Part three of the interview with Sara Domingues
By Jet Sichterman

As an international parent, you may have a different lifestyle compared to most parents but you still want what is best for your child. You would go far and beyond to see your children grow up happy and healthy. You may have heard about the term attachment and it’s importance in early life. Whatever it is you need to do to get that secure attachment – you will. But what is this attachment really? And how does living an international life influence the attachment of your child? And what can you do if – for whatever reason – the early days with your child were not all that sunshine and happiness you were hoping for? We interviewed Sara Dominguez of Early Years Psychology to find answers to these questions. Today, in this last blog in a series of three, we will explore how international life influences a child’s attachment.

Sara DominguezSara Dominguez, PhD. is a child and parent psychologist at Early Years Psychology. Sara’s personal life has been anchored in an international environment and so she knows the specific challenges of growing up, and raising, international children.

Part 1: What is attachment?
Part 2: How to recognize an optimal attachment?

Sara, how does an international life influence a child’s early attachment?
Moving internationally can be a disruption for children and parents. For the child, the most important task in the early years is that they can begin to understand the world and are being attended to their needs. A continuity of caregivers with which they can form stable, consistent attachment relationships is important for this. While a young child usually moves together with their parents, the child may also be taken care of by different caregivers in each location who may not move with them. And while the parents do move with the child, they will go through their own emotional experiences during each international move which may limit their sensitivity to the child’s needs for a while.

Parent and Child touching globe

For parents, it is important to be aware of the attachment so they can make informed choices when it comes to raising their children in an international setting. It is important for them to attend to their own wellbeing and needs in order to be of support to their children. Establishing a support network in the new home and also draw on their support network in other countries if required are great steps to ensure a successful transition for the whole family. Parents may also want to consider carefully who will be the primary caretaker of the child – if not a parent, this could be a grandparent or nanny who is moving with the family in the early years.

How about later in life, can an international life change the attachment style at a later age?
What I said before applies mostly to the first 2 years of life. Attachment at an early age is based on caregivers, but this changes throughout life. Attachment figures change. Children will form relationships with peers and with other adults and these relationships are continually evolving too. Sometime in adolescence, peer relationships will become more important for children’s attachment needs than the parental relationships. And most adult’s attachment needs are met in the relationship with romantic partners.

International children will face more losses in their relationships; friends and teachers that are left behind, or that have left them. That does take a toll on a person’s need for secure attachment and may indeed influence how safe and secure they feel in later attachment relationships.

Mother with child in carrierWhat can international families do to limit these risks to a child’s attachment style?
As said before, nothing is set in stone. Attachment needs and styles can change even after the early years. However, the early years are providing a strong blueprint for the future so a secure attachment early in life is going to be helpful throughout life. Another thing that could prove helpful is to ensure that leaving does not mean losing. I had a friend who was a third culture kid. She told me how hard it was moving from place to place and knowing relationships would be broken at some point. But what I saw was that she had been consistent in keeping contact with her friends all over the world and throughout her life. An attachment relationship endures over time and space, simply knowing the person is there is helpful.

Thank you, Sara, so as long as there is a form of continuity in who is taking care of a child, and if children are given the opportunity to stay connected to those who are important to them even if they are not moving along, a child can continue to have an optimal quality of attachment?

And if, for whatever reason, the attachment quality is less than optimal, there are always things one can do to improve it?



Are you worried about your child’s attachment or your relationship with your child?
Connect to Early Years Psychology for support if your child is four years or younger!
If your child is five years old or above, schedule a free 15 minute phone consultation to explore how Embracing Horizons can support your child!

Also check out Sara’s Forum workshop on Assertive Parenting for Toddlers coming up in October 2019!

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