Attachment Theory for Better Parenting

Attachment is an emotional connection that impacts and influences thought and behavior from the cradle to the grave. How a child attaches to their parent(s) affects how they will manage their own emotions, relationships, and friendships throughout their life. Attachment plays a critical role in an individual’s life development.

When we think of attachment, images and thoughts of a loving connection between a parent and a child come to mind.

But, what happens when a child doesn’t get the loving and consistent care they need for healthy development?

Karyn Purvis, Director of the Institute of Child Development at Texas Christian University, explains:

Neurobiological research has consistently shown that humans need attachments, relationships, to function well in life. Extensive child development research also showed that significant deprivation of parental presence or responsiveness to the child’s needs could cause more lasting harm than overt physical abuse, including functioning impairments, cognitive delays, and future relational problems.

Secure and Insecure Attachments

Infants have an instinctual need to form a special emotional bond with a primary caregiver. Children who have received loving, consistent care from a primary caregiver are more likely to develop a secure attachment, which provides a sense of safety and security. Children whose nurturing experiences have been disrupted by significant parental absence or unresponsiveness to their needs are more likely to develop insecure attachment, manifesting in either avoidant or anxious attachment styles. These negative attachment styles can form a lifelong emotional template which may affect the child’s emotional, relational, and even functional life.

Gabor Maté explains the need for parents to put their life goals on hold and take care of their emotional needs to create a home environment where the child feels connected and safe and so a secure attachment is developed.

Play with Your Children

Make time and play with your child. Many activities help enhance attachment with a child. For example, mother-daughter taking turns to brush each other’s hair, using lotion to massage a child’s hands and feet, offering piggyback rides to your child, or playing the activity Playful Copycat, which is about mirroring. You can find the benefits of these activities and more here.