Tips for Parents
Nurturing Secure Attachment
By Susan Magsamen, SVP Early Learning
The dance begins at birth—smile for smile, dad’s first “Da-Da”, a bear hug, or “I love you.” When our children respond in kind to our expressions, croons, and touch, it’s the best feeling in the world.
Children need this connection to their parents and caregivers —known as “attachment”—to grow and thrive. Experts consider infants and toddlers “securely attached” if they can use their parent or primary caregiver as a secure base to return to as they explore their environment.
So when your 3-year old wanders away from you to explore something on the playground then, realizing you are no longer within reach comes running back to touch you, only to wander a little further next time, you are seeing her test the idea that “mommy’s still here,” and knowing you are, in fact, not disappearing. This in turn leads to confidence to take risks and a feeling of safety and security without which anyone can feel insecure and anxious.
Separation can lead to anxiety without a secure attachment, so this bond that leads to trust, confidence and the ability can reap dividends for a lifetime. In fact, this dance continues into early childhood and beyond.
What’s happening in the brain?
There seems to be a biological basis to attachment, where the brain’s reward system activates release of the pleasure-stimulating chemicals dopamine and oxytocin in response to positive social emotions. As we are all social animals, everyone seems to have this built-in capacity from birth. As parents, as we unconditionally foster love and reinforce positive traits, we evoke emotional, physical, and psychological security in our children, creating a positive correlation between love and social connection through the brain’s reward system.
How to nurture secure attachment:
- Give your child love unconditionally
- Encourage your child to explore—making sure you stay close
- Show pleasure in your child’s accomplishments
- Offer praise to reinforce positive behavior
- Playing together promotes give-and-take, role-playing, and positive social and emotional skills that build understanding, compassion, and affection