About 70 years ago, the psychiatrist Dr. John Bowlby made a surprising revelation about mental health. He stated that it is dependent on each of us experiencing a “warm, intimate and continuous relationship” in which both child and caregiver “find satisfaction and enjoyment.” Dr. Bowlby’s findings led him to develop the science of attachment– which offers an explanation of relationships patterns and, coincidentally, our children’s behavior.
What is Attachment Theory?
Bowlby believed that children are born seeking and attempting to remain close to attachment figures. From a purely evolutionary perspective, this makes complete sense. Stick close to someone who is more clever and bigger than you and you’re more likely to be fed and protected.
An adult who serves as a playmate, disciplinarian, or teacher isn’t necessarily a primary attachment figure, though they could be. So what does it take to be an attachment figure? The adult’s presence in the first few years of the child’s life certainly helps a lot, since relationship patterns start to take hold right away in life. An attachment that is secure and healthy ultimately results from a caregiver responding with sensitivity and consistency. For me, the epitome of a secure attachment is a young toddler playing independently while his mother looks on. Every few minutes he wanders back to his mother to show her something or engage her in the play. This serves as an “emotional refueling” before he goes back to his independent play. When he is distressed from an accidental fall he, again, returns to his mother and finds comfort in her warm reassurance.
Understanding Attachment Can Change Behavior
- Interactions will seem smoother. Children naturally want to help, adopt your values, and follow your instructions. Yet, injuries in the attachment may impact these natural tendencies. Instead, you may get what appears to be disobedience, disrespect, and emotional explosiveness. The quality of the relationship will play out over and over in every interaction. If your child struggles to follow directions or appears disrespectful, an investment of time into the relationship, and not just the behavior, may work wonders.
- Separations and connection to others will be easier. Many children go through separation anxiety as part of healthy and normal development. Yet, a secure attachment to you means she will learn to trust that you will return. She will also believe that adults, in general, are trustworthy.
- Strong attachments serve as a balm for emotional wounds. Children tend to believe they get the care they deserve. A child who is consistently met with warmth from an attachment figure will believe she is worthy of it. When hurt occurs in her interactions with peers or other adults, she will be more resilient and protected as a result of her caregiving. She’ll understand that this hurt is not indicative of her worth in the world.
At Intuition Wellness Center we specialize in integrated services and wellness programs for children, young adults and families and supporting other like-minded professionals in doing good work. We offer parent education seminars, wellness classes and other supportive services. If you think you would like some extra support, call us. Call 520-333-3320 for a free phone consultation.