Attachment is often described as the dance between two people – the dance between a caregiver or parent and child, the dance between partners, or friends. It’s what we use to learn to trust as we learn to move in sync with the people in our world. Each relationship has its own music and its own dance.
Attachment is about togetherness. It’s about being with each other. It’s about ensuring that your child feels safe, secure and loved. If she cries, a parent will come. If she’s hungry, she will be fed. If a parent leaves, he or she will return again. The reality is that we can work out how to grow attachment in our relationships without needing to add more to the list of things to do, but rather to creatively use certain principles to build opportunities into our relationships – when we get this right, it makes our sense of connection, belonging and togetherness more enjoyable, not just for our children, but for us too!
Longitudinal studies have shown us that attachment matters in forming the foundation for the way we relate with the world as well as with other people. The more secure we feel and consistency we experience in our early primary relationships, the more likely we are to have a healthy self-esteem, establish healthy boundaries and discern what it means to trust people in relationships. The way we parent, or dance with our partners and children, is shaped by the dance familiar to us, or known to us through our own families of origin.
Research also tells us that for children to thrive and succeed in the world, 3 basic things are needed: Access to moderate resources, support for their caregivers, and thirdly, a committed and caring relationship with a primary caregiver. This dance matters!
How do we build this dance? What if I step on their toes? What if your music is different to the music that they are listening to?
The beautiful part of the attachment dance, is that it’s a life long journey of figuring this out together – the music changes as we change our dances change together. The only way to keep dancing together is to keep moving together. Practically though, what does this mean?
- Consistency Matters – this isn’t the same as perfection, but it is about showing up and working out how to respond to the other. Babies, children and teens – the principle remains the same! Consistency in family boundaries: what is expected from each other, as well as towards each the other. If kind words, or respect is asked, what does it look like in how we display it? Are we consistent in our emotional being as well as in our rhythms or routines in our family when it comes to mealtimes and bedtimes?
- Connection Matters – The essence of this is how do we do things is WITH each other. This might be shoulder to shoulder time reading stories or watching Tik Tok videos together. Connection is the shoulder to shoulder time that comes with chatting in the car on the way to school or from the shops. Connection is part of the foundation we build in the early years to ensure that it can be maintained in the older years of childhood. It might mean setting a timer and letting our children lead for the next 30 minutes, it will often mean being stretched out of our own comfort zones because we aren’t in charge. This doesn’t mean that there are no boundaries, but it does mean that we give our children the space to lead and teach us about their worlds, what brings them joy and excites them!
- Communication Matters– Listening, not just speaking. Listening enables us to respond to the emotional cues. It means we can learn to hear what is being said through behavior, through what is being said as well as what isn’t being said. Too often as adults we default to speaking at rather than speaking with. When we listen, we are able to respond with empathy, which builds connection, understanding and trust.
Attachment is one of the basic building blocks for life. It’s the foundation from where we feel safe, open to exploring and experiences. It’s the foundation for our sense of self and belonging. It’s where we start our first dance, before building up the different range of dances with each other and the world around us. One of the easiest ways to build more dance time into your world, is to simply consider the 3 Cs above: Consistency, Connection and Communication.
It’s really important to mention that no parent gets this right 100% of the time. In fact, a parent can get it right about 40% of the time and still develop a secure attachment. However, the key is that parents make every effort to repair any emotional damage or disappointments, through an apology and a sincere effort to do better when things don’t go well. So it’s okay to mess up, but it’s important to repair. Parents and caregivers who are attuned to their child and show security and love can develop a secure attachment.
What can you do integrate these into your family structure, so that it’s not an add-on, but rather a re-arrange or including with?
Will you dance?