Published on 28th June, 2020 by Ms. Samantha Ng
As early as the 1970s, researchers have been investigating the concept of attachment between children and their parents. An experiment, called “The Strange Situation”, had children placed in an unfamiliar environment, sometimes with a stranger. When the parent left the room, the researchers observed the children to see how they reacted – how much distress, anxiety, or fear did they show? Through this experiment, the attachment theory was developed. This theory defined different types of attachment:
This is the most healthy and positive type of attachment. In the experiment, children showed some distress when their caregiver left but were able to compose themselves knowing that their caregiver would return. Children with secure attachment feel protected by their caregivers, and they know that they can depend on them to return.
Anxious-ambivalent attachment is an unhealthy attachment style where children generally exhibit little interest in exploring and are uncertain of strangers even if their parent is nearby. When the parent leaves, they tend to exhibit distress. However, when the parent returns, they are generally ambivalent toward them and ignore them.
In the experiment, children with an anxious-avoidant pattern of attachment tended to avoid or ignore the caregiver, and showed little emotion when the caregiver departed or returned.
In disorganized attachment, the child’s caregiver has not created a safe, secure base for them to confidently return to. While the child loves and cares for the caregiver, the child also fears them. As a result, the child is consistently unsure of how the caregiver will respond to their needs. The child’s instincts are thus conflicted.
Sensitivity and responsiveness is key in developing a secure attachment in children. Securely attached children expect their parents to be responsive when they have a need, and are therefore much more able and willing to express their feelings. On the other hand, when parents were not consistently responsive or empathetic, children became insecurely attached and had a harder time taking risks, handling negative emotions, and interacting with others in prosocial ways.
How can parents develop their sensitivity and responsiveness? Let’s look at some ways to grow your parenting “bank account”!
Interact with your child, talk about his interests!
Do both active and passive listening. In active listening, paraphrase what your child has said to show understanding. Use nonverbal cues such as nodding, eye contact, and leaning forward. Use brief verbal affirmations like “I see,” “I know,” “Sure,” “Thank you,” or “I understand”. In passive listening, simply allowing your child to speak, without interrupting. Not doing anything else at the same time.
Coach your child through difficult emotions and problems. Brainstorm lots of solutions and try them out together!
Put away the electronics, engage in fun and games with your child. Bubbles, board games; good old-fashioned fun together builds stronger bonds than leaving your child alone with an iPad.
Give your child your undivided attention. During this time, let your child take the lead. Offer choices to your child and keep the focus on the positive by using praise.
For example, if your child is afraid of a large dog, acknowledge his feelings and normalise that the experience may be scary for him.