Most people have heard of the term "attachment" through the phrase "attachment parenting." Separate of that parenting style, the word attachment, according to psychologist Mary Ainsworth is "defined as an affectional tie that one person or animal forms between himself and another specific one — a tie that binds them together in space and endures over time."
Children who are securely attached to their parents do better on almost all growth and personality scales. Contrary to what some believe, you can't actually "spoil a child with attention" because the more attention you pour into young children, the more independent they become. This independence is born when a person feels able to be themselves and confident to leave their parent's side.
I refer to someone's attachment connection capacity with his or her parent as an "attachment tank." How full the tank is often affects that child's behaviour and self-confidence.
When a child has a full tank, he/she feels comfortable to wander off on his own, knowing his parent is able to meet his needs as they arise. A child with a full tank doesn't need to beg his parents for attention, because he already feels full of attention — he knows he is seen, heard, and understood.
A child with an empty tank will do anything he can to fill it — in a negative or positive way. Humans have an instinctual desire to feel important so if no one fills that desire; we try to get it filled somehow.
One of the questions I ask families who arrive in my psychotherapy practice is how much one-on-one time they spend with the children. This means time without distractions, or doing something like morning/bedtime routine or house chores.
Often, parents who ask me for help with "bad behaviour" realize the one-on-one time with their child is low. They realize their child's attachment tank is very low or completely empty. The first thing I ask parents to do is spend at least two weeks filling their child's tank. *If the relationship has really soured, they may need help with learning how to reconnect with children they don't feel like being around.
Here are some of the suggestions I recommend to filling your child's attachment tank (and keep it full.) Once a tank is full, it is easier to top up. The lower the tank is drained, the longer it takes to fill up again.
Create connection points of at least ten or fifteen minutes with each of your children.
Put your chores and phone down, and join in what your child is doing. Don't hijack the game! Let your child pick the activity.
Have a minimum of two of these connection points, and ideally three of them per day.
Good times to connect are: first thing in the morning, when you first see your children again after being away from them during the day, and before bedtime. If you have to be away from your child and miss these connection points, you can use an attachment bridge, which I explain in this article.
Use "I see you" statements wherever you can.
These statements have no judgement and are more like commentaries. Use these when your children are doing something you approve of like, "Hey, I see you helping your sister. Thanks, I appreciate that." Other examples are: "I see you concentrating so well on something that is hard."/"I see you are frustrated. Would you like some help?"
Chat with your child and ask questions about what is important to him/her. It is critical not to judge any answers with something like, "Oh, I'm sure it wasn't that bad." — that can feel invalidating. A more empathetic response is, "Oh, it sounds like that was difficult. How are you doing now?"
Dial up the empathy.
Further to my last point, try to imagine how your child is feeling. If it seems one of your kids is "off," be the person that child can turn to for problem solving and a shoulder to cry on.
Some parents say, "I don't need to fill up my child's tank—I'm with him all day!" Actually that may not be accurate. It is possible to be physically with your child all day, but not actually fill up that child's tank. I have seen this in my clients, and know it first hand with my own children.
Good questions that grow awareness of how parents interact with their children are these:
How does my child feel about himself as a result of spending time with me?
Does my child feel important?
Does my child feel like he matters to me?
This is a short introduction to attachment and how to maintain a strong connection with your child. If you are interested in learning more about this, you can come over to my facebook page where I continually post resources for parents.