Secure Bonds – the “Best” Prevention of Addiction Begins in Early Childhood

Secure bonds are those that occur naturally between a child and a parent or another adult. Strong attachments are extremely powerful for young children, and are proven to be the best prevention of addiction later in life.

Children with strong attachments are better able to manage emotions and cope with stress. They are more likely to interact well with adults and other children, and will probably grow up to be good parents. Children with secure bonds tend to perform better in school and enjoy improved health throughout their lives.

What Happens When Secure Bonds Are Absent?

Children who grow up without a strong attachment may become easily stressed. They may be withdrawn and confused, and may suffer from low self esteem. Children who lack secure bonds may be aggressive or display antisocial behavior and are often mistrustful of other people.

Learning and speech problems are common, and children may act out in school. They may find it difficult to turn to adults to help in times of trouble, especially when adults are frequently angry or frustrated.

Children who lack secure attachments may experience depression or anxiety in later life, and may turn to drugs or alcohol as a means of relieving painful feelings or emotions. They may need drug and alcohol treatment or rehab to deal with substance abuse and addiction.

What are Secure Bonds?

Development of secure bonds has to do with the quality of nonverbal communication between a child and parent or primary caretaker.

When parents are emotionally available and sensitive to a child’s nonverbal cues, the child grows up to rely on unconditional love and acceptance and learns to trust that the world is friendly, safe and non-threatening. Children with strong bonds learn to stand on their own two feet, growing up to be strong and self-reliant adults.

While bonds are easiest to establish during infancy, bonds can be created anytime throughout childhood, as a child’s brain continues to develop through adolescence and into early adulthood.

Creating Natural Bonds with your Child

Although bonding is critical for children to grow into well-adjusted, fully functioning adults, this attachment isn’t always present and doesn’t come naturally for all parents.

Secure bonds have nothing to do with education or wealth. Even a child who grows up with all possible creature comforts may not develop a secure bond. Although it may sound counterintuitive, creation of secure bonds isn’t even wholly dependent on love or “good” parenting.

If you’re concerned that you haven’t established a strong attachment with your child, it’s never too late to start. However, it may require significant reorganization and a different emphasis on your life’s priorities. The following advice may help you explore ways to bond with your child:

  • Learn more about parenting, which will help develop your confidence and skills. Take a class, read parenting books, watch videos, or talk to parents you trust and admire.
  • Practice responding to your child’s nonverbal cues, which shows that you understand. Give lots of hugs. Make eye contract.
  • Be “in the moment” and focus on your child. Offer your full attention. Be fully engaged, without distraction.
  • Develop a dependable routine based on your child’s natural schedules and needs. It’s true that you may not get a good night’s sleep for awhile, but you will eventually settle into a schedule where everybody gets adequate rest.
  • If you work, rely on one dependable caregiver for at least the first five or six months. Develop a positive relationship with a caregiver who understands the importance of secure attachments. Developing strong bonds becomes more difficult when a child bounces back and forth between parents, grandparents, friends or various babysitters.
  • Show affection, as physical connection is critical. Take time to touch, smile, rock and enjoy your baby. Read books to your child. Play games.
  • Monitor your emotions. Even a newborn will respond to your tone of voice and will pick up nonverbal cues when you are angry, frustrated or stressed.
  • Don’t worry about spoiling an infant. Experts agree that there is no such thing as “spoiling” a child at this early age.
  • Be dependable and reliable. Respond with comfort when your child is distressed, but don’t feel you must jump at every noise your child makes. Smothering doesn’t create secure bonds and may rob your child of a chance to develop healthy independence.
  • Keep in mind that parenting can be difficult and exhausting, and developing strong bonds doesn’t require you to be superhuman. Accept that you will make mistakes — probably many of them.
  • Take care of yourself. Although your child’s welfare is most important, it’s also critical that you nurture yourself. Get out occasionally, spend time with friends, and get enough sleep.
  • Offer toddlers and young children space and freedom to explore the world around them, but stay nearby and provide reassurance when needed.

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