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By Steve Dennis
The feeling that binds us to the significant people in our lives is often called "attachment." In general use, the term "attach" might mean to tie, to fasten, or to connect one thing to another. If one car was being towed by another, we might hope the connecting rope or the "attachment" is strong enough to meet the challenge. With a rope, each new thread when woven with others adds to the overall strength of the rope. Though individually insignificant, hundreds of threads woven together can create a rope that is nearly unbreakable. The attachment relationship between parent and child is much like a rope. Each positive interaction between parent and child adds a new thread and strengthens the overall emotional connection.
Attachment is a mutual process. Therefore, it is important to think of parents being connected to children and as well as children being connected to parents.
When children are emotionally attached to a community of individuals who care for them, they receive valuable support that helps them grow and develop. Children with healthy attachments are more likely to explore and take appropriate risks. Through their adventures and attachment relationships they learn about right and wrong. They learn how to interpret various experiences. They learn social skills that help them maintain existing relationships and develop new ones. And they learn to be both self-reliant and to work well with others. In short, they develop a variety of skills that are not easily learned through direct instruction. Social and emotional lessons are best learned through relationships.
Infancy is the ideal time develop a healthy attachment. Not only because there is a lifetime ahead in which to make a difference, but also because of the overwhelming dependence of an infant on adults. Because infants depend on others to fulfill their needs, there are many opportunities for adults to emotionally invest themselves in the relationship as they care for them. Changing diapers, feeding, bathing, changing diapers, rocking, soothing, and changing diapers all help infants to develop trust and a caring adult to develop commitment. Even the cute looks, subtle smiles, and baby fat seem almost designed to keep adults close and involved. One observer noted, "we serve those we love and we love those we serve." So it is in the very act of attentive caring that attachment is born.
Children can develop a healthy attachment with others without interfering with the parent-child attachment. In fact, a healthy attachment with a child care provider can enhance the attachment between parent and child. Just as the skills we learn at work may help us at home, so to may the social-emotional competencies learned with caring child care providers benefit the parent-child relationship at home.
Although attachment begins in early childhood, the relationships with those closest to us remain important throughout our life. One of the early researchers of attachment, John Bowlby, made the observation that, "All of us, from cradle to the grave, are happiest when life is organized as a series of excursions, long or short, from a secure base provided by our attachment figure(s)."
Parents and caring adults can do many things to deepen an attachment. Here are a few:
Steve Dennis is a member of the faculty in the Department of Home and Family at Brigham Young University - Idaho