This Will Encourage Healthy Habits for Kids
How to Encourage Kids to Develop Healthy Attachments
Healthy attachments are most important with the primary caregiver or caregivers, such as parents. It’s important for a child to feel safe around the adults in his or her life. In addition, healthy attachments with other people, such as child care providers, family members, and teachers can benefit children. Building healthy attachments with adults can help in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.It can be difficult for a child build healthy attachments, but you can encourage this process by using special activities, improving the child's emotional security, and helping the child build attachments with new people.
Using Activities to Develop Attachments
Play together.Children learn and grow through play. Spend time playing with your child. When engaging in play, let the child direct what happens and follow his or her lead. It’s easy for adults to take over the play, but let the child have the lead.
- For example, you can ask questions, but let the child choose what and how to play. If playing with dolls, say, “What are they doing together?” If building with blocks, say, “What are you building? Shall we build something together?”
Create routines.A predictable environment can help a child feel secure and decrease distress. The more a child can anticipate, the less stress he or she will experience. While adults often choose their day’s events, children have little control over their day. To make the experience more tolerable, alert your child to the day’s activities each morning, and make sure to discuss any changes to the routine.
- Consistently enforce transitions. A transition may be, “We are going to play with cars for 3 more minutes, then it’s time for your bath.”
- If your child is going to the doctor, say something that morning. Say, “Today things will be a bit different. We are going to the doctor. We are going to wait in a big room with other people, then in a smaller room where it’s just us. The doctor may ask you and me some questions. Then, the doctor will take a look at your foot, since it’s been hurting you. The doctor and I will work together to help you feel better.”
Do things that make you and your child laugh.Laughing together is a great way to help your child develop an attachment to you, so look for ways to have fun with your child and make him or her laugh.Some things you can do with your child to get him or he laughing include:
- Watching a funny movie together.
- Playing a board game or card game together.
- Making up a silly story or do mad libs.
- Telling each other jokes.
Help your child identify and express emotions.Getting your child to open up to you about how he or she is feeling is an important part of building attachment.
Raising the Child’s Emotional Security
Be emotionally predictable.The more the child can anticipate, the more adjusted he or she can feel. If your child cries or expresses a need, try to respond to the need within fifteen seconds. Make sure your child knows that if he or she needs you, you will be there.
- When your child expresses a need such as hunger, sleep, or clean clothes, you respond quickly and predictably for the situation.You may pack extra clothes with you in a bag, have snacks available, or have set nap times.
Value your children.Children want to receive respect and be treated with value. When making decisions, include the child in the decision-making process as much as possible. Ask for the child’s opinions, thoughts, and feelings. This will help the child understand that you care about what he or she thinks and feels and that the child is involved in decision making.If a child feels listened to and valued, it’s more likely that the child will feel safe in developing a bond with the adult.
- If you need a babysitter, ask your children if they has a preference for who they spend time with that night.
- Let your child pick out his or her own clothes.
- Ask for your child’s input on what to make for dinner or what to pack in his or her lunch.
Express sensitivity.Learn your child’s cues and respond in a meaningful way.Even when you feel frustrated or tired or exhausted, respond out of gentleness and support for your child and not out of anger. Even if you’re confused as to why your child may be upset, be sensitive to your child’s needs as you try to find a solution. Avoid harsh responses, even if you’re annoyed or in the middle of something.
- Ask yourself, “What might the child be thinking and feeling right now?”
Be affectionate.Let your child feel affection from you. This includes making eye contact, smiling, and expressing warmth and touch.Some children may enjoy hugs, kisses, and cuddles and some may not. If your child does not enjoy this kind of touch, use a gentle hand on the shoulder or a pat on the back.
- If affection is not wanted, don’t push it. Follow the child’s lead and respond to what your child wants.
- Make sure that you teach your child about the difference between positive touch and negative touch.For example, you might tell your child that if the way someone is touching him or her makes the child feel uncomfortable, then it is probably a bad touch. Also, make sure that your child knows it is inappropriate for anyone to touch him or her in private areas, unless the person is helping the child with something, such as going to the bathroom or fixing his or her clothes.
Listen to the child.If the child has a concern, take the time to listen to what’s going on. Express back to the child the experience and the feelings you see the child expressing. Withhold your judgments or criticisms and instead, be there for the child. Show the child that you can view situations from his or her perspective.
- Avoid saying things like, “I remember thinking everything was the end of the world when I was your age. Stop making it such a big deal.” This invalidates the child’s feelings and experience. If you think the child is being ridiculous, then surpass your judgments for the moment and offer support. Say, “I’m sorry those kids are being mean to you. That doesn’t feel good.”
Check yourself.There’s a difference between being firm and being harsh in discipline. Inconsistent and harsh interactions can lead to disorganized attachment, which can cause harm to a child. Failing to meet a child’s basic needs, belittling a child, or ignoring or rejecting a child as punishment or at any other time are all ways that are considered abusive or negligent. If you think your behaviors are causing harm to your child, reach out for help.
- When dealing with the child, ask yourself, “Am I acting out of frustration or anger? Is this punishment helping the child to learn a lesson? Do I need to take a few moments to cool down before handling this situation?”
- If you wonder if your behaviors are neglectful or abusive, there are resources for you. In the USA and Canada, contact or call 1-800-422-4453. In the UK, go to or call 0800 1111. In Australia, visit or call 1800 688 009.
Helping the Child Build New Attachments
Recognize that other attachments don’t threaten the parental attachment.At no point does the attachment a child forms with a care provider replace the love the child has for a parent or primary caregiver. It’s beneficial for a child to have more than one secure attachment with adults. More opportunities for the child to experience safe and secure relationships means more benefit to his or her development.
- Learn ways to communicate with a care provider and work together. Recognize that the positive feelings your child has for other adults is helping his or her social development.
Take it slow.While some relationships with new adults (like new partners or step-parents) come easily for children, some are more difficult. It’s important not to pressure or rush the relationship. Take it slow and follow the child’s pace in developing the relationship.If the child wants distance, give distance. Slowly warm up to spending time together.
- Parents get to choose their love interests, yet children don’t get to choose if they have step parents, let alone who they get.This does not mean that the child will never warm up to the adult, however it might take a while and lots of continued effort.
Encourage journal keeping.A journal is a private space to explore thoughts, feelings, reactions, and situations in your own way. If a child is having a hard time adjusting to new people or new attachments, buy him or her a journal and encourage your child to write. The child can write about the changes happening and how she or he is getting through them.Even if it’s just a place to vent frustration, it can be helpful.
- Never read your child’s journal. It can feel like a serious trust violation, even if you’re doing it out of concern. If you have concerns about your child, talk to him or her.
Get your child talking.If your child is having a hard time with adjusting to new people, allow him or her to seek out outlets to talk about feelings. This might be a religious or spiritual leader, a teacher, neighbor, or counselor.It’s important for a child to have a space that he or she feels safe to express thoughts and feelings.
- You may consider therapy for a child who has difficulty expressing emotions. A therapist can help to introduce emotional vocabulary and ask questions that the child may feel more comfortable answering.
Find an emotional outlet.Even if your child doesn’t want to talk, provide some kind of outlet for emotions. This may include painting, drawing, writing, exercising or playing sports, or listening to music.
- Art and art therapy is one way to get in touch with feelings and emotions. Encourage your child to use colors, textures, and different brush strokes to capture different emotions.
Teach your child how to have healthy relationships with other adults.Your child can form new attachments with other adults in his or her life, such as teachers. However, make sure that your child understands what healthy boundaries are and can recognize if those are being violated. If you form a healthy attachment with your child, then it will make it easier for your child to understand what healthy boundaries look like.
- For example, you might explain to your child that it is okay for someone to hug him or her, but no adult should touch the child in private areas.
- You might also explain that if adults say abusive things to the child, then this is not appropriate either. For example, if an adult calls the child fat or stupid, then this is inappropriate.
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