We all know it’s important to develop a good relationship with our children. We want our children to know we are there for them, through laughter and tears. A solid bond between parent and child is the foundation for their development. The theory of ‘attachment’ helps us understand why it is important to have a sound relationship with your children, as well as what constitutes a good relationship.
John Bowlby, a renowned psychologist, labelled ‘attachment’ as an ‘infant’s emotional tie to their caregiver’ (Berk 2008). He theorised that the relationship a child develops with a parent or caregiver is their first secure attachment. This strength of this attachment influences the child’s personality, future relationships and how they will eventually parent their own children. Bowlby, with the help of colleagues, then went on to form the way we think about and understand attachment, and this largely changed the way we parent and care for our children today.
It is during their first year of life that a child develops their first secure and specific attachment. The effect and impact of this attachment continues to be significant throughout their entire life. ‘Secure’ attachment describes a child that is able to leave their parent/caregiver to explore, checking in as required and then returning to the parent’s ‘safe haven’ for comfort as necessary. The child will stop exploring and come in for comfort when they have explored long enough, they’ve become tired, frightened or uncomfortable. Once settled and refuelled they can go out to explore again. Young children require more frequent ‘check ins’ with parents as they are developing their attachment whilst also building their attention, play skills and independence relevant to their age. A child may check in with you more frequently if they are in an unfamiliar environment or if something is perceived as being frightening to them. Secure attachment creates a Circle of Security for the child.
The Circle of Security is a model that helps us to understand the relationship needs of a child. It depicts what the child needs from the parent or caregiver when exploring and the need for comfort to feel secure. A safe child is a child who is confident and willing to explore the physical, emotional and social world around them, always learning and developing. As they explore they want to know that you are watching over them, helping them if they need and that you are enjoying exploring with them. When they need protection and comfort, the parent or caregiver is a secure base and safe haven for them to return.
A child who has developed a secure attachment will feel confident that their parent is available to provide that comfort. The parent will welcome the child coming to them and then help them manage their feelings. Once the child feels safe they are confident to go out exploring again, and so the cycle continues. As a parent, the demands can be different within when the child is exploring and when they require comfort or protection. Sometimes the child will be independent in exploration and comfort and other times the parent needs to take charge, ending the exploration for them if they are becoming upset, distressed or tired. It can be difficult to respond to these needs all of the time, however, it is important to be available for your child throughout this cycle as they will learn how to manage and understand their emotions and develop relationships from you.
The navigation of the circle can be challenging for the parent and/or child from time to time for a number of reasons and creates three different types of attachment. A child may miscue the parent as they have difficultly knowing yet whether they need soothing or further exploration; this is labelled an ‘avoidant’ attachment. A child who wants to go off to explore but appears distressed or afraid and needs to be in proximity or contact to the parent is explained to have ‘ambivalent’ attachment. The third type of attachment is ‘secure’ attachment - explained above.
Things to know about developing a secure attachment with your child: