This month, our friend, positive parenting educator (and multi-hyphenate) Giselle Baumet discusses the importance of the attachment theory in parenting, and talks through what you can do to build a secure attachment with your child—despite how you may have grown up.

Have you ever had a friend or partner who seemed to need constant reassurance from you on how you feel about them, or became insecure when you needed some space?

Or perhaps someone who, the moment your romantic relationship got too vulnerable, ran?

Their emotional responses (whether it was anxious, insecure, or avoiding anything too vulnerable) may have resulted from their attachment style.

You might be wondering how this is related to parenting. The attachment theory is the first concept that parents must fully understand. It is the basis for how a child will grow up to experience various relationships with others throughout their life. 

One of our goals as parents is for our children to feel safe, secure, and confident in all the various relationships in their lives, from their relationship with you and their parents to teachers, friends, family, and later in their adult relationships. 

Attachment styles are established in the early years of life, particularly in the first year.

Yet it’s not something that one learns in most parenting classes. Therefore, this article will discuss its importance and how to use the attachment theory, and the importance of the attachment theory in parenting.

What is the attachment theory?

The attachment theory is the foundation for parenting guidance by the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP).

It was first given its name through the works of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth (among other researchers). Starting in the 1950s, they began to connect the effects of the parent-baby bond, not just how it affects the young baby, but how it affects the individual for the rest of their life.

The concept of the attachment theory is that an individual will learn how to have emotional attachments with other human beings based on their attachment to their parent in the early years of life.

Why is attachment important in parenting?

The failure to provide a secure emotional base for a child in the first few years of life will result in an insecure attachment, which later makes it challenging for that individual to form healthy emotional connections with others.

More than any parenting book, parents would be wise to learn how to build a robust and secure attachment with their child. Through that attachment style, parenting becomes much easier, and often what seemed like a challenge becomes something to no longer stress about.

What does it take to build a secure attachment between parent and child?

In theory, providing a model for a healthy emotional attachment with your young child is quite simple.

It is accomplished by consistently responding to your child’s needs with sensitivity and acceptance and without judgment, frustration, or stress.

The keyword is consistent. This isn’t about being a perfect parent, but rather, a consistent parent in responding to your child’s needs.

Let’s break that down even more.

As someone that has taught parenting courses for 15 years, I’ve seen many well-meaning parents who did not understand what it meant to be responsive to their child’s needs.

And I have zero judgment on this, as our society often contradicts what it means to be responsive to your child’s needs.

For example, when someone has a new baby, you can almost guarantee that there will be advice on how to get your baby to sleep through the night at only a few weeks of life—a practice that results in the parent not being responsive to their child’s needs for touch at night time.

Then after some months of parenting, there will be advice on how one needs not to be as attentive to their child, as they might get “spoiled” or begin to manipulate the parent (an advanced concept that babies are incapable of understanding). And again, by adhering to this advice, a parent purposely begins to not be as responsive to their child’s need for touch or connection, for fear that they are spoiling their child if they do.

Appropriate, consistent responses to your child’s needs include being calm and grounded.

To give your child calm and grounded responses to their needs, one must have the capacity to do so, which includes taking care of your mind, body, and spirit needs so that you are giving to others, including your child, from a calm place. We will discuss more on this later in this article.

The child may grow up with a broken attachment when responsiveness is inconsistent. These styles of attachment include avoidant, anxious, and disorganized responses. What we are striving for as parents is a secure attachment.

What are the Four Attachment Styles?

There are four attachment styles, and a child will develop one of these. It is not whether a child will attach, but instead what the quality of the attachment will be.

What is an anxious attachment?
In an anxious attachment parenting style, the child receives inconsistent and insensitive responses to their needs. Therefore with this attachment style, the individual is unsure if their needs matter or have value, and they often need consistent validation of acceptance and love by those they love.

What is avoidant attachment?
In an avoidant attachment style, the child receives insensitive responses to their needs and a rejection of their needs, feelings, and emotions. 

Individuals with an avoidant attachment style often avoid vulnerable emotions with themselves and others. In my experience, these individuals tend to project a strong front. Yet, at the same time, being very fearful that showing genuine, vulnerable emotions means they will not be accepted by those they love.

What is a disorganized attachment?
In a disorganized attachment, the child experiences insensitive, inconsistent, and rejective responses from their parent or care provider. As a result, an individual with a disorganized attachment will have significant behavioral and emotional problems.

What is a secure attachment?
In a secure attachment, the child experiences sensitivity and acceptance of their needs. As a result, this individual grows up to feel safe, secure, and protected and has healthier relationships with other human beings.

How does the attachment theory impact parenting?

Your attachment style influences how you respond to your child. As with each style, there are ways that your relationship with your child will be affected by your own attachment style. This might be in becoming overly anxious about the well-being of your child, or not being able to handle outbursts and strong emotions that your child will have. Therefore, it’s vital that you can recognize your attachment style and work towards a secure attachment style (if you do not have one).

Making Space for Sensitive and Accepting Responses to Your Child

As parents, we have a lot going on. Of course, parenting is a full-time role, but we also have work requirements, hobbies, relationships, family, and more. 

We must remember that we are individuals, not just a parent. Therefore, it’s essential to recognize your need for mind, body, and spirit wellness. 

Taking care of your inner and outer wellness allows you to give your child sensitive, consistent, calm responses that assure the child feels accepted, regardless of their behavior or specific needs.

Ways to care for your mind, body, and spirit wellness as a parent:
  • Intentional movement: these may be yoga, lifting, swimming, running, surfing, tai chi, or other forms of activity where you’re creating exercise.
  • Breathwork: conscious breathing helps to regulate your central nervous system, quiets the mind, and connects you to your inner wisdom and peace.
  • Meditation: As both a Breathwork and Meditation Practitioner, I highly encourage parents to spend time meditating, even if it’s just five minutes a day.
  • Inner work: working on your mind and spirit can happen in various ways, such as through therapy (primarily if the therapist uses additional holistic modalities such as breathwork and meditation), hypnotherapy, and life coaching.
  • Time in nature: being in the Earth’s elements can be very calming and peaceful and serve as a reset for busy parents. Go for walks, spend time hiking, go camping, or simply lay on the grass and look up at the clouds.
  • Spending time alone:  Most parents don’t get enough alone time, are often consumed with their other roles, and their own self-care or alone time goes neglected. Find moments during the week or month when you can spend time alone doing what you love.
How important is attachment in a parent and child relationship?

Building a secure attachment style for your child requires consistent, sensitive, and accepting responses to your child’s needs. The lack of consistent, sensitive, and accepting responses will result in a broken attachment style for the child. 

To ensure the capacity for calmness, sensitivity, and acceptance of the parent, the parent must care well for their own inner and outer well-being.

As parents, we are responsible for comprehending the attachment theory fully. We hope this article increased your understanding of this critical concept and encouraged you to make time for your wellness and growth.

Giselle Baumet is a Certified Life Coach, positive parenting educator, herbalist, aromatherapist, hypnotherapist, mental health educator, and more. She is also a Piper + Enza expert contributor. Learn more about her work at gisellebaumet.com.