Attachment Explanation #3
What is Attachment?
Simply put, attachment is two hearts yearning for connection with each other. This delicate phenomenon can and should occur in every parent/child relationship. Like an heirloom quilt that comes together one stitch at a time, attachment between a parent and child is uniquely precious and happens gradually over a lifetime.
While there are as many tools to build attachment as there are individuals in the world, the Attachment Mindset does have a few principle threads that are commonly woven through all securely attached relationships.
From the caregiver's perspective:
Attachment is accepting someone AS IS.
Attachment is gracefully guiding someone who is out of balance.
Attachment is embracing the need to endure tough moments without worrying whether behaviors or circumstances will ever improve.
Attachment is a willingness to bear burdens for or with someone when those burdens are not bearable alone.
How does this translate to parenting?
As discussed in explanations 1 and 2, all children are vulnerable and innocent. Children’s underdeveloped brains are incapable of processing the reality and burdens in their environment without things getting pretty messy. Because Primitive Power is such a naturally strong force in young children and children are years away from developing enough Mindful Management ability to balance the weight of the world on their own, children NEED YOU!
Present Parenting designates the first 3 years of a child’s life as the Attachment Stage. During these years when a child’s brain is especially vulnerable, parents and caregivers sacrifice their own time and attention to accept and nurture the child as is. While sleep patterns, proper behavior, and potty training are all handy skills to learn in life, NOTHING and I repeat NOTHING should trump attachment as the main goal during the first 3 years. Mature behavior comes with greater brain development, not with unruly amounts of parental control. And greater brain development comes with time AND when a parent’s behavioral goals for a child support attachment growth rather than diminishing it.
The Attachment Mindset works very closely with the Following Stage mindset that dominates for several more years. Both the Attachment Mindset and the Following Mindset give children time and space--for many years in fact--to feel innocent. Instead of a child feeling shame and blame and full accountability for primitive behaviors, parents respectfully carry the weight of the child’s behavior until the child’s brain is ready to transition from the important stepping stone of self-preservation to much wiser behavioral choices that incorporate whole-picture accountability. The Attachment Mindset is also an important tool during times of self-defensive vulnerability throughout an older child’s life.
Attachment is nurturing a child without parental anxiety or expectations that push a child to progress prematurely against a child’s natural timeline. This is a gift of love and acceptance that sinks deep into the child’s emotional memory and unlocks the child’s heart to future prefrontal cortex growth in coming years.
So what does the Attachment Mindset look like?
A secure attachment bond between parent and child comes in many forms and will be unique for every parent-child relationship. Birth-bonding, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby-wearing, holding, rocking, eye-contact, smiling at, singing to, and talking with babies are common natural attachment tools with infants. Playtime, lap time, copy time, and tantrum support, as well as mindful management of behavioral limits, daily care, and nighttime support are all helpful attachment tools for toddlers and young children.
Of course circumstances and family patterns will and should dictate personal variations and combinations of attachment patterns. So how can a parent choose which attachment tools to use? And how can a parent discern how much of the attachment mindset is enough before moving up the Accountability Pyramid? The answer is uniquely complex to every family and child and yet simple for all. Listen to your heart. Practice personal mindfulness to gain a peaceful heart in each situation, then listen to your heart to know what your child truly needs in a given moment.
Also, beware of common detachment practices like punishing, isolating, blaming, manipulating, or coldly ignoring a child. These primitive parental behaviors ignite a child’s Primitive Power rather than help the child develop Mindful Management skills. For more details on why, see Attachment Explanation #4. But in short, detachment tactics teach a child, by example, how to self-defend rather than to act mindfully. Indeed, detachment practices close down a child’s heart rather than warming it up to lay a foundation for future mindfulness skills. Detachment practices can even trap children as they approach pre-puberty because repeated self-defense over many years causes a child’s reactiveness to develop out of control and become too strong for the developing PFC to handle.
So, during the attachment years, it’s helpful to remember that your primary goal--above all other behavioral expectations and societal norms--is to feel the warmth from your heart radiating to your child’s heart to build trust in prep for future brain development.
As you experiment with various attachment tools, ask yourself, “Do I have a peaceful heart? Can my child sense my peaceful heart? Is my child learning to trust me? Does my child regularly seek my comfort, approval, eye contact, engagement, and protection? In times of stress, can my child depend on me to bear the portion of the burden that my child’s body isn’t yet capable of handling? Can my child feel my acceptance of the current moment and my confidence that greater growth is on the horizon? Is my Mindful Management a source of peaceful balance for my child’s Primitive Power?
If you are reaching your child’s heart, then you are balancing your child’s Primitive Power and nurturing your child’s heart-to-brain pathways which will become the key to helping your child’s own Mindful Management develop over the course of many years.
If the answer is no to any of the above questions:
Take some time to self-reflect. Be honest about your true intentions. Focus on healing from personal trauma. Practice building your own endurance. Consider re-prioritizing your expectations, time, and resources to better meet your child’s needs. Assess your understanding of and willingness to sacrifice on behalf of the innocent.
If the concept of mindful attachment is new to you, you’ll likely need to practice the attachment mindset for weeks and months until it feels more natural. Look for Focus on ME challenges in the mindfulness section of this website for ideas that increase personal growth and mindfulness. Review examples of practical application of the Attachment Mindset as part of the free class as well.