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Children and Attachment

Every child is born with the innate ability to attach. The quality of the attachment between parents or caregivers and young children is one of the most powerful factors in a child’s growth and development. The attachments that are developed at a young age define the child’s sense of self, their forms of emotional regulation and the way that they carry out relationships with others. Children develop different patterns of attachment based on experiences and interactions with their caregivers at a young age.


According to Developmental Psychologist Dr. Gordon Neufeld, there are three specific keys to making sense of attachment.


Key #1: Every child is born with the potential to attach in numerous ways and with great depth, but this potential needs to be carefully cultivated. Some parenting practices can harm the development of attachment.


Key #2: The attachment of a child empowers those that it attaches to. This means that the better attached a child is, the more empowered the person that the child attaches to is.


Key #3: Attachment is polarized. According to Dr. Neufeld, the polarization of attachment serves two functions: to protect existing attachments, and to protect against vulnerability.


A child’s attachment patterns are hugely influenced by the patterns of their caregivers. The attachments of both the child and the caregiver greatly affect the child’s physical, psychological, behavioral, and developmental wellbeing. A secure bond where the parent is confidently and kindly in charge while providing a compass point will provide the child with an optimal foundation for life, including an eagerness to learn, a healthy self-awareness, trust and consideration for others, while an insecure bond can lead to confusion about his or her identity and difficulties in learning and relating to others later in life.

How is attachment developed?

  • Through the senses: Physical proximity is important. It is necessary for the child to sense the person they are attached to, through smell, sight, touch, and hearing.
  • Through sameness: When attaching through sameness, the child will seek to imitate the person that they are attaching to and will likely seek similarities. These similarities can come from the same blood, the same name, the same behavior, the same expressions, the same values, the same culture, the same religion etc.
  • Through belonging and loyalty: To be close to someone or something is to claim it as one’s own. When a child says mine he is often not referring to possession, but attachment, for example, “my teddy,” or “my mom”.
  • Through significance and specialness: To be significant or special to someone means is to feel that they matter to that person and that they are important to them. A child will often seek out signs and stories that they are special and significant.
  • Through emotional intimacy: Warm, loving and deep feelings of intimacy are ways of growing attachment. A child who experiences these feelings if emotional intimacy are able to tolerate much more physical separation, but still manage to hold the caregiver close.
  • Through psychological intimacy: By experiencing psychological intimacy the child is known. To feel known or understood by someone is a way of attaching to that someone. In the pursuit of feeling close to someone a child will often share his or her secrets. This is the most vulnerable of all ways of attaching as it involves transparency and self disclosure.

To learn more about Dr. Neufeld’s approach please visit his website at:





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