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As a Mental Health Therapist at ChildServe, I partner with families and children as they navigate mental health concerns. Helping families develop healthy attachments is something I’m passionate about because kids heal best when they’re surrounded by healthy relationships. 

What is a healthy attachment? 

We are all born wired for connection, beginning with our first human interaction: parent and child. A child with a healthy attachment to their parents, will often seek out their parents for support and comfort, while other times feel they can confidently and safely explore the world around them. By promoting a healthy attachment, parents provide children with a blueprint of a healthy relationships that they will carry with them throughout life.  

How can I help my child build a healthy attachment?

For Babies:

When parents respond to their baby’s cries by meeting their needs (i.e., hunger, diaper change, cuddles), the child learns to trust the parent. This trust builds the foundation of a healthy attachment.

  • Most parents intuitively give their babies the nurture needed to build a healthy attachment. When parents respond to their baby’s cries by meeting their needs (i.e., hunger, diaper change, cuddles), the child learns to trust the parent. This trust builds the foundation of a healthy attachment.
  • Nurture can look like cuddling, rocking, reading books together, hugs and kisses, saying I love you, eye contact, holding, tickling, massages, and other activities that combine comfort and touch. Providing nurture lets the child know they are worthy of your love and affection. It helps to calm and regulate their bodies and emotions. 
For Young Children:
As the child grows, building a healthy attachment includes giving them structure to help organize their experience.
  • Creating “structure” might include: setting a morning routine to follow during the week, visual schedules or charts, outlining boundaries, clear expectations, rules and consequences, bedtime routines and more. Anything that help kids know what to expect and what is expected from them can build a healthy attachment.
  • Interacting with your child in a fun, playful and positive way also boosts attachment. Engaging play might look like following their lead, getting down on the floor with them, imitating what they do with the toys, showing excitement about playing with them, dancing and singing together, and acting silly together.  

What does it look like when kids don’t have healthy attachments? 

Children without a healthy attachment may show the following behaviors:

  • No sense of “stranger danger.” They’re willing to go with new people without hesitation.
  • They may venture away from you in unfamiliar settings without checking in or looking to ensure a parent is near.
  • They don’t seek out a parent when in need/hurt/upset.
  • They have difficulty returning affection.
  • They are not easily consoled or comforted.
  • They are overly independent for their age.
  • They are overly clingy or dependent on staying with their parent. 

Children who experience trauma, disruptions in parent-child relationship, foster care, and adoption may struggle more with the formation of healthy attachments. If your family needs support to help navigate the parent-child relationship, reach out to ChildServe in Johnston (515-727-8750) or Iowa City (319-351-5437) to learn more about what we can do to help.  

About

ChildServe improves the health and well-being of 4,600 children each year through specialized clinical, home, and community-based programs and services. We serve children with developmental delays, disabilities, injuries, and other special healthcare needs.

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