I have always been very interested in attachment and the role that music can play in promoting happy healthy children. Most parents have secure attachment with their children, and most children grow up to be happy & healthy adults. It can still be useful to understand how this occurs and what to do if something isn’t quite right.
What is attachment?
Attachment is the word used to describe the nature of a child’s relationship with their primary caregivers. This is usually their parents though children can have attachment relationships with anyone who regularly provides physical and emotional care for them.
Why is it important?
The relationship between a child and their parents is incredibly important. Not only because the child’s survival depends on it, but also because the relationship we have with our parents becomes the template for all our future relationships.
For better or worse this template influences the quality of our friendships, our ability to love ourselves and engage in romantic relationships, and our ability to get along with, or work alongside others.
Recent evidence also suggests that having secure attachment as a child is an important buffer against mental health issues such as depression and anxiety and degenerative disease such as dementia later in life.
Good attachment relationships result in an adult who has
Connection with others
Happiness & contentment
What are the different types of attachment?
There are four different types of attachment relationship with secure attachment being the most conducive to your child growing up happy and healthy. So let’s talk about that first.
When children can rely on their parents to provide consistent physical and emotional care. They have a preference for their parents but because they feel secure and supported they also feel empowered to start exploring their world with more confidence. They can leave their parents side for short periods, engage in social interactions with others, and will start to play more independently. When upset they will seek their parents for support and they will be comforted by the contact. Most of the time they feel that the world is a safe and interesting place.
When a parent is unable to provide consistent physical and emotional care for their child, the child learns that their parents (and the world) can’t be relied on. These children don’t have a strong emotional connection to their parents so they cope well with separation and can appear very independent. They don’t seek or enjoy cuddles or look for comfort from their parents when they are upset. They can grow up ‘loners’ and have trouble building relationships with others.
Insecure – ambivalent attachment
If a parent is highly inconsistent in meeting the needs of their child (physically and/or emotionally) or when the parents are too distressed themselves to comfort their child, this can result in insecure-ambivalent attachment. The child can be excessively clingy towards their parent and very distressed during separation. When they are reunited with their parent they may alternate between acute distress and anger towards their parent. They can be difficult to settle, being both highly dependent and also resistant to their parents. This child may appear angry, demanding and needy.
This is the most extreme form of insecure attachment, appearing that the child has little or no attachment with anyone at all. It is usually the result of trauma where the parent causes fear and distress for the child. The child shows no consistent response with their parent and can show contradictory behaviours such as allowing their parent to hold them, but with their limbs held stiffly. Their emotional behaviour can be incomplete or incongruent and they can show worry or avoidance in the presence of their parent.
Using CARE to promote secure attachment with your child
Providing consistent care such as feeding them, comforting when upset, calm communication and setting boundaries on behavior. Providing routines and consistency in their everyday life though regular mealtimes, regular bedtimes, balanced activity schedules so they have an age-appropriate balance between structured (music, swimming, playgroup) and unstructured activities (quiet home time, outside play). Your child learns that the world is a safe and predictable place. This gives your child confidence to fully experience all the learning opportunities available to them.
Being available to your child. In the early days this is about being physically present, as your baby doesn’t understand that when you leave the room you will return. Each time you return they develop a little more trust in you. Later, it’s about your child trusting that you will always be there for them when they need you. Whether you are close by or not they will understand that you are still a continuous and consistent feature in their life. Your child learns that they can rely on others and that relating to others is worthwhile.
Understanding your child and responding to them accordingly. This is where calm parenting is incredibly helpful. Rather than being reactive to your child’s tantrum or behavior can you stop and consider the behavior, the context, the environment, and essentially the cause of the child’s emotional state. Is the child hungry, tired, have you done too much today? Are they hurt, tired, sad? This makes it much easier to respond with empathy and understanding. Boundaries may still be important but it’s important to the child’s wellbeing and happiness that they feel understood and that you ‘get’ them. Your child learns that they are valued and important, and that their feelings matter. This sense of self-worth has far-reaching implications for how your child approaches life.
This is our ability to ‘tune in’ to the emotional state of our children and reflect it back to them. Like sharing positive experiences together like TLC Music J, reading stories, playing games or cuddling. And also sharing negative emotions together, like when you’re sad they have hurt their knee. This teaches your child empathy and over time helps them identify, accept and regulate their emotions. Your child learns to be open to feeling and expressing their (and others) emotions. This encourages your child to find positive and loving relationships and helps them relate and communicate well with others.