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Secure Attachment

Secure Attachment

Babies make their way to this world while they are dependent on their parents to survive. At the very beginning, mothers provide babies with food and a sense of tranquility and peace, causing the baby to develop a primary attachment towards the mom. This sense of attachment is usually followed by a sense of security. In fact, by taking care of their baby and discovering and fulfilling their needs, moms provide babies with a sense of security, this sense actually results from infants’ frequent experiences. John Bowlby referred to this sense as “secure base” or “secure attachment”

A secure attachment between parent and child can contribute to the development of interactions with peers, a sense of security for discovering the world, resilience against psychological pressures, emotional balance and the development of significant interpersonal relationships in the future.

This healthy and secure attachment is developed in the early years of life.

Here is a story about Sarah (A 4-month-old infant) and her father

Although Sarah’s grandmother is very sick, and Sarah’s mom has to leave her baby alone at some nights to take care of her mom, Sarah has managed to develop a healthy and secure attachment thanks to the peaceful atmosphere at their home and the supportive behavior of her dad. Sarah’s dad has just come back home from work and Sarah’s mom needed to go to her mom’s to take care of her. Two hours later, Sarah’s dad who was busy reading the newspaper, heard Sarah whining. Upon hearing her, her dad immediately left the newspaper aside, made his way to the room Sarah was resting in, and gently held her in his arms. The impression of love and affection on his face clearly gave away his supportive intentions. A few seconds later, he turned to Sarah who was letting out a lower-pitched cry, and said “What is it, sweetheart? Do you want your father to play with you?” Oh, I see. I bet you are hungry, and this is what you are trying to convey”

While talking to Sarah, he made his way to the kitchen to fix some infant formula. In the meantime, he kept talking to her and let her know that the formula will be ready in a few minutes. After the formula was fixed, he tested its temperature and gently put the milk bottle into Sarah’s mouth. Staring into her dad’s eyes, Sarah enjoyed the warm milk and the cordial interaction with her dad at the same time. Now she seemed very pleased and happy. Her dad had correctly deciphered the distress messages he had received from Sarah and had managed to effectively respond to them.

 

Frequent occurrences of such small events would help children understand that parents are well aware of their inner feelings and try their best to respond to them in a respectful manner. This attitude also helps children realize that they can successfully influence the world around them.

In this case, secure attachment is being formed.

Definition of attachment

Attachment is a deep emotional bond we develop with certain people in our lives. Thanks to this bond, we can enjoy ourselves when we interact with them and feel relaxed in stressful situations. This definition also holds true for attachment newborns develop.

How to create a secure attachment

Our reactions to baby cries

Upon hearing their baby cry, parents must immediately go to them. The baby’s cry is actually a signal of distress. Babies usually cry when they are in pain, hungry, or scared.

When babies cry, moms should show sympathy and use lovely sentences to soothe them.  Meanwhile, parents who feel anxious or panic when they hear their baby cry, cause the anxiety to be transmitted to the baby causing them to cry more vigorously. Anxiety and confusion when dealing with crying babies could undermine the sense of security in them

A baby cry is an involuntary reaction because babies are not able to speak and crying is the only way they can express their desires and needs and compel others to help them.

Parents, especially mothers, should learn the baby language because babies use crying as a means to show their various needs and desires.

Newborn babies use different cries to show hunger, pain and fatigue. Most parents can distinguish the cry of their babies from that of other babies. Sometimes baby cry can be used to diagnose some problems and diseases. For example, newborns with brain anomalies show shorter and more irregular crying patterns compared to normal newborns. Also, infants suffering from malnutrition let out cries that are marked by higher initial pitch and tone. Nevertheless, analysis of crying tone and styles alone, can’t usually lead to accurate diagnosis of babies’ problems, and reliable conclusions can only be made after further and more thorough investigations.

 

Smile

In newborns, Smiling is a sign of life, and mothers who don’t smile at their children, deprive them of the passion of life causing the sense of attachment to be killed in them. According to John Bowlby, a smile brings the caregiver and newborns into close proximity and consequently leads to the development of attachment in newborns. From the age of 3 months onward, infants usually smile at specific visual stimuli, provided that the stimuli (moms’ face) are presented in full-face of the front view. Side view, as well as voice and touch, might turn up to be less effective, thus, for the development of attachments in newborns, moms need to have face-to-face communication with them and smile while looking into their infant’s eyes

 

Vocal Imitation

When infants start to make sounds and vocalize, mothers must imitate them at the same time. This imitation cause newborns to make sure that they are really seen, heard and understood by their parents. 

 

Eye-tracking

When newborns visually track the movements of objects, moms should imitate their eye movements. In the first eighteen months of their life, infants mostly learn through imitation. Thus, it is necessary to use imitation as an instruction tool for newborns.

Parents in general, and mothers in particular, should note that they must show rapid response to all infant behaviors to make sure that nothing disrupts the development of attachment in newborns.

According to Dr. Spitz, Bowlby’s assistant, the non-continuous presentation of maternal love and affection, may lead to newborns’ failure to show even the natural emotional reactions on a timely basis. for example

Laughter, as a natural emotional reaction, is usually seen in children aged 3-6 months, but this natural reaction may not surface if maternal activities are inadequate. According to Dr. Margaret Ribble, children’s reactions to inadequate maternal attention usually surface in the form of paling, loss of natural vitality, irregular breathing, and even gastrointestinal problems that usually lead to diarrhea and vomiting. Lack of emotional responsiveness on the part of parents could also undermine the attachment development procedure in newborns.

According to the literature, newborns should experience sufficient and stable maternal affection over a long period. Fake maternal affection and love is not enough; because newborns need to receive genuine and deep affection and love from their mom or her surrogate mother so they can experience a normal developmental process. Moreover, moms need to evidently express their love for newborns to guarantee an uninterrupted attachment development in them.

An important point that should be taken into account here is that parents usually respond to their children’s needs, otherwise thousands of newborns would starve to death on a daily basis. The way parents fulfill children’s needs can affect their behavior and personality in adulthood. Unfortunately, the conditions many parents create for children, lead to the development of an insecure attachment.

Let’s change the above example to see how insecure attachment is created

Upon hearing Sarah crying, her dad took his eyes off the newspaper for a second but decided to go on and flip through the newspaper before reaching for Sarah

(Newborns usually use a whiny discontinuous cry to announce hunger. In case no response is received, they let out continuous cries that grow louder and louder over time)

In the former case, Sarah’s father got up and reached for Sarah immediately as soon as he heard her cry. It should be noted that parents who reach for their children before the whining turns into a cry, will have more patient children in the future. Such children would use whining, rather than crying, to announce their needs and desires and spend a longer time whining when they need something.

 

Let’s go for the second example again

Immersed in the newspaper, Sarah’s father becomes mad as soon as he hears Sarah’s cry and pokes his head into the newspaper again. Soon, Sarah begins to let out a louder cry. Upon hearing the cry, his dad throws the newspaper aside, goes to Sarah, holds her in his arm, and says “Stop crying, you sniveling brat”. Suddenly it occurred to him that she might need a diaper change.  Obsessed with the pieces of news he had read in the newspaper and the things that had happened in his office on that day, he silently changed her diaper without looking into Sarah’s eyes. After having the diaper changed, he put Sarah in the cradle. Soon, Sarah let out a loud cry and his dad made his way to the cradle to see what’s going on.  This time he looked at Sarah and said “what is it sweetheart?”  Suddenly he remembered that Sarah has not been fed over the last couple of hours and made his way down to the kitchen to fix some formula. Hearing Sarah’s cries that had already grown louder and were followed by coughs, he got in a flap and rushed back into the room with a bottle of formula that happened to be colder than usual. After picking Sarah, he put the milk bottle in her mouth. On his way to the living room, he mutely said “This poor baby has been crying with a hunger for hours without her mom being around to take care of her”. Without bothering to talk to Sarah, he continued reading the newspaper.

 

Here, the child learns that her father cannot properly decipher her messages and respond to them. Since her dad’s body language doesn’t convey a favorable message to her, she begins to believe that she is not only unable to make any change in the world but also is a burden on the shoulder of her parents. Although her father finally responded to her needs, the response was rather apathetic and ill-timed mainly because her dad was obsessed with other matters. The milk was also too cold. Although his failure to properly decipher Sarah’s message is by no means indicative of resentment or dislike, the way he responded to Sarah’s needs and desires would definitely affect Sarah’s personality in the future.

In this example, frequent exposure to adverse communication causes the baby to develop a sense of uncertainty about the world and humans. Lack of a sense of self-worth coupled with selfishness, make the child frequently pick fights with peers and show aggressive and difficult behaviors in her communications with grownups. This is when parents ask themselves:

Why is my child so difficult and aggressive?

In view of the foregoing, it can be argued that lack of a secure attachment, rather than the child’s temperament and nature, could be the primary cause of the problem

In the above case, we chose to give an example of fathers because in modern Iranian families, as compared to traditional ones, fathers are more involved in parenting, but this could also hold true for mothers. Thanks to some preoccupations and other siblings that need to be taken care of, moms, dads or both of them tend to use the latter method (insecure attachment) most of the time. .

It is essential for the child to develop at least one secure attachment.

Of course, the best scenario is the one in which everyone focuses on the former parenting method and communicates with the child accordingly. In some families, however, mother and father work outside the home and usually consign their children to their grandmother’s care. Since grandparents usually provide a secure attachment, the child is reared in a quiet and safe environment.

Other types of insecure attachment

  In some cases, however, the child is raised in an environment where one parent induces secure attachment and the other induces insecure attachment, or where a parent readily takes time to use the body language and attitudes required to create secure attachment when they have the stomach, but pave the path for the development of insecure attachment whenever they are busy. In both cases, the child is raised in a bipolar atmosphere and always wonders if his/her existence is important or not, or if he can make decisions or not. Children raised in such family atmospheres are mostly irresolute individuals who can’t make decisions by themselves.

 This can sometimes happen in families where moms experience a surprise or unexpected pregnancy or feel worried because they are having their first baby and fear that the burden of responsibility might be too heavy for them. In cases where parents have experienced a very distressing childhood or have failed to develop a secure attachment in their childhood, may end up dealing with stress and anxieties that arise from fear of failing to help their child develop secure attachments just as their parents did. This stress may affect parents’ relationships with children as well as their perception of children’s needs. In this case, the mother’s anxiety causes the baby to cry most of the time.

This type of attachment is called Anxious attachment.

 

The following story is based on reality

Mahyar is a 23-year-old boy who is unable to control his emotions when he is thrilled. He is hesitant about making friends with his peers. When it comes to communications with others, he is always marked as unreliable. Once he met a girl at the university, but after a couple of visits he totally cut with her because he was scared of what was in store for both of them

Mahyar had experienced a disorganized attachment in his childhood because Mahyar’s maternal grandfather was a heroin addict, and thanks to that, Mahyar’s mom (Maryam) had experienced a rough childhood that was followed by divorce and difficulties in providing sustenance for her children. Although Maryam had lived with her uncle since she was 16 and had managed to attend college and get married, the adverse impacts of her rough childhood were still troubling her. To make a bad situation worse, she experienced an unexpected pregnancy (with Mahyar) before she had the chance to seek psychological remedies for her problem.

Upon hearing Mahtar’s cries, Maryam was overwhelmed by anxiety, because his cries reminded her of her childhood and the heart-rending cries her younger sister let out when her heroin addict father came home and gave her mom a beating. The overwhelming stress he experienced upon hearing Mahyar’s hunger or colic pain cries were finally passed over to Mahyar causing him to let out longer and louder cries. Maryam told us about the old days when Mahyar was only 3 months old, especially the day Mahyar cried with colic pains. Her mom pick him up and made her way to the kitchen, since Mahyar’s cries reminded her of the cries she and her little sister let out in their childhood, she firmly held Mahyar in her arms, stared at a point, and remembered the day her dad pulled the gold necklace off her neck and gave her a beating. Maryam was really frightened and soon she noticed that her dad’s firm grip on her arm had already left a bruise. Suddenly Maryam came to herself and realized that Mahyar is still crying. She fixed some milk for Mahyar but the bottle slipped through her fingers, fell on the ground, and created a mess.  Overwhelmed by stress, she hastily filled another bottle with the formula and put it into Mahyar’s mouth, but Mahyar rejected the bottle because he was not hungry. Remembering that Mahyar had been fed about an hour ago, she walked around the house with Mahyar in her arms and massaged his belly for a few minutes until he calmed down. Once again, Maryam remembered the day her dad had just learned about her mom’s application for divorce. On that day, her dad came home furiously while letting outcries with anger. Overwhelmed by fear, Maryam had picked up her little sister immediately to hide in the wardrobe. In the wardrobe, she had firmly held her palm against her little sister’s mouth to make her stop crying. Soon she came to herself again and realized that instead of making peaceful communications with Mahyar, she had firmly pressed him against her bosom causing him to let out louder cries of pain.

Maryam is a good mom, but thanks to the overwhelming stress and anxiety she was grappling with, she failed to help Mahyar develop a secure attachment with her. In other words, she was supposed to find a way to come along with her past.           

 

Now we know what attitudes can create or impair safe attachment in children! Thanks to the above example, we learned how to create a secure attachment for our child and solve or get along with our psychological problems before they affect our children. This can significantly help us improve our communication with others.

 

I don’t want a spoiled baby

Knowing the difference between safe attachment and safe reliance is very important.  Of course, it should be noted that overindulgence during the first years of a baby’s life would never cause them to become spoiled, and parents are never advised to deprive children of parental love to prevent them from being spoiled.

Nevertheless, we should admit that some troublesome habits and attachments arise from wrong or careless parenting decisions that are usually made by parents

As noted earlier, there is a difference between the needs and desires of newborns. Newborns need to be breastfed once every 1.5-3 hours and this need must be immediately fulfilled with utmost care. Some mothers immediately and kindly breastfeed their babies as soon as they begin to whine, and don’t usually wait for them to let out cries of hunger. Contrary to popular belief, this attitude doesn’t cause babies to become spoiled but helps them develop a secure attachment and become more patient. Some babies, however, expect their mom to let them suck on their breast all night long so they can easily satisfy their hunger whenever they wish. If fulfilled, this desire may cause serious problems. In other words, moms should know that fulfillment of this desire actually paves the path for the emergence of new ones and will cause them to end up dealing with a spoiled child in near future.

Fulfillment of all desires will cause parents to feel fed and fail to enjoy their parenthood.

It’s time to learn how to handle our baby’s desires

Here are some irrational desires newborns (aged 0-3 years) usually have

Getting a ride, in the car, in the carriage or at least in parents’ arms before sleeping

 Sleeping in mom’s bed all night long

Rejection of food when they are in a high chair.

Sleeping in front of the TV.

Being carried around in parent’s arms all the time

 Biting mom’s or relatives’’ breast or body

Newborns quickly become accustomed to the conditions parents provide. They don’t know from the very beginning that they can also fall asleep in mom’s bed or in a carriage.

When to positively respond to newborns desires

Once we realize that even a one-time fulfillment of babies’ desires may cause us to end up having to fulfill them forever, we actually become cognizant of the favorable and adverse consequences of our choices and the results they might bring about in the future.

 Example: Some parents would like to put their child to sleep in their own bed. But they must know that they might end up having to put them to sleep in their bed for many years to come.

Parents must be aware of the suffocation risks of spine problems that threaten newborns and find solutions to them.

Parents must be aware of sibling jealousy if they have other children. They must also know that babies are not going to be calm and still forever and the level of their physical activity might give them trouble in near future or even lead to decreased sexual desire and intimacy between couples.

 

In view of the foregoing, you can still share your bed with your baby in case you see it fit and really wish to fulfill their desire.

Babies’ desires can be fulfilled if they are deemed feasible and approved by all members of the family. For instance, suppose that mom alone wants to share her bed with her baby but dad doesn’t. In this case, the baby’s desire should not be fulfilled.

The child’s demands and desires should not be fulfilled if they are made out of frustration, or disability to comply with the rules parents have set for them.  As mentioned before, babies are born with different temperaments, that’s why some can quickly get along with some conditions while others can’t. When parents find themselves having to spend more time to put their over-demanding baby to sleep, the mother may lose her patience and decide to appease her by carrying the baby around the home all night. When we give in to children’s demands, they learn that they can get what they want by being stubborn.

 

Caring, calm, and determined moms spend a week teaching their children how to sleep all by themselves. To this end, they might end up having to appease them by holding them in their arms and put them in their bed again. They might also find themselves having to repeat this over and over again at longer intervals.  When all the needs are met, it’s ok to let children cry for their desires

After letting the baby cry for a few minutes, mom goes to him and appeases him by letting him know that she is already aware of his desires.  In an attempt to sympathize with the baby, she holds him in her arms, gives him a kiss, puts him back in his bed and leaves the room. If he continues to cry, mom waits out of the room for a longer period (e.g. 10 min) and then walks in again to go over the same process again. Next time, she stays out of the room for a longer period (e.g. 15 min). If the baby is full, has spent enough time with his mom during the day, his emotional needs are adequately fulfilled, and feels tired (has been bathed before being put to sleep), he will soon realize, after going through the same procedure a couple of times, that he must sleep.

 

Parents’ determination for sticking to the plans associated with parenting, the integrity of the responses they give to children’s desires, and toleration of children’s cries and tantrums, would help them keep on track and enjoy themselves throughout the parenting process.

 

Children born and bred in families where law and order mean nothing, don’t usually feel secure.  Logical constraints, however, can provide them with a sense of security.

 

Would you like to live in a chaotic city or in a city with favorable and rational laws and regulations? Which one makes you feel more comfortable and happy?

Characteristics of a secure attachment

A favorable communication that leads to secure attachment is characterized by:

Alignment:  align your inner feelings with those of your child. This is mostly achieved through non-verbal messages, for example, the facial impression moms give when they find their child suffering from abdominal pain.

Balance:  Balance means integrity and consistency of parents’ behaviors in different situations and times.

 

Continuity: attachment must be permanent and coherent.

During the process of learning and development, our relationships, the respect we show for our child, kindness, and determination are of utmost importance, because children begin to develop perceptions of themselves and the world around them at 3-4 months in their development. Thanks to our behaviors and reactions, the newborns’ attitudes that are referred to as primary temperament can either continue and intensify or just turn to different attitudes and perceptions. At this age, children are psychologically flexible and we can take advantage of this property to help them make the best possible psychological shape.

We all know that parenting systems such as punishment, shouting, appeasement, and rewarding are only effective in the short term. In the long run, however, such systems may turn out to be counter-productive. So, how could be authoritative parents without using the punishment and rewarding systems?

 

The feeling behind behavior is always more important than the behavior itself

In the following sections, some new instruments that could serve as substitutes for old instruments to achieve the goal of raising a successful and independent child are introduced. It is worth noting that the aforementioned goal can’t be achieved if parents use these instruments to control children.  These instruments are actually some motivation principles that can help children achieve their most ambitious dreams

 The feeling behind a parenting approach always outweighs the approach itself.

 

 

Naghmeh Keshavarz, Psy.

Sources:

Keshavarz, N. (2021).When you Hatch: Guide for ParentsKidsocado Publishing House. Vancouver, Canada.

Keshavarz, N. (2019, August 10). How to develop children’s sense of dignity. Kidsocado parenting club. https://www.kidsocado.com/.

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