Healthy attachment is crucial for children to be able to grow into adults that can successfully navigate their world. Healthy attachment allows for appropriate trust, self control and problem solving skills. Attachment theories provide that all babies have needs and they each provide signs to their caretaker regarding what those needs are. When the need is fulfilled, the baby can then relax until the next time a need arises. Continual and consistent repetition of this cycle results in the development of trust. This trust, developed in infancy, results in a child’s attachment to the caregiver. This trust provides the roots to the adult that is able to attach and trust. See the illustration below.
One thing that is crucial to realize is that once attachment is formed, we are able to attach for a lifetime and we are able to attach to more than one person. What that means for adoptive parents is that although a child may have formed an attachment with a caregiver at birth, consistent completion of the cycle, later, will allow the child and adoptive parent to attach to each other. Here are a few particular strategies to facilitating attachment in young children.
- Stay Mentally Engaged: Don’t just go through the motions when spending time with your child and do not be just a warm body that is present. Young children can rely on you and come to trust you only if you are present. Do your best to manage your schedule and life so you are physically available to children when they need you. This may mean making tough lifestyle choices, but work within your circumstances to find time to be available to your children.
- Provide a Quick Response to Your Child’s Needs: Children learn trust when caregivers respond promptly and consistently; they do not understand “wait a minute”. Sounds, cries, facial expressions and actions all need responses so a child learns to interact with the world. The child develops focus, interest, excitement, wonder and curiosity as caregivers respond. A child who does not receive responses can become apathetic and lose curiosity, interest and excitement.
- Express Warm, Positive and Caring Responses as You Interact With Your Child: No matter the task, parents should give children a warm and understanding experience. The extra word of reassurance, the caring touch or hug, shapes a child’s experience of security. Children who experience harsh rejections or perceive rejection can develop insecure attachments. Be nurturing. Be understanding. Always use eye contact.
- Say Yes: Constantly saying no (particularly out of habit) can interfere with the child’s desire to explore and express themselves. Provide many opportunities for interactions, but provide for the child to make up their own ways to interact. Chasing, tickling and laughing at nothing is as important as contrived activities with specific goals.
- Kangaroo Care: Skin to skin closeness has incredible benefits. Holding children with skin to skin touch has benefits for both parent and child. While certainly recommended for children in infancy, this technique can assist in bonding with children of all ages.
- Don’t Worry: Children can sense insecurity and react to it. Take your time and have fun!