6 Practical Strategies to Improve Secure Attachment
Cathy adopted her sixteen year old daughter, Rachel, from foster care at eight months of age. Cathy shares, “Rachel is on the dance team at school. This week they performed in front of the whole school, and Rachel was really nervous!”
“I saw her walk into the gym, and I was worried she wouldn’t find me. I waited while she looked around the room. Finally, our eyes met, and at the same time we pointed at each other. I gave her a thumbs up, and I could see her relax.”
Cathy’s story tells a lot about her (secure) attachment with Rachel who looks to her for connection, comfort, and safety.
In a secure or healthy attachment, the child seeks comfort from her caregiver and prefers her over strangers. In turn, the child feels safe, emotionally secure, and protected. Additionally, the child seeks their parent for emotional and physical connection when they are frightened, hurt. or if they become separated.
Secure attachments develop from available, consistent, and sensitive caregiving. An attachment forms from repeated interactions between the child and caregiver.
6 Practical Strategies to Improve Attachment
Following are practical strategies to use in relationship with your child. Practice these interactions as you work to improve your emotional connection.
1.Identify thoughts and feelings. Find alone time to listen to your child’s thoughts and feelings, especially ones that are hard to acknowledge. Say to your child, “I want to hear how you feel. Your feelings are important to me.” One hallmark of secure attachment is the ability to share feelings. Help your child to develop this skill.
2. Repair breaks in your relationship. Anytime you mess up (and we all do!) make sure take responsibility for your mistake, and apologize. When you apologize, you repair the break.
3. Validate your child’s feelings. Any time your child chooses to share, validate them. Validating helps a child feel heard and understood. Summarize their statement or use sentence starters, “What I’m hearing is . . . “ “It make sense to me that you’re feeling . . . “ or “I understand that you’re feeling . . . “.
4. Gently point out distancing behaviors. When your child is distancing, use kind honesty to point it out. Say to your child, “I think you are pushing my love away by ignoring me/pushing me away/being mean to me.”
5. Write. When your child is reluctant or refuses to talk, encourage him or her to share feelings through writing. It is a great first step towards verbal sharing.
6. Draw the feeling words. Feelings can be overwhelming. Draw the five feeling words (happy, sad, mad, scared, and loving) on paper, and ask your child to circle how he or she feels. Again, this is another step in the right direction to verbally sharing feelings.
Carol Lozier is a therapist, author, and blogger specializing in trauma; and adoptive and foster kids, teens, and adults. Ms. Lozier is in private practice in Louisville, KY.