Wednesday, April 18, 2018
By Emma Martin LaPlant

Before we get into whether or not your child has healthy attachments, let’s start with the basics: What is an attachment? And why does it matter if it’s healthy?

Attachment describes the relationship behavior between people, starting at birth. Healthy, secure attachment is linked to a child’s successful engagement in school, especially regarding social competence, curiosity, effective play and investigation, and empathy toward others.

How Is Attachment Formed?

Infants are vulnerable and require the protection of caregivers to help them survive. When a caregiver is attuned to an infant’s needs, the infant learns to explore the world, knowing that they can summon or return to their caregiver in times of need or stress. The caregiver becomes a safe, secure base. The infant then develops a secure attachment with the caregiver. This becomes a pattern that is applied to other caregivers such as teachers and coaches, and influences how the child learns and interacts with others.

Children with secure attachment received messages throughout childhood that they are important. Through that messaging, they develop an internal model of themselves as valuable human beings. But not all children have the privilege of developing a secure attachment.

Understanding the four attachment patterns and their characteristics can help us as adults to determine the most appropriate way of responding to a child’s attachment pattern to support her or his social, emotional, and academic growth.

The Four Attachment Patterns

Secure Attachment

Who they are: Children with secure attachments trust their parents, teachers, and coaches. They view themselves as important and valuable, and they can work independently while asking for help when needed.

How to respond: Continue to be attuned to the child’s needs and respond to their behaviors with age-appropriate interventions.

Insecure Anxious-Ambivalent Attachment

Who they are: These children show a need to always have the parent’s, teacher’s, or coach’s attention. They value the relationship more than the task, and they are fearful of doing anything independently.

How to respond: Break tasks into smaller chunks they can complete independently, and provide positive affirmation after they complete each part. You are helping them develop autonomy by providing them with a secure base and positive relationship.

Insecure Avoidant Attachment

Who they are: These children have difficulty trusting the parent, coach, or teacher. They feel the need to be self-reliant, do not ask for help, and prefer to do a task rather than build a relationship.

How to respond: Show interest in the child’s activity without forcing face-to-face interaction to help the child develop a positive relationship with you without feeling threatened by face-to-face interaction.

Disorganized Attachment

Who they are: These children show challenging behavior. They have poor self-worth and are unable to cope with challenges. They feel helpless, and they might try to control the situation. They don’t feel safe.

How to respond: Provide loving and consistent boundaries that reflect your ability to keep them safe. Provide predictable structure. Help the child develop language to label and describe their feelings and show them that you care and that they are safe.

If you think your child has healthy attachments, then great! Keep doing what you’re doing.

If you look at this breakdown and think your child has unhealthy attachments, or you’re not sure, don’t worry — it isn’t too late to help your child start forming healthy, secure ones. There is support and guidance available to you beyond this guide. All you have to do is ask, and we’re here for you!

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