What Parents Should Know About Attachment

We know that attachment is the single greatest predictor of how well a child will do in life. In this post, we take a look at what that means for parents. 

By Momentous Institute | Jun 23, 2021
Parents Should Know About Attachment

We know that attachment is the single greatest predictor of how well a child will do in life. However, attachment theory has only been around since the early 1970s, and as with any theory, it has taken many years of research for us to fully understand how attachment affects children and adults. This means that the majority of adults today were not raised by parents with a strong understanding of attachment styles. In this post, we’re going to take a look at why this is important.

There are four different attachment styles: secure attachment, ambivalent-insecure attachment, avoidant-insecure attachment and disorganized-insecure attachment. Secure attachment is the goal. A child with secure attachment has parents who predictably meet their need and has a sense of security in the world.

For a deeper look into the different attachment styles, check out our blog post ‘What is Attachment?’

The attachment styles a child experiences from a young age affect how their brain is wired. Attachment in childhood wires our brains to know whether or not someone is going to show up for us and keep us safe. This affects how we understand relationships to work later in life. Everyone has patterns of attachment, and we can each have multiple patterns of attachment. It is important to understand this because patterns of attachment can become trans-generational. Let’s take a look at how this can work.

Growing up, Sarah’s parents weren’t able to help her manage strong emotions, leaving her on her own to deal with them. Her brain wired itself to deal with emotions by essentially ignoring them.

Sarah had a son named Brandon. Because Sarah was left to deal with her emotions on her own during her childhood, she did not know how to help her son mange his emotions during his childhood. As with his mother, Brandon’s brain wired itself to dismiss and avoid his emotions.

Sarah and Brandon’s story is an example of how patterns of attachment can become trans-generational. Individuals are only able to use the tools they have at their disposal. The good news is that once we become aware of this, we can make a conscious effort to develop the tools that we currently don’t have. Let’s take a look at how Brandon did this when he became a parent.

When Brandon became a parent to his daughter Iliana, he noticed that when she would experience strong emotions, he didn’t know how to help her. He had always felt uncomfortable dealing with emotions, but once he saw his daughter struggling with her emotions, he wanted to help, but felt unable to do so.

After doing some research and discussing the situation with his partner, Brandon learned about attachment styles and how they can wire someone’s brain to respond in a certain way. He engaged in self-reflection and realized that his responses were because of the pattern of attachment he experienced when he was a child. Knowing this, he began to make an effort to develop skills and tools so that he could show up for his daughter and make her feel secure when she experiences strong emotions.

Just like Brandon, we all have the ability to provide our children with a pattern of secure attachment. However, to do so, sometimes we have to do a lot of self-reflecting and digging into our own past. When we understand how we were parented and how our own brains have been wired towards relationships, we are able to recognize patterns that we are repeating and break them. This process allows us to increase our capacity to see and respond to our children’s needs.

Reflecting can be hard. Digging around in your past and thinking about your emotions is not easy and often draining. However, it can also be healing. It can not only help you show up for your children the way that you want to, but it can help you develop a sense of compassion for yourself and empathy for the parents or caregivers who raised you.

So, how do you get started?

First, make a commitment that you are going to do your best to show up for your child and make them feel secure. Dr. Tina Payne Bryson and Dr. Dan Siegel coined the 4 S’s in their book The Power of Showing Up. The 4 S’s are: Safe, Seen, Soothed and Secure.

When you are unsure if you are showing up for your child the way you need to in any given moment, take a second to ask yourself the following:

  • Am I making my child feel safe?
  • Does my child feel seen?
  • Am I soothing my child?
  • Does my child feel secure?

Sometimes, showing up for your child can be simply saying, “You’re safe. I’m here and we’ll figure this out.”

Second, make a commitment to yourself to do the work. About 40% of the population does not have a secure attachment with their parents. Remember, everyone can have multiple patterns of attachment. So, chances are, doing the work and self-reflecting will help you develop some tools that you may not have right now.

This work can be done in different ways. You can reference books such as The Power of Showing Up or listen to our podcast episode with Dr. Tina Payne Bryson on attachment. Or, you can seek our help from a professional therapist to help guide you through this process.

Alright, we’ve covered a lot, and we know that learning about and addressing attachment styles can feel very overwhelming. So, let’s end on a positive note. Having a secure attachment with your child does not mean that you are showing up perfectly; it means that you are showing up predictably. No one is perfect, but we don’t have to be. The great news is that research tells us that if a parent shows up predictably just 30% of the time, a child is probably securely attached. So make a commitment to explore your own attachment styles and to show up consistently and predictably for your children. In doing so, you’ll be setting them up on a lifelong (and multi-generational) path to wellbeing and success.