Freud knew what he was talking about (in this case): For better or worse, many psychologists believe that our adult personalities are unconsciously planted in our childhood experiences. And the way we relate to others, too, seems to be established in our very first relationships—typically with our parents. From the way our caregivers meet our emotional needs in early life, we develop social coping habits that collect into something called an “attachment style”—a pattern in the way we relate to others. A healthy attachment style might serve us well, fostering solid self-esteem and positive relationships, but an unstable one might hold us back from forming functional relationships.
But don’t fret. Yes it can sometimes feel like there is a lot of pressure on parents to do it all perfectly so we don’t ruin our kids in the long run. And let’s be honest, parents can’t be calm and gentle all the time. You will lose your temper, shout and scream and behave impatiently. But if you apologise and “own the problem” as yours, your child will feel they are not the bad one. They will learn resilience, which, in effect, is the ability to fix bad situations and get the good out of them or transform them into positive outcomes. There is always time to reflect, come back to centre and start again because when bad moments are followed by repair, this provides an opportunity to strengthen your relationship and give your child permission to make mistakes.
7 ways to strengthen your connection with your child
Having a secure parent-child attachment can make all the difference to a child’s level of stress, their ability to manage emotional experiences, their capacity for learning and their social ease. Working on this attachment will help your kids to manage struggles and emotions throughout their lives.
What is a secure attachment connection?
Parents and children are emotionally hardwired for attachment. Part of our basic human make-up is our need to feel emotionally safe, understood, supported and secure.
When it comes to children, secure attachment can best be described as providing a safe-haven for comfort when needed, while also offering a secure base for exploration. It’s about being able to be present with your child to share in their joy as well as being there to support and work through their challenges.
Benefits of secure attachment
Having a secure parent-child attachment can make all the difference to a child’s level of stress, ability to manage emotional experiences, their capacity for learning, physical vitality, social ease and more; in other words, we can handle struggles as long as we have a firm connection with our primary caregivers.
Emotional and psychological wellbeing isn’t about going through life without any difficulties or tough times (that’s obviously impossible), rather it’s the presence of secure connections and bonds that helps to see us through those rough periods. Feeling secure in the company of a loving, dependable caregiver creates a buffer to help children cope more effectively.
Research shows that children with a secure attachment, stemming from complete trust in the love of their parents, also have increased self-esteem.
Basically, the more a child feels safe and secure within their primary relationships early in life, the more relaxed and resilient they will be when facing the challenges and opportunities that emerge as they get older.
So how is secure attachment developed?
It’s in the daily interactions between parents and their children that kids find a sense of security. Attachments are strengthened when children know that their needs will be understood in any given moment – whether it is exploring their environment or coming in for comfort and nurturing.
As caregivers we need to be there, to delight and celebrate the small, simple wins, while at the same time helping our little ones navigate the tough times.
Sometimes, without realising it, we become focused on the big wins, the ‘significant’ achievements rather than acknowledging the simple or small gains. This is not about praising everything our children do (we want to be realistic) but rather helping to build self-efficacy and a good sense of who they are.
When dealing with a child who is acting out or in distress, it helps to think about what’s hidden in plain sight. Is the child frustrated that he can’t make us understand his need for comfort? Is the child acting out because they feel ‘not good enough’ or not confident enough to achieve a desired outcome?
Reacting to the behaviour rather than meeting the need may result in short term compliance but misses an opportunity for long-term change.
Sometimes, as parents, we miss an issue that is in plain sight as we become distracted or overwhelmed by our child’s needs.
The more we try to see what underlies our child’s behaviour, the easier the development of this secure attachment bond will be.
Its not about being a perfect parent, it’s about being more attuned to our child’s needs while accepting that if we miss an opportunity or get it wrong, we can work through it.
Your children don’t need excessive material goods or constant trips and gifts.
The best present you can give them is the availability of your mind.
You already have what you need to be a great parent. We come equipped with positive intentions for our children and are hardwired to form a close and lasting attachment with them. We just need to focus on being present for our kids and limiting distractions when we are with them.
How can we do this?
1/ Take the time to slow down. Allocate some time to sit with your child without distractions of external responsibilities. Switch off your phone and so learn the art of just thoughtfully being there: Noticing them, or maybe doing simple things together.
2/ Give your child time to share their thoughts – your role is to actively listen by offering validation and compassion
3/ Engage actively in what interests your child. Find out where their thoughts are at and immerse yourself in their play. It could be a bedtime story, cooking and washing, or going to the park together. You could read books or newspapers to your child or simply notice what they’re doing. While they’re with you, they could draw, do their homework or just lounge around.
4/ Take advantage of impromptu times to chat, such as driving in the car where you may have their focus and attention.
5/ Work on developing your own ‘detective skills’ – ask yourself ‘what is this really about?’ This can be immensely powerful in helping to understand a situation and interpret its meaning for you and your child
6/ Be kind to yourself – chances are you won’t get it right every time. What’s important is to acknowledge and repair. It’s never too late. And besides, when bad moments are followed by repair, this provides an opportunity to strengthen your relationship and give your child permission to make mistakes.
7/ Don’t worry about needing to do this all the time – quality is important here. It’s about filling your child’s ‘emotional cup’ so they feel heard and understood and begin to trust themselves and their independence.
I hope that by being more attuned to those ‘hidden in plain sight’ moments, your attachment bond with your child will be immeasurably strengthened.