As young parents, chances are you’ve probably heard the term “attachment” many times, be it in parenting magazines, by a pediatrician, or mentioned by a psychologist friend. But what does the term mean? And why has it gained so much popularity? In this article, we’ll decode the basics of attachment theory as it relates to early childhood development and we will give you some tips and insights on how to favor a secure attachment with your little one.

In straightforward terms, attachment is a relational process that starts developing since infancy and starts consolidating during the first years of life as a child acquires more cognitive skills and, for example, develops object permanence or the understanding of cause and effect. This early attachment involves a set of behaviors, feelings, and thinking about ourselves, others, and the world we interact with. That allow us to decode how relationships work and, therefore, it sets the framework for the interactions we have through our lives.

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Attachment theory goes back as far back as 1930 when the psychiatrist René Spitz discovered that young children need connection and touch just as much as they need nutrition, sleep, and healthcare. The importance of early relations came forward when people realized that children would objectively fail to thrive if they were deprived of loving relationships with their caregivers.

The relational patterns we create during infancy and early childhood will determine how we connect with others well into adulthood. During the 80’s, the British psychologist John Bowlby published a groundbreaking book on building a secure base for parent-child attachment, and thus for future development. From his research came the notion of a secure attachment, which describes a pattern of relationships where a child has learned that his emotional needs can be met without being abandoned or intruded upon. The book Raising a secure child, by psychologists Kent Hoffman, Glen Cooper, and Bert Powell from Berkeley University, describes secure attachment as the “confidence and trust in the goodness of me, you, us” that children carry throughout their life.

How you can help your child build a secure attachment?

  • Share time and play with your child making eye contact, touching him, and sharing your feelings.
  • Play together and share your little one’s interest, practicing serve and return interactions.
  • Become familiar with his temperament and unique cues.
  • Comfort your child when he is having trouble regulating his emotions. That way you can soothe him and offer him a model for naming and processing what he feels.
  • Take care of yourself and get enough sleep and adequate nutrition to avoid being predisposed to irritation.
  • Find tools and strategies that help you calm yourself during stressful times. For example, doing some breathwork, asking for help, or taking a brief walk.
  • Do not worry too much about being a perfect parent, but on being good enough and being genuinely interested in your child’s particular development.