Attachment & Bonding

Nursing your infant. Cuddling with your toddler. Talking with your teenager. These are all ways we bond with our children, and are essential to a healthy parent-child relationship.

Though bonding is somewhat based on a biological link between parent and child, true bonding comes from emotional and physical intimacy. So how do we actually bond with our child? And what can we do to strengthen our attachment?

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Why bonding?
Truly knowing your child makes parenting easier at all ages. The ability to read and respond to our baby’s cries is not easy, but with practice it’s a skill that can carry over into their childhood and teenage years. Understanding your child allows you to see things from their point of view.

What does bonding do for a child?
Being nurturing and responsive to your child is not a new concept, but it is critically important to their development and happiness.

  • Connectedness and attentiveness: bonding with a child is the foundation for their concept of a loving relationship. When a parent is consistently emotionally available, a child learns trust and connection with another human being, which leads to positive self esteem and a sense of responsibility.
  • Self identity: babies learn who they are by having it mirrored back to them. From the day they are born, babies begin to observe their parents’ actions and will eventually begin to copy them.
  • Intellectual potential: children gain the ability to think logically when it is modeled for them on a regular basis, which is also essential for the development of a healthy personality.
  • Coping with stress and frustration: a child’s sense of independence and security is greatly affected by bonding. For example, a toddler will recall a mental image of his mother. He might do this when he is moving from the familiar to the unfamiliar. This mental picture helps the child “take” his mother with him as he explores a new environment, which helps him deal with any stress or frustration the new situation may cause.
  • Conscience: children learn right from wrong from parents, and begin to do so immediately.

Bonding is important for children, but what does it do for a parent?
Bonding is a critical piece of every child’s development, but it also critical for the development of stronger, more nurturing parents. Bonding can help a parent:

  • Be more confident in their parenting choices
  • Be sensitive to a child’s needs
  • Read baby’s cues, such as cries
  • Adapt to challenges, such as teething or temper tantrums
  • Better know their child

Keys to Bonding
Parents can bond with their children at any age, but there are some key steps to doing so.

For small Infants, close, intimate connections are crucial. Smiles, eye contact, a warm soft touch and movement (such as bouncing or rocking) are important. A baby needs to learn that they can consistently rely on the parent for comfort and satisfaction.

For toddlers, parents should encourage back-and-forth interaction. This can include singing, nursery rhymes and imitation games that require a child to respond to the parent. Displaying affection – hugs, kisses, touches – continue to be important.

For grade schoolers, it’s about the child and parent working together. Think chores (in a fun way!), games and other activities that a child completes on the parents’ terms. The point is that the child feels he or she is able to give back and contribute to a greater cause.

For teenagers, avoid battles over control, which are lose-lose situations. Instead, focus on encouraging verbal expression of feelings. Listen attentively to your child’s thoughts and pay attention to their behavior.

Special Situations

1. Working parents and daycare: When parents have to be away from a child during the day, bonding can be more difficult. But this is a case where it’s even more important to make time for your child, even in small ways. Make the most of the time you DO have with your children in the mornings, evenings and on weekends. You may be tempted to clean the house or catch up on paperwork during your time off, but reserve this time for special activities with your child. Being organized and managing your time wisely can help you get into the habit of settings aside specific times just for your children.

As your child gets older, he or she will also have more demands on their time. Get creative when it comes to finding new ways to connect.

2. Birth parents vs. step/adoptive parents: Attachment and bonding can also be an important part of a child developing a relationship with an adoptive or step-parent. A connection and sense of trust should be allowed to develop on its own, rather than forcing it on a child. This might mean that some of the bonding steps we mentioned earlier—specifically the physical or intimate emotional methods—won’t be appropriate or effective for a step or adoptive parent, depending on the child’s age.

It can also be very important to allow a birth parent to maintain his or her established attachment with a child. This is often in the best interest of the child, who may be dealing with his or her own confusion and uncertainty in reaction to a divorce, adoption or other significant life change.

3. “Over-bonding:” As children grow older, it is normal and a very good thing for them to develop autonomy and a sense of their own identity. That is what early bonding is all about developing! But over-bonding, when a child becomes too dependent on a parent, does not allow the child to grow naturally into a healthy adult with his or her own meaningful relationships and positive life experiences.

Conclusion
Attachment and bonding is really about a parent and child bringing out the best in one another. It’s through bonding that your child learns more about your values, beliefs and expectations. In turn, you learn more about your child and the best way to nurture their growth.

Make bonding with your child a priority. It’s a critical step in your child’s development that can dramatically strengthen your relationship and ultimately result in a happier, more secure child.

And remember, all aspects of parenting can be tough, but finding help doesn’t have to be. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! For more information about attachment and bonding and other parenting challenges, visit the SCAN website at www.scanva.org.