Attachment

Attachment for Babies and Toddlers

For babies and toddlers, having good mental health helps them feel safe, secure, and cared for. It lets them build their self-esteem. It helps them form good relationships for life (PDF), as well as learn how to cope with stressful events and solve problems. Secure attachment is the key to your baby's mental health. 

What is Secure Attachment?

A secure attachment is the deep and lasting connection that babies form with their caregiver(s). Babies need to feel safe, cared for, and protected. They depend on their caregivers' physical and emotional availability. This helps meet their needs in a warm, sensitive, and consistent way.

Attachment is for life (PDF). It happens mostly in the first year of your baby's life. How caregivers respond to and behave towards their baby or toddler can affect this lifelong bond.

How to Form a Secure Attachment

Have you ever asked yourself:

  • "I wonder what my baby is thinking or feeling."
  • "How am I showing my baby or toddler how much I care?" or
  • "What else can I do to meet my baby or toddler's attachment needs"?

There are many things that you can do to build a secure attachment with your baby or toddler.

Babies
  • Think about the reasons why your baby or toddler is crying. Respond by meeting their needs
  • Stay calm during difficult times. Never shake a baby.
  • Comfort your baby when they are sick, hurt, or upset. It makes them feel respected and loved
  • Talk gently and touch your baby while you are feeding, clothing, and bathing them
  • Hold, rock, and talk to your baby
  • Play, sing, and read to your baby
Younger Toddlers
  • Allow your toddler to explore their surroundings safely. It helps them build self-confidence. Show interest in what your toddler discovers.
  • Be there to comfort your toddler when they are sick, hurt, or upset. It makes them feel respected and loved.
  • Talk, listen and respond to your toddler.
  • Encourage your toddler to play on their own for a few minutes.
  • Show your toddler photos of people showing different feelings. Use words to describe the feelings.
  • Toddlers like routines. If your daily routine changes, tell your toddler what is going to happen, so it is not a surprise.
  • Encourage your toddler to play on their own for a few minutes.
  • Try a game like:
    • Hide and seek. Explain the game and give them a big hug when they find you! This helps them explore and get used to you leaving and being happy to see you again.
    • Playing beside each other, you each pick a toy. After a few minutes try to switch toys. If your toddler says "no", offer changing toys again in a few minutes, offer them a different toy, or try playing together with their toy. This helps them learn ways to share with others without being aggressive.
  • Stay calm during difficult times. Never shake a baby or toddler.
Toddlers
  • Reflect about the fact that your toddler is still exploring their environment. They are showing a lot of different feelings and behaviours. They may even be using words like "no".
  • Watch them closely. Have safe toys for them to play with. Try giving them toys for playing grown up (toy tools/pots/pans/wooden spoons). This helps them develop their self-esteem.
  • Encourage their curiosity. Set safe limits so they don't get into things that can hurt them. Have fair and consistent rules for their behaviour.
  • Listen to them when they talk to you. This shows them that what they are saying is important to you. It teaches them to use their words and listen to others.
  • Show them that there are other ways to share their feelings. Give them examples like "if you're sad about something, come and tell me about it."
  • Talk, sing and read to your toddler.

    • You can find books with simple pictures that show different emotions. Explain the different feelings to them. Also have your toddler tell you about the pictures. This is important for their emotional development.
    • Show your toddler picture books with people they know (themselves, parents, family). This helps him recognize other people and their own relationships.
  • Your toddler will try to use many words to communicate. They will be shy at times around new things. They usually like playing imagination games and playing with others:

    • Try facing each other and make different faces. Have your toddler copy your face and take turns so you can copy them. This helps them learn different expressions and that communication happens in turns.
    • Play make-believe games like a tea party, cooking or working on the farm. This helps develop their imagination and use their words to describe what they are doing. They are learning while they are playing.
    • Play games where there are turns. This helps them learn to wait for their turn.
  • Encourage and praise your toddler for trying hard.
  • Never slap or spank your toddler for exploring his world. Stay calm during difficult times. Never shake a baby or toddler.
Older Toddlers
  • Think about how they want to play without help. They can show emotions to others and say and understand many emotions like being sad, angry, scared or worried.
  • You can play games with stuffed animals or dolls to show different emotions, like a sad story. Let your toddler have a turn telling the stories. This will help them say their feelings while they are playing. It can also help them learn to cope with different feelings and learn to solve problems.
  • Encourage them to play games that help them use their imagination.
  • If you are away, explain to them who will be taking care of them. Tell them in ways that they can understand when you are coming back, like "after it is dark outside" or "after your nap".
  • Encourage them to tell you about their day:
    • You can make up stories together. Use stuffed animals or dolls and have them show you and tell you about what happened in their day. This encourages imagination and communication.
    • Listen to them when they talk to you. This tells them that what they are saying is important to you. It will teach them to use their words and listen to others.
  • Be there to comfort your toddler when they are sick, hurt, or upset.
  • Encourage and praise your toddler for trying hard.
  • Remember to stay calm during difficult times.
  • Never slap or spank your toddler for exploring their world.
  • Never shake a baby or toddler.
Why is Secure Attachment Important?

 Babies

When you respond to your baby's needs, your baby will respond to you. You will notice that it becomes easier to soothe them. They will want to be near you and react to you. This secure attachment is the first way that babies learn to organize their sort out and their actions. This is the foundation that let's your baby explore the world and have a safe place to come back to. Secure attachment also helps your baby learn how to trust others. It is an important part of developing healthy relationships for later in life.

How a caregiver responds to their baby can have an impact on the baby's:

  • Developing brain
  • Ability to control and manage emotions
  • Ability to feel safe exploring their environment
  • Ways of coping with new or stressful experiences
  • Self-esteem and building relationships with others
  • Future expectations and behaviours in these relationships

 Toddlers

When you respond to your toddler's needs, it makes them feel respected and loved. Your toddler will gain self-esteem. They learn how to think for themselves and make good choices. They will learn different emotions, problem-solving skills, and talk to you more. Secure attachment is an important part of developing healthy relationships for later in life.

Remember that all babies and toddlers are unique and have their own temperament. You cannot spoil a baby.

Watch the Healthy Baby, Healthy Brain video below: 

Video credit: Best Start by Health Nexus Santé

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