which lasts from birth to six weeks. In this stage of your baby’s life, he or she will make sounds to signal his or her needs to you. It will be your job to respond to these needs in order to comfort your infant.
In the next state of your child’s life, the attachment-in-the-making stage, which lasts from six weeks to about 6-8 months, your main goal is to earn your child’s trust by being a consistent and reliable caregiver. Because of these steady interactions, your child will begin to respond preferentially to you and other familiar adults.
Your child will then enter the clear-cut attachment stage (6-8 months to1.5 years). In this stage, your child will begin to actively seek contact with you. He or she will enthusiastically greet you when you appear and will show signs of separation anxiety or distress when you leave them.
In the reciprocal relationships stage, which develops continually after about 1.5-2 years, your child will assume a more active role in the mother-child partnership. Because of developmental and cognitive maturation, he or she will be better able to understand you and respond to your needs. As a result of maturation, separation distress will decline.
So what types of attachment might you form with your child? The following are four types of fairly common attachment styles that you may see in your relationship with your child.
¨ Secure Attachment—you are the child’s secure base and your child feels comfortable exploring his or her environment because of your high-quality, unambiguous relationship
¨ Insecure-Avoidant Attachment—your child might seem indifferent to you; he or she will not actively seek contact with you and will not seem unsettled by your departure
¨ Disorganized/Disoriented Attachment—your child will want to approach you but might be too scared to do so; this may result from harmful parenting styles
With these in mind, we have compiled a list of suggested behaviors that will hopefully aid you in developing a secure attachment with your infant.
1. Be consistently responsive to your child. Read your baby’s signals accurately, respond quickly to those signals, and don’t forget to smile while you do it!
2. Interact positively with your child. Smile, laugh, and vocalize while you engage in coordinated play with him or her.
3. Be physically and emotionally available to your child. Even when you’re busy, respond warmly and promptly to their initiation of interaction with you.
4. Develop a routine for daily care and interactions with your child. Be sensitive to their emotions and stable in your reactions. Provide similar responses to their common behaviors.
5. Choose a child care provider wisely, if it becomes necessary. Choose someone who will respond warmly to your child’s needs. Make sure they value relationships.
6. Give your child freedom and space to explore his or her world. Remain close so that your child can find you if he or she needs you, but don’t be afraid to let them be independent in a safe environment.
7. Take care of yourself too! You are an important part of this mutual relationship, and your child can sense when you are anxious or overwhelmed.
On the other hand, there are a few behaviors that do not promote a healthy and secure attachment between you and your child. Seek professional help if you are struggling with any of the following.
1. Abuse, neglect, and abandonment are absolutely detrimental to developing a secure attachment.
2. Maternal depression can cause you to be less responsive to your child and less positive in your exchanges with him or her.
3. Consuming drugs and alcohol during your pregnancy can hinder your child’s physiological and cognitive development. After your child’s birth, continued use of these substances may cause you to be distant from your child.
We hope that we have provided you with some basic guidelines for forming a secure attachment with your child. It should be remembered, however, that every child and every mother-child relationship is different and unique. What works for one family in one culture may not work for you and your baby in your family setting. Use our tips as a framework that will help you develop a unique and responsive system with your child. Remember, be sensitive and consistent, and enjoy a positive and fun relationship with your child!
Siegler, Robert S., Judy S. DeLoache, and Nancy Eisenberg. How Children Develop. New York: Worth, 2011. Print.