The importance of the attachment bond is well recognized. How can you develop this bond?
The attachment bond is an emotional connection that a baby first develops with their parents or the people who take care of them most often. This relationship is very important because it allows a toddler to feel secure and develop in a healthy manner.
The importance of a strong attachment bond
A baby who develops a stable and secure attachment bond with their parents in their early years of life is more likely to be well prepared to handle difficult situations throughout their life. On the contrary, a baby who has not been able to form this close bond might experience difficulties in several spheres of life later on, as well as difficulties in their relationships with others.
The attachment bond is strengthened as you respond to your child’s needs in a fast, consistent, and warm manner. This secure bond produces several positive effects on the child’s development:
- A baby who can rely on their parents to meet their needs develops self-confidence. They feel safe to explore their surrounding environment. They are also more likely to trust others.
The early years of life are very important to establishing a strong attachment bond, however this bond is developed throughout childhood and even throughout life.
- A child who feels loved and worthy of affection develops a positive perception of themselves and others. In turn, it becomes easier for them to reach out to others and have new experiences.
- A child who feels safe has an easier time to learn and to properly develop their motor skills and intelligence.
- A child who develops a stable attachment bond has a greater ability to adapt to different situations in life. They feel supported by their loved ones and manage to better control their emotions in stressful situations. For example, being separated from their parents when beginning daycare or school may be easier.
- A child with a secure attachment bond demonstrates more ease in learning social skills. They demonstrate more empathy and cooperation toward others. This helps them form positive relationships with other children as well as with the daycare and school staff.
- A child who has developed a good attachment bond with their parents is more likely to experience healthy relationships later. They are also more likely to be satisfied at work.
How to nurture a secure attachment bond
Parlez-lui tout petit (in French)
Initially, the baby establishes a stronger attachment bond with the parent who takes care of them most often and with whom they spend the most time. This parent then becomes their primary attachment figure. The young child also forms a bond with the other parent as long as they provide them with attention and comfort. This is why it is important for both parents to be involved with their child. For example, during maternity and parental leave, it is important for the father or other parent who is not on leave to also participate in the baby’s care to nurture the attachment bond.
An attachment bond can also form with an aunt, a grandparent, an educator, etc. However, the bond formed with their parents remains the most important. In the event that one or both of the parents are absent, the attachment bond with the child’s main caregivers is the most important.
Some behaviours promote the development of an attachment bond:
Before 18 months, a child is unable to act difficult, because their brain has not fully developed. If your baby is crying to be held, it is because they need reassurance, so you are not spoiling your child when you meet their needs. Instead, you are teaching them that they can rely on you.
- Meet your baby’s needs with affection, tenderness, and consistency. For example, when your baby starts crying, try to provide them with what they need, whether it is feeding, a diaper change, or a cuddle. Sometimes you have to try several things before knowing what they want. Other times you won’t be able to comfort them, but you will at least be by their side. Over time, you will learn to recognize your baby’s signals and to respond more effectively to their needs.
- Respond quickly to your baby’s crying. This will help them feel less stress. Your baby thus learns that they can count on you to ensure their comfort and safety.
- Interact affectionately with your baby. Rock them, hold them in your arms, and speak gently to them. You can also respond to their smiles by smiling, talking, or singing to them.
- Accept your child for who they are, with their strengths and weaknesses. This will allow them to feel that they can be loved and fosters the development of good self-esteem.
- Keep in mind that your baby only needs a good parent, not a perfect one. Don’t worry about the mistakes you might make, as long as your child knows that they can rely on you most of the time, they can adapt.
Daycare: What impact does it have on attachment?
Some parents have concerns about the effect that daycare will have on their child’s relationship with them. When the attachment bond is strong and you choose a quality daycare facility, there are usually no problems. The bond between a toddler and their parents will remain strong even if they attend daycare. Moreover, as most toddlers enter a daycare facility around the age of 1, they have already had the time to create a strong bond with their parents.
Since your child trusts you and knows that you will always come back to get them, they are able to develop an attachment bond with the educator without it negatively affecting their special relationship with you. Don’t worry if your toddler is running off without even a hug to be with their daycare group. This does not mean that their attachment bond has weakened, it is usually a sign that your toddler is doing well and having fun at their daycare.
However, if the daycare facility is of poor quality and your child does not receive a quick, warm, and appropriate response to their needs, they may experience difficulties bonding with their educator. They may also be more worried when you go away, because you are leaving them in an environment that is not secure to them. For more information, see our fact sheet: Lien d’attachement et la garderie (in French).
Why is attachment sometimes difficult?
Certain types of situations can make attachment a little more complicated (e.g., when a baby born prematurely or sick must spend a lot of time in hospital instead of being at home with their parents).
In such case, parents should take advantage of every moment they spend with their baby to develop a bond. For example, they can talk and sing lullabies to them even if they are in an incubator, as well as rock them and practise skin to skin contact whenever possible. These repeated actions make it possible to gradually build an attachment bond.
Attachment can also be difficult if the parents are not available to meet their baby’s needs. For example, depression or any other illness of a parent, grief, substance abuse, poverty, social isolation, domestic violence, or marital conflict can hinder the attachment bond. When a parent is not feeling well, it is very difficult for them to properly take care of their child and to make them feel safe.
Some parents who have experienced difficulties during their own childhood may also have difficulty meeting the needs of their baby in a way that fosters attachment. For example, a parent raised in a family in which their needs were ignored could have difficulty understanding the baby’s signals and meeting their needs. Consequently, they may neglect their child.
Effects of an insecure attachment
When a child is unsure that they can rely on their parents, they experience uncertainty and stress. They then develop what is referred to as an insecure attachment bond.
Insecure attachment manifests in different ways and can hinder the child’s development.
- A child who hasn’t been able to form a healthy attachment bond may strive to always remain physically close to their parent and be afraid to be away from them. As a result, they are less interested in exploring their environment.
- A child who has developed an insecure attachment could internalize their distress and rarely turn to their parent when experiencing difficulties. They avoid using their parent as a source of comfort, as if they have given up on the idea of having someone meet their needs. This is the case when the parent is less emotionally available to their child and has a tendency to ignore their requests. The child will prefer avoid asking for things, rather than risk being rejected.
- In the absence of a secure attachment bond, a child may have difficulty to manage their emotions, cry often, and be very difficult to calm. They may also have difficulty connecting with others and experience more conflict with children of their age.
- A child who has developed an insecure attachment bond has a higher likelihood of experiencing dissatisfaction later in their couple relationships, and even potential domestic violence. Relationships at work may also be a source of conflict.
Is it possible to rebuild an attachment bond?
Fortunately, when the situation improves, the child-parent attachment bond can be improved. This could be the case, for example, when a mother recovers from depression and can now better care for her baby. The younger the child, the easier it is for them to restore their trust in the adult.
Conversely, the older the child, the more time and effort it takes to reestablish the bond. That is why parents who are having difficulty caring for their child should immediately seek help from a loved one, a physician, or the CLSC. Various programs are available to help them. In some regions, there are even training courses to teach parents to better understand their child and meet their needs.
When should I ask for help?
If you feel unable to take care of your baby as a result of experiencing depression or any other reason, ask your partner or a family member for help. Consult your physician or contact your CLSC to find out about the services available in your area. Similarly, if you do not understand your baby’s needs despite your ability to care for them, consult your physician. Your toddler may have health problems.
To learn more about the attachment bond, consult our fact sheet: The importance of attachment
Things to keep in mind
The attachment bond is an emotional connection that a baby develops with their parents or the people who take care of them most often.
The attachment bond develops as you respond to your child’s needs quickly, consistently, and in a nurturing manner.
A good attachment bond allows a child to feel safe to explore their environment, reach out to others, and adapt to difficult situations.
Scientific review: Lory Zephyr, psychologist
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: October 2021
Photos: iStock.com/Kryu et GettyImages/Martina Bimbaum
Useful links and resources
Note: Hyperlinks to other sites are not updated on a continuous basis. Thus, some links may not work. In such case, use the search tools to find specific information.
ENCYCLOPEDIA ON EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT. Quelle est l’importance d’un lien sécurisé entre l’enfant et son parent?www.enfant-encyclopedie.com
GAUTHIER, Yvon et al. L’attachement, un départ pour la vie. Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2009, 144 pp.
LABORATOIRE D’ÉTUDES SUR LE DÉVELOPPEMENT DE L’ENFANT ET SA FAMILLE. https://chantal-cyr.uqam.ca
MACNAMARA, Deborah. Jouer, grandir et s’épanouir : le rôle de l’attachement dans le développement de l’enfant. Les Éditions au Carré, 2017, 309 pp.
SIEGEL, Daniel J. and Tina PAYNE BRYSON. L’attachement : comment créer ce lien qui donne confiance à votre enfant pour la vie? Guy Saint-Jean Éditeur, 2021, 336 pp.