Attachment: What you can do

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Learn how to effectively foster and promote a secure attachment pattern between you and your baby or child. Also learn how to provide experiences that create trust by making your infant and child feel understood and comforted.

Key points

  • There are several ways to make sure your child develops a secure attachment relationship with you, including providing comfort; responding to and noticing distress; providing a sense of trust; creating warm memories; providing a sense of security; and being responsive, predictable and reliable when your child demonstrates distress.

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

Provide comfort

As your relationship develops with your baby, you will learn to read their signals for play and for discomfort. Infants will want you near to comfort them when they are upset, including if they are ill, frightened, physically hurt or in another for form of distress. They will want you to reassure, rock and hold them. If you can respond this way regularly and predictably, your baby will learn that they are safe when you are around. Be responsive, sensitive and available as much as you can. Remember, you cannot always stop their crying, but your presence will always make them feel reassured.

Respond and notice

Your baby needs to know that they are valued and worthy of your care. Your response to their signals to be close lets them know that when they need you, you will be there and that their need for closeness and comfort is a priority for you. Helping them when they are in distress helps them to learn how to manage their discomfort. This will eventually help them to solve problems and ask for help if they cannot solve the problem on their own. Your baby will also signal you when they want to play with you. Find activities that you can both enjoy. Spend time talking with and listening to your baby’s vocalizations. This ‘serve and return’ sequence lets them know you are interested in them. Eventually, you will be able to talk to them, ask them how they feel about things and take them 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 them. Tune into your child and let them 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 them to explore the world in a trusting manner. Create a sense of trust in your child by letting them know you believe in their ability to do things. Keep your home and environment as safe as possible to allow your child to explore. Encourage their independence and competency while letting them know you are still available in case they need you. For example, when they learn to crawl or walk, you can let them go off a short distance, but make sure you remain nearby so they can return to you.

As your child gets older, they will need to be warned about many dangers, and the trust they build with you will help them understand that the warnings are for their benefit. They will believe you because they trust you. Frightening experiences can and do happen to children. When they do, your ability to help them understand what has happened by talking about the situation and the feelings they had will be very helpful.

Sometimes, caregivers need help themselves before they can help their child. Remember, you can reach out to get the help you need so you can help your child.

Review and re-enact experiences

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

Provide a sense of security

Separations are important to your child because every time they separate from you, they may feel afraid. Attending to the fear instead of the behaviours that the fear may be causing for your child is very important. Help them to understand that you know it is hard to separate and that you understand. This can be very hard, especially when you are trying to leave them at childcare or have them go to sleep for the night. 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 them a photo of yourself, a security blanket or familiar toys to keep them calm. Let them 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 they are in distress. Sooth the distress first and deal with the behaviour once the distress has calmed.

Further information

For more information about attachment, please see the following pages:

Different types of attachment

Development of attachment

Attachment and premature babies

Last updated: April 12th 2023