How Children can benefit from Secure Attachment

When you and your child form a strong attachment, they learn to grow and adapt to the world around them. It provides them with a healthy sense of self and competence. Most of us are aware attachment is an important part of healthy development. Yet we may not know exactly why attachment is so important or understand how secure attachment occurs. While it’s easiest to form a secure attachment bond with an infant, it can be formed at any age—and can ensure your child has the best possible start in life. Babies need a secure attachment for many reasons including to survive and grow, to become individuals and to thrive in relationships. The attachment bond is the emotional connection formed by wordless communication between an infant and you, their parent or primary caretaker.

A landmark report, published in 2000 by The Committee on Integrating the Science of Early Childhood Development, identified how crucial the attachment bond is to a child’s development. This form of communication affects the way your child develops mentally, physically, intellectually, emotionally, and socially. In fact, the strength of this relationship is the main predictor of how well your child will do both in school and in life.

How does Secure Attachment occur?

Secure attachment occurs when a child has a safe, consistent, reciprocal relationship with a preferred person–typically the child’s primary caregiver. When the caregiver is sensitive to the child’s needs and responds in ways that are warm, nurturing, and make the child feel safe, the child begins to use this person as a secure base from which to explore and, when necessary, as a haven of safety and comfort (Waters & Cummings, 2000 cited in Benoit, 2004; Moulin, et al., 2014). If a caregiver is consistently available, responsive, and nurturing, by the final months of the first year the child’s attachment to that person is very likely to be “secure,” meaning the child is confident the caregiver will always be available to help or save them (Bowlby, 1982; Wolpert, 1999).

The brain grows rapidly during the first three years of life. Experiences shape how the brain grows. When it is stimulated in positive ways, the brain forms connections related to those experiences. For example, talking, singing, and reading to children help form brain pathways related to language.

Secure attachment

Attachment affects brain development in two important ways. First, because the child feels safe and cared for, the brain can use its energy to develop pathways crucial for higher-level thinking. Secure attachment is particularly related to the development of the frontal cortex, which is responsible for decision making, judgment, and reasoning (DeBellis & Thomas, 2003; Dozier, et al., 2008). Second, by providing a “home base” from which a child can safely explore the world, the secure attachment allows the child to have more varied experiences and therefore build more connections in the brain. Attachment to a primary caregiver is the foundation of all future relationships. When there is a secure attachment, you learn how to trust others, how to respond emotionally, and how others will respond to you (Bowlby, 1982).

The characteristics of secure attachment are one of the most researched aspects of attachment. It has been studied for well over 50 years by many different professionals researching cultures from many different countries. Overall, the list says children who have a secure attachment will benefit in the following ways:

1) They will feel more happiness and less anger toward their parents
2) They can solve problems on their own and ask for help when they are in trouble
3) They have lasting friendships and get along better with their friends
4) They have better sibling relationships
5) They feel better about themselves and what they can contribute
6) They are more protected against feeling hopeless or helpless about life
7) They trust the people they love and know how to be kind
8) They believe that good things will happen

Secure attachment can lead to social competence. Relationships are a very important factor in the context of health and happiness. The concept of social competence includes all the ways we can benefit from the social parts of our lives: intimacy, mutual support, empathy, and getting along with others in all areas of life such as school, work, home, and community. Social relationships affect a range of health outcomes, including mental health, physical health, health habits, and mortality risk.