Attachment and Bonding

What does secure attachment look like in babies?

 Around the age of eight months, a securely attached infant starts to get upset when their attachment figure (mum, dad or whoever is the primary carer) is out of sight. This response is called separation anxiety.  Separation anxiety at this time in life is normal. Also important is what the infant does when the attachment figure returns.  A securely attached infant is happy and can accept comforting from the attachment figure.  In other words, the securely attached infant has a strong enough bond that they feel upset when the attachment figure leaves, but also has enough trust in their attachment figure that they can relax and be comforted when the attachment figure returns.   Securely attached children can be comforted to some extent by other people, but they generally prefer the comfort of their primary attachment figure.

Trust = Emotional Regulation

 The process of getting upset and then being comforted by contact with the primary attachment figure is how infants learn to calm themselves and regulate (manage) their own emotions.  Emotional regulation is the term for this ability.  It allows us to understand and accept our own emotions, use healthy ways to handle them, and keep functioning even under stress.  Most aspects of good mental and emotional health later in life depend on this ability of emotional regulation.

 

What does secure attachment look like in toddlers?

As your child enters the second year of life she becomes more physically and emotionally independent.  Parts of the brain involved in speech come on-line during the second year and most children have begun to talk and deal with toilet training by the end of the third year.  This is a busy and challenging time for children and their parents.

Exploring (getting into everything!) and testing your patience by saying “no” are some of the ways a toddler tries out his new skills and develops an independent sense of self.  Toddlers have a strong desire to do things “by myself!”  At the same time, they still need to feel close to their attachment figure.  This creates internal stress and can lead to strong emotional outbursts.  This may be why people sometimes call this stage the ‘terrible twos’.

A securely attached toddler will generally be able to explore their environment with excitement and curiosity, but will also want frequent contact with their attachment figure.  The attachment bond that created trust in the first year now becomes the secure base a toddler can rely on while exploring the outside world and their inside feelings and wishes.

Think about how children this age play on their own, want to feed themselves, and so on, but still bring every toy to you to look at and want you to hold them when they are tired, hurt, or upset.  They also want you to share their joy and excitement about the world around them!

©Lifestart Foundation 2018

 

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Infant Mental Health Awareness Week runs from June 13th-19th.           

This week provides an opportunity to focus attention on the wellbeing, social and emotional development of our babies and young children. It highlights the importance of early relationships and a relationship based approach to interventions with infants and families. As our understanding of IMH and its evidence base develops, so also does our knowledge of how to apply this knowledge and an ‘IMH lens’ to interactions with infants, parents and caregivers in health and social services. 

What is infant mental health?

Infant Mental health (IMH) refers to the healthy social and emotional development of Infants starting at conception up to three years of age.

The first 1000 days of life are recognised as a critical period of opportunity to support infant mental health. Decades of research have shown that it is the quality of the early caregiver relationship that is a significant determinant of the infant’s healthy social and emotional development and in turn physical health, right up to adulthood.

 

The National Healthy Childhood Programme has embedded IMH as the foundation of the development of its resources and in the approach of the delivery of the universal child health service. This embedding of key messages can be seen in the My Child suite of books (www.mychild.ie/books) and also on www.MyChild.ie  where key messages around bonding and relationship building have been embedded for the parent/caregiver.

 

In clinical practice the topic of IMH has been included for the first time in the National Standardised Child Health Record. To build on this, the National Healthy Childhood Programme have just completed a suite of three eLearning units which are now available on HSEland for healthcare practitioners / caregivers who are working with children and families.  

 

Throughout the week you will see videos and key IMH messaging being promoted on the HSE MyChild social media pages ( Facebook / Instagram ). Keep an eye out in the National Newspapers for articles from our experts also. (IrishTimes article)  

 

In addition The National Healthy Childhood Programme have developed a series of ten practical videos with HSE expert advice which are now available on YouTube and on the relevant pages on the www.mychild.ie website.

These videos (2-3 minutes each) are aimed at parents/guardians of children (0 – 3 years).

These new video resources are available here while lots more expert advice for every step of pregnancy, baby and toddler health can also be found at www.mychild.ie

There are a suite of posters available focusing on the promotion of IMH messaging to order from healthy.childhood@hse.ie

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