What you need to know about parent-child attachment
Learn about the importance of bonding with your child and ways to do it.
Children thrive when they feel safe, loved and nurtured. For many parents, forming a close bond with their child comes easily. For many others who did not feel cherished, protected or valued during their own childhood, it can be much more of a struggle. The good news is that parenting skills can be learned. Read on to learn why bonding with your little one is crucial to their development and well-being, and some simple ways that you can do it every day.
Why building a relationship with your child matters
Providing your child with love and affection is a pre-requisite for the healthy development of their brain, their self-confidence, capacity to thrive and even their ability to form relationships as they go through life.
You literally cannot give babies ‘too much’ love. There is no such thing as spoiling them by holding them too much or giving them too much attention. Responding to their cues for feeding and comfort makes babies feel secure. When babies are routinely left alone, they think they have been abandoned and so they become more clingy and insecure when their parents return.
When you notice your child’s needs and respond to them in a loving way, this helps your little one to feel at ease. Feeling safe, seen, soothed and secure increases neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change and adapt. When a child’s world at home is full of love, they are better prepared to deal with the challenges of the larger world. A positive early bond lays the ground for children to grow up to become happy, independent adults. Loving, secure relationships help build resilience, our ability to cope with challenges and recover from setbacks.
How to bond with your child
Parenting can be difficult at times and there is no such thing as a perfect parent. But if you can provide a loving and nurturing environment for your child to grow up in and you’re a steady and reliable presence in their life, then you’ll be helping them to have a great start in life. Here are some ways that can help you build a strong connection with your child from the moment you meet.
- Notice what they do. When your baby or young child cries, gestures or babbles, respond appropriately with a hug, eye contact or words. This not only teaches your child that you’re paying attention to them, but it helps to build neural connections in your little one’s brain that support the development of communication and social skills.
- Play together. By playing with your child, you are showing them that they are valued and fun to be around. Give them your full attention when you play games together and enjoy seeing the world from your child’s perspective. When you’re enjoying fun moments and laughing together, your body releases endorphins (“feel-good hormones”) that promote a feeling of well-being for both you and your child.
> Learn more about how play strengthens mental health
> 5 activities to develop a connection with your child
- Hold them close. Cuddling and having skin-to-skin contact with your baby helps to bring you closer in many ways. Your child will feel comforted by your heartbeat and will even get to know your smell. As your child gets a bit older, hugging them can help them learn to regulate their emotions and manage stress. This is because when a child receives a hug, their brain releases oxytocin – the “feel good” chemical – and calms the release of cortisol, the “stress” chemical.
- Have conversations. Taking interest in what your young child has to say shows them that you care about their thoughts and feelings. This can even start from day one. By talking and softly singing to your newborn, it lets them know that you are close by and paying attention to them. When they make cooing noises, respond with words to help them learn the back and forth of a conversation.
> Learn more about baby talk
- Respond to their needs. Changing a diaper or nappy, feeding your child and helping them fall asleep reassures them that their needs will be met and that they are safe and cared for. Taking care of your child and meeting their needs is also a great reminder of your ability to support your child.
Above all, enjoy being with your child, make the most of the time together and know that your love and presence go a long way to helping your child thrive.
Experiencing difficulties bonding with your child?
If you are a new parent and you are having difficulty bonding with your baby, contact your health care provider as this could be a sign of postpartum depression. This is a very common issue that affects many new parents. To learn more, read ‘What is postpartum depression?’. You are not alone and with help it will get better.