Infant attachment? What does that even mean?

From the moment we are born, humans are hard wired to relate to each other.  We have an innate urge to build relationships to the people around us. Our first relationships are usually with our parents, and psychologists call this the development of attachment. 

The way in which babies build these attachment relationships has been studied in a variety of ways, but a fascinating set of experiments was conducted by Dr. Edward Tronick of UMass Boston’s Infant-Parent Mental Health Program, where research explored how mothers’ depression and other stressful behaviours might affect the emotional development and health of infants and children.

Perhaps the best known of these is the “Still Face Experiment”, in which involves an infant being exposed to three minutes of “interaction” with a non-responsive expressionless mother, and shows the infant’s increasingly desperate attempts to engage the mother, before eventually withdrawing and orienting away from the mother. It remains one of the most replicated findings in developmental psychology. The experiment portrays the natural process of attachment between a baby and mother, and then the effects of non-responsiveness on the part of the mother. Be warned though, it is actually pretty emotional stuff to watch! 

This experiment really illustrates the impact we can have on our children by ignoring their expressions of emotion. It highlights the critical importance of showing our children respect and understanding in moments when they feel misunderstood, upset, or frustrated. It is a tough reminder of the importance of validating their emotions and guide them with trust and affection, so in the long run, your child can master an understanding and ability of how to regulate their emotions. 

Parents have so many important tasks in raising a child, but it is critical that we act as a “coach” to help our children manage their emotions. We can do this by:

  • Being aware of our child’s emotions
  • Recognising your child’s expression of emotion as an opportunity for intimacy and teaching, rather than “naughtiness”
  • Listening with empathy to your child and validating their feelings
  • Helping your child to learn the words which can label their emotions – in the long run this will help them to communicate rather than ‘act” how they feel
  • Setting limits when your child is upset to help them deal with difficult situations appropriately

Learning how to parent in a responsive empathic way can be hard.  Most parents will “stuff up” some of the time.  And that’s ok. But we can learn to be more responsive to our children and enhance those positive attachment relationships with them through learning how to relate more effectively. The Circle of Security parenting Program is a great opportunity to develop those skills and learn to be a Stronger, Bigger, Wiser and Kinder parent.

I am incredibly excited to be delivering the Circle of Security Program in Brisbane this year with Dr Upsana Kapoor through Paeds in a Pod. If you have a younger child (ideally 0-5, but we will consider parents with slightly older children also), then give Pads and call to register (07) 3177 2000

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