That special bond your baby has with you...
There is an ever-growing body of research that tells us this is the really important part about parenting. As explained by attachment theory, this relationship that we cultivate with our children during their first years of life plays a key role in how they develop socially and emotionally, even how they experience their own relationships as adults. Attachment has to do with how our babies feel connected and secure.
But not every form of attachment is the same.
We all want our children to grow up into well-adjusted adults and the way to do that is by ensuring secure attachment from an early age.
Let’s dive into more of what secure attachment is and how we can foster it for the healthy development of our little ones!
What Is Secure Attachment?
This is how we as parents become a secure base for our babies so that they feel comfortable putting themselves out into the world. They'll be ready to experiment and explore while knowing they'll always have us to lean back on.
What Is Insecure Attachment?
On the other hand, babies and children can feel insecurely attached. If for example, parents are inconsistent in their behaviours or by not picking them up and tending to their baby when they're crying in an effort not to “spoil” them - which is not possible by the way! This can make them feel avoidant, anxious, or disorganized when you are not around.
Attachment Parenting vs Secure Attachment
I think it's important to clarify that when we're talking about attachment, we're not talking about attachment parenting.
The term “attachment parenting” was first coined by Dr.William Sears as sort of a guideline to parent children in order to be able to achieve secure attachment. However the guidelines set out by Dr.William Sears require basically not being able to put your baby down and to exclusively breastfeed, co-sleep, and be totally 100% baby centered care.
I actually appreciate where all this is coming from, and I agree that these things do cultivate secure attachment. But there just isn't any evidence to suggest that all of these practices must be followed in order for us to achieve secure attachment with our little ones.
Luckily, sensitive and responsive parenting is not a one size fits all approach. There is no way that this one way to parent is the only way for babies to have secure attachment
How To Foster Secure Attachment
Respond To Their Cues
Babies actually have lots of ways that they communicate with us. And usually the signs or cues come before any fussiness or crying show up. Things like:
Engaged (ready to play) - Looking at you, excitement when they see certain people or toys, perhaps they're smiling, cooing, baby chatter, or just reaching out their arms. Otherwise content.
Hungry - Babies will turn towards your body with their mouth open or bob their head when you hold them (that's the rooting reflex), lip smacking, licking lips, putting their fingers in their mouths or just their hands being around their mouth with tension in their arms.
Sleepy - They could be yawning, rubbing their eyes, zoning out, actually pulling their ears or having their hands kind of around their ears.
Disengaged (not interested) - Babies who are no longer interested in what you’re doing with them will turn/look away, push things away or arch their back.
Interact With Them
Spend time talking or singing, or reading out loud to them. Bath time and during changing are fantastic times to connect and communicate with your baby.
Attachment Parenting Myths
You Have To Respond Immediately
Attachment all comes down to you as the parent being sensitive to your baby's needs and responding promptly with love. Notice, I didn't say “respond immediately”. You can be prompt and efficient without being a helicopter parent!
You Need To Co-Sleep
Another common myth out there is that you can't have proper secure attachment with your baby if you also sleep-train. Big fat, false! Not to say that everyone is or should be sleep training their baby, but for those that have, or may in the future, isn't it great to know that there isn't any science to back up this claim?! You can still be securely attached while also helping your baby learn an age-appropriate skill :)
You Have To Breastfeed
Breastfeeding has a lot of benefits. In fact, breastfeeding moms also get the shot of oxytocin, this love or cuddle hormone while feeding their little ones that plays a big role in bonding. But if a mom is not able to breastfeed for some reason or has just chosen not to, her ability to bond and foster secure attachment with her baby is still very much intact. Just feeding your baby when they’re hungry is doing it.
Ultimately, when babies are securely attached, they grow to learn and explore their surroundings while wanting to do more and more things on their own. But all the while, what actually gives them the confidence to go out and explore is the knowing that they can always reconnect and recharge with you.
They need to know that if you leave, they may be upset, but they know you're going to come back, which allows them to calm quickly and get back to playing.
Ashley Cooley is a mom of 3 girls and a Birth Baby and Sleep Specialist located in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
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Ashley Cooley is a birth, baby and sleep specialist living in Dartmouth, NS with her husband and their three girls.