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Attachment: What You Can Do

Tips on How to Respond to Your Baby
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There are many things you can do to respond to your baby when he is hurt, ill, or upset. If you respond to your baby now in ways that make him feel loved and secure, it will give him confidence that someone is on his side.

There are many things you can do make sure your child develops a secure attachment. Here are a few tips, as mentioned in the book Pathways to Competence by child development specialist Dr. Sarah Landy.

Provide comfort

As you grow with your baby, you will learn to read her signals and determine when she is in need of comfort. She may become upset if she is ill, frightened, physically hurt, or lonely. She will want you to reassure, rock, and hold her. If you can respond this way regularly and predictably, your baby will learn that she is safe when you are around. Be responsive, sensitive, and available, as much as you can.

Respond and notice

Your baby needs to know that she is important, and that you will respond to her. She needs not only to be comforted when upset, but also to be given attention when needed. She wants you to share moments with her and to help her with problems. Find activities that you both can enjoy. Spend time talking with and listening to her, asking her how she feels about things, and taking her places. Read stories, go for walks, and play games together. Show interest in your child’s activities and spend lots of one-on-one time with her. Tune into your child, and let her take the lead. Keep these activities warm and intimate, even if they are sometimes brief.

Provide a sense of trust

Strike a balance between ensuring your child is safe and encouraging her to explore the world in a trusting manner. Instill a sense of trust in your child by letting her know you believe in her ability to do things. Keep your home and environment as safe as possible, to allow your child to explore. Protect her independence without abandoning her. For example, when she learns to crawl or walk, you can let her go off a short distance, but make sure you remain nearby so she can return to you.

As your child gets older, she will need to be warned about stranger dangers, but do not expose her to terrifying accounts of tragic events or acts of violence on television. If your child does have a frightening experience, give her lots of support and talk about what happened.

Review and re-enact experiences

Talk with your child about things that have happened to her. As she gets older, tell her stories about when she was small. Show her photos of when she was a baby, and answer any questions she may have. These memories can give her a sense of her past, and create a feeling of security.

If your child goes through a difficult event, talk to her about it. Review it, play it out, and discuss it when your child is willing and able to do so. This can help avoid nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder. Even seemingly small events such as the birth of a sibling or a friend leaving town are important to children, and you should talk about these events with your child. If you are going through the same trauma as your child, you may not be able to talk about it. If this is the case, it is important to find appropriate treatment for your child in consultation with a health care professional.

Create warm memories

Keep good memories alive. Keep a photo album and look through it with your child. Maintain a collection of her crafts and artwork. Keep a diary of your child’s achievements. Make videos and keep a record of special events. Establish family traditions; they are important for instilling a sense of security and predictability in your child.

Provide a sense of security

Separations are important to fostering your child’s sense of attachment, but they need to be handled well. When leaving your child with someone else, establish a goodbye ritual and leave with confidence. Provide your child with some things to do while you are away. Give her a photo of yourself, a security blanket, or familiar toys to keep her calm. Let her know when you will return, and make sure to come back on time.

If your child is very upset about separating from you, try to integrate it gradually. Remain present during part of the first few days.

Be predictable and positive

Be as predictable as you can, to provide your child with an additional sense of security. Keep to a routine for meals, bedtime, and so on. Establish clear rules and follow through on them. Always comfort and soothe your child if she is ill, hurt, or scared.

Brenda S. Miles, PhD, CPsych