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How Can I Form a Secure Attachment with My Child?

Hannah Hopper, LPC 

Neuropsychiatrist Dr. Dan Siegel has spent a large chunk of his life researching attachment, and what parents can do to help create secure attachments with their children. He has several parenting books on this, and recently I’ve been reading a book that he and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson wrote called The Power of Showing Up: How Parental Presence Shapes Who Our Kids Become and How Their Brains Get Wired. This book has so many helpful insights for parents, and he also explains the science behind his insights. I highly recommend this book for anyone who’s a parent, considering being a parent, or wanting to learn more about their own development in childhood. I’ve picked out some of the highlights from his book to share with you here. 

Why secure attachment is important

When it comes to children who grow into adults who are happy, academically successful, have strong leadership skills, and experience meaningful relationships, there’s usually one common denominator: an adult in their life who’s consistently shown up for them (providing a secure attachment). Showing up for your child means offering a quality of presence, rather than being physically present but emotionally or mentally checked out. When a child is securely attached, their whole nervous system is able to develop properly because the need for safety is met. Children who develop secure attachment also learn that they can trust people, since they’ve experienced their needs getting met from a young age. These kinds of children typically react well to stress, are willing to try new things independently, form stronger relationships, and are better at solving problems. The Four “S’s” outline how to build a secure attachment with your child.  

Building secure attachment with the four “S’s” 

  •     Safe – it’s impossible to keep a child totally safe from injuries or getting hurt emotionally, but we can be a safe place for our child. When children have this kind of safety with a parent, they’re able to take more risks and venture out confidently into the world.
  •     Seen – seeing your child empathetically and deeply helps you to perceive her underlying positive and negative emotions. Dr. Siegel calls this kind of seeing “mindsight” and this helps to provide insight into reasons behind a child’s behaviors.
  •     Soothed – soothing isn’t about coddling; it’s about teaching your child how to handle and cope with their emotions when life is difficult. Soothing also involves being present for your child, so that she has you by her side when life is hard. A child that experiences soothing knows that she won’t have to suffer alone in the world.
  •     Secure – this is proving to your child over and over again that you’ll show up for them by being physically present and emotionally available. A child can feel secure when you consistently provide safety, focus on seeing her, and soothe when there is hurt; she can begin to feel the secure attachment with you.

Connect and redirect parenting tip

One of the practical tips that Dr. Seigel outlines is called “connect and redirect.” He talks about how when children are emotionally overwhelmed they’re reacting out of the “right brain” state, which is about emotion and physicality. Talking to the child from a “left brain” state by using words to reason with them won’t work. First we need to connect with them on the “right brain” state by using touch, a calm tone, facial expressions, and eye contact to show the child they are seen. When the right brain feels seen (with mindsight) then we can redirect the child using left brain tools like setting boundaries or planning what to do. 

Parenting can be really challenging, and it helps to have a trained professional to provide some extra support and insight.  If you’re ready to take that first step and schedule a session with a Chicago counselor, you can browse our therapist bios to find someone that is the right fit for you. You can also contact Symmetry Counseling today by calling 312-578-9990 to get matched with one of our therapists today.

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