Attachment is a field in science – it explains magnetism, gravity, and the reasons for which human beings attach, also. In other words, attachment is the science of love.
Did you ever travel abroad, or got lost at the airport? Did you ask for help? If you did, then you probably didn’t notice that you sought help from someone similar to you – same age group, similar clothes, probably the same gender. We all do it – we feel safer around people we can identify with. This is science.
When striking a conversation with someone you don’t know, you’d come close, make eye contact, and smile, won’t you? These actions that we all take instinctively are at the basis of attachment – we know, inherently, on the biological level, that we must connect, attach, to increase our chances to have our needs met, and thus – increase our survival chances. These are things that all human beings do without thinking because these behaviors are “built-in” within us; we are all hard-wired for attachment.
Attachments are built throughout our entire lives, but the most important attachments are made and formed from the moment of birth and until we are about ten years old.
Just like roots allowing trees their growth, so are us, parents – we are the roots, the soil – we are there to give our children everything that they need to grow strong, smart and secure, kind and loving, generous and caring. I often hear parents wondering, are their children too attached? Let me ask you this – can the roots of a tree ever be too deep? The answer is no. When it comes to attachment – “too much” doesn’t exist.
Attachment Root #1: Proximity
Proximity is the most basic of human needs and the one most needed in the first year of a child’s life. Newborn babies need to be touched, held, caressed, spoken to. They need the warmth of their caregivers to know that they are safe. Instinctively, we will make constant eye contact, keep our babies close to us, hold them, pick them up, make funny faces, everything it takes to get a little reaction out of them – won’t we? This is how early we begin building our attachment. And our babies? They too will follow – you know that adorable little grasp holding your finger? The tiny first smile? The awakening of social interaction? These actions are instincts of attachment – this is your baby telling you, “Mom, I’m here, and I need you close to me.”
Although the need for proximity is most prevalent in the first year of a child’s life, this need never disappears. It’s super easy with babies – but what do we do later on, when our children are older, and we’ve already told ourselves so many stories about their behaviors? We said to ourselves that they don’t listen, that they are defiant, perhaps even “spoiled” – but how often do we scream orders from the other side of the house? How often do we not bother making eye contact? How often do we mention everything that’s “bad” without saying anything that’s “good”?
Forgetting the most basic strategy to attach is easy with our busy daily lives. Still, no matter how old our children get – physical proximity is the first thing we should always remember 🙂
Attachment Root #2: Sameness
The need for sameness appears when our little ones turn about 12 to 18 months old. This is an incredible time when they will start mimicking our sounds, actions, and movements, want what we have (precisely what we have!), want to do what we are doing, and see what we are seeing. This is challenging for many parents, but we must remember – this need is the reason for which our children have the drive to learn how to walk and how to talk. They need to resemble us as much as possible to strengthen their and our attachments.
Just like the need for proximity, the need for sameness is present throughout our entire lifetime. If you’ve ever wondered why learning that you don’t share the same interest as your little one had broken their heart, it’s because to them, this knowledge is an option for disconnection. It teaches them what they had already learned – that the two of you are separate beings, and if that is true – then separation is possible. This is a painful thought at any age.
Sameness is the reason for which be befriend people with the same interests, it’s the reason for which we’re always relieved to see someone ordering the same dish as we did at a dinner party, or expressing love to a movie we love. It gives us something to talk about, a reason to connect. More over, it teaches us that we’re okay, we’re accepted, we’re part of something.
Sameness is a need to easily met; all we need to do is continue reminding our children that we are indeed similar – that we both love pasta, that he has his father’s hands, that when I was little, I, too, dreamed about driving a tractor. Whatever – you get the point 🙂
Find what your child is passionate about, and connect with them around it. Aim to never leave them alone in their love (or their pain).
Attachment Root #3: Belonging and Loyalty
Stemming from the understanding that we are all separate people, comes the need to belong, to be part of something bigger, to connect. The idea of belonging brings forth the idea of belongings, the stage of “mine.” What I see is mine, what I like is mine, what’s yours is mine, and generally – everything is mine.
If you have a two-year-old, you can probably relate 🙂 This root develops around this time, and it’s when our little ones want to help us with everything we do, participate in all activities, shout “me! Me! Me!” each time we make a request. This is the beginning of loyalty. The need to show our loyalty to the ones we’re connected to. The inherent need to be good to and for the ones we love, is a need we all share.
When we, parents, are not aware of this need, can’t address it, or don’t understand it, we begin going against it, saying a lot of “no”, stopping our children from fulfilling their hearts’ desires, and overall negating their life experience.
This is the stage at which our children begin doing things for us, following our lead, fulfilling our requests. They’re not doing it out of fear, guilt, or shame – but simply because they want to make us happy. Making us happy makes them happy!
Since this is also the beginning of individuality, our children’s counter will kicks in and brings forth what we call “the terrible twos.” Little do we know, though… If we were all aware of those internal needs at play, Terrible Two’s wouldn’t even be a thing.
All we need to do is not mess this up 🙂
Attachment Root #4: Significance
With well-established attachments, towards the age of four, the need for significance appears. Our children need to know how significant, special, unique they are – in our eyes.
This is the stage of “look at me” and “did you see this?” when our children need to receive our approval for everything they do, everything they say. They need us to know that their presence in the world is valuable, that they are valuable. At this age, our children would be super interested in our lives before they’ve arrived and how they’ve changed them. They’d be looking into their birth stories, learning and observing everything they possibly can about their role in this world, though our eyes.
Just like the previous roots, this one, too, remains essential for the rest of our lives. In all our relationships, we need to know that we are significant and appreciated, to share what we’ve done with our loved ones, and have them express their appreciation towards us and our actions.
We get so tangled in our daily lives and all our to-do lists that we seem to be living our lives by everything that’s not happening. What most children hear most of the day is everything they didn’t do right. This is devastating in terms of attachment.
If we can make a real effort to find everything that so wonderful about who they are and what they are doing – our lives would be that much easier.
Attachment Root #5: Love
Around five-six years of age, our children are already well attached. They know that they belong, that they are meaningful and significant, and that they are loved. Now they need to make sure that these feelings are unconditional – that they can rest within our love without needing to fight for it or prove themselves to us. They need to know that love is free, if you will.
Like all others, this, too, is a beautiful period, but it is also tough because its main characteristic is in its polarity. One moment they’d be telling us how much they love us, how beautiful we are, and want to marry us. Five minutes later, they’d be breaking everything within reach, throwing what they can throw, and using all the words we wish they hadn’t: classical Dr. Jackal and Mr. Hyde.
Although super nerve wracking for us, parents, this is our children’s way to ask us whether they are loved now, too? Do they have the right to be, now too? Do they have place and space, even now, when they’re behaving this way? Do we love them unconditionally, even when they are doing all the things they’re not allowed to do?
No matter how much love, attachment, connection, and time you’d give them – this a phase, all children will go through, and it, too, shall pass. Or rather – change.
We might not recognize it at first glance, but we, adults, have this, too. Who are we most comfortable to fight with if not our most loved ones, partners, or best friends? We are much more likely to fight with people to whom we are deeply connected, than with those with whom we are not connected. It is because we care so much, and we care deeply.
It’s the knowledge and certainty of our place within a relationship that gives us the freedom to be who we truly are and to express ourselves fully, even when that expression is not so pleasant.
Attachment Root #6: Being Known
The need to be known is only met on the deepest levels of attachments. This need begins its blossom between ages seven to nine when our children start expecting us to read their minds 🙂 We will be required to know their deepest secrets and heart desires, even if those were never shared with us. We’ll need to know the smallest details about all friends, events, interests, and whatnot – because they need to know that they are known. By us.
Being known is vital in every significant relationship. I remember, some million years ago, I dated a super nice guy who just wasn’t the right one for me. For three consecutive years, he used to gift me with pajamas on every occasion. I love dresses and high heels. Pajamas are not for me, and I was deeply hurt by him, not knowing me. Think about how you expect your partner to make your coffee just the way you like it because he knows YOU. He knows how YOU want your coffee, and how you might feel if they mess it up. This is the experience of a sincere and profound attachment.
The Development of Attachment
Our attachment with our children begins on the very first day of their lives and develops through the attachment roots until they are about ten years old. But it never ends, and our work for it is never-ending either. The needs listed here, the attachment roots, are forever-players in our lives and family lives, in the ties we make with our children and loved ones. If we remember all of them, all of the time, our bonds will be unbreakable.
I work with parents and partners to strengthen attachments, to build, and restore those bonds. Join my life and parenting support group on Facebook right here – I’ll be happy to chat 🙂