Connection is created, navigated, ruptured, and repaired daily from the moment we are born. At the heart of being alive lies the vitality of being connected to others- feeling that what we do matters. What’s more is that we rely on being deeply understood by those around us in order to thrive. But how do we learn about healthy connection? What does it look like to build strong ties with others? Where do we learn about relating with people and the world more broadly? If connecting is so central to happiness, why does it seem so challenging to create deep bonds that last? These are among the myriad questions that I hear in my practice as a clinician working with pregnant women, new mothers, couples, and men. Intuitively we all have some sense that what happens during childhood impacts who we are, but making sense of why we are who we are can be a challenging, confusing, and daunting process. Arming ourselves with the basic tools to gracefully negotiate emotional intimacy may be a lifelong journey. I’ve gathered some meaningful questions that may shed light on the ingredients that comprise a healthy recipe for relating. Here are the top 3 frequently asked questions about how to help inform meaningful attachment relationships from birth onward.
Q: What is attachment?
A: Attachment is the process as well as the quality of the relationship that an infant forms with her caregivers. Initial experiences in relationship with primary caregivers lay the groundwork for subsequent relationships-- how the developing child will come to view connection, how she experiences her self, and the world around her. Attachment can occur with biological and adoptive mothers, fathers, stepparents, grandparents, and any other consistent person in the child’s life. Embedded in repeated experiences of predictable care, the infant learns about trust and security. Growing up in an environment infused with safety and intentionality ensures healthy social and emotional development. “Children with a history of secure attachment show substantially greater self-esteem, emotional health and ego resilience, positive affect, initiative, social competence, and concentration in play than do their insecure peers” (Wallin, 2007).
Q: What are some concrete ways to set the stage for my child to experience a secure attachment?
A: Research has found that it is the quality of the infant-caregiver interaction rather than the quantity of care that establishes the health in the attachment bond. In other words, the caregiver’s sensitivity to the infant’s gestures when they are interacting is of paramount importance. Number of hours spent together is not necessarily equated with security of attachment. For example, if a mother is home with her child full-time and feeling depressed, notably overwhelmed, and appreciably disconnected from her infant, the distressing quality of their interactions may deleteriously impact the child’s sense of comfort and security. Having a sense of what helps you feel the most present with your child will benefit the emotional health of the family.