Attachment is a special kind of love relationship. It’s a fierce, strong love. Attachment love is the basis for all of our important trust relationships, the relationships where we know we can count on someone and they have our back.
Those of us who work with vulnerable children need to attend to attachment… because attachment love is the basis for mental health.
Watch this video and download the resources below to learn practical ways you can develop attachment with children.
Attachment is a special kind of love relationship. It’s a fierce, strong love. The most strong love that happens between people. And it has a couple of really unusual qualities that make it different than other love relationships.
When you have this kind of love with somebody, it’s a two-way reciprocal loop. It’s a little different than how parents love little babies—we love them in one direction.
Another unusual quality of attachment love is that it transcends distance and time. So when you have attachment love with somebody, that love becomes basic to your sense that the world is a good place and can be trusted.
Why attachment matters so much to human beings is attachment love is the basis for all of our important trust relationships, the relationships where we know we can count on someone and they have our back and they’re predictable to us.
And those of us who work in child welfare and with parentless children in this world need to attend to attachment with the same vigor we attend to their physical health, their grades in school, getting them immunized… because attachment love is the basis for mental health.
It helps to understand what happens in a normal family. When a baby is born into a family, those adults respond to that baby when they cry. When that baby expresses any distress, the grownups try to relieve the distress of the baby. And when a grownup does that consistently and predictably and kindly, day after day after day, the child gets a secure attachment in this world.
Children in orphanages or children without families often don’t have that privilege. They don’t have adults who are responding to them in such a way. So rather than secure attachments, those children are going to end up with insecure attachment in which they’re very fearful and clingy… or they’re going to end up as avoidant personalities. Those are people who are consumed with their own feelings and don’t have much concern about other people’s—including their future wife or husband or their future children.
So attending to this is in everyone’s best interest if we want to raise up adults who can love their own families in the future, who can be good employees and good citizens of their own cultures and societies.
In children’s homes for parentless children—especially those living in institutions—we want to try to create a family environment.
First of all, that means having staff that respond to the child’s needs. When we work in children’s homes, we educate the staff to act like they are the child’s mother because in the child’s experience that’s who they are. They’re not a caretaker. They’re not a warden. They are the mother or father to the child.
Some practical things that people can do in children’s homes:
First of all, try to get consistent, 24-hour, live-in staff. I know that’s a tall order, but it is in the best interest of children’s attachments to have adults that are there consistently, every day, all the time, like what would happen in a family.
A second thing that you can do on a practical level in a children’s home is put children in family groups. Approximate a family as best you can in that setting. If you cannot do that because your children’s home has 150 children in one building, then you want to create family groups by making teams that relate to certain adults. So those children have a sense of being loyal to each other and helpful to each other.
The other thing that we teach orphanage staff to do is create the same rituals you’d have in a family. So eat meals together, facing each other, and having conversation with the adult who’s in your group or several adults that are in your group. We encourage people to sit in a circle and share a positive thought from the day, maybe share a prayer time, and we encourage the adults then to be sure that each child is touched and put to bed in a caring way.
Another way that you can approximate what happens in a family is be thoughtful about the mixing of the ages of the children that are in a family group. This is the optimal thing that would happen for children, so that they have a normalcy in the way they relate to others.
Most importantly, in my mind, is who you hire to be the direct care staff for your children. The people that you hire to do this job need to be attuned to children. They need to like children as people. They need to be kind-hearted and gentle. Provide your staff training on positive discipline, on attachment, on child management to behavior so that they have some skills for the things they need to do with children.
Attachment is the name of the game when it comes to mental health and giving kids and adults a sense of hopefulness in this world, and helping them be a positive influence on their own future families and on their societies.
Let’s learn how to protect it. Let’s learn how not to damage it in these precious children that have been given into our care. And let’s all be on the same team with tending to people’s attachment the way we tend to their health and their education.