Parenting Tips for Creating Secure Attachment

One of the greatest gifts parents can give our children is a secure attachment.  But many of us may not be certain what that actually means or how to create it.  About half of us grew up without secure attachments with our own caregivers.  So we may not have healthy modeling to go from. 

Dr. Dan Siegel has done extensive research on attachment that can help us understand the benefits of secure attachments and the steps we parents can take to nurture it for our children.

Benefits of Secure Attachment

  • Positive self-esteem
  • Improved emotional regulation
  • Social competence
  • Empathy
  • Lower overall stress levels
  • Improved ability to develop and learn
  • Improved immunity and overall physical health
  • Confidence and self-reliance

All parents have the capacity to develop a secure attachment with our children, regardless of how we were parented.  Research has demonstrated that the key to being able to offer healthy attachment is having a coherent narrative of our own upbringing. Depending on how you grew up, this may require some personal work and/or psychotherapy.  In short, this involves developing an understanding of our parents and what shaped their emotional availabilities.  This helps us develop compassion for our parents as humans who were likely doing the best they could with what they knew.  Our story for our childhood feels cohesive when we feel a sense of acceptance or peace about how we grew up and were shaped by these experiences.

Dr. Siegel has identified four conditions we can create that help our children develop a secure attachment.  He calls them the Four S’s.

The 4 S’s of Creating Secure Attachment

Safe – This means children grow up with a high degree of stability and low degree of chaos.  We do our best to protect them from being frightened or hurt.

Seen – This means we understand and validate our children’s emotional experiences.  We take the time to describe our understanding of their inner worlds so they have the emotional vocabulary and understanding of themselves.  They trust we value their emotional experiences.

Soothed – We help children learn the skills for calming their nervous systems by offering soothing in many forms.  This soothing may look different during different stages of development.  We may hug, sing, offer bandages, talk through difficult times, help them seek comfort, etc.

Secure – Through all these conditions, we help our children develop an inner sense of well-being.  They learn that all emotions are important and acceptable as well as skills for navigating them. 

As parents it is helpful to understand the recipe that exists to nurture a strong, secure attachment style with our children.  But we must also remember that we’re human and will miss opportunities now and then.  We might be too busy or distracted to really see our children in a tough moment or offer the soothing they need.  This is okay.  This is not harmful. 

Missed opportunities to connect with our children provide a new kind of opportunity.  We can always offer a repair experience!  It is highly valuable to show our children that we take responsibility for our missteps and put forth the effort to reconnect.  We can teach them that it’s normal and healthy to say we’re sorry sometimes. 

As parents, we have opportunities to nurture a secure attachment throughout the years. As our children grow and their emotional worlds change, we are called upon to understand them and connect with them differently. How we listen to the emotional world of a toddler will be different than a teenager. Over time, we create a culture in our families where we support one another’s emotional experiences and make it safe to be vulnerable together.

If you would like to read more from Dr. Dan Siegel about parenting and secure attachment, check out his books The Whole Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind and Parenting from the Inside Out.

Written by Suzanne J. Smith, Ph.D. for Lakefront Psychology Blog. If you are interested in more original articles about mental health, wellness, perinatal mood, relationships, or parenting, please subscribe to the blog using the button below.  If you are interested in scheduling a consultation for an appointment with Dr. Smith, please email or use the contact form.

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