In order to have a secure base from which to explore the world, be resilient to stress, and form meaningful relationships, all infants need a primary adult who cares for them in sensitive ways and who perceives and responds to their needs. This attachment bond is the emotional connection formed between an infant or child and their primary caregiver. While attachment occurs naturally, the quality of that attachment bond varies. A secure attachment ensures your child will feel understood and experience optimal brain development, laying the groundwork for feeling safe, eager to learn, self-aware, trust and empathy. On the other hand, a weak attachment bond can inhibit emotional, mental and even physical development, possibly leading to difficulties in learning and forming relationships later in life.
Don’t worry – forming a secure attachment bond does not require perfect parenting! The most important factor in laying the foundations for a strong bond is the quality of non-verbal communication. While it is easiest to form a secure bond while your child is still an infant, children’s brains continue to develop into their 20s, so it is never too late.
Forming a secure bond of attachment with your child requires you to be attuned to their non-verbal cues: checking for their expressions, sounds and body language and not only interpreting what they are trying to communicate, but reflecting their feeling back to them so they feel understood. For optimal attachment bonding you will want to follow your child’s slower pace and take the time to decipher and respond to your child’s nonverbal cues. You will also want to let the child initiate and end interactions between you.
Possible Obstacles to forming a Secure Attachment Bond
- Adopted babies or those who spend time in hospital away from a parent may have early life experiences that leave them feeling stressed.
- Infants who never seem to stop crying—fists clenched, and bodies rigid—may have difficulty experiencing soothing cues
- A child gets attention only by acting out or displaying other extreme behaviours.
- Inconsistent parenting- sometimes the child’s needs are met and sometimes they aren’t. The child never knows what to expect.
- A child is moved from one caregiver to another
- A child is mistreated or abused.
The mental and emotional state of the caregiver can also impact on the attachment bond. A parent suffering from anxiety, depression, illness or trauma, or who did not have a healthy bond with their own caregiver, or simply a parent who is extremely busy and distracted can have greater difficulty forming this bond of attachment with their child.
The fundamental building block of the bond of attachment is non-verbal communication. Nonverbal cues are communicated by tone of voice, touch, or facial expression. A child’s primary caretaker brings all of these qualities together creating a sense of recognition, safety, and comfort for a child.
Written by: Rosann Nerenberg, Canadian certified family educator