Tips On Building Healthy Attachment With Young Children

Attachment is a concept originated in the work of John Bowlby.  The secure bonding and relationships between children and their caregivers are the cornerstones for normal social and emotional developing. Although the first 2 years is crucial in attachment building, the process of attachment can still continue after your child turns 2 years of age.

When children believe that their caregivers are dependable and trustworthy, they feel secure and safe to explore the world.  Healthy and secure attachment allows a child to have adequate social, emotional and intellectual development. This also encourages them to make and keep long lasting meaningful relationships.  Attachment is the basis for children to learn how to comfort themselves during stressful moments. It also helps hem to rebound from upsetting and crisis situation. Further, securely attached children will become confident in themselves and be able to make responsible decisions in their lives.

Without healthy and secure attachment, children will lose their ability to form and maintain loving and intimate relationships.  They grow up with an impaired perception that the world and people are unsafe and untrustworthy.  Without this basic sense of trust, children may become easily anxious, overly sensitive and overly reactive. Some children may show behavioral problems and emotional difficulties.

An emotionally and socially healthy child will therefore, show appropriate or be able to:

  • Eye-contact
  • Self-control
  • Social Skills (Give, Take & Share)
  • Motivation and Initiative
  • Trust himself and others (but shows appropriate signs of stranger anxiety)
  • Seek out caregivers for comfort when in needs and distress
  • Accept appropriate limits & boundaries
  • Be able to be calm by and be reassured by caregivers when in distress
  • Show empathy for others (at appropriate age level)
  • Understand & Identify of others’ feelings (at appropriate age level)
  • Enjoy physical touches – hugging & cuddling, etc. (at appropriate age level)
  • Delay gratification (at appropriate age level)
  • Receptive to normal and appropriate discipline (at appropriate age level)
  • Reunite and welcome caregiver after separation (vs. refusing and running away from caregivers)

Tips on Building Healthy Attachment
Be Attentive & Responsive
Attachment is a reciprocal ongoing process. In order to help your child to feel safe and secure, you will need to respond to your child’s needs, especially when your child is sick or in emotional distress. Be responsive to your child whether the need is emotional or physical.  Responding to your child’s needs does not mean you have to be there 24 hours throughout the day. The key in responding is to recognize they are in needs (from their perspectives), and then meet their needs accordingly in a sensitive manner. Your responses to your child while he or she is in need will teach your child that he or she is important to you, that he or she is a worthy person. Therefore, he or she will feel a sense of self-worth, feel confident, feel safe and be able to trust self / others.

Be Sensitive & Nurturing
When responding to your child’s emotional needs, the key is to be sensitive and appropriate.  Your emotions need to be in sync with your child’s emotions or needs. If your child is sad, you shouldn’t be joking about his or her sadness. Instead, you will need to be empathic and show your understanding. When you are trying to calm your child down, you should handle your child gently and use a gentle voice. Your sensitivity and nurturing attitude will allow your child to feel comforted, accepted and respected. Rough handling or angry reactions will make your child feel rejected or that he is not worthy for your time.

Remember to:

  • Be nurturing
  • Use soothing & Gentle Voice
  • Respond calmly
  • Be sensitive and empathic
  • Show eye-contact
  • Show congruent and appropriate facial expressions


  • Rough Handling
  • Angry reaction towards your child
  • Mocking your child’s needs
  • Judging from your perspective whether your child’s need is justified. Try to see from your child’s viewpoint.

Be Physically & Emotionally Available
Make sure you spend some quality time with your child even its 15 to 30 minutes a day. Be physically and emotionally available when you spend your quality time with them. The quality time you spent with your child will strengthen the bonding and provide enjoyable interaction for both of you.

Sometimes parents who have a history of abuse or are suffering from untreated emotional / mental problems may have difficulties bonding with their children. When parents find it difficult to be empathic towards their children, they are encouraged to look at their own issues in the counselling process. These issues may be interfering with providing sensitive, responsive & nurturing care to their children.

Should you have questions regarding your child’s behaviors, please consult your family doctor or talk to a BC Registered Clinical Counsellor or a child therapist for further support. Please visit our website The Wishing Wells Counselling Service for more information if you are interested in our service. Please inquire about our attachment-based play group for parents and children in the Vancouver area.