Advertising
Advertising

Top Tips to Increase Parent-Child Attachment

Top Tips to Increase Parent-Child Attachment

Experts often point to early secure attachment as one of the key reasons why babies thrive. Babies who are securely attached to their parents show gains in all areas of development—physical, cognitive, social/emotional and so on. Children who show early secure attachments also later show higher IQ scores and more positive, pro-social peer interactions overall. Indeed, how a parent interacts with their young baby is often seen as setting the stage for how their child will then interact with persons in all of their current and future environments. Additionally, insecure attachments are consistently linked with factors such as poor school performance, unemployment, divorce, financial difficulties and a myriad of other negative outcomes. ž

Psychologists report that humans have a fundamental need to feel socially connected to, loved and respected by other people. This need starts early on and attachment is often thought of as the child’s first emotional bond to one or more caregivers. Furthermore, the quality of infant attachment is considered to have far-reaching effects on a child’s development. Even in cultures where extremely communal rearing arrangements are present (e.g., a pygmy group called ‘the Efe’ in Zaire), there are some signs of a central attachment from abyeah out 6 months of age, when infants begin to insist on being with their own mother or show preference for their own mothers when previously they showed no single central attachment (Tronick et al,1992). Clearly attachment is a central feature of strong parent child relationships and is of critical importance in both the physical and mental well being of children. So how can we ensure that secure attachments are formed? The following article will outline key ways a parent can foster secure attachments with their little ones thus giving them the best head start to having healthy interpersonal relationships in adulthood.

1. Change diapers.

Interestingly, the strength of a child’s attachment to his/her father can be predicted by how many diapers a dad changed in a typical week (Ross, Kagan, Zelazo , & Kotelchuk, 1975). The more diapers changed, the stronger the attachment. So, for those of you fathers who still haven’t ventured into the 21st century when it comes to childcare, it’s time to step up. There’s more at stake here than how annoyed your partner will be if you don’t do your fair share in this department.

Advertising

parent child attachment

    2. Be in close physical proximity to your new baby.

    This may sound obvious to most of us, but as soon as your child is born, he or she uses social signals (e.g., looking at caregiver, crying) to elicit care. In the first couple of months, a newborn will respond to all adults in much the same way, but the foundations of attachment are being formed. Even at this very young age, infants learn to recognize familiar people through faces, voices, smells and characteristic behaviors. Physical closeness will aid the newborn’s ability to recognize the key caregivers in his/her life. This physical closeness and responding to these early social cues by making eye contact with your baby and responding to his/her cues by providing necessary care strengthens the bonds between parent and child. The more often you are physically close to your child, the quicker you will be to recognize and respond to his or her cues.

    3. Smile at your baby.

    Between the ages of two and six months, infants can recognize and smile selectively at people they know best. Smile back! This will strengthen the intimate relationship you have with your little one. Babies at this age will continue to accept comfort from unfamiliar adults, but they start to show a preference for those that are involved in their day to day life. Smiling at your baby also reinforces this highly pro-social behavior and makes it very likely that your baby will smile at lots of people and those people will in turn respond very favorably to your child.

    Advertising

    4. Be sensitive when your baby shows signs of anxiety.

    Between the ages of 7 months and 2 years, babies will show special preference for a small number of familiar caregivers. They will also demonstrate unmistakable attachment behaviors (reaching out, cooing, smiling, protesting when separated). This is also about the time when stranger anxiety or “making strange” first appears.

    Be sensitive when your child displays anxious behavior when separated from you. This does not mean that you cannot ever leave your child, but do recognize “stranger anxiety” as a necessary safety behavior which is entirely appropriate for your child’s developmental stage. It is thus a good idea to never leave your child with complete strangers. It is also a good idea when making changes to your child’s normal routine—particularly if a new person is going to be caring for them—to plan that the new person will be present during their normal routine for a couple of occasions before you leave your little one with the new person.

    You may also then wish to bring your child to visit the location where the new caregiver will be minding your child so that the location will not be distressing. So this means that your child will have some time to adjust to this new person, when you are still present, and will know that this new person is not a stranger. If you visit the location also, then the new location will have some familiarity for your child and should minimize the distress that your child may have. On the first occasion that you are leaving your child with a new person, only stay away for a short period (i.e., an hour or two) and then you can increase the time from there.

    Advertising

    Your child may still fuss and cry the first time you leave them. You should always respond sensitively with hugs and kisses and reassurance, but you will need to still leave, even if it is just for a short period. Otherwise, your child may not learn to tolerate the upset and frustration of you leaving, which, naturally enough, you will eventually have to do. However, if you baby step this process in a slow and steady manner, your child will feel securely attached to you and will be confident tackling new situations, new transitions and new people in their lives.

    5. Maintain a consistent routine.

    The formation of attachment has been likened to a dance, in which both partners practice their routine to build a reciprocal relationship of understanding (Isabella, 1993). These synchronized routines are formed during vital everyday interactions between infant and caregiver. This routine should include sensitivity to an infant’s emotional & physical state (e.g., not over stimulating when baby is tired). It does not take long before you and your baby will learn how to interpret each other’s signals. This process happens more quickly when you maintain a consistent routine. There are, of course, always things which interrupt your routine. However, research shows that babies and young children do best (in school, in physical health, in mental health and even in brain development) when they know what to expect and what is expected of them.

    6. Be aware of characteristics that may affect the quality of the attachment relationship.

    Infants who have early physical difficulties (e.g., colic, reflux, low birth weight, visual difficulties, chronic ear infections or any other condition which makes them uncomfortable or less responsive than other babies) will likely be harder to soothe or engage with. These babies may not always respond to the caregiver in a positive or typical manner. This may elicit frustration, anger and negativity on the part of the caregiver. So try to get to the bottom of these issues early on to minimize the baby’s discomfort and allow more positive interactions between parent and child. Try also to be sensitive to a baby’s individual needs by, for example, allowing your infant an active role in determining the onset, pacing, and end of feeding. (Yes people, I mean feeding on demand!). This will help your baby identify a mother as being generally responsive to her babies needs even under difficult circumstances.

    Advertising

    Similarly, if parents are having difficulties with physical or emotional illness or if depression, alcoholism, financial difficulties are present, these issues will naturally affect how parents feel about their babies. If any of these issues are present, try to get support early on so as to avoid damaging your relationship with your child. A new baby can place a great strain on any situation and sleep deprivation is a consistent problem when there are young babies in a home. This may compound any physical or emotional stressors parents are already facing. Be aware too that if one parent is suffering with physical or emotional difficulties, having a sensitive and responsive other parent can mitigate the effects of one parent being unavailable, whether that be for physical, mental, financial or any other reason. So while two heads are better than one in most situations, one head is better than none in this situation.

    7. Be flexible.

    While on the one hand, babies respond best when they know what to expect, it is also important to model a flexible style of parenting too. Recognize that your baby may need you more than usual during difficult times like illness, teething, adjusting to new situations, etc. Modelling flexibility will help your child learn how to adjust to the ever changing world around them. When your baby sees you responding flexibly to new or unexpected situations, he or she will pick up your cues and follow suit. ž

    In summary, attachment theorists suggest that early attachment sets the stage for later relationships. A baby’s experiences with primary caregivers provides a mental representation of what relationships with other people are like. This unconscious understanding influences how children relate to other individuals, including teachers, friends, cousins, siblings, bosses and many others. Furthermore, studies repeatedly show correlations between early attachment and cognitive and social adjustment. So securely attached kids do better in school, work and in social circles. This means that they are stronger in terms of social, emotional and intellectual development. žChildren who make strong attachments in very early childhood, typically are: more popular with peers and adults; —are less likely to be bullied, demonstrate less aggression, are more persistent in problem-solving situations, demonstrate autonomy and are better able to regulate their emotions. On the flip side, Carlson et al., 2004 have noted that those with insecure attachments, particularly avoidant attachments; have less positive and less secure friendships in adolescence, are more likely to become sexually active earlier and even to engage in riskier sex. In 2005, žSroufe et al noted that children with histories of insecure attachment showed some kind of deviant behavior pattern (e.g., —Isolation from peers, passivity, hyperactivity, aggressiveness). Only a few of those with secure attachments showed any of these patterns.

    The research paints a picture of children with secure attachments growing up as balanced sensitive confident and trusting individuals; but for those whose early attachment was not as secure, the outcomes look much less positive. žSecurely attached children expect people to be trustworthy, because this is what they have experienced. In contrast, insecurely attached children expect the opposite based on what their experiences have taught them. So while the early years of establishing secure attachments may seem like only brief fleeting moments, these early moments may account for how your child behaves throughout his or her lifetime. So by all means, you should enjoy these moments, but whatever you do—make them count!

    Liam and Mac

      Featured photo credit: Shannon O’Brien via shannonrosephotography.weebly.com

      More by this author

      13 Ways To Deal With An Angry Child Want To Boost Brain Power? Try Out These 10 Foods RaiseYourIQautisticchildren 20 Things Children with Autism Want to Tell You This Is How You Can Raise Your IQ And Improve Your Memory Top Tips to Increase Parent-Child Attachment

      Trending in Communication

      16 Compelling Reasons to Try Couples Yoga (And the Best Poses to Try) 215 Trustworthy Techniques to Prevent Relationship Problems 3Can a Dysfunctional Family Become Functional? 48 Powerful Reasons to Love Your Enemies 510 Reasons Why People Are Unmotivated (And Ways to Be Motivated)

      Read Next

      Advertising
      Advertising

      Last Updated on June 12, 2018

      Can a Dysfunctional Family Become Functional?

      Can a Dysfunctional Family Become Functional?

      A dysfunctional family is more than disagreement or constant arguments. Anything from plain neglect, to abuse and even verbal and physical violence is the everyday experience of those who are part of a dysfunctional family.

      You know how this looks:

      • Parents constantly comparing children.
      • Siblings in conflict because of tolerated bullying.
      • Domestic violence.
      • Adultery…
      • And many others.

      For all the members, this will mean emotional pain and even trauma; which, in case it doesn’t get resolved, will have a detrimental effect on the individual’s personality and development.

      Needless to say, the younger members are the most vulnerable, but that doesn’t mean the parents are out of danger, as most commonly the parents play the roles of abuser-codependent, and in some cases, both parts inflicting pain on one another.

      Most like to think these problems stem from deep-seated issues, and that therefore it’s pretty much impossible to deal with them.

      This is only true for families not willing to do what it takes, for if only a single member is determined and knows how to do it, the whole family can do a lot of progress.

      In this article, I’ll break down for you the basic steps of fixing a dysfunctional family. Although it may seem hopeless, it is possible to turn things around.

      If you have ever felt in this position, or if you know somebody who is, this article is for you.

      How to fix a dysfunctional family

      In a few words the solution for a dysfunctional family lies in dropping the ego, focusing on the solution, switching blame for responsibility and doing the work as a unity, for the good of the whole family.

      And this will accomplish things you once only saw as a dream.

      Dropping the ego? Switching blame for responsibility? Doing the work? What does all this mean?

      It’s simple. In a nutshell, it’s that which will allow you to turn a dysfunctional family into a functional one.

      Let’s take a look at how exactly this can be done. And near the end we will also talk about what you can do in a dysfunctional family with cynical traits.

      Dysfunctional families where not only problems are well-known, but also nobody seems to want a fix or openly decide to perpetuate the harmful behaviors. Such as the case of abuse and physical violence.

      There is also a solution for these, it’s just not what you are expecting…

      Dysfunctional… Or just average?

      Most families are dysfunctional, though at varying degrees of dysfunctionality.

      The milder cases, are just marked by “typical” comically-shrouded bullying or lack of interest in other members’ development or wellbeing.

      You can know a family is dysfunctional if their interactions are anything different than cooperation, solidarity, care and support. But let’s get more specific…

      A dysfunctional family is one in which members directly or indirectly suffer emotional and/or physical harm inflicted by other members of their family. Most commonly, perpetrated by the parents.

      Even harmful actions as “passive” as neglect, which is inflicted by inaction rather than action, signifies a dysfunction within the family.

      Dysfunctional families have conflicts such as:

      • Unrealistic expectations
      • Lack of interest and time spent together
      • Sexism
      • Utilitarianism
      • Lack of empathy
      • Unequal or unfair treatment
      • Disrespect towards boundaries
      • Control Issues
      • Jealousy
      • Verbal and physical abuse
      • Violence and even sexual misconduct or abuse

      You may think a dysfunctional family has very little or nothing to do with personal productivity, but you would be wrong in thinking this way…

      If a person is not emotionally well, she will not be able to perform as desired, as the emotional harm that has been inflicted will hinder everyday performance in the way of inability to concentrate, lack of mental clarity and low levels of inspiration, motivation and discipline.

      Having a functional family does exactly the opposite: It creates productive members with no emotional baggage.

      How to turn it around

      When you’re part of a dysfunctional family you know it. You can quickly identify in other members the behaviors and conflicts that create the dysfunction.

      But just in case you’re having trouble telling functional from dysfunctional I will tell you the following:

      One of the easiest ways you can recognize if you are in a dysfunctional family is to survey your won feelings.

      We often overlook this, but have you stopped to ask yourself how you feel?

      Advertising

      As cheesy as it may sound it really sheds a lot of light on the subject.

      What behaviors, actions and attitudes in your family you wish were better?

      Do you think certain behaviors and actions from your family marked you in the past?

      Sadly, we cannot go back to the past to correct it. But we can do a lot in the present…

      Correction is possible

      In order to fix a dysfunctional family, you must start by putting an end to the behaviors and actions that are affecting you.

      Verbalize it.

      All members of the dysfunctional family have one issue in common: They don’t put a stop to the harm.

      Whenever you feel your boundaries being overstepped there is just one single word you have to remember: STOP.

      This is the door to a better, more functional family, because after this, comes the fix.

      But first you have to identify and make others know where exactly lies the problem.

      So go ahead and fearlessly start with “Stop”, followed by your expression of dissatisfaction.

      Putting it to work in real life

      In real life it would be something like this:

      “OK, stop! Every time you belittle me I feel you don’t care. I need attention and respect, and it is your responsibility as my family to provide them to me”

      Or:

      “Stop. When you compare me with my cousin it hurts, I feel like I don’t matter and that’s not ok. I ask you to stop doing it.

      Or:

      “Please stop. When you start yelling all respect is lost and it turns into a battle of who can do it louder. Don’t raise your voice and let’s work this out the way humans do”.

      As you can see, here you start by putting a stop to the toxic behavior when it arises. And afterwards you verbalize why it’s wrong and what needs of you need to be fulfilled.

      This is what you have to remember:

      1-Stop.

      2-Why it’s wrong?

      3-What you need.

      And this will also work well in case you need to do it for another family member.

      It’s a family thing

      A dysfunctional family cannot be fixed by one member alone.

      Yes, a single member can initiate progress and be the leader of the change. But in order to completely become functional all members must contribute to the solution.

      In other words, you will need cooperation…

      So don’t be afraid of asking for it!

      Approach your family member and ask to be listened.

      Advertising

      We sometimes feel our needs are “not that important” or we simply believe they won’t listen. But thinking like this would be like being defeated at an unfought battle.

      You will be amazed by how much people listen when you voice your needs, especially if it implies showing yourself open, vulnerable and in need.

      It’s not a free-for-all battle

      In order to get your family to cooperate, first you must fix your individual relationships with every member of the family. Remember: Relationships are always between two people, and two people only.

      No matter how complex, the quality of a multi-member relationship (like a family) will always depend on the quality of the individual relationships.

      Once you have straightened the relationship with every member of the dysfunctional family you will be able to better communicate with other members and help in the betterment of their individual relationship.

      And this is where we will talk about the fix itself. The one I mentioned in the introduction…

      The method

      1. Drop the ego

      Wherever there is conflict there is ego.

      You cannot fix a relationship where there is ego, because the ego will want to win. Always. Yours and the other person.

      Ego craves control and satisfaction, and in many cases, to establish dominance.

      What does this have to do with a dysfunctional family? Everything. Ego will interfere with every plan you have to fix it.

      It will make people suborn and defensive. And it will also make them drop responsibility. This is why, the first step is to drop the ego.

      After you make sure you are not going to allow your ego to interfere you must work to make the other person do the same. How? By speaking from the heart…

      Tell the other person how important all this is to you.

      Tell the other person that it’s not a matter of arguing, but just working things out together.

      Point out how it is not possible for you to do it alone.

      And ask for sincere attention without any desire of opposition, because what you are doing is by no means in the hopes of harming the other person, but just to better the relationship and stop the damage being dealt to you.

      You will have to point out the mistakes you need corrected, that’s for sure. And that leads me to the next point…

      2. Not blame, but responsibility

      When talking about others’ mistakes we often use an accusatory tone. And that’s natural, it’s what things should be like if ego was not present.

      But since we are all creatures of ego, this immediately brings the shields up. And then unsheathes the swords…

      When we blame others they automatically enter a defensive state, and this only leads to a failed negotiation.

      What you need to do is to shift from blame to responsibility. And even that will have to be done carefully!

      Instead of telling them off or demanding change or complaining, calmly point what the problem with their behavior is.

      As much as this feels contradictory, also make them feel understood. You know how difficult it is to accept a mistake, so just make them feel it’s no big fuzz… which does not mean it’s ok, but it takes tension off.

      You will do something like this:

      “Hello dad. Can I talk with you for a minute? I really need to tell you something.

      I have been feeling pretty sad lately and I know this is something you do care about.

      You see, whenever I talk about my accomplishments you mention something else that makes my achievement pale in comparison.

      I know you don’t do this intentionally and I know you might have not realized this until now, but I want to let you know this really brings me down.

      Advertising

      It would mean a lot to me if you could stop doing it, and it would help better our relationship, because this has already forced me to distance myself from you. And I don’t want that, I want a good, healthy relationship with you”

      What happened here?

      We started off with making it something important, something that needs both time and attention. Then we openly show ourselves vulnerable, just as we are.

      We also mention why he should listen, and shove our feelings there again, because they are important.

      We describe the issue with no attachment and with no hostile intention. It’s just a description.

      And then we take the blame off. Just before we assign responsibility without actually saying it.

      You are not blaming him directly, but you are pointing out the inevitable fact that his actions are causing a dysfunctionality. He is now responsible for changing.

      This is what “switching blame for responsibility” means. What comes next? Doing the work!

      3. Doing the work

      What would any of this mean if, in the end, nothing changes? Exactly, nothing!

      This is why you must follow up with every change that needs to be done.

      Do so in a manner that is not hostile. Bring it up in a casual manner, and emphasizing how you both reached an agreement and how that is important to the family.

      If the person doesn’t follow up don’t hesitate to bring it up again, and tell them you feel disappointed that your honest try at it was not listened.

      It may even be a subject in itself, and therefore the need for another conversation.

      “When you go back to old habits it shows that you didn’t really care about what I said. But back in real life you just reinforce how much contempt you show towards me and my feelings.

      I talk with you because I care. Because although it would be easier for me to just distance myself from you I rather do my part in nurturing this relationship.

      But there is just so much I can do, if you refuse to do your part I can do nothing else.”

      You need very clear and positive communication in order to make this work.

      Love is all you need

      You must remember that in order for a dysfunctional family to become functional, all the work needs to stem from love.

      That is the single one requirement for all this to work: Love.

      And what happens if it simply is not there?

      What happens if, nobody is willing to do what it takes?

      What happens if a member of the family refuses to change and is happy with the harm he or she is dealing?

      There is only one thing you can do:

      To break away.

      Let’s be honest, people, especially adults, are very difficult to change.

      There is a Jewish proverb that I love, which sums it up like this:

      “We spend the rest of our lives trying to unlearn what we learned before we were 7”

      If you find it very hard to change the very traits that make your family dysfunctional or if it’s simply impossible, you still have a card up your sleeve…

      Advertising

      Although nobody likes to beak away from family members, we must remember we have a responsibility with ourselves as individuals, before any relationship with anyone.

      You have the responsibility of making yourself happy and free. Because you matter as an individual, regardless of any relationships you have, be it family, friendship or romantic.

      Putting distance

      So in case you are dealing with a family member who is simply unwilling to change take both physical and emotional distance.

      What do I mean?

      Learn, first, to take their damage in a detached manner.

      Don’t let it hurt you further. Instead take a deep breath and distance yourself emotionally.

      Don’t be attached to feelings such as “Why doesn’t she love me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” or “If he wasn’t like that my life would be perfect”.

      Simply refuse to keep participating in the emotional downward spiral and accept, even if it’s painful” that there is nothing you can do. Accept that even without that relationship you are whole, you are worthy of love and respect.

      They are their responsibility and you are yours. So decide what is best for you.

      Realize it only comes down to two possibilities:

      I keep the relationship and therefore accept the abuse. Or…

      I choose my peace of mind.

      And don’t let your mind fool you. We often think that since we all are imperfect, we must take the good and the bad behaviors of people. And we are especially forgiving towards our family…

      Well, guess what? We are also responsible adults who are aware and must own to their acts. Never excuse abuse or violence or transgression towards you or anybody else.

      Choose your happiness and if possible, also distance yourself physically, as it will increase your peace of mind tenfold.

      How to prevent it

      There are two key concepts you must bear in mind in order to prevent the dysfunctionality of a family:

      • To be completely aware of one’s own mistakes and not allow them to impact others and…
      • To make sure our SO’s are also on the same channel before creating a family (i.e. having children)

      Dysfunctional families are the product of irresponsible paternity, for the decades-long unresolved emotional conflict ends up surfacing in the family inevitably, and it will for sure harm those who least deserve it: Innocent children.

      You may notice we went from talking about family, to talking about individual relationships, to talking about you. We went from “them” to “us” to “me”.

      Why? Because in the end you have the power to fix a dysfunctional family. To correct the mistakes you have in yours and to prevent dysfunctionalities if you don’t have a family but plan to create one.

      Priorities and clear thought

      You may be part of a dysfunctional family, but that does not mean you are powerless or that you have to suffer the consequences.

      You learned today how it’s all a matter of priorities and thinking clearly.

      You learned that, if love exists, everything is possible. You learned that even when there is no love and no fix for your dysfunctional family, there are still things you can do. It’s a matter of choosing your peace, because you deserve it.

      Everything will be better if you apply this knowledge. If you talk to that problematic family member. If you help them see the harm they are doing. If you make sure they do change and treat you the way you need to be treated…

      If you choose yourself over that toxic family member. If you refuse to justify the harm that others can do to yourself. If you realize the most important relationship you have is with yourself.

      And lastly, that you also have to be aware of your actions and be open to criticism. Because we might be unknowingly harming others. And that would be us creating a dysfunctionality. Don’t allow it to happen.

      Dysfunctional families are not impossible to fix. It just takes love, cooperation and responsibility.

      But if you tried and those elements are not present, just choose yourself instead.

      Featured photo credit: Photo by Juliane Liebermann on Unsplash via unsplash.com

      Read Next