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In part 1 of this blog we talked about attachment having two important aspects that involve 1) providing safety and comfort and 2) allowing exploration. In this part we will look at some practical examples of do’s and don’ts from the recent research to ensure that we can provide a secure base to our babies.

Providing safety and comfort

What this study found is that constant  attention to the infant’s needs is not key. What is more important is that the baby learns that they are able to eventually get their parent’s attention and help when needed. Even if this means that they are not picked up right away.

What this means is that you should DO the following:

  • Even if not immediately and always, if a baby is crying, eventually pick them up chest to chest and soothe them until they are calm and reach a regulated state. 
  • At the end of each crying episode the baby learns about whether, on average, they can count on you to help calm them down or whether they must generally stop crying alone (Woodhouse et.al, 2019).

Some behaviours were found to be detrimental to secure attachment these are the following

DON’T:

  • turn the baby away from your chests before crying ends;
  • handle the baby roughly or use harsh verbal tones;
  • tell and expect the baby not to cry; and verbally attribute negative characteristics to the baby;
  • use frightening behavior, such as sudden looming into the baby’s face or toward the baby, during crying episodes.

“If the mother did frightening things when the baby cried, like hard yelling or growling at the baby, or suddenly looming toward the baby’s face while the baby was upset, even if it only happened one time, the baby would be insecure,”

Allowing exploration

The main motto of this aspect is “You are free to explore, I am here if you need me and you can count on me.”

While infants are not distressed and are exploring their surroundings or playing,  DO:

  • allow this exploration and play to occur without terminating or interrupting it;
  • play and exploration should be allowed in a calm and enjoyable way;
  • Intervene and protect the baby when real hazards are present, such as another child who is too rough or the baby moving toward real physical danger;

Avoid frightening or interrupting play and exploration abruptly, DON’T:

  • do anything frightening like saying ‘bye-bye’ and pretending to leave to see their reaction,
  • engage in play that becomes distressing or frightening like throwing the baby in the air to the point they would cry,
  • give the message that you will not protect them like walking away from the changing table or not protecting them from an aggressive sibling;
  • engage in ‘relentless play’ (insisting on play and getting the baby worked up when it is too much) or being very insistent on the baby doing certain things or turning the baby’s head to look at you as this may also lead to anxiety and insecurity.
  • overprotective-type behaviors, such as moms who don’t let the baby explore more than an arm’s length away, or interrupting or redirecting play (except for safety) also contributed to insecure baby attachment.

Bottom line

You can rest assured that not being constantly 100% attuned to your child and always responding promptly is OK. Focus on lowering distress and ultimately picking up and soothing a crying infant in a chest-to-chest position until calm. And it’s ok not to manage to do this 100% of the time.

Support your baby in exploration and not interrupting it and welcoming babies in when they need us for comfort or protection.

Remember, keep trying. You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be good enough!

Journal Reference:

  1. Susan S. Woodhouse, Julie R. Scott, Allison D. Hepworth, Jude Cassidy. Secure Base Provision: A New Approach to Examining Links Between Maternal Caregiving and Infant Attachment. Child Development, 2019; DOI: 10.1111/cdev.13224

Anthea D’Amico is a counsellor and supervisor at Willingness. She works both with children and adults. You can contact her on anthea@willingness.com.mt or 79291817.