Is Background Attachment Good For You?
By Toni Hoy
Updated November 23, 2019
Reviewer Lauren Guilbeault
What do you know about your background attachment? What do you know about how you formed attachments with your parents and caregivers during your early years? What do you know about developing strong attachment forms for your children in the future? All of these things are extremely important, but it can be difficult to understand without a good knowledge of attachment theory and just how it can affect your overall life. That's why you're going to need a little more help to get started.
What Is Attachment Theory?
Attachment theory is part of developmental psychology that talks about how you come to rely on others during your childhood. It's a way that you create an emotional and even a physical bond with that person, generally a parent or other caregiver. With a healthy form of attachment, you would learn stability and feel a sense of security that allows you to feel comfortable reaching out to others, stretching your boundaries and exploring. You feel more comfortable taking risks and growing your thoughts and ideas because you have that secure foundation that you can always fall back on when needed.
On the other hand, unhealthy forms of attachment, not being able to rely on a parent or caregiver during the early years, can lead to problems down the line. Not developing a secure form of attachment can mean that you aren't comfortable stretching your boundaries or taking risks and can stunt the level of growth that occurs in the average childhood. Small children who feel that they can't rely on their parent or that they don't know what their parent or caregiver is going to do will generally be less capable as they get older unless they get additional help.
Your Background Attachment
Just what kind of attachment did you form in childhood? Do you have a strong background in attachment, or are you still struggling to form healthy attachments even today? Do you feel comfortable being on your own, having to make friends, make choices, and do everything it takes to live your life? If you had a healthy attachment with your family and you can make a strong bond during your earlier years, then chances are you're doing okay on your own, but that's not always the case. Some people, even when they have a healthy attachment to their caregiver, have difficulty in forming relationships and accomplishing tasks in their everyday life.
Children who struggle in their childhood, for example, children of neglectful or abusive parents, will often struggle later on in life. Of course, it's important to note that not all parents who struggle to create a healthy attachment with their child do so because they are purposefully abusive or neglectful. Some are uncertain how to model a healthy attachment because they never had one modeled for them, or they simply aren't able to do these things easily. In these instances (and others) it's important to seek out professional help for everyone involved.
What Does It Mean?
Well, there are plenty of different things that you have to look at when it comes to forming healthy attachments. In Western cultures, we place a great deal of emphasis on having a strong relationship with a parent or caregiver, but other cultures don't place that same level of influence or emphasis on that particular relationship. Still, in other cultures, and even in our own, it is still possible for children to grow up healthy and well-adjusted without having that level of closeness or impact from the parent-child relationship.
There is still a great deal that we don't know about the situation. Some children seem to have a sort of resilience that allows them to thrive even in difficult situations or situations where other children struggle. In the case of non-Western cultures, these children generally have more varied upbringings and tend to have a higher level of success with this type up upbringing. More research is needed to understand better how this works and what it is that may be different between these cultures and Western ones, or at least the children involved.
What Things Can Parents And Caregivers Do To Improve Attachment?
Parenting children with poor attachment backgrounds is a tough job. Nevertheless, there are specific things that parents and caregivers can do to improve attachment. Affected children need extra doses of nurturing, consistency, patient, and therapeutic treatment.
Attachment issues begin before the age of 5 years old. Neglect and abuse are big reasons why very young children aren't able to form strong attachments. Also, they missed out of many of the special moments that most children enjoy with their parents, including being held, rocked, cuddled, being sung to, and being smiled at.
Children with attachment issues still need those types of interactions, and it's never too late to implement. However, heed a word of caution. Children who were neglected and abused often associate touch with pain, torture, or sexual abuse. In such cases, parents and caregivers have to be in tune with the child and adapt their responses accordingly. Expect that it will take longer for children to respond to nurturing touches and sentiments because their brains have less plasticity than they do at birth.
Think before you respond. When a poorly attached child lies or steals, try to understand why the event happened before making a decision about how to address the behavior. For example, if a child hoards food, his intent may not have been intentional theft. It may be a natural result from being deprived of food in early childhood and having to fend for him or herself. Punishment for this type of incident won't help the child become more attached, and it could increase insecurities and the need to hoard food.
One of the bad effects of poor early attachment is that it alters a child's development. Abused and neglected children may be delayed socially and emotionally. Their physical age may be on target, but their life experience could be that of an adult. Age becomes a subjective issue.
Most experts agree that parents and caregivers should parent children with poor attachment based on their emotional ages. When faced with fear or stress, a 10-year old child can quickly revert to an earlier age and have a challenging melt-down. When you tell such a child to act his or her age, traumatic experiences may prevent them from being able to respond as you wish. What you believe to be a "won't" is a "can't." If the child acts like a two-year-old, parent them as you would a two-year-old.
Speak to them in a soothing voice, hold them, rock them, and sing quietly. Refrain from scolding or arguing.
Poorly attached children have usually had a lot of chaos and inconsistency in their early caretaking. For this reason, it's vital for parents and caregivers to be highly consistent, predictable, and repetitive. Children with attachment disorders don't adapt as well as children with strong attachments during times of transitions, surprises, and events where there are a lot of people and noise. Holiday events and birthdays with lots of family and friends can be particularly stressful and overwhelming for poorly attached children. It is only once children feel safe and secure that they'll be able to remain emotionally regulated through unpredictable or chaotic activities and events.
Parenting children with attachment issues requires lots of patience on the caregiver's part. Progress usually happens very slowly, but with the consistency of caregiving, progress can occur. Lack of progress, combined with caring for highly dysregulated children, can be exhausting and demoralizing. It's crucial for parents caring for poorly attached children to practice regular self-care, so they don't burn out. It's nearly impossible to give the level of care that children with attachment disorders need when parents are emotionally and physically depleted, angry, resentful, and overwhelmed. It's important for parents and caregivers to take every advantage of rest, respite, and support.
Getting Therapeutic Help
What we do know is that in our culture, children seem to struggle when they don't have the right types of background and attachment formed in their childhood. As a result, it's important that you seek out professional help if you find that you struggle with forming attachments as you get older. If you didn't have a healthy relationship with your parents in your childhood or earlier years, it could impact you now, and it can impact the way that you parent your children in the future as well. This is why it's important to seek out help as soon as possible.
If you are currently struggling with forming positive relationships and attachments with your child, it is not too late to do something about it. You can make changes to the way that you parent and there is most definitely a 'better late than never' approach to be had. Get the professional help that you and your child need and start working on the relationship. You may be surprised how much you can change your relationship and just how you can improve your child's life (and your own) with the right help.
ReGain is one way that you can get the help that you're looking for. It's an online service that connects you with an entire network of mental health professionals and mental health services. All you need to do is get online and create an account. From there, you'll be able to talk with a professional about anything that you're experiencing. What's great is that you'll be able to recognize the changes that are happening in your life, and you'll be able to do it all without having to leave your home. Because this is an online service, it's one that will help you accomplish more, in the place you're most comfortable.