Creating healthy attachment in children

Attachment therapist Darcy Victor shares some tips in this submission from the Cranbrook Early Childhood Development Committee.

Darcy Victor

Early attachment is a reciprocal relationship between a child and caregiver and creates a lifelong imprint on a child’s future. Unlike bonding which is the adult’s connection with a child, attachment is the deep and enduring relationship that varies with each parent, grandparent, or other caregiver.

September brings new beginnings as children enter new daycares or play school settings, start kindergarten or enter new classrooms or new schools. Children entering daycare or kindergarten leave behind previous routines, and the strong attachments formed with parents and caregivers. Summer break brings more time than usual with family members and strengthens attachment relationships that are already present. Nonetheless children entering new learning environments adjust to new ways of being in the world and will build attachment relationships with new daycare staff, educators, and school staff.

Many children have to work harder to stay attuned to the world around them. As they enter new learning environments the world moves quickly as they try to keep up with day to day changes. The adult’s role throughout these changing times is to help the child feel loved, accepted, safe, and protected. This can seem like a hard thing to accomplish when your child is somewhere else for several hours each day. Here are some easy, inexpensive steps to help children maintain successful attachments as they enter new beginnings.

• Before your son or daughter goes off to school for the first time initiate an annual special event such as taking a photo of your child on their first day of school or planting a tree or perennial in honour of your child.

• Create a small photo book with pictures and a story of how your child is transitioning from home or daycare to their new learning environment with photos of home or daycare, the new play school and caregivers, teachers, principal and support staff.

• Talk to your child about their first day of school or daycare and the feelings that they had.

• Send a photo of your family and pets for your son or daughter to look at throughout the day.

• Practice the routine of walking or driving the route your child will be taking to their new learning environment.

• If your son or daughter will take a school bus, drive the route ahead of time so your child becomes familiar with the sites and houses that they will pass by.

• Introduce your child to the bus driver or to neighbour children who will be on the same bus.

• Start a morning wake-up routine such as a cuddle before getting ready for the day.

• Have some protein for breakfast and provide a lunch packed with protein to help your child’s body/brain get through the day.

• If your son or daughter will be in the breakfast and lunch programs at school ensure they know where the programs are held at school and who the program co-ordinator is.

• Draw a funny face or “X’s” = kisses and “O’s” = hugs, to show your child you are still thinking of them even though they are away from you.

• For those children who can read, you can leave a note in their backpack letting them know what supper will be or what family event is happening that evening.

• For children who will be eating their meals at the daycare or play school check with the care centre to see if you can send a special plate, cup or bowl to the new environment so there is something familiar from home.

• Create special school snacks such as small pieces of cheese, soy nuts, or pepperoni slices that your child only gets at school. This special surprise will help them feel connected to their home environment.

• Set time aside at supper to talk about their day. Share “the best thing of the day” and “the worst thing of the day” for each member of the family. Brainstorm ways to do things differently which shows children that issues can be resolved.

• Turn off video games and television an hour before bed to allow children time to decompress and relax their nervous system before going to sleep.

• Allow children to have some alone time with you before they go to bed. This might include helping them get clothes ready for the next day.

Your child’s day is full of learning. Quiet time before bed will help your son or daughter relax and prepare for the next day of adventure and new learning.

This article was submitted by the Cranbrook Early Childhood Development Committee and written by Darcy Victor, RCST, MA Psychology, Attachment Therapist, darcyheart@gmail.com. For more information about the committee, contact Theresa at cranbrookecd@gmail.com.