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