Many people asking for context on this post, so I will try my best to explain the logic behind each of these.
1. Leaving them alone for a minute, even when they are upset
It is always ideal to tend to your child and support their big emotions. However, a dysregulated parent (one who is yelling, threatening, shaming, spanking) is not going to be able to help their child to co-regulate. If they are unable to self-regulate in their child’s presence (which many can’t due to their own childhood traumas) then they may need to take a quick break to self-regulate. That’s why I created the Guide to Survival Mode Plans so that parents can have a plan of action for those moments and can feel less out of control. Overtime, they become more able to self-regulate, in their child’s presence, as they become more aware and in tune with their own emotions and less scared of them.
2. Not being responsive 24/7
Responsive care is the foundation of attachment. The parent does need to be mostly responsive but that does not mean finishing up in the bathroom or changing your toddlers diaper while your baby cries is going to harm their attachment quality.
3. Getting frustrated and overwhelmed at times
If you consistently lash out at your child, punish them, blame them, reject them… yeah, that’s going to negatively impact your attachment. Especially if you are not making efforts to repair after. But if you just lose your patience sometimes, yell, don’t always use gentle phrases… these are not things that will likely impact your child’s attachment quality. Although, your child may be more used to a responsive version of you and so you may not be meeting their attachment needs in that moment. That does not mean your attachment is “broken.” One of my therapists, who used to be a CPS social worker and specialized in attachment and trauma told me “if your plan is to never yell or lose your patience with your children, your setting yourself up for failure. Everybody loses their patience sometimes. Just apologize.” I can’t tell you how helpful that was coming from her.
4. Going back to work
If going to work effected attachment, then most people would be insecurely attached and they are not. Most of the original research done on attachment, by Bowlby and Ainsworth, in the 80’s was done with children and families in child care settings. The whole theory is based off children who have multiple caregivers. Yes being home with 1 parent until 18 months supports the development of attachment and I do believe that should not be a privilege but a right. However, simply going back to work does not guarantee a negative impact on attachment. Nor does staying home with them guarantee secure attachment but it makes it easier. As long as the child continues to be responded to, most of the time, their secure attachment should remain.
5. Stopping breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is one tool that is available to many parents but not all. Breastfeeding does support attachment. Not breastfeeding does not harm attachment… do you see the difference? Stopping breastfeeding has nothing to do with attachment and in fact, if the parent is able to become more responsive when they stop, then it could be argued that it may actually support secure attachment in certain cases.
* for context, I breastfed all 3 of my children into toddlerhood but support a parents right to choose.
6. Not playing with them every time they ask
Within the emergent curriculum approach that we take to care and learning, we see the educators/parents as a facilitator and not an active participant. Why? We get in the way 🤷♀️ Adults are not as good at child-led play. So we actually support independent play, as much as possible (I feel like I’m going to get slammed for this one which is why I rarely discuss it). As a parent, this has been really helpful because my children’s play time is often when I get to do my 2 work from home jobs or clean my house a bit. It’s confusing to me that people are so offended by the idea of independent play, since I’ve been taught it’s optimal for brain development.
7. Taking time to yourself, even if it upsets them
I’ll tell a pretty personal story to drive this point home. When my 2nd was just over a year, I started trauma therapy. The therapy was necessary (I won’t get into why but my life was definitely at risk) and I had been on a wait list for a while. It was 3 hours all together, right at bedtime and he was a consistent sleeper. Every night I would come home from this trauma group and if he had not passed out from crying and hyperventilating, he would crash into my arms, nursing as he gasped for breath. My husband would say he was like that for over an hour. It was awful… I often questioned if it was worth it… But… what else could I do? He was going to be crying a lot longer if I didn’t get the help I needed. So I held onto that knowledge that I did not have to be 100%. I could just try my best and being comforted by Daddy, although ineffective, was the best I could do and that was good enough. Well he is 4 and the definition of securely attached. I have absolutely no concerns about how that time effected him although I did at that time. It was hard for all of us but we got through it. That is an extreme example but the logic remains. Sometimes, not always, we need to choose between 2 not so great options.
8. Not always having their favourite cup/plate/blanket available
These items can provide a sense of security and control but they have no link to attachment theory. Unless you look at always providing them as being responsive, which it is. Usually these things just make the day go smoother and provide a transition item, a support item, something to play with or focus on but they do not relate to attachment directly. It definitely can be argued that by usually having their favourite things available, you are letting them know that you care about how they feel and what they want. This definitely supports attachment, but none of my 3 kids have ever had a special cup or blanket or toy, so not every child has the same needs around these things.
9. Not stopping the car when they are crying
Crying in the car is soooo hard!!! I am in full support of whatever makes it the least stressful for the person driving. If that means stopping, stop. If that means just get THERE… I am in support of that too. You can comfort your baby verbally, singing, with a hand, if you can reach. No they likely will not stop crying. They are mad. They want to get out of the car or car seat. The only way to solve that problem is to get to the destination. The best way to meet their need is to just get there, SAFELY, and get them out of that car ASAP
10. Going away, without them
If you are a parent who goes away fairly regularly but you are still the primary caregiver and responsive when you are there, this should not effect attachment. It will be less stressful if your child has a strong secondary attachment but it should not effect their overall attachment quality. Now let’s discuss a parent who is away more than home. A child will attach to the person they spend the most time with, regardless of biology or gender. So this can be a grandparent or baby sitter. They will attach, for sure, whether they are securely or insecurely attached does depend on responsiveness. It is assumed that if one parent goes away frequently, the other parent or caregiver would be the primary attachment figure. These situations are more complex and nuanced as the child’s secondary attachment tends to be as strong as their primary attachment figure but secure attachment depends on the responsiveness of the people with the child, most of the time. Children will often show big emotions upon a parents return, sometimes causing parents to feel the attachment was harmed in some way. Whether they cast you off for a bit or cry uncontrollably… these are all signs that they are relieved to see you but mad that you left and those feelings are valid. A securely attached child would be mad if their parent left for a few days but just like we make all kinds of choices they don’t like, their anger should not be a definitive reason not to do something. It’s ok to feel angry, sad, frustrated. Those are emotions everyone feels. It’s also fine to cancel your trip, if you really don’t feel comfortable leaving your child. That sounds like something I would do, honestly. But if I had to go, I would. And I would worry about a lot of things but their attachment quality would not be one of them.
Reference: Susan Goldberg (2000) Attachment and Development
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