When Is it Too Late to Build a Secure Attachment With My Child?

October 23, 2013 at 6:01 am (Attachment Parenting)

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So, I understand the importance of building a strong relationship with my child…but I didn’t really focus on it when he was little. We didn’t do attachment parenting. So now what? Is it too late? Will it ever be possible to ever have the kind of deep attachment he needs?

With plenty of talk in the parenting world of connection and attachment and the importance of parent-child relationships in the success of raising children, it’s easy to feel discouraged. This kind of question is so common, as there are many parents who didn’t “do attachment parenting” when their kids were infants. Perhaps they adopted an older child, or married into a blended family. They didn’t practice some, all or any of the methods labeled  “AP” with their children as infants and now they’re wondering if it’s too late to build the kind of relationship they keep hearing about with regard to the benefits of connected parenting.

Can I tell you something? Three things, actually:

  1. Attachment parenting isn’t a list of dos and don’ts. It’s not about the practices you did or didn’t do when your kids were infants. It’s a mindset; are you attachment minded? Most people are without even realizing it. As soon as you do realize it–that you’re wired to connect with your child and vice versa–you’re able to parent in a way that builds off of this. Call it “attachment” parenting or not; I prefer to just call it ‘parenting’ as I cannot think of a parent who doesn’t want to be close with their children.
  2. Methods typically associated with early attachment parenting (like co-sleeping or baby wearing) are conducive to building strong relationships, but are not required nor are the only means to do so.
  3. It is never too late to start building a secure relationship.

When you find yourself hearing or reading of connected parenting and thinking, “This is great. I want to strengthen the relationship and attachment my child has with me,” all you need to do is go back to the beginning. Not the beginning of the child’s life, of course, but the beginning of the process. From wherever you are in your relationship, start over like you’re meeting your child for the first time. Re-get-to-know her.

First, start with being together. Find proximity–literally–and engage the senses. Spend regular time together and focus on physical connection like play, wrestling, hair styling, hugging, massages, back rubs, roughhousing, foot rubs, cuddling on the couch while you watch TV, or laying next to each other in bed while you read. Just be together. Find times when you can close the physical distance between you and your child.

Find your “samesies.” Discover what you have in common. In our family, we play a game at dinner where we ask questions and raise our hands. It’s a little campy. We laugh. “Who likes fishing? Who needs quiet time every day? Who has socks on? Who can hold their breath for 30 seconds?” It helps us become aware of each other–our interests, talents, personalities, similarities (and uniqueness). Find moments to discover how you are the same.

Get on the same team. Play games in which you and your child are on the same team. Take her side in family discussions. Advocate for her in school situations. Stick by her through social struggles. Do activities in which you must work together to succeed, like building legos or blanket forts or board games or sports–things that make you feel a shared sense of accomplishment, give each other high fives and go, “Hey, we make a great team!”

Value their significance. Every person needs to know that they matter and they belong. Encourage kids to contribute to the family household and acknowledge their efforts. Let your child know how much he is appreciated.  “Thank you…I appreciate the work you did so much…This really helps our family…I couldn’t have done this without you!”

Communicate your love. Tell your child you love him. Show your child you love him. Do both. Whether it’s surprise notes, special gestures, or your actual words,  make sure the message of love gets through. Every day. Be open to receiving your child’s gestures and messages of love, too. He may give you his heart in unique ways–let him know how much you cherish it.

Listen to their secrets. When your child tells you things, listen; just listen. Aim for understanding over replying, accepting over solving. Validate her feelings and communicate that she can trust you to accept her without judgment, criticism or shame. Be the one who knows her best; for a child to feel known is the deepest level of connection she could have with you.

So the answer is: it’s never too late. We’re never too old to connect with others and build meaningful relationships. Just go back to the beginning and take small steps to rediscover that strong foundation.

3 Comments

  1. Building a secure attachment at any time | Still on my feet said,

    […] When is it too late to build a secure attachment with my child?In points: […]

  2. folamibayode said,

    This is very valuable for someone like me, who was raised by very emotionally distant parents. I had no examples when raising my own children except family programmes like The Waltons! I still feel now they are 18-24, I could have done more to be closer with them. I think this guide is essential for parents of teenage children, as thats when sometimes the attachment is lost due to conflicts etc. What i found with my own kids that despite their need to rebel, they also appreciated when we hugged, or baked together, or cuddled up to watch a film together. I will try some of your suggestions. Thank you.

    • llc1110 said,

      Folamibayode—I totally agree about the teen years.

      In response to the article. Thank you for this. My daughter just turned 13. I’ve done several of these things as long as she would let me. Since middle school started things have gone progressively downhill. In some ways I’m getting to know her better and wish I’d really understood all along. Her dad and I are divorced and somehow he and his wife are pushing all the right buttons while I’m pushing all the wrong ones. Now she wants to live with them. His wife is much younger, prettier and “funner” then I am.

      I don’t want to artificially win a popularity contest. I have reacted poorly to a few things she has chosen. I guess it sounds to her like I’ve rejected her. Maybe I’m not accepting her as much as I should.

      I’m going to try working on the things you suggest no matter how rejected I feel. I see the importance of them and feel reassured that i might have a possible future relationship with my daughter.

      Thank you.

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