Building Brains – The Importance of Attachment in the first few years
When we talk about children and babies the word ‘attachment’ is often misunderstood. There is an almost hippie legacy, where images of a baby literally attached to a parent with a homemade papoose spring to mind. The reality, however, is very different. Attachment simply means the bond that you create with your baby, even before they are born. It is the bond that helps your child to grow and develop, and it shapes their thoughts, memories, emotions, expectations and behaviours.
For babies, it’s all of the things that you already do. The laughing, kissing, pulling faces, and the games of ‘peekaboo’ that are met with constant surprise and delight from your captive little audience. These moments don’t have to be planned and they don’t need equipment or toys. Take nappy-changing, for example. This is an interaction that happens many times a day with your child over an average 2 ½ to 3 year period. It could be a purely functional activity where you lie your baby down, swap a clean nappy for a soiled one and worry about what chores are yet to be done. Or, it could be a positive interaction with your baby that you both enjoy, where you can tickle her toes, blow on her belly or sing her a song. Those small things are teaching her to understand and reciprocate emotions, and assuring her that she is safe and loved. It provides what psychologists call her ‘secure base’.
For your toddler, it can be as simple as explaining to them that when you leave them at crèche or with a caregiver, you will be coming back for them. She has now learnt about expectations so she knows that you are coming back but a little reassurance removes any fear that she may have. The absence of fear is one of the most important factors in attachment. Sometimes what we see as simple chatter with children is actually the most important kind of security blanket that we can offer.
As children get older, it’s about keeping that communication ongoing, involving them in decision-making and taking an interest in how their day has been. While this can become a little more difficult during the teenage years, it is very important. Amid raging hormones, school pressures and the general ups and downs of growing up, one of the most valuable assets that your child has is the security in their relationship with you. Knowing that they can come to you with anything is a return on the investment that you made at the very beginning of their lives.
Every child is different but their needs are universal. To nurture your child so that they feel loved and secure is the most important gift that you can give. While it can often lose its way in between toddler tantrums and teenage silences, it is – and will always be – there.