By Kathy Scherer, PhD. The parent-child attachment holds amazing potential to transform a child’s life. Sure there are genetics, environmental factors, and temperament at work, but the science is clear, the primary relationship with a parent can work magic. The security of a loving adult can soothe a child in the worst of circumstances, calm the most anxious mind, and help a child cope with life’s unavoidable pain and loss.
Connections with primary adults literally shape the development of the brain and mind. Attachment experiences create templates for how we approach new situations and meet new people. Secure and loving early attachments set up expectations for trust and collaboration with others; while insecure or hurtful attachments set up expectations that are cautious or fearful. These early expectations can later lead to self-fulfilling prophecies, when new people tend to reflect a child’s warmth or distance.
Think about your early life and parent attachments and how they guided your expectations in new situations. Were you encouraged to develop relationships with people in your neighborhood or at school? Did you learn to trust and feel confident or to mistrust and feel worried in novel environments? Also, expectations can be self-fulfilling, we tend to pay attention to what we expect and ignore what does not fit our assumptions. Expectations are difficult to change, but can be shifted with positive attachments later in life.
Attentive, encouraging and responsive parents help children develop feelings of trust, security and confidence. They can help children heal from past trauma. Even in stressful situations a primary secure attachment with a caretaker can reduce feelings of stress and increase hope. When parents are supportive, protective, and reliable, children feel safe. At any age, relationships can be improved and old hurts can be healed with intention. Positive attachments can work magic.
The Heart and Work of Parenting blog is the written by two Psychologists, Drs. Kathy Scherer and Elizabeth Sylvester, who live and work in the heart of family life. They bring their expertise on emotional development, family attachments, neurobiology, and current scientific research to their work. The contents of this blog are sections of a book in progress; we welcome any thoughtful feedback. Website: Heart and Work.
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