Thoughtful Parenting: Developing healthy attachments with your child

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— Have you ever wondered how and why your child attached to you, even if you've made a few mistakes along the way? The process of attachment is beautifully simple and incredibly complex.

Thoughtful Parenting

This weekly column about parenting issues is written by local early childhood experts. It publishes on Mondays in the Steamboat Today. Read more columns here.

Attachment, the relationship that develops between a child and his or her parent, and bonding, the relationship that develops between a parent and his or her child, are different experiences, but for healthy relationships to thrive, both need to occur.

Bonding takes place for the parent quickly and can occur even before the baby is born. Bonding is dependent on the parent's perception of the child and whether the person is ready to be a parent.

Attachment is a much longer process. It begins in the first moments of the child's life and continues over the next three years. It has been theorized that by age 3, a child can establish healthy, long-term attachments — first toward primary caregivers and then toward others.

The process of attachment occurs when the child is able to trust that his or her primary caregiver will consistently and routinely meet the child’s needs, including physical, emotional, intellectual and social needs. The infant is dependent on his or her caregiver and needs to be close to avoid fearful separations, particularly at about 9 months old when some children develop stranger anxieties. This is a normal phase of development and signifies that the child now can distinguish his or her parent from other adults. Love, reassurance and patience will help ease a child's fears when in the presence of strangers.

As the infant grows and becomes a toddler, the child continues to need reassurance and contact but over time can soothe himself or herself through internalizing a memory of the primary caregiver. Symbolically, a transitional object such as a blanket or stuffed animal can temporarily take the place of a caregiver when inevitable separations occur. The most common separation involves the child falling asleep on his or her own. A soft blanket or stuffed toy can make the separation easier on the child.

In order to help your child develop secure attachments and strengthen your relationship with your infant or toddler, it is important to establish a routine that is safe, predictable, appropriately stimulating and well-rounded.

Healthy, positive communication between you and your baby is very important, too. As you talk to your young child, you are stimulating neurological development. Did you know that 700 million neurons are growing every second in an infant's brain? In an environment where few words are spoken, the average child hears 2 million fewer words than a child in an enriched environment. Socializing with your child through communication is a valuable gift you can give, and it will help cement your child's healthy attachment to you. The conversations can be based on everyday experiences, such as things you both see, hear and touch at the grocery store, or novel experiences, such as your first time on an airplane. Talking will help reassure your child as well as signify how important he or she is to you.

As you bond with your child and strengthen his or her attachment to you, it is likely that you will raise a more-confident and self-assured child.

Good luck, and enjoy each other’s company.


Dr. Kathy Gibbs is licensed psychologist and executive committee member of First Impressions, Routt County’s Early Childhood Council.

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