Article: Bonding and attachment. Are they the same?

Bonding and attachment. Are they the same?        

By: Clarissa Arthur, RECE, Child Development and Infant Mental Health Program Coordinator 

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A child's social and emotional development is the foundation for how they view who they are and the world around them. Children need to feel confident and safe to try new things. This way they know that when they have a need, someone will be there to help them, this is called a "secure base".

From a young age, children learn from what they experience in their daily lives. When babies use facial expressions, gestures and babbling, they are trying to communicate. When their caregiver responds appropriately, babies start to understand relationships. This back and forth, "serve and return" interaction strengthens important connections in the brain.

The words bonding and attachment are often used together when we talk about children and their caregivers. Relationships children have when they are young affect the rest of their lives.

Bonding and attachment are ideas that may sound similar, but they have different meanings. Bonding refers to the feeling of emotional closeness you have when you look in your child's eyes or hold them close. Bonding happens in the first few weeks after baby is born and continues for the first few years of life. Some bonding activities are: spending quality time together, playing games, and reading books.

Your attachment relationship is different than bonding. Attachment is about your child's experience when you respond to them in times of distress. Times of distress are when he or she is sick, upset, or hurt. When this happens, you can reassure your baby by being available, and present to attend to his or her needs. Your baby will give you cues that will help you figure out what they are trying to tell you; pay attention those signs.

How you respond is important. When responses to your baby are not suitable, he or she can start to feel insecure and wonder if their needs will be met.  Responding in the right way will help your baby feel less stressed. Children's brains need a healthy environment to grow. Helping children to communicate and form healthy relationships are two important ingredients. You are your child's best teacher, try to remember to:

  • Be a positive role model; children are always listening to you and watching what you do;
  • Try your best to be consistent in your responses; children need to know what to expect;
  • If you don't know what to do, seek out some help; ask other parents or professionals in your community for advice or guidance;
  • Children's needs change.  Always keep in mind what stage your child is at and have realistic expectations of their abilities.

Babies need good quality interactions from loving caregivers. Your child's dependence on you now, will lead to their sense of independence in the future.

For more information, please visit the Mental Health and Attachment page for Babies and Toddlers.

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