We all want to raise children who become cooperative, courageous, and independent little people who thrive. Of course, the big question is how. Thankfully, we don’t have to rely on grandma’s intuition or the opinions of others to address the pressing concern of “how best to do that.” Instead, decades of research in the area of what is called “best parenting practices” helps us separate the facts from fiction about a secure attachment style. Research in this area suggests that:
Children need secure attachment from at least one primary caregiver.
Regardless of your age, life can be rough at times. Children need to know that, when they are hurt, separated from you, or sensing real or perceived danger, they will receive protection and emotional support from you the caregiver. Even more, when you listen to their pressing needs with warmth and sensitivity and respond that way on a regular basis, something really powerful happens. You give children a big gift, an advantage in life that they can call on when times are tough. Each time you try to understand and accept the full range of your children’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors a deposit is made in the secure attachment account.
A secure attachment style is a close relationship that motivates your child to use you as a safe resource to draw from in times of stress. A secure sense of attachment also motivates him to cooperate more with your rules, expectations, and leadership. However, if that close bond is missing or fractured, then your ability to lead, guide, and direct him diminishes!
Developing a secure attachment style does not require perfect parents.
Even if you are the most sensitive and supportive parent in today’s busy world, you should not expect to always “be there” for your child. Your view of the world is far different from his, and communication can get out of sync quickly. Other times, you are just too busy or too tired to communicate that “I’m on your team. In other words, attuned interactions can and do rupture quite easily throughout a day, so don’t aim for perfection. Instead, relax, ditch the guilt, and focus on the bigger picture: the development of a warm and affectionate bond over time.
Since most parents are looking for the 25th hour in their day, the key to developing attuned interactions is to keep them simple. In other words, provide caregiving that is sensitive and responsive to those “out-of-sync” moments. For example, when you walk in the door from a busy day, and your children rush you for affection or their latest sibling dilemma, it can be really challenging. As those ruptures occur each day (and they will), it’s important to handle them in a warm and caring manner with things like:
- A hug
- An “I’m sorry”
- A loving touch
- A toy that offers comfort
- A verbal acknowledgment: “I will talk to you in just a minute, sweetie.”
Put another way; attuned interactions are dependent on how well you mend, restore, and maintain the emotional bond after any rupture. Even though children need a secure sense of attachment, it’s mostly a nonverbal dance. The key is to spend far less energy telling children and far more energy showing them.
A secure attachment style requires simple, yet powerful gestures
Here is a simple way to measure how well you either stay attuned or repair in the heat of the moment. Imagine yourself walking in the door after a hard day at work. Think about walking into the living room only to be greeted by your spouse and children who jockey for your undivided attention. Imagine the stress you feel when all you want to do is go to your bedroom and take a hot shower and take a nap. Simply ask yourself the following questions: To what degree does my:
- Eye contact
- Tone of voice
- Facial expressions
- Rate, speed, and rhythm of speech…
…say, “I want you to feel understood and accepted even though we don’t see things the same?”
A Point to Ponder
If you frequently demonstrate features from the above list, then you are in the right place. You are doing a good job of staying attuned to your family and soothing your child. Best of all, you are on the road to raising a child who is self-disciplined, securely attached, and happy regardless if he’s a toddler or a teenager!