How can you foster a secure attachment in your baby?

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IN THIS ARTICLE

With the great joys of being a parent comes even greater responsibilities. And one of those responsibilities is helping your baby develop healthy attachment patterns, which influence every area of your baby’s life from childhood all the way through their adulthood. 

How you interact with your baby and show up for them sets the tone for how they perceive themselves, how they develop interpersonal relationships, how they see and explore the world around them, and how they take risks and interact with strangers, among many other things.

Read our expert-backed tips on what you can do to ensure your little one has a secure attachment pattern.

What is a secure attachment in babies?

Dr. Jessica Stern, a child development specialist, and researcher on infant brain development says that across cultures and contexts, human infants form strong emotional bonds or “attachments” to one or more caregivers, typically within the first 12 months of life.

A baby with a secure attachment to their parent or primary caregiver feels safe and secure with their caregiver. Babies with secure attachment patterns can separate from their caregiver for short periods without becoming overly distressed, and are easily comforted when they become upset. This type of attachment lays the foundation for your child’s healthy emotional development.

According to Dr. Stern, babies need their parents to provide a secure base to support their exploration and autonomy. This means allowing your baby to try things independently (and safely) through play, providing different forms of stimulation (through books, toys, games, pretend play, and interactive play), and following their lead when possible.

Babies also need their parents to serve as a safe haven that they can return to for comfort and support when needed. This means being available for connection and attuned to your baby’s needs, showing empathy, and modeling a calm presence to help them learn to calm themselves.

How much do parents have to be available for their babies?

In the early 20th century, the answer to this question was completely different from what it is today. Early child behaviorists promoted the erroneous belief that too much attention and love can spoil a child.

Today, we know that you can’t spoil babies can’t with love. In fact, there’s no such thing as spoiling a baby with too much love and attention in the first few months of life when they are entirely dependent on their parents for their basic survival needs.

So if your baby is crying, fussing, or throwing a tantrum, it is a sign that they need something, and by showing up and soothing them, you can’t “spoil” them. Instead, when you show up for your baby when they need you, you are providing the safe haven that your child needs to develop healthy attachments. 

That said, the idea of constantly being available for your baby might sound exhausting to parents. Dr. Stern suggests that you don’t have to be constantly available to your baby, and you don’t have to immediately respond to their every cue (appropriate delays can be helpful for your baby to learn to wait).

But being responsive and attentive, at least most of the time, goes a long way to building a secure relationship with your baby, in which they feel loved and known.

— Dr. Jessica Stern

Dr. Stern’s tips for parents on fostering secure attachment 

Not sure where to begin with creating a secure attachment with your little one? Dr. Stern advises that when in doubt, you can think about the things that make you feel secure and safe — how does your partner or best friend help you when you’re stressed or upset? (And what do they do that’s not especially helpful?)

Here are a few more key tips from Dr. Stern to help you cultivate a secure attachment style in your baby:

  • All child behavior is communication. Even when your baby misbehaves, ask: “What is their behavior trying to communicate? When your baby cries, they are asking, “Can I trust that you’ll be there for me?”

    If you can answer “yes” — through your calm presence, comforting touch (for example, chest-to-chest soothing when distressed), and consistent responsiveness — your baby will develop a secure attachment.

  • There is no such thing as a perfect parent — and luckily, our children don’t need us to be perfect in order to develop a secure bond. They simply need to be able to trust their caregivers.

    It’s normal to make mistakes as parents, and as long as you work to repair the relationship (through self-reflection and learning from the experience what to do differently next time), the bond you have with your baby will be resilient.

  • Remember that “you can’t pour from an empty cup” — so it’s important to lean on the secure bases in your own life to get your cup filled in order to be able to be a base of security for your baby.

    Importantly, if you find that your child’s behavior triggers especially intense fear or anger for you, it’s possible that trauma from your own upbringing is coming up.

    Seek out an attachment-informed therapist if you can. Parenting programs such as Circle of Security or Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up can be especially helpful, too. 

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is only meant as general information. It is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. If you have any medical questions and concerns, please contact your healthcare provider.

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