What is “Attachment”?

 In Blog, Child & Adolescent Treatment, Psychological Services

Parenting is one of the most difficult, and at the same time rewarding, experiences in life.  Your children count on you for guidance, direction, and to set a good example . But most importantly, they need to know that they are cared about and that you will be there to listen and support them.  

Attachment is a way of describing a meaningful relationship between individuals.  When the relationship between a parent (or significant caregiver) and child is consistent, emotionally in tune, and supportive, that child feels safe, understood and connected.  This is a secure attachment relationship.  Children who have secure attachment relationships in their life are more resilient, more successful socially, and experience fewer mood and behavioural problems.  However, children who grow up in a situation in which their attachment needs are unmet, either due to severe factors (abuse, trauma, etc.), or because of very inconsistent parenting, can develop insecure attachment relationships.  These children often have trouble figuring out how to regulate their emotions and behaviour.  They may not know how to make friends, and may have other kinds of difficulties (low self-esteem, depression, anxiety).

What can parents do to promote healthy attachments with their children?  Make time for them regularly. Try to be aware of your own emotional reactions – staying calm in the face of tantrums can be a huge challenge! Remember that your child is still learning how to express feelings appropriately – they are looking to you for guidance.  And don’t worry – everyone is human; if frustration gets the best of you, there is always time for repair. This can also be a great learning opportunity, to share and own up to the fact that even adults “lose it” occasionally.

Investing in strengthening the attachment bond now will have significant benefits for your child’s future, both in terms of your relationship with them and to allow them to develop the skills and self-confidence to relate successfully to others.  

All families experience “bumps” in the road and times when relationships get out of synch.  This does not mean that the attachment bonds are insecure.  Developmental transitions (childhood to adolescence), life transitions (new job, moving, change of school, significant illness), and loss (death of a loved one, family break up), can all trigger stress.  However, if you are concerned about persistent difficulties with family communication and relationships, it can be helpful to consult with a professional (such as a clinical psychologist), who can provide counseling and guidance around how to most effectively address these issues.

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