The concept of “attachment” has found its way into much writing and talking about parenting, but what does it mean, and more importantly, how can parents help their child to develop a secure attachment?
Attachment is the lasting emotional bond that a child forms with a specific person that provides safety, comfort, soothing, and pleasure. Almost all children will develop an attachment but the nature of attachment varies, depending largely upon the care-giving style of their parents. Children who are securely attached are more likely to be resilient under stress, have better relationships, and enter school ready to learn.
Drawing on attachment research a group of American psychotherapists have developed a user-friendly graphic illustrating the different needs children have of their parents, named the Circle of Security (COS) (Cooper, Hoffman, Marvin & Powell, 1998). The hands represent the parent, and the circle represents the child moving away to explore and coming back when necessary.
To develop a secure attachment, children require their parents to fulfil two key roles. First, (on the top half of the circle) the parent’s role is to be a secure base from which the child can move away and explore their world. For a baby this may be subtle, looking away from mum as something catches their interest, for a toddler with new-found mobility, it may be more obvious! This is an important role as it is through exploration that a child’s learning occurs. Children are more likely to explore when they feel safe and look to their parents for cues that it is OK.
Being emotionally available to our children is necessary, just being physically present is not enough and even very young children will spot the difference, as adults do. For example, imagine how different it feels to talk to your partner who is really ‘with’ you compared with when they are listening - while watching TV!
It can be helpful to consider what lies behind our children’s approaches to us. For example, asking for help with a task like putting on their socks may be more about seeking emotional support than actually requiring our help. Recognising this helps parents to respond more effectively to their child’s needs.
Maybe you have found sufficient help from this short portion of the article. We’d recommend you check it out completely by referring to the downloadable resource.
Written by: Keryn O’Neill, MA PGCertEdPsych
Brainwave Trust Senior Researcher
Published in the newsletter of Brainwave Trust 2016. First published in June 2010.
Used by permission in partnership with Brainwave Trust.
For more information about the brain – www.brainwave.org.nz