Ensuring Your Child’s Well-being: Attachment and Identity
Have you experienced a childhood yearning for parental affection that went unmet? How did that impact your emotions? Similarly, have you ever felt detached or excessively entangled in your relationship with your child?
The emotional bond between parents and child can exert a great deal of influence on the child. At the core, attachment represents the type of parent-child relationship formed over time which can bring about long-lasting outcomes. Therefore, by providing comfort and connection to your child, you can enhance their resilience and increase their ability to handle distress.
Defined by Bowlby (1988), attachment refers to establishing a lasting psychological connectedness between parties. It draws on early experiences with caregivers towards our subsequent relationships with others later in life. Moreover, attachment styles depend on the quality of attachment an infant is provided by their primary caregivers.
There are 4 widely known attachment styles or ways that we perceive relationships and respond to people:
Secure attachment style – Consistent care and fulfilment of a baby’s physical and emotional needs will lead to the formation of a secure attachment style. Such children become visibly upset when caregivers leave and happy upon their return. These children will also proactively seek comfort from caregivers when under distress. Parents of securely attached children are more involved with their child, spending more time to play with them and respond to their needs. Secure children are less aggressive and become more mature and empathetic adults.
Ambivalent attachment style – Children with ambivalent attachment styles tend to be suspicious of others. When children experience distress, and do not have a caregiver who tunes into their needs, they learn not to expect comfort from their caregivers. Over time, they develop a reluctance towards forming close relationships. As adults they may experience intimacy and trust issues.
Avoidant attachment style – Children who display avoidance and has little emotional exchanges with caregivers. Typically, this results from a lack of emotional support provided to the child. These children are likely to have impaired social skills and may find it difficult to share their thoughts and feelings with others. Many of these children grow up without experiencing the warmth of a supportive network, causing them to feel socially isolated.
Disorganised-insecure attachment style – Inconsistent parental behaviour where a parent vacillates between being a figure of affection and fear can contribute to a child having a disorganised-insecure attachment style. A tumultuous or adverse childhood experience may contribute to this. Children with disorganised attachment may act irrationally or unpredictably in their relationships. As adults, they also have a higher risk of mental health disorders or personality disorders.
The way a child is brought up determines their self-perception, internal values, and beliefs. As such, your role as a parent is crucial in building their identity and sense of security and stability. A direct role lies in how parents treat children – are they loved and care for unconditionally or only upon certain attainment of certain behaviours or results. Are parents emotionally available to their children, showing care and concern, playing with their children – other than meeting their physical, educational, and moral needs. Indirect influence is also exerted as parents can also demonstrate their internal values through role-modelling. How parents treat their elderly parents, relatives, and neighbours, will affect how they see relationships. Therefore, parents must be aware of the importance of parent-child interactions in developing healthy relationships and a secure sense of identity.
Check out this quiz to find out what is your attachment style and how it influences your relationship with your family and friends.