Attachment Parenting: The Key to Thriving Kids?

Attachment Parenting: The Key to Thriving Kids?

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Updated on Sep 26, 2011

What if you possessed a secret formula that made your child smarter, more independent, more secure—a kid capable of forming deep and loving relationships, showing compassion for others, and having a true connection to her parents? Well there is no secret formula, but there is a secret: in developmental psychologist circles, it’s called “security of attachment”. And according to a huge body of scientific research, it has a major impact on a child’s ability to thrive, not just in the early years, but throughout her lifetime.

Daniel Siegel, M.D., clinical professor of psychiatry at the Center for Culture, Brain, and Development at UCLA, and author of the seminal book The Developing Mind and Parenting from the Inside Out, specializes in the study of attachment. He describes it as something of a magic bullet when it comes to child development.

While genetics, experiences, temperament, and many other factors contribute to a child’s personality, Siegel says, secure attachments lay the foundation for it all. Attachment “shapes children’s interactions with their peers, their sense of security about exploring the world, their resilience to stress, their ability to balance their emotions, and their capacity to create meaningful interpersonal relationships for the future.”

Having this foundation, or lacking it, Siegel says, affects everything from school success to the ability to form friendships. Self esteem, social skills, emotional intelligence … even who a child eventually picks as a life partner, can all be traced back to attachment, he says.

So what exactly is attachment? Siegel describes it as “an inborn system of the brain that evolved to keep an infant safe.” Translation: when a young child is hungry, scared, tired, or just plain in need of a hug, his brain is hard-wired to try to get close to a parent in order to get his needs met.

It's not enough just to respond to your child, Siegel emphasizes-- it's how you respond. For example, let's suppose a child cries from her playpen and her father doesn't notice at first. When he does notice, he looks up from his newspaper, but decides to finish reading his article first. Then he gets up, changes her diaper, and puts her back in the playpen, but she continues to cry. He thinks she might be tired, so he puts her in the crib for a nap. After a half hour of more crying, he realizes she may be hungry and he gets a bottle and feeds her until she calms down.

From an attachment perspective, there's a problem here. True, the dad has attempted to respond to his daughter's needs, but he's misread her cues. "Repeated patterns like this teach the child that her father is not very available for meeting her needs," Siegel says. And the same could be said for a similar interaction with a first grader, or even a high schooler. When a child has a parent that is consistently inconsistent, or emotionally unavailable, they learn that they can not depend upon that parent.

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