If a Community Values its Children, it Must Cherish the Parents – John Bowlby
The human baby (like the young of most animal species) is equipped with built-in survival behaviors that help keep the parents close, increasing the odds of protection from danger. Close contact with the parents ensures that the baby will get fed. This is the root of Attachment Theory. As a child grows older, basic survival requirements (eg: feeding) evolve into more complex needs, which typically are provided by the parent. In order for a child to have healthy emotionally and cognitive development, it must feel safe, loved, and affectionately bonded to its primary caregivers.
The parent-child bond is a footprint to healthy development. The child takes its cues from its parents:
- Secure Attachment
Consistent, sensitive, and responsive care by the parent creates secure attachment, enabling the child to mature into a trusting and confident adult. Such qualities promote the formation future close relationships with peers, teachers, and other family members (present and future).
- Insecure Attachment
If a parent is less available for bonding (due to stress, responsibilities, depression, etc.), the child may become more isolated, avoidant, and unresponsive to others. They may also be resistant to or tantrum against parental guidance. This can potentially evolve into problems making friends, connecting with others as an adult, or integrating into society.
- Anxious Attachment
When a parent is overly anxious or emotionally distressed, the child may also develop overly anxious or ambivalent qualities. This could look like clinginess; eg: separation anxiety, school resistance, or difficulty sleeping alone.
Today, our lives are complicated. It is common for both parents to work for the necessary dual income. In some families, a parent might frequently travel for work (eg: deployments or conferences). And, unfortunately, some infants grow up in households of conflict (eg: parental discord, a parent who has mental health or substance abuse issues). Frequent separations and/or conflict in the home do not have to equate to poor attachment. However, parents will have to make the extra effort to play, bond, and attune themselves to their child.
You can read handbooks on this; however, it takes actual practice; trial and error; and creativity to keep the bonding strong. In my sessions, I work hands-on with both parent and child to develop:
- Parental self-care
- Methods and techniques for positive play
- Tools for handling those “melt-downs”
- Strategies for separation anxiety and clinginess
Healthy development during early childhood is the ultimate preventative platform!