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Parent-Child Attachment

Attachment Types

By: Alainna Hanson

Based off presentation by: Chelsie Swenson, MS, LPCC

Attachment is a type of bond that connects one person with another over time.

Secure Attachment

A secure attachment provides a good base for the child’s future accomplishments. Parents who do a good job at listening to their child, create more confident children, who will openly vocalize their needs. The child understands themselves to be deserving of being taken care of because that’s what their parents have demonstrated. A secure attachment is developed by a parent who is always emotionally available and responds to their child’s emotions, both positive and negative. 

Insecure Avoidant Attachment

An insecure avoidant attachment is when a child avoids the parent in times of need. The child’s cues have been ignored too often. The attachment figure is often insensitive and rejects the needs of the child. Because of this feeling of unmet needs, the child no longer feels they will have their needs met, even if they voice it. The child will not show emotion when they see their parents. 

Insecure Resistant Attachment

Insecure resistant is an attachment type where a child may exhibit very clingy and dependant behavior towards their attachment figure, but when the attachment figure tries to engage, the child rejects them. The attachment figure gives inconsistent levels of response to the child’s needs. They often are impatient and tend to ignore the child. This inconsistency causes the child to feel insecure.

Impacts on Confidence

When a child has a secure attachment, they know their attachment figure is there to meet their needs. The child knows that they are worthy of receiving support and develops confidence. When a child develops this confidence they gain a sense of pride and feel safer to explore the world. Safety and security are established within the relationship making the child feel safe enough to explore and grow on their own. If the child becomes distressed in an unfamiliar situation they will seek comfort from their attachment figure, knowing they will be there to meet their needs.  

In an insecure avoidant attachment, the child does not feel comfortable doing much exploring. They tend to feel unsafe around strangers, even with their attachment figure present. When their attachment figure leaves them, they become highly distressed, although, when the two reunite the child does not react positively or negatively. 

Insecure resistant attachments involve insecurity from the child. Their attachment figure does not provide safety and security to the child. Because of this lack of security it is hard for the child to explore surroundings and instead clings to attachment figure, but then rejects them if they try to engage. A child with this type of attachment is difficult to soothe. This attachment can be confusing because the child wants to be nearer to their attachment figure than the other types, but then rejects them.

Engaging Strengthens Bonds

It is common knowledge that parents need to engage with their children, but the level of importance may not be known. Engagement plays a key role in creating a healthy attachment and development of the child. Serve and return is the basis for developmental learning. When a baby sees an object, a parent will say the objects name. After hearing this repeatedly, overtime the baby will start recognizes what the name represents. Reading with your child is a great way to engage and develop better learning skills in their future. Children with secure attachments are able to more easily transition into the outside world. Teachers often enjoy teaching these types of children because they are more willing to ask for help and more excited to learn. These children also have an easier time making friends because since they have felt a healthy love they are easily able to give out healthy love, making people enjoy being around them. 

Engagement not only means speaking and reading to your child. Engagement can also be nonverbal. A new baby is completely helpless and needs to be 100% dependent on their parents. They are reliant on their parents to meet their needs. The first four years of a child’s life are crucial to later development. It is important that a parent starts engaging with their child at birth. This engagement can be sounds, touch, eye contact, and talking. A baby will start to learn things such as tone, emotion, and even certain words. 

Engagement is something that all parents can continually improve on. Even if there is a secure attachment, it is good to be reminded of how much engagement between a child and their attachment figure benefits them. In the winter months it is especially easy to set the child in front of the tv, but it is important to make time to turn off the tv and interact with your child. Interact does not just mean asking about the child’s day and reading a story before bed. It means getting on the floor with them and doing what they want to do, engaging in their pretend, building blocks, or playing cars. Take an interest and engage in what your child of any age enjoys.

Reading Children’s Cues

Developing a healthy attachment between a parent and child also plays a large role with the parenting dynamic of raising the child. A good parent pays attention and reads their child’s cues in order to meet their needs. The more a parent is able to identify and meet a child’s needs, the easier that child will be to soothe. The easier the child is to soothe, the less stressed the parent will be. Thereby making the parent less likely to get frustrated or ignore their child’s needs. The child will understand that if they show the parent their need, the parent will meet it. This makes the child be more clear and upfront with their parent down the line.

However, some children are difficult to soothe for a variety of reasons and will be harder to parent. Some children make it difficult to know what they need and the parents have a hard time figuring it out. If a parent cannot figure out how to soothe their child, the child will have a harder time expressing what they need and will start getting easily agitated without hope of calming. This can become stressful and cause the parent to become impatient and give up trying. This illustrates how the attachment relationship is a two-way street; the parent affects the child and the child affects the parent. However, that is not to say it is ever the child’s fault. It is the parent’s duty to provide for their child. The earlier a parent can establish a healthy attachment, the better off it will be for everyone involved. If there is a medical reason for the difficulty (physical or mental) there is help out there for the parents to seek. 

Nobody’s Perfect

Mistakes will happen. Parents will get things wrong. “Perfect parenting” does not exist and trying to reach that is less important than learning how to repair after a mistake. When a parent makes a mistake, they should not ignore it and act as though it didn’t happen. Parents want to be viewed as all things knowing, but this is actually not healthy. “I’m right because I’m the parent,” is not a good saying. Parents need to be able to admit when they are wrong. Being the authority figure does not mean being perfect. Parents need to be able to show humility. Apologizing and admitting when they are wrong, will teach the child by example that mistakes happen. It will teach them the correct way to act when they, themselves make a mistake. This can be a good lesson in both humility and manners. 

It’s NEVER Too Late!

It is never too late to work on an attachment relationship. Though it is easiest to establish a healthy relationship within the first four years, that does not mean it can’t be repaired. If a parent wants to repair the relationship with their child, they need to start consciously considering the child more and increase their awareness towards their child. One on one time between a parent and child gives the chance at the serve and return, whether it is just talking or taking an interest in what the child is into and interacting together. 

The other thing that needs to happen to repair is to talk about it. Talk about your current relationship, take responsibility, apologize and tell them you will make more of an effort. Lastly, it is okay to get help! This is very often a necessary step, especially the older the child. Parenting is difficult, but the better the attachment between the parent and child, the smoother sailing both your lives will be.