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It’s Securely Attached’s 100th episode! To celebrate, this week’s show is a deep dive into what this podcast is all about – how understanding the basics of attachment science and child development can make parenting easier and more enjoyable.
I’ll give you a crash course in attachment science, dispel the misinterpretations that can make parents feel anxious or guilty, and offer concrete tips for more accurately attuning to your child, which can help them to form a secure attachment bond and promote mental wellness within your child and yourself.
Whether this is your first episode with me or you’ve been here for the full 100, I just want to share a heartfelt thank you. I could not have made it this far in this labor of love without you tuning in, sharing your questions and words of encouragement with me, and passing this resource on to fellow parents. It’s been such a privilege to be in your ears every week for the past 100 weeks—here’s to 100 more! ✨
Dr. Sarah (00:00):
When we understand how important the parent-child relationship is, because we understand how big a role it plays in our child’s lives and in our role as parents in our own lives, we start to think about things from a different lens.
Hi, I’m Dr. Sarah Bren, a clinical psychologist and mom of two. In this podcast, I’ve taken all of my clinical experience, current research on brain science and child psychology, and the insights I’ve gained on my own parenting journey and distilled everything down into easy to understand and actionable parenting insights so you can tune out the noise and tune into your own authentic parenting voice with confidence and calm. This is Securely Attached.
Hi everyone. Today is a very special episode because today is our 100th episode here on the securely attached podcast. I am so grateful that you all have been here with me for a hundred episodes. This is huge and I can’t tell you how much it means when I get DMs or emails from people with questions that they want me to answer on the podcast or when I read reviews from you guys. Or just yesterday my sister sent me a text from a girl she knows from college who reached out to her and said, your sister’s podcast has been so helpful to me. And I just wanted to tell you that it’s unbelievable to me to hear the stories of how this podcast has been helpful in giving parents a sense of validation or feeling seen or feeling like they have some tools when they’re feeling overwhelmed or confused or frustrated and parenting or just that they feel more confident showing up as a parent who maybe is parenting in a way that was different from the way they were parenting and what they know from their childhood.
So I just want to sincerely thank you all for being here. It means so much to come every week onto the show and talk about parenting because I’m a mom and I valued all of the resources that I had when I first became a parent and was trying to gather information and felt overwhelmed by just the immense amount of information that’s coming at parents all the time and just trying to find a way to distill some of that for people and be able to say, Hey, I can give you information, but I also really want to teach you how to sift through information and be able to say, that’s noise that’s got value to me and know what to let go of and what to keep. And so that’s kind of why I show up every week to do this. So I’m just really, and so in honor of this podcast being all about attachment, I wanted to spend today to talk a little bit more in depth about the principles of attachment theory and how parents can use these principles to make parenting easier.
Because at the end of the day, isn’t that just what we want? We just want to make parenting a little easier. Some of the time we know it’s a hard job, we signed up for it, we find joy in it. And also when there are ways to make it easier, that’s always really nice. And I’m a firm believer that understanding certain principles of what we know from the psychological research about child development and the human condition can enable us as parents to just have a better handle. Again, not just on the moment what to do in the moment because that’s important, but also to be able to say, I am an educated consumer parenting content because I understand these basic things and I can sort of see when something is snake oil and I can see when something is just a quick fix and I can see when something makes sort of really profound sense and I can take that in if I want to.
So I think about the things that I really, if I were to work, when I do work with parents and I’m like, what do you need to know to be able, you don’t need to go to graduate school and get a PhD in clinical psychology or in child development in order to know how to parent your child that it would be a ridiculous, ridiculous amount of training for that. But if there were some pieces that would make your life as a parent easier and make parenting more effective for you, I really genuinely believe that understanding the basics of child development and attachment theory specifically, which is why I dedicated a whole podcast to it, is going to make your life parenting easier. So today I’m going to talk about a little bit about what is attachment theory. I know if you’ve been listening for a long time, you’ve heard me talk about it a lot, but I want to give you kind of a basic rundown of it.
And then I want to talk about how using that information can guide your parenting to make it easier in very specific ways. So first, let’s talk about attachment theory. And this is where I get a little, little soapboxy because attachment theory is very often either misread as something else or by other groups kind of calling it or referring to it or implying it means something else. So attachment theory is super simple. It’s super basic. It just states that an infant will attach to a primary caretaker barring very few extenuating circumstances. And that attachment bond is intended to keep that child safe, to make them more likely to survive. That’s it. We’re biologically hardwired to form close relationships with the people in our lives who are going to keep us alive. It doesn’t mean we have to co-sleep with our children or carry them around or never separate from them. It doesn’t mean we can’t do those things if you want to do those things. But that’s not the thing that predicts secure attachment. It doesn’t mean that we have to give them everything that they want in order for them to feel like their needs are met. It doesn’t mean that we can never mess up as a parent and never yell at our kid or misattune or even scare them. Now let me be clear. If a child is chronically scared by their parent, that is going to impact the security of that attachment.
But we have to remember that what makes something chronically scary is not the same thing as a parent being scary, recognizing that they were scary, going back and repairing with that child, helping create a narrative around what happened and making sure that at the end of this interaction, even if it’s a multi-day long period between I yelled, I cooled off, I realized I needed to go back, and the next morning I went in and I said, Hey, I got kind of scary last night when I yelled. I’m so sorry. That must have been a scary for you when I yelled like that. I love you. Are we we’re good? So that repair is, that’s the end of that interaction and that is very predictive of secure attachments. So we have to do away with a little bit of the intense pressure that gets put on parents that meeting our child’s emotional, physical, biological needs most of the time does not mean we never mess up.
We never lose it. We’re never kind of not a great parent. We don’t have to be perfect to have a secure attachment. A metaphor that I often use to describe the attachment relationship is knitting a sweater or a blanket. And so every single interaction we have with our child, big, little, medium, micro, those are a stitch in the quilts, in the blanket. In the sweater. It could be something big, you fell, you scraped your knee, you got so upset and I held you and I helped you to feel better. Okay, that’s a stitch. But it could also be we’re walking past each other in the kitchen and I catch your eye and I smile. That’s a moment. Those are all these little stitches that we put in this one more knit in this blanket that we are knitting of this relationship. And so we have to remember all those times where we have a misattunement with our child every time that my baby is hungry and I changed their diaper cause I wasn’t sure why they were crying and they’re still hungry and now they’re not.
They’re feeling unseen, unmet and upset. That’s a dropped stitch if I lose it with my kid because I’m just so frustrated and I’m exhausted and I don’t, I’m overstimulated and I just, I’ve had it. That’s a drop stitch, right? Opportunity to repair another stitch that I didn’t drop. So you have to remember, there’s a million stitches in this giant blanket that we’re knitting with our child. If the general overall integrity of that blanket is solid, it doesn’t matter if there are drop stitches here and there, even if there are a number of them, you don’t really want to be able to stick your fist through that blanket and have a gaping hole. But if you can overall have recognize that we have so many moments with our kids where we have this opportunity to create this sense of feeling seen by us feeling important to us, feeling like we delight in their presence and that we can soothe them when they’re upset and we can make them feel safe when they feel scared overall in the aggregate, we are increasing the chances that our child is going to have a secure attachment relation with us.
So I think it’s a very important illustration or visualization because I think parents put so much weight on the single drop stitches thinking it’s going to destroy the integrity of this relationship. And in reality, I mean I’m not much of a knitter. I don’t know if you guys are, but I think you can imagine that you are going to drop a couple stitches and you wouldn’t really ruin what you’re making. So I think that’s important to hold in mind. So we’ve talked a little bit about what attachment theory is, it’s basic. I also think it’s important when we’re talking about attachment theory, talk about the good enough parent because, and that’s sort of what I’ve been saying right now. You do not have to get it right all the time. You just need to be the good enough parent. You need to meet these needs, these basic needs most of the time, and I don’t mean 90% of the time, 80%, there’s been studies that have shown that about 50% of the time, if we can get it right about 50% of the time, that’s an indicator that we’re likely to have a secure attachment style with our child.
These needs, these needs for basic needs. I need to be fed, I need to be sheltered. I need to feel warm and safe. I also need to feel like on this sort of emotional level, this emotional safety, I need to feel seen. I need to feel like you can handle my feelings. I need to feel like I can share what I ever my messiest stuff with you is, and you’re not going to leave me. These are the things when I say we have to meet their needs, those are the needs I’m talking about. It doesn’t mean the need for ice cream before dinner and you said no, and now I’m mad and I’m pissed, right? My kid being mad at me does not mean I am damaging our attachment relationship.
My kid being mad at me because I won’t let them have ice cream for dinner is a reasonable response for a young child. Does it mean I’m going to give them ice cream because they’re mad? No. Does it mean I’m going to give them ice cream because they’re being reasonable in their brain? No. It just means I can empathize what they’re feeling. I can say, yeah, you really want it. It’s so hard when I say no to something that you want and you can be mad at me. And that’s okay. That is like, that’s the total moment where I am meeting my child’s need. It sounds so contradictory. They perceive that the need is the ice cream, for example, and me not giving to them makes them actually mad at me. But the bigger need here, the more primal need is for me to be able to hold space for their madness at me, for them to be able to safely share their feelings with me and for me to say, yeah, it makes sense.
You feel that way. I’m still in charge. I’m still responsible for keeping you healthy, so I’m not going to give you ice cream now and you get to be mad at me and we’re good. And I think that is a another big misunderstanding of the sort of responsive, respectful, parent, gentle parenting, whatever you want to call this sort of strategy around parenting. I think a lot of people misread it as permissiveness because we’re always trying to meet our child’s needs, and I’m not talking about their perceived sort of desires in the moment. I’m talking about their need to be able to emote and break down and be unreasonable and be a little kid that doesn’t have very good inhibition skills or reasoning skills or executive functioning skills. And I can say, yep, I can weather this storm right next to you. Let me hear it.
I’m also not going to change the thing that I have to do to do my job as a parent. And that actually helps kids feel really safe, even if they’re mad at us for that because they want us to be in charge. Going back to that idea of the reason we attach to our primary caregiver is because on some biological level, we know we can’t survive without them. That we are dependent on them for our survival. We are helpless in this world without their protection. And so if my parent does not feel to me they can weather anything I have to throw at them and be this sort of confident, sturdy presence that contains all this stuff I’ve got inside of me and still won’t go anywhere. And I don’t mean we never separate from our kids or we never leave them when they’re upset, I just mean they’re not going to leave me in this world alone.
Bigger picture leave that that actually helps a child to not feel anxious and to not be afraid to have the big feelings and to be able to eventually in their permission to have the big feelings. Learn regulation skills, learn emotion regulation skills because what you’re doing when you’re kind of meeting your child’s dysregulated emotions with a calm, sturdy, confident presence and warmth, but also this firmness, right? I’m holding the boundaries nice and firmly, but my interaction with you is warm and confident. What I’m giving that child is a secure base and it helps them to know on this sort of primitive level, they’re safe because they know that I can take care of them. I know they know that I can keep them alive and safe and thriving because I’m not giving them what they want. And that actually inside, deep inside feels good, even though in the moment in the outside, I’m having a tantrum because my brain is not able to process those two things at once.
And the sort of immediate thing kind of wins out on the outside behavior. But on the inside, this is creating that secure sense of this person’s going to take care of me. And I think that’s really important because I think a lot of parents struggle with where is the line? I want to build this secure attachment. I also don’t want to be permissive. I know that I’m supposed to be authoritative, which means I’m going to be firm and warm, but my kid is losing it still and I’ve set the limit and they’re losing it and their behavior’s out of control. And I think then breeds the fear. I’m doing it wrong. This isn’t working. And in reality, the messiness of all this is not a sign that we’re doing it wrong. It’s supposed to be messy. Their emotions are so messy, especially in those toddler years, those early years.
But even throughout life, sometimes I’m still a way messier, emotionally messier person when I’m with my mom and I’m 38. So we all kind of let out this messiness with our safe people. It just looks different. But we are teaching them emotion regulation skills by being that sturdy person in the face of their dysregulation and over and over and over and over again, our sort of calm response. And we won’t always be calm because sometimes it’s just going to be way too loud and way too much, and we’re going to be way too tired and we are going to yell. And that’s also okay, right? But that sort of overall in the aggregate, that calm response in the face of their dysregulation is the mirror that we’re going to be helping them to eventually turn inward. I see this person being calm when I’m dysregulated. This is what calm in the face of big stuff looks like, and eventually I’m going to learn how to do that myself by watching you do it.
So it doesn’t need to be nice and neat and tied in a bow for it to be working. It is messy and that is working. So that’s important. So when you understand this biological hardwiring, right, this need for children to attach to their parents to stay alive, we also recognize this is a primitive part of our biology. It’s not a conscious thought that kids have, certainly not at birth. This is from the day children are born. So we know this is a really, really primal and driving force behind behaviors. It’s a motivator. I’m really motivated to stay alive. I’m really motivated to attach to you. I’m really motivated then to do all the things that kind of the micro stuff that make up that attachment. So I’m motivated to be near you. I’m motivated to call out to you when I’m in distress. I’m motivated to do things that get your attention, even if that attention is negative, even if the things I’m doing to get your attention are in our societal culture considered negative, I might hit you to get your attention.
Now, do we want our children to hit? No. Can we understand a hit by trying to understand the motivation behind it? Perhaps if we can get a better read on the motivation behind the hit, are we more able and equipped as parents to then do things between now and the next time my child might want to hit to reduce the likelihood that they might hit? So if my child hits and I punish them for hitting, okay, I might stop the hit the next time, but probably not because hits are usually involuntary. If I, my child hits me and I think to myself, what is making them hit in this moment? And I can try to look underneath the behavior to try to identify the need. Are they hitting because they’re frustrated and they don’t have frustration tolerance? Then I’m going to try to note that and think to myself, one is not having frustration tolerance at a particular age developmentally appropriate.
Perhaps if it’s getting to a place where we want to build frustration tolerance, and I want my child to be able, and I do expect my child to be able to inhibit an impulse to hit occasionally if it’s not too hot, then in the cold moments, in the moments not related to this particular incident, in the calm, cool, connected moments, I’m going to teach my kids things that are going to help them with frustration tolerance. That’s the precursor to not hitting. So looking at a behavior in isolation kind of limits us. But when we look at a behavior in terms of the drive behind it, that opens us up to kind of problem solving in the larger aggregate kind of parenting approaches. I always say discipline. Parents are under so much pressure and not, we really, really feel this. I think most parents believe that if my child does something bad or destructive or dangerous or unacceptable, it’s my job as a parent to teach them not to do that in that moment.
And I think everything’s right up until you hit the, in that moment part of that sentence, it is my job to teach them not to do that. But in that moment, my job is actually to reestablish that safety, to reestablish that my, to remind them here to keep you safe. I’m here to protect you. I’m here to soothe you, and you are dysregulated. You hit in some sort of threat response. And my job and this particular moment is to move you out of a threat response into a safer state, right, into a more regulated state. Then once my child is regulated, which means by the way that their prefrontal cortex is back online and their threat detector is quiet. So once my child’s regulated, and that could be five minutes after, it could be an hour after, it could be a day later, depending on a lot of things, then I can teach.
It is my job to teach my child consequences to behaviors cause and effect how I expect them to behave and help them build the skills to actually be effectively able to do that within developmentally reasonable boundaries, right? Parents, we have to have developmentally appropriate expectations for our kids, but it’s my job to do that when my child’s brain is receptive to learning. And so again, understanding attachment theory helps us to understand the motivation behind a lot of behaviors, which allows us information when we are trying to understand what needs to be built up here, what needs to be supported, what skills need to be enhanced, what perhaps it’s maybe not a skill, but maybe I need to fill this kid up in a different way. Right now, what’s missing, right? That’s leading to the behavior that I want to stop. So that’s super important because then we can get off of playing whack-a-mole with behaviors and we can get to the root issue.
And that is so much more effective, and it takes a ton of pressure of off of us in the moment, because I think parents, myself included, my kid does something, especially in public, if my kid does something like they’re at the park and they snatch a toy out of another kid’s hand and that kid starts crying, I know that feeling and I’m like, oh my God, I really want to yell at my kid and make him give the toy back and apologize profusely for my child’s inappropriate behavior. And you know what? Sometimes I do that and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I have the wherewithal and the mindfulness and the self-regulation and the sort of courage to not please the parents standing around that playground and say, wow, you really wanted that toy? Ugh, that kid is so upset. You took that toy. Yeah, I wonder what we can do.
Oh, you’re running away from me. You don’t want to give him that toy back. Okay, you know what? I think you’re showing me that you’re tired. This is too much. I think it’s time to go home. Okay, we’re going to go and I’m going to come and get you, and I’m going to pick you up and you’re going to melt down because you’ve obviously hit your limit. And I’m going to carry you kicking and screaming to the car, and I’m going to attend to my kid in that moment. And that’s hard to do. And sometimes we just, we can’t, but sometimes we can. And I think being that parent, that parent for your child who sees them, who recognizes what they’re really showing you they need in that moment because you can interpret the cues. They’re giving you a little bit more accurately, and then you’re able to meet their need a little bit more effectively.
And in this case, the need, I want this toy and I’m going to get it. The need is I need your help to stay calm, and I need your help to go refuel because I’m done. I’m not able to stay in control. I’m not able to stay regulated. I’m not able to behave in a way that feels good. So maybe I’m hungry, maybe I’m tired, maybe I’m overstimulated. Now I need you to just make these decisions and just take charge and calmly, not in a mad way. I don’t, I know I don’t need you to be mad at me. I need you to help me. And so that is a really different way of being sometimes than maybe we were parented or maybe our parents were parented, or maybe many children at the playground are currently parented. And so the expectation that you do what every other parent is doing and you disrupt that a little bit can be very uncomfortable.
So I say that this is not an easy thing to do, and frankly, sometimes it’s okay to just do the thing that everyone else is doing and just make your child give that toy back and then tell ’em they have to sit on the bench with you because for three minutes, because they broke a rule. But I don’t know that that’s always the strategy that I’m going to lean into most of the time. And obviously how we show up for our kids at home might be a little differently too, because the pressure and the amount of time we have to let this play out can be different. And that’s okay too. If it’s easier to try these strategies starting at home without the eyes of everybody else on you do that, maybe then you start practicing it outside and it’s uncomfortable. So I think that when I was talking about how understanding attachment theory can help parenting feel easier, it also recognize that some of what I’m saying is not easier.
It’s a lot of work in the moment because we have to stay regulated. We have to be this detective and try to figure out what my child is, what’s going on for my child underneath the behavior. We have to give them a lot of space to have these big, messy feelings, and then we have to sit and allow them to emote. And we are not immediately kind of shutting down the behavior so that it can go on for a long time. But it’s easier, I believe, for us to be better at accurately reading what they need from us. And then as a result, more likely to meet that real need, the real need of I need to be soothed, or I need you to help me regulate right now. Or maybe I’m actually just really hungry or tired or thirsty, or maybe there’s a bigger kind of hole in my bucket. Maybe I need to have a new sleep routine, or maybe I need more one-on-one fill up time from you outside of this moment.
But when we’re able to actually figure out what’s going on that’s causing these behaviors and we’re able to fill those, plug up those holes in our kids’ bucket, or even in the moment, kind of fix the real underlying problem, that’s what makes parenting easier in the long run. Because we get really good at reading our kids’ cues because we’re really, really trying to figure out what they are, what they mean. And we recognize that a behavior is a cue, or that directly underneath the behavior might be a series of cues. And so we get better at addressing root causes instead of just responding to behaviors, because that really does end up feeling like whack-a-mole. It really does. And I find that too, when I’m feeling like I’m playing whack-a-mole with my kids, it’s a good kind of bell to ring in my head like, oh, okay, wait, I’ve been getting way too fixated on behaviors and let me kind of zoom out and say, what’s going on.
Are there some things kind of more big stuff, big picture stuff that might be happening that might be leading to more frustration, less patience with my kids, more just an edgier quality the way they’re showing up? A good example is we just got back from a trip and school’s been kind of in flux schedule wise, and we went on this trip and now we’re back. And my kids have just been really, really, really not listening, really not listening. My kids are five and three. They definitely don’t listen all the time, but way more than they normally do, and just grumpier and more irritable. And I’ve been more irritable. And I remember the other night I was sitting with my kid and they were just ignoring every single thing I was saying, and I was really mad, mad and irritated, and I really wanted to yell.
And I, for whatever reason, caught myself. And I sort of was like, what is going on? And obviously I prefaced this, that we’ve just been on a trip and we’re kind of getting back into a rhythm. But in the moment that was not on my radar. I was just like, I’m in this moment and why is this happening? And then I remembered to zoom out. I was like, aha, we just got back from a trip. They’re tired. They’re kind of in this limbo stage of we just had all these different routines and lax expectations, and we just got to do a lot more of what we wanted to do. And now I’m asking them to do things. I have this agenda for them that they have not had me have for the last week and a half, and it’s irritating them and they don’t want to have my agenda run the show.
And that makes sense. It doesn’t mean that I throw my agenda out, it just means I have to remember why something isn’t feeling good, and then I can do more. And then, so then what I change, I made as a result of that was I started to build in a little bit more time for preparation. And so I was making way more of a conscious effort to let my kids know what the next couple things were going to be before they happened so they could start to anticipate. So it wasn’t just mom always having an agenda and interrupting me and moving me onto the next thing, but mom kind of giving me a runway. And then I had more agency. I’m speaking, I’m my kid, but my kid had more agency to move to the next couple things at their own sort of on their terms because they knew it was happening.
So I was having to do a lot less nagging, but I don’t think I would’ve stopped and built in more preparation for my kids had I just been like, they don’t listen. That’s it. That’s the problem. They’re not listening and not kind of looking, zooming out and looking at why, what’s going, what’s behind this behavior? What’s been happening lately? Where are they at? And I think when we understand how important the parent-child relationship is, because we understand how big a role it plays in our child’s lives and in our role as parents in our own lives, we start to think about things from a different lens. And I always say, whenever you have the thought, why is this happening? That should be permission to stop because you can why it’s happening. You just have to stop and answer that question. And usually if you’re asking that question, it’s a sign I have to pause, I have to zoom out.
There is an answer to that question, and now I know I need to look for it. And it’s probably relatively right in front of your face. Obviously for me, when I said, why is this happening? It took me a few seconds to make the connection that it was because it was a trip that we had just got back from. But I wouldn’t have made that connection had I not caught myself with that question. And I know when I asked myself that question, I have to zoom out and say, oops, I know I can find the answer to that. What is it? And that’s a really empowering position to be in as a parent to go from why is this happening? Which is inherently a very helpless feeling to let’s figure out why this is happening. I inherently believe that I’m capable of answering that question. The shift in what part of us shows up when we say those two things in those two different ways is very big. Why is this happening? Is a place of frustration and helplessness and a lack of control.
Something must be happening. And I’m sure I can figure out why. Let’s think about this for a second, is such a empowering and confident and self-actualized statement. I trust myself, I trust my kid, I can figure this out. And then I do. So one stops us and one moves us forward. So that’s great to have in your back pocket. And I feel like it is impossible to talk about attachment and secure attachment and insecure attachment without taking a minute and talking a little bit about guilt and fear and perceived pressure that I know so many parents feel I know because people talk to me a lot. Questions I get all the time from parents often have themes around, I missed this window. I didn’t understand this stuff. Is it too late to create a secure attachment with my child? Or, I’m seeing all these signs and I believe my child’s insecurely attached.
And perhaps upon further discussion with that parent, the things they then described to me that’s making them interpret this insecure attachment style is not, in fact, in an indicator of a insecure attachment style. It just makes me feel like it’s very important. I can’t talk about this topic without taking a minute to sort of, one, clarify some points that I think make parents feel anxious and clarify some misconceptions about attachment security that I think are commonly held by people. And there’s an episode that I did with Bethany Saltman a while back. I’ll put a link to it in the show notes where we talk a lot about some of these myths that parents hold and that society feeds many parents about what secure attachment is and isn’t. Do you remember we’re talking about attachment theory, referencing this sort of simple basic biological drive to attach.
And then whether or not that attachment is secure, we need to remember that because it’s pretty biologically hardwired. It’s not actually tremendously fragile. I mean, we as a human species depend on attachment to survive, and we’ve done pretty good so far as far as continuing as a species. So if it was super fragile, it would probably have been something that would’ve really impaired our ability to continue to procreate and develop sturdy human beings. That said, I’m not saying it can’t be derailed. It certainly can. And about 70% of the population is securely attached. So we have 30% of the population who’s not. Another interesting episode that’s worth going back to is one that I did with Dr. Or Dagan where he, who’s a attachment researcher, and he talks a lot about in his research that there are certain types of insecure attachment styles that are actually not as bad as we’ve been made to believe, and that sometimes we can overblow how detrimental an insecure attachment style may be.
That said, we know that secure attachment style is optimal. So how do we help parents prevent themselves from feeling super terrified that they’re going to mess up that secure attachment and also not feel tremendously guilty if in fact it becomes clear through the work that they’re doing with a professional that their child does have an insecure attachment style? I don’t want people to feel like I’m a horrible parent if my child is insecurely attached because one, we can fix this. It is a malleable, changeable, dynamic, moving, living, breathing thing, an attachment relationship. So if an attachment relationship is characterized as insecure, then we can do things to create more security in that relationship, thus creating a more secure attachment. And if a child has many experiences where they have secure attachment relationships, they are likely to have a secure attachment style. So I just feel like it’s very important to sort of say, parents do not beat yourself up if your child doesn’t have a secure attachment style, there are things that can be done.
Also, another thing I see so much is parents feeling really hyper vigilant that every sign that their child is experiencing anxiety is a sign that they have an insecure attachment, or if they’re really clingy to the parent that that’s a sign of insecure attachment. Or if they cry when you separate and have a really hard time with separation, that is a sign that they have an insecure attachment style. And that’s in fact not how we measure the security of one’s attachment systems. So I do get a lot of parents who will call me and say, my child’s displaying all of these signs of an insecure attachment style, and then when we really talk about it, they’re just misinterpreting these cues to mean something that they don’t actually mean. And I don’t expect parents to know how to tell this stuff, right? This is nuanced, complicated stuff.
There are very complex and comprehensive ways that as clinicians, we determine the sort of security or lack thereof of a person’s attachment systems. So I really recommend if you are curious about your attachment style or your child’s attachment style, or if you’re concerned, or if you’re not really sure how to read a certain cue, reach out to a professional, reach out to someone who is trained to actually do the assessments necessary to accurately identify an insecure or secure attachment style, because it’s not necessarily something that you can just know by looking at your kid. So I really hope that going through some of these mindset shifts and some of these strategies and reviewing this sort of fundamental theoretical building block of our relationship with our kid is helpful because I know it’s been so helpful for me in my own parenting journey, and it’s helped me to feel so much more confident as a parent and frankly as a student of parenting, because I’m always sort of trying to learn more about what it means to be a parent.
In fact, I cringe when people call me a parenting expert a little bit, because I don’t see myself as a parenting expert. I see myself as a student of parenting, and I know a lot about what the research says and how children develop. And I’ve worked with so many families, and I’ve seen so many different parent child dyads that I really kind of understand a lot about how those relationships work. But the only person who can be an expert on your child is you, the parent, because nobody knows them better than you, and nobody holds that responsibility of being that primary attachment figure to that child the way that you do. And so, yes, I want to give people information, but I don’t think of myself as an expert in that way. I really want parents to feel like they are or can feel capable of becoming or feeling like they are an expert in their own relationship with their kid.
So I hope that that’s how you feel when you listen to this podcast, this episode, and this show in general, is to feel empowered to be the expert on your child and to trust that you really can do this, and you really can answer the questions of what’s going on and why is this happening? Because it’s right there. Your child has the answers. The answers are inside of your relationship with your child. The answers are inside of you. You just need to trust that you can find them. Thank you so much for being here, and as always, don’t be a stranger.
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