The Importance of Attachment
Celine Stonex (Guest Play Therapist)
The first 1000 days.
A lot of importance is placed on the first 1,000 days of a child’s life. This crucial time period between conception and the age of two allows the child’s nervous system to be shaped by experience. (The nervous system is essential for emotional regulation because it processes and responds to sensory information, influencing our reactions, feelings, and moods).
From the very first quickening (fluttering in the mother’s womb), mothers and fathers can begin to interact with their babies. Whispering, telling stories, soothing, dancing, listening to music, are just a few lovely examples of this.
The baby begins to engage in a playful dance with his/her parents. He/she develops a sense of self and the cultivation of a secure bond begins. This bond is called attachment and fosters healthy brain development and emotional well-being. Through a healthy attachment, babies learn what their emotions are and how to process and manage them.
Why a healthy attachment is so important.
A healthy and positive attachment forms the foundation for the individual's emotional, cognitive, and social development, providing a sense of security, self-worth, and the ability to form meaningful relationships throughout life.
Without a secure attachment figure, children will grow and develop into adulthood with a sensitive stress response and will have poorly developed emotional systems. This can then lead them to engage in coping mechanisms that have adverse effects, such as over or under eating, drinking too much alcohol, taking recreational drugs etc.
What being a 'good enough' parent means.
There is a lot of pressure and a huge amount of information to sift through for new parents nowadays. Parents wanting to ensure they can progress in their careers, the cost of living, when to go back to work, needing to send their child to nursery, the cost of nurseries, worrying about how to provide their child with the best care, constantly comparing to others on social media, to name a few!
There are an overwhelming amount of factors at play, all of which can be hugely anxiety provoking for a new parent. In those moments, it’s important to remember that, as Winnicott once said, a leading paediatrician and psychoanalyst, that the ‘good-enough’ parent is enough for a healthy attachment.
We can strive to be the perfect parent, but the crux of being a good enough parent lies in the ability to repair once a rupture has been made. Here a few keys skills to help you support a positive attachment:
1. Be curious! What attachment style do you have?
It can be helpful to honestly reflect on your own attachment style and that of your partner’s. This can allow you to discover what skills might come easier to you, what your strengths are and what you might need support with.
2. Repair if you rupture!
Every relationship will always be at risk of rupture. A rupture happens when there is a breakdown in connection with another person. For example, you are tired and you shout at someone you trust because you are feeling overwhelmed, or a baby believes you to have ruptured the relationship because you thought they wanted food but in fact they were just tired and needed a cuddle, so the milk didn’t stop them from crying. A rupture can be a simple misunderstanding that needs repairing - “Oh gosh, you were so tired and you wanted to be held but mummy was tired too and didn’t know what you needed, but now I know and I’m sorry I didn’t see it at first” (all the whilst caressing, soothing and holding your baby).
3. Be empathetic! (and to yourself as well!)
If children experience lots of empathy, they will go onto being more considerate, cooperative and helpful in life! So how do we show our children empathy? By validating their feelings, mimicking and mirroring their expressions and showing a genuine curiosity for what is going for them. Children will often struggle to put their feelings into words, so let's be the voice for them! Describe and label : “OH NO! You really don’t want to leave the park, I can see how upset that’s making you. You’re stomping your feet and clenching your fists, you’re cross” Even if we don’t approve of the behaviour, feelings are feelings! And there is no right or wrong!
4. It takes a village!
It takes an entire ecosystem of people to help raise a child. This idea that it takes a village, is embedded in so many cultures and highlights the importance of this shared responsibility. Working collaboratively so that children build more than one secure attachment whether it’s with grandparents, friends, aunts, uncles, teachers, nurses etc, it’s a communal effort. It means that the adults in the child’s life can rely on others and are able to get the support needed to be that ‘good-enough’ and emotionally available adult.
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