Most of us know that a secure attachment to an attuned parent contributes enormously to a child’s developing sense of self, emotional resilience, and capacity for intimacy. Research has shown that when a child forms a strong attachment with a stable and loving caregiver in the first five years of life, his psychological health will be influenced for the better.
But what if a healthy attachment doesn’t develop during a child’s formative years? Many parents worry that if mother was unavailable due to illness when she had her baby, or a child was adopted at age six, the window of opportunity for establishing a strong parent/child attachment will have been irretrievably lost, and their youngster will be incapable of forging deep attachments as an adult.
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Alan Smoufe, Professor of Child Psychology in the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota writes in March/ April 2011 Psychotherapy Networker, “Another important implication of attachment research is that it’s possible to develop a secure state of mind as an adult, even in the face of a difficult childhood. Early experience influences later development, but it isn’t fate: therapeutic experiences can profoundly alter an individual’s life course.”
In an ideal situation, the journey of attachment progresses smoothly from birth through young adulthood, empowering the child to venture forth into her ever-expanding world with a solid sense of self.
But it’s never too late to nourish a strong attachment with your child, regardless of his or her age. I have even seen profound shifts in the parent/child bond when the “child” was an adult. While there is plenty of evidence that the first years of life are critical when it comes to attachment, healing is always an option, even in a child’s later years.
Here are some tips for fortifying attachment with children as they grow up.
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- Attunement is the key when bonding with an infant or baby. By letting your toddler know that you are present with him and reading his signals accurately at least most of the time, he relaxes into the safety of your presence.
- Physical contact is a very important element in deepening attachment; cuddling and snuggling continue to help regulate a young child’s nervous system.
- Your soothing voice is powerfully comforting. Sing, recite poems, or simply allow your child to bathe in the cadence of your calm words to strengthen connection.