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Promoting Healthy Attachment

Though every culture has different practices and traditions when it comes to raising a child there are a few fundamental principles that are universal to promoting healthy relationships, attachment and brain development.

What is attachment you ask? According to psychologist Mary Ainsworth, attachment “may be defined as an affectional tie that one person or animal forms between himself and another specific one – a tie that binds them together in space and endures over time.”

So why is this so important? If we are able to form healthy attachments to our parents or a specific person when we are growing up then we are able to have a “safe person” to go to during times of distress. This special relationship helps us as we grow to learn how to trust, love, relate to others, develop/increase self-esteem and build empathy and compassion. This is just a short list of what healthy attachment provides.

So how do we promote healthy attachment?

Have you ever played a game of badminton or tennis? These games are based around the concept of “serve and return.” In the game, we serve the ball and expect the other participant to engage in the game and return the ball. This causes us to have interaction between the participants which can be mutually enjoyable. The same is true when we are interacting with our children – when we engage in this game of “serve and return” we are filling our child’s emotional cup.

So what does this “game” look like when we play with our children?

Here is a personal example I have had with my own child: At 2am my baby was fully awake and playful… I on the other hand was not! I picked her up and finally when I thought she was sleepy I laid her in her crib and she woke up immediately and started crying… as soon as I picked her up she was fine and went back to sleep. This went on 2 or 3 times. Exhausted and frustrated, in my mind I thought why are you being so needy? But then I realized she is not being needy she is initiating an interaction and I am not responding appropriately.

Here’s the analogy I like to use… just like we need to fill gas in our cars for them to run smoothly we as human beings need the same thing. Many parents may think that there child is “craving attention” or is “needy” but in reality that’s not the case…they are trying to engage with you because they have a need that they need met. Most times, it seems like these “serves” happen at the most inconvenient times like when we are on the phone or busy trying to do something important. If we take the 5 or 10 minutes it takes to soothe our child it will be of great benefit in the long run. If we don’t do this regularly the child will “demand attention” positive or negative and when those efforts fail they will eventually stop trying to come to us as parents. Then, as they grow they will try to find ways (people or things – good or bad) to self soothe.

Here are some guidelines to follow when we engage in the process of “serving and returning”:

  1. Be positioned at your child’s level.
  2. Have face to face interactions regularly.
  3. Promote eye contact.
  4. Have a positive mood when engaging in “serving and returning”.
  5. Responding immediately and warmly when your child initiates contact.
  6. Having a special time to play with your child at least once during the day to engage in the act of “serving and returning” (even 10 minutes a day counts!).

Studies show that if we as parents are able to do some of the above things at least 30 percent of the time we are on our way to promoting healthy attachment!

Speak to any one of our therapists at 360 Wellness in Spruce Grove about promoting healthy attachment with you and your child!

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