How Your Attachment with Your Child Affects Their EQ
We’ve all heard the word “attachment.” But what does it mean in terms of your relationship with your child?
Based on years of research, “attachment” refers to the kind of emotional bond that exists between parent and child as well as the level of security, comfort, and support in that relationship.
The kind of attachment your child has simply results from the way in which you respond to your children’s needs.
Do you respond in a timely manner? Do you respond sensitively? While attachment seems like it has many complexities, at the end of the day it’s rather simple. Reflect on your relationship with your parent or caregiver. Did you feel safe? Comforted? Supported? Empowered? If you did, you probably have what researchers call a “secure attachment” and have likely benefited from it the entirety of your life.
If you didn’t, you probably had another kind of attachment—and likewise, you’ve dealt with its ramifications.
Let’s take a look at each kind of attachment.
This is the kind of attachment you are striving to build with your child, and ultimately, with every other person in your life.
Secure attachments don’t come from perfect relationships—they come from relationships where support and safety are top priorities.
There are several research-proven characteristics and outcomes of a secure attachment. Children with secure attachments
learn that when they seek support or for their needs to be filled, they will receive it
are more likely to seek support from others
are better at self-soothing and have the ability to calm themselves in times of emotional stress
are more open and validating of their own and others’ emotions
are vulnerable; they believe a relationship will not be compromised when they show their emotions
have a better ability to regulate their emotions (a critical part of their emotional intelligence)
Avoidant attachment is just like it sounds.
This kind of attachment results from a relationship that lacks trust, vulnerability, and validation.
Children with avoidant attachments
struggle to be vulnerable and don’t like talking about or feeling emotions
often suppress emotions because they have been taught that emotions don’t matter and should be controlled
often engage in “distance coping,” which can become what John Gottman refers to as stonewalling or withdrawing
will attempt to conceal all expressions of emotion--nonverbal and verbal
You guessed it—anxious attachment is an attachment style characterized by anxiety.
Instead of engaging in the suppressed and withdrawn behavior of an avoidant attachment, people with anxious attachment do the opposite, and do it to an extreme.
Children with anxious attachments
often perceive themselves as helpless and constantly seek out and rely on others to enable them
fail to find solutions to problems quickly or effectively
are attention-seekers; they amplify their emotions to get attention
stay “safe” by seeking support in the least vulnerable ways in order to avoid rejection
As you read through these characteristics and behaviors, you probably identified with several of them. That’s to be expected! Now, reflect on your most consistent patterns of thought and behavior. Where do you stand?
Next, think about your relationship with your child. What type of attachment do you see in your child? In your relationship with them?
It turns out that the kind of attachment you develop with your child is strongly based on your emotional intelligence, and a good predictor of theirs.
In other words, the more emotionally intelligent you are, the better able you are to facilitate a secure attachment with your child. In turn, this helps them develop emotional intelligence.
So how do we know this?
Research has shown that if a child has a secure relationship with their caregiver, they are more likely to have successful relationships.
Characteristics of emotional intelligence such as empathy, the ability to recognize and regulate emotions, and social skills are strengthened by secure attachments. In general, studies have shown that children with secure attachments have better relationships—with themselves and with others—all because they know how to effectively process and manage their emotions.
The lesson in all this? Look for small ways to encourage secure attachment: be available, listen, validate, support, and empower.
When it comes down to it, do your best to just be there.
Housman, Donna K., et al. “Building Young Children's Emotional Competence and Self-Regulation from Birth: The ‘Begin To...ECSEL’ Approach.” International Journal of Emotional Education, vol. 10, no. 2, 2018, pp. 5–25.
Mikulencer, Mario, and Phillip R. Shaver. Attachment in Adulthood. The Guilford Press, 2018.