Part two of the interview with Sara Dominguez
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 second blog in a series of three, we will explore what a secure attachment looks like and what could be done if a child did not form a secure attachment style.

Did you miss our first post on what attachment really means? Read it here!

How would you recognize a child with less than optimal attachment?
There are different attachment styles. The ‘optimal attachment quality’ would be the secure attachment. Children with a secure attachment style are not overly worried, or troubled, and feel sure of the availability of their caregiver. These children show a healthy balance between exploration of their environment and their attachment needs. At 1,5 years of age, a child with a secure attachment will stay close to their caregiver in a new environment or when meeting a new person. They will start exploring independently once they feel more safe and ‘used to’ the new environment or person. Once they start exploring, they will go back and forth between exploring and seeking connection with their caregiver.

Signs that the attachment style is insecure or less than optimal would be when children are unable to explore and continue to feel distressed in the new environment for a longer time, or when children start exploring immediately without a need to get back to their caregiver. The way children separate from their parents is also telling.

So it is not a great sign when children enthusiastically begin exploring their environment as soon as they arrive?
Well, of course this is an overgeneralization. Every situation, every child and caregiver dyad is unique. Some children like exploring more than others to start with so it is not as simple as observing just one situation. What is important is whether the child knows he can call on the caregiver in times of distress. If they have learnt their main caregiver is not really responding, or is responding inconsistently, children will develop mechanisms to cope.

What can parents do if they suspect their child does not have a secure attachment style?
Parents can learn to be attuned and attentive to the child’s needs. For some parents this may come easily but not for everyone. It is important therefore that parents have a support network, so that they can observe others interacting with children and so that they can talk about their child and their parenting with other parents, their own family or friends. This way, they can learn more about what behavior is normal, and learn about their own ways of parenting and other ways.

When parents have specific concerns, they can seek out support of professionals. Luckily nothing is fixed in time and things can change. A little goes a long way here, learning more about child development and what a child needs can help parents to attune to their child better. Unfortunately there is often a lack of information about children’s attachment needs.

What do you mean, can you give an example?
We often hear parents or even professionals saying things like ‘don’t pick up your baby if he cries, or he will get spoiled’. But this is not how it works, a child cries for a reason. Maybe it is hunger or maybe it is because they are not feeling safe in that moment. A response from the caregiver will help the child regulate their stress and paves the way for the child to learn self-regulation. So responding every time to a crying baby is not leading to a spoiled child, but to an autonomous self-regulating child.

As you said, we often hear the opposite – even from professionals. What would you say to parents who are struggling with these conflicting ideas?
As a parent you need to listen to yourself and your intuition. Within this society we are not ‘expected’ to listen to ourselves and our intuition anymore, we are encouraged to listen to professionals instead. But you can listen to yourself and in parenting that is often the better option. It is also important to reflect on your own needs as a parent and understand what possibilities you have in any given situation. What works for you and your family is not necessarily working for others, and vice versa. There is not just ONE WAY to do things. You can see that even in the way parenting differs across cultures.

Thank you so much, Sara, for all your insights into attachment! Before we move on to how international life influences attachment, do you have any last words for our readers about attachment in general?
What I really want to convey is the importance of the parent-child dyad; how they are intertwined.

And I also want to recall that attachment is changing throughout the lifespan. Even if attachment is not optimal in the early years, or at present, we can’t lose hope.

 

Part 3 of this series will be published in two weeks!
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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!