By Kelly Young, LMSW
Director of Evidence-Based Initiatives, KVC Kansas
Broadly speaking, attachment describes the relationship between human beings. In the context of parenting, attachment describes the connection you have with your child. Attachment parenting strategies focus on developing positive emotional bonds in order to raise independent and empathetic children.
There are four different attachment styles: anxious, avoidant, disorganized, and secure.
This type describes children who have a hard time feeling secure in a relationship. A child may cling to their parent or caregiver and become very emotional when they leave. This can result in the child being prone to jealousy or other insecurities later in life.
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Children have an innate desire to be close to their parents. Avoidant attachment can occur when a parent is unavailable or unresponsive for an extended period of time. When this happens, children may stop seeking closeness with their parents and others and not express their emotions as frequently.
This type of attachment occurs when a home life is chaotic, unpredictable or unstable. In this scenario, a child doesn’t feel like they have a safe and secure place to develop and thrive. A child may still be close to their parent, but the relationship can also be fearful from the child’s perspective. Living in an environment like this can lead to toxic stress for the child, which can lead to a number of physical and mental health problems.
Secure attachment is the goal. Secure attachment is characterized by a close bond with a primary caregiver who can read the child’s cues and consistently respond in a warm, sensitive and timely fashion.
Children who have secure attachment view their caregiver as a secure base. These children learn to explore, develop their own sense of self, and have a healthy balance between relying on their caregiver and learning to rely on themselves.
Children who are securely attached have an understanding of their emotional world, are able to regulate their adverse emotions and are able to enhance positive emotions.
How to Work Towards a Secure Attachment Parenting Style
Regardless of which attachment style you have with your child, any parent can work towards secure attachment. The first step is to identify which type of attachment you currently have. Then you can take measures over time to reach secure attachment.
- Anxious attachment: If you have this type of relationship, communication is the most important element. Clearly communicating your needs and feelings with your child will help to assuage anxiety.
- Avoidant attachment: Some individuals who are avoidant have a tendency to rely on themselves. If you think this style characterizes your relationship, relying on others more often can help you move to secure attachment.
- Disorganized attachment: This type of attachment can be the result of past trauma or loss. Like the other styles, moving from disorganized attachment may take some time. It’s helpful to start by recognizing your own past and acknowledging any trauma you may have faced. Consider writing out your life’s narrative in order to understand how the experiences of your youth may still be affecting you today. Seeking therapy can also be a great way to move towards secure attachment.
Read the other articles in this parenting skills blog series.