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Sometimes You Just Need to Hold Them: 3 Guidelines to Help Develop a Secure Attachment with Your Baby

Babies experience distress. All of them. And, they experience distress every single day.

From feelings of hunger and sleepiness, to feeling scared after hearing a loud noise, to simply wanting to be held because he or she is lonely, infants experience all kinds of mild, moderate, and severe distress. Infants are not born with the ability to cope with this stress. Instead, infants (and toddlers, preschoolers, children, and some adults!) need a sensitive, caring adult to help them get through the difficult feelings they are experiencing. Eventually, the consistent, positive support infants receive from their caregivers enables them as older children to down regulate their own stress. This process of an infant experiencing and expressing his/her distress and a primary caregiver responding to said distress in order to develop some kind of (consistent or inconsistent) pattern of behavior between a parent and child is at the foundation of attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969; 1973).

Specifically, attachment theory claims that individuals have an innate desire to form attachments to others, so that they may feel secure and safe (Bolwby, 1969; 1973). And based on the interactions infants have with their primary caregivers during times of infant distress, children develop mental representations (also known as "internal working models") of their primary caregivers. These mental representations, which are said to develop into attachment styles, guide how children form relationships with others in childhood through adulthood (Bretherton & Munholland, 1999).

As a parent, what can you do? When you are with an infant or toddler, be sure to follow these three guidelines about What To Do, What To Say, and What To Avoid...

  • Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment (Attachment and loss, Vol 1). New York: Basic Books.
  • Bowlby, J. (1973). Separation: Anxiety and anger (Attachment and loss, Vol. 2). New York: Basic Books.
  • Bretherton, I. & Munholland, K. A. (1999). Internal working models in attachment relationships: A construct revisited. In J. Cassidy and P. R. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of attachment: Theory, research, and clinical applications. Guilford Press.


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