Tips for Building a Secure Attachment With Your Baby
You and your baby have within you the building blocks for developing a healthy, secure attachment. That doesn’t mean you will know how do to everything instinctively. That’s especially true if you had some challenges in your early attachment relationships. That can “color” how you interact with your own baby. Here are some tips to help you build a secure attachment with your baby:
- Enjoy and take pleasure in your relationship with your baby.All babies are born with the capacity and desire to experience joy with their caregivers. So expressing and sharing in the delight of the relationship you share with your infant helps your baby to internalize a sense of security and a feeling of being loved and appreciated.
- Follow your baby’s lead. A secure attachment is built upon sensitive and responsive caregiving. Observe and pay attention to your baby’s subtle cues for attention, exploration, and comfort. This helps your baby to feel understood and valued.
- Provide consistency and predictability in your care routines. Routines will help your baby to feel secure. Predictable support and nurturance helps your baby internalize a feeling of being cared for. This allows a secure attachment to develop.
- Don’t worry about “spoiling” your baby. There is no such thing as spoiling an infant, despite what you may hear from well-meaning friends and relatives! Being responsive to your baby’s needs actually promotes a greater sense of self-confidence, self-reliance, and independence as your baby grows into childhood.
- Use nonverbal communication to bond with your baby. Babies are not able to understand or use verbal communication. Nonverbal communication can help you to feel connected to your baby and strengthen your attachment relationship. Make eye contact, touch, smile, and move rhythmically such as by rocking or swaying. These are all effective ways of conveying love, warmth, and acceptance to your baby. Your baby may not comprehend your words right away. But he does recognize and respond to your tone of voice, even when you are not talking to him. If you are stressed, angry, or frustrated, your baby will often respond by becoming distressed. Talking in a gentle, soothing voice, even if the words are not yet understood, can help your baby to feel reassured, loved, and secure.
- Provide a holding environment for your baby. For your baby, touch is as important as sleep or food. Holding your baby provides a sense of warmth, love, and reassurance. Holding your baby when she’s distressed helps her to organize her feelings and to feel calm and safe. Even if your baby continues to fuss, remember that your calm, gentle, physical presence conveys a sense of connection and safety.
- Take care of yourself. To provide optimal care for your children, you must also attend to your own needs. Are you nurturing and respecting yourself? Although incredibly rewarding, parenting can also be exhausting and demanding. Finding time to sleep, eat, and even relax for a brief moment is extremely important. Use the support around you – your friends, family, community – so that you may find ways to replenish yourself. By taking care of your own needs, you are helping to ensure that you are able to take care of your baby’s needs.
- Choose a childcare provider who values relationships. This should be someone who understands the importance of your baby’s social and emotional development. The reality for many families is that either one or both parents are working outside of the home. In these situations, parents often need to place their baby in the care of a relative or childcare provider. Parents may worry that this may impact their relationship with their baby.
Find a childcare provider who works to promote secure attachments with the children in her care and supports your infant’s social and emotional development. This can provide valuable support to you and your family when you return to work. If you already have a provider, you may want to talk with him or her about how infant attachment and social-emotional development is supported within the childcare program. In addition, developing a positive, collaborative relationship with your baby’s childcare provider will ensure that there is continual communication around your baby’s changing needs. It will also help your baby feel supported by a loving, caring community of adults.
- Provide your toddler with freedom and space to safely explore new environments. Do this while staying close and offering reassurance when needed. Your young toddler will benefit from your support when he is able and ready to explore his world. Remember that during this time, your toddler will need to “check in” often with you for reassurance, security, and encouragement. The secure attachment that was developed during infancy will provide your toddler with a sense of competence and efficacy and an assurance that his caregivers will give him love and support when this is needed.
- Remember that you do not need to be a perfect parent. Many days, parenting may seem like a series of blunders, mistakes, and missteps. The good news is that you don’t need to strive for perfection in parenting. And although it may not always seem this way, your mistakes can be seen as “gifts.” They enable you to learn about yourself and your children. Mistakes help your children to learn that we all stumble, get back up, and keep trying. Feeling secure doesn’t come from doing everything right; it comes from knowing that when you experience difficult feelings or challenges, you have the self-confidence and the support you need to forge ahead.
Bowlby, John (1956) “The growth of independence in the young child.” Royal Society of Health Journal, 76, 587-591.
Bowlby, John (1988) A Secure Base: Parent-Child Attachment and Healthy Human Development. London: Routledge.
Lieberman, Alicia (1993) The Emotional Life of the Toddler. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc.