Children adore being hugged by their parents. But did you know that this simple expression of love for your child is at the heart of a hugely significant and influential area of research by psychologists known as ‘Attachment Theory’, and can have a significant effect on your child’s academic and social success?
What is Attachment Theory?
Attachment Theory describes the special emotional relationship between a care-giver (usually the parents) and a child. That relationship involves the development of a secure emotional attachment through the exchange of comfort and care which makes a child feel secure and safe, and sets a solid emotional and psychological foundation for life.
Psychologist John Bowlby, the world’s best-known researcher of Attachment Theory, found that children who formed secure attachment with their parents at an early age have:
- higher self esteem
- greater academic success
- increased ability to manage their impulses and their feelings
- increased ability to cope with difficulties
- positive relationships with parents and other care-givers – and with authority figures.
Studies have shown that securely-attached children are less disruptive, less aggressive, and more mature. They are better able to concentrate, and therefore learn more effectively and more successfully.
Bowlby’s extensive research revealed that the best way to achieve a strong Attachment with a child is through what he called ‘Bonding Experiences’.
What are Bonding Experiences?
While it is always valuable for parents to spend as much time as possible with their children, just being in the same room with a child is not necessarily a bonding experience.
Cooking a meal, or vacuuming the house, washing the car or even sitting knitting can all become bonding experiences, if you share the experience with your child in a fun, loving way, with lots of tactile attention and eye-contact, verbal interaction and encouragement, fun and laughter.
Then there are the quiet times, which you set aside to just be close and share with your child. These include talking about shared experiences, reading a book together, singing a song or sharing a poem. The acts of holding, rocking, singing, feeding, gazing, kissing and other nurturing behaviours involved in caring for infants and young children are all bonding experiences.
A bonding experience typically has four elements;
- The parent is paying attention to the child;
- Parent and child are interacting in some way by having verbal and/or non-verbal exchanges and may be doing an activity together
- Positive emotions are experienced in rapport between the parent and child. (Being ‘in rapport’ is most easily defined as connecting or sharing – as being ‘in tune’ with one another at an emotional level.)
- Bonding often involves touch, such as hugging.
Even half an hour a day will make a world of difference to your child – and to you! It will ease your stress and has, for many parents we have worked with, become the period of the day they most look forward to.
Characteristics of Children and Adults with Secure Attachment
Securely-attached children become secure adults. Below is a table, adapted from the work of John Bowlby (1988), which describes the behaviours of securely-attached children and how these behaviours evolve as they grow to adulthood.
|1. Able to separate from parent with confidence
||1. Have trusting and lasting relationships
|2. Seek comfort from parents when frightened
||2. Tend to have good self-esteem
|3. Return of parents is met with positive emotions
||3. Comfortable sharing feelings with friends and partners
|4. Prefers parents to strangers
||4. Seek out social support
Bonding is Not Spoiling
Parents of securely-attached children tend to play more with their children. Additionally, these parents react more quickly to their children’s needs and are generally more responsive than parents of insecurely-attached children.
Of course, bonding with children is different to spoiling them.
While being there and sharing time and experiences are crucial, this does not mean submitting to every whim of the child. Nor does it mean compensating for a lack of attention by attempting to buy happiness with gifts.
Research worldwide shows that as society has grown more materially wealthy – as more ‘things’ have become available for children – the incidence of depression and emotional problems has also increased.
Remember the Reverend Jesse Jackson’s perceptive and often-quoted observation:
“Your children need your presence more than your presents.”
Bonding – the Easiest Parenting Task of All!
Of all the things parents must do to take care of their children, Bonding is not only the easiest, but it is the least expensive and the most enjoyable. And of all the things a parent can do to make the greatest impact on their child’s future happiness and success, bonding with your child to create a secure attachment has by far the greatest impact.
It all starts with a simple hug…
Suggested Reading: 6 Positive Ways to Manage Sibling Rivalry