Creating Healthy Attachments with our Children

By Aleisha Maunu, MA, LMFT, CACII

The journey of raising children is both challenging and rewarding. It is an opportunity to shape the next generation, create enriching lifelong relationships, and grow as parents with a deeper understanding of oneself. I have had the joy of witnessing this type of connection among friends/family/children, and I feel honored to be able to witness the positive impact that this type of attachment is having on their lives. A friend of mine, reflecting on her own childhood once stated to me, “I always felt loved and accepted as a child, even through the mis-steps and times of poor judgement; I somehow knew that no matter what, I would always have a safe place to come home to, that I would be loved unconditionally, and that my parents would be there with me to help me figure things out.”

Dr. Daniel Siegel, MD has written much on the topic of development, attachment, and neurobiology. In his book, Parenting from the Inside Out, he talks about the opportunity of building lifelong relationships with our children through a connection process that he calls integrative communication. By communicating in this way, parents link their mind with that of their children, developing a sense of connection and “resonance.” In this way, a child has a sense of feeling connected to and comforted by their parent, even in their parent’s absence.

Siegel gives several examples of integrative communication – awareness (being mindful of one’s own feelings and body sensations, as well as others’ nonverbal communication), attunement (a sense of lining up one’s mind with another’s), empathy, expression (communicating feelings with respect), joining (sharing openly back-and-forth, verbally and nonverbally), clarification (trying to make sense of the other’s experience), and sovereignty (respect, dignity, and independence of another’s mind). This type of connection can help to create a relationship that is safe and secure, where one feels seen, heard, and validated. It also helps to foster and balance one’s sense of separateness (“I”) vs. togetherness (“we”). When our children feel felt and respected, when we are aligning our minds with them, and connecting with them on an emotional level, we are helping to develop that child’s sense of attachment to us, while also creating a sense of safety in being an independent self.

Other people, such as Dr. Dan Hughes, PhD, have written much about this topic as well. Hughes writes about attachment focused parenting as a way of facilitating healthy development in our children through the development of a secure, healthy parent-child relationship. Think about your own childhood, and think about the adults that were in your life at that time. You may be able to remember one special adult (whether it was a parent, teacher, mentor, coach) who cared for you and accepted you unconditionally, who did not judge you, who facilitated your growth as a person and influenced who you eventually became as an adult in this world. These attachments facilitate lifelong growth and development in us as human beings. The gift that we can give our children is to facilitate their growth in the context of a healthy attachment. Below, I have added a short quote from Dan Hughes’ book, Attachment Focused Parenting. This is a great book for parents interested in learning more about developing this type of connection with their child:

“But parenting, and especially attachment-focused parenting, is much more than guidance and discipline. The context in which such interactions facilitate development and relationship enhancement is one of safety, comfort, support, and reciprocal enjoyment and sharing. Such a context enables the child to experience a depth of confidence and commitment that enables all experiences, especially parent-child experiences, to become assimilated….into a developing sense of self. Such experiences provide the child with a core sense of worth, of being loved, and being able to love in return. They provide an active stance of openness and exploration that generates momentum for the child to discover himself and his world, especially the world of his family.” -from Dan Hughes, Attachment Focused Parenting (pp. 8-9)

Parenting and family life is not always easy. There are sometimes struggles and stressors that can create a sense of disconnection from other family members. Family therapy can be a way to come back together, to repair breaks in relationships, and foster healthy attachments with each other. If navigated in a mindful, empathic, and accepting way, family struggles can lead to even stronger connections with our children, our partner, or other family members. Consider contacting a family therapist today if you find yourself needing additional support in navigating life’s stressors.

Aleisha Maunu, MA, LMFT, CACII, is a therapist who works with individuals, couples, families, and children/teens. Her areas of experience include adoption/attachment, substance abuse, and other family/couple concerns. She provides services through Maria Droste Counseling Center in Denver, CO.