Like it or not, our childhood has a lot to do with how we parent. In fact, attachment research has shown that our attachment style with our own parents is the biggest predictor of the attachment style we’ll have with our child. Attachment style refers to the internal “working models“ we develop of how relationships function. They influence the way we relate to important people in our lives. The attachments we form in our early relationships with caretakers can have a serious impact on our feelings of insecurity, anxiety, fear, avoidance, and satisfaction in our closest relationships throughout our lives.
Experiencing an insecure attachment pattern as a child can hurt us in many ways. However, it does not mean we are doomed to repeat the past. The good news is that attachment research has also found that it isn’t what happened to us as children but how much we’ve felt the full pain of our childhoods and made sense of what happened to us that predicts what kind of parent we will be. No matter how bad things may have been, if we are willing to explore and face even the painful realities of our childhood and create a coherent narrative of our story, then we can become a different kind of parent and have a healthier more secure attachment with our children.
In aiming to better understand our past, it’s helpful to explore what attachment style we may have had with our parents or other influential caretakers. Keep in mind we can have different attachment styles with the different figures in our lives. As you become familiar with your attachment style, you may have insight into many of your relationships, past and present.
Secure Attachment – Dr. Daniel Siegel co-author of Parenting from the Inside Out often refers to the four S’s of attachment in which a child feels safe, soothed, seen and secure. This creates what is called a secure attachment. Children with a secure attachment can see their caretaker as a secure base from which to venture out and explore the world. They feel they can move freely, but that they can always come back to the parent to feel safe.
To form a secure attachment, it’s necessary for parents to create a compassionate environment and to have the ability to regulate their own emotions and reactions. They can also help their child learn these skills. Parents who form a secure attachment see their child as a separate person and tend to be able to attune to the child’s needs. They’re able to empathize with the child’s experience and remain present or “be there” for the child. This doesn’t mean the parent has to be perfect. No one is attuned to their child 24/7. In fact, according to attachment researcher Edward Tronick, even the best parents are only attuned to their children about 30 percent of the time. However, as Dr. Siegel puts it, if parents are able to “repair the ruptures” that occur between them and their kids, a secure attachment can be sustained.
The working model of relationships that a securely attached child forms is that you can trust others to be there for you when you need them. Children who form a secure attachment grow up better able to maintain their unique sense of identity, while still being able to connect with others. They can feel secure in themselves, while engaging in healthy modes of relating. You can learn more about how different attachment styles affect ways people relate as adults in my blog “How Your Attachment Style Impacts Your Relationship.”
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