People who have developed this type of attachment are self-contented, social, warm, and easy to connect to. They are aware of and able to express their feelings. They also tend to build deep, meaningful, and long-lasting relationships.
Parents who want to raise securely attached children might benefit from researching the topic and resolving their own attachment issues, if such exist.
The 5 conditions necessary for raising a child with secure attachment
1. The child feels safe
First and foremost, as a parent you want your child to feel protected. If your child feels protected, it feels safe.
For the infant and toddler, safety means closeness to the mother, as she is the source of food, warmth, and protection. Danger means separation from her, beyond the comfort zone.
The attuned mother is fiercely protective but not overwhelming, intrusive, or ignoring. She gives her child space and freedom to explore the world, but stays close enough, so that the child has a felt sense of safety.
When the infant strays too far and becomes frightened, they know that they can run to her and envelop her in a warm, protective embrace, secured against the world.
This conveys a message: “You are safe. You are loved. You are lovable.”
2. The child feels seen and known (attunement)
Attuned parents can read their baby’s cues accurately and respond to their needs accurately.
Attuned responses give infants information about the effects of their behavior.
Children learn that when they signal a need, they can expect a prompt, predictable, and accurate response.
The result for the baby is a feeling of control over their lives, starting early on:
- When I signal that I’m hungry, and I get fed
- If I signal that I’m tired, and my caregiver rocks me to sleep
- When I signal that I’m upset, and my caregiver soothes my distress
3. The child feels comfort, soothing and reassurance
The attuned parent’s arms are open and inviting.
When the child is distressed, the caregiver reassures and soothes the child back to a calm emotional state.
Helping the child manage their distress and frustrations will help them develop an internal model of being soothed and comforted.
Over time, the child will develop the ability to manage his or her own distress and self-soothing.
4. The child feels valued/Delighted in their being
Feeling valued begins in infancy and is the foundation of healthy self-esteem development.
Parents who raise children with healthy self-esteem repeatedly express their joy about who the child is rather than what the child does. They focus on Being rather than Doing.
Such parents exhibit “expressed delight” to the child and about almost everything the child does. They focus not on the chores, but on the joys of parenting.
5. The child feels supported to explore
Lastly, children need to feel supported to explore their world joyfully and safely.
Parents who champion this have a deep faith in their child and always provide him or her with a safety net. Deeply involved in their child’s life, parents give the child space and thrust him or her towards autonomy and independence.
This sense of security allows the child to explore, discover, succeed, and fail; and through such exploration, the child develops a good, autonomous, strong, and unique sense of self.
Being as predictable as possible with the child
Now, let’s go back to the point of not breaking the child’s trust in you. The key here does not lie in the details, but rather in your general approach towards parenting. A small mistake, here and there, will not cause your child to become insecurely attached to you.
There are, however, a few things you might want to aim at. Inconsistency (in parents) is one of the key risk factors for the development of insecure attachment styles (in children).
Do not change your strategy too often. Knowing what to expect gives the child a sense of stability and calmness. You do not want your child to be on edge all the time.
Another central risk factor for building an insecure attachment with your child is not being aware of your own emotions and emotional needs. If you have an insecure attachment style yourself, you are likely to pass it on to the next generation.
So, if you suspect you might have attachment issues, it may be a good idea to make sense of those with someone close to you, with a therapist, or through self-help books and online courses.
One final note here: keep calm. You don’t need to stress over each and every detail of your parenting or relationship with your child: secure attachment is all about the child’s trust in you and your love.
Bowlby, J. (1988). A Secure Base: Parent-Child Attachment and Healthy Human Development. Tavistock professional book. London: Routledge.
Brown, D. P., & Elliott, D. S. (2016). Attachment disturbances in adults: Treatment for comprehensive repair. WW Norton & Co.
Keller, H. (2018). Universality claim of attachment theory: Children’s socioemotional development across cultures. PNAS, 115(45), 11414-11419.
Mikulincer, M., Shaver, P.R. (2007). Attachment in Adulthood: Structure, Dynamics, and Change. Guilford Press.