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Attachment and Learning

Let’s explore what attachment is and how you can start to build this bond with your child.

Smiling mother and son rubbing noses

What is attachment?

Attachment is a special emotional bond shared between a child and their parent or caregiver.

It develops as you respond to your child’s needs in a warm, sensitive and consistent way – especially when they are sick, upset or distressed.

A strong positive attachment with your child is characterised by safety, comfort, support, sharing and enjoying time spent together.

While it’s easier to form a secure attachment with an infant, it’s important to know that this bond can be developed at any time or at any age.

What does attachment look like?

There are different types of attachment a child can experience.

A secure attachment will help a child handle situations as they grow, help them to trust other people and develop an eagerness to learn.

An insecure attachment may lead to difficulties with learning and relationships.

Secure attachment:

  • Child feels safe to explore their environment
  • Child is distressed when they are apart from their parent and happy when they see them again
  • There’s a strong emotional connection between parent and child
  • Parent can tune into the child’s non-verbal cues and respond with understanding
  • Parent provides consistent comfort and security, especially when the child is upset or needs help
  • There is calm and responsive communication between parent and child

Insecure attachment:

  • A child may either rely on the parent a lot or avoid having a parent involved at all
  • A child may be extremely distressed or not show any emotion when apart from the parent and they may be angry or avoid the parent when they see them again
  • There is a sense of emotional disconnection between parent and child
  • Parent doesn’t always respond to the child’s non-verbal cues
  • Parent gives comfort and security sometimes only
  • Communication with parent and child may be angry or lacking in affection

Attachment and its positive impact on learning and development

A secure attachment helps children feel confident to explore the world around them.

It reduces their anxiety about new situations so that they can continue to learn new things.

When kids develop a secure attachment, they are better able to:

  • Cope with stress
  • Develop resilience
  • Share their feelings and seek support
  • Develop problem solving skills
  • Build positive relationships
  • Perform better in school
  • Feel confident in themselves
  • Enjoy being with others

Building a secure attachment with your child

Here are some tips to help you emotionally connect with your child:

Be present – Give them your full attention when you talk, play and do activities together without any distractions

Be available – Show your child that they can rely on you and you care about them when they need help

Spend quality time together – It communicates that you value them, you want to get to know them and their interests   

Express empathy – Show understanding of your child’s emotions and talk to them about their feelings, thoughts and behaviours

Be predictable – Having routines for meals, bedtime and other activities helps your child to feel secure

Be sensitive and responsive to your child – It helps them to feel safe to explore and to express themselves

Use calm and warm non-verbal communication – Eye contact, facial expressions, tone of voice, body language and hugs

Reflect on your own experiences of attachment – When did you feel physically and emotionally safe as a child?

Building a secure attachment with your child doesn’t mean that you have to be a perfect parent. Attachment is NOT based on quality of care, education or love you have for your child. It’s about the non-verbal communication that takes place between you and your child.

– Yvonne, Parentline Counsellor

You are not alone

Talking it through and discussing ideas and solutions can really help. Here are some places you can go for more information and support:

  • See your GP or Child Health Nurse
  • Talk with a counsellor
  • Visit Child and Youth Health for more information
  • Talk to family and friends with kids
  • Mothers groups - face to face or online

Parentline is just a phone call away

There is support available to help you build this bond with your child.

This content was last reviewed 17/05/2018

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