Communication is the key to secure attachment. Sharing and understanding emotional information enables us to feel deeply connected.
Communication begins even before birth. Pregnancy is the dawn of attachment, the time in which parents and unborn baby begin to communicate and attach. A mother’s thoughts, feelings, and stress are communicated via a neurohormonal dialogue and are preparation for communication after birth. Reciprocal and collaborative communication is the basis of attachment after birth.
The caregiver’s sensitivity to the needs and signals of his or her baby is the essence of creating secure attachment. Infants communicate their needs and feelings by crying and body language. The way the primary attachment figure responds determines the type of attachment pattern established (secure, avoidant, anxious, or disorganized).
A parent’s style of communication often determines the quality of the relationship. Effective and secure communication includes:
•Connect with eye contact: This is the key to gaining your child’s attention, giving and receiving clear messages, and creating an emotional connection.
•Be aware of nonverbal messages: Body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice send powerful messages. Gently touch a child’s arm or shoulder; have a firm, yet empathic, tone and look. Get down to the child’s level, eye to eye, rather than being in an intimidating position, such as standing over him or her. The goal is to teach and connect, not intimidate or control.
•Set the stage: Take the time to find a quiet space where the focus is on the child. Be in the right mood so that the child is more likely to be receptive.
•Focus on the behavior, not the child: Convey the message, “I dislike your choice and behavior, not you.” The goal is for the child to learn from the experience rather than feel criticized, rejected, or ashamed.
•Work as a team: It is important that parents talk about behavior and consequences so they are on the same page.
•Don’t lecture: Listen more, talk less, and children are more likely to trust and open up.
•Control anger: Children learn more when adults are firm, yet calm. Yelling, criticizing, and lecturing do not provide a positive role model of coping and communication, and create anxiety in children.
Don’t threaten or give warnings: Repeated warnings undermine authority. A single warning can be effective. This allows the child to correct his or her behavior or face the consequences.
•Give positives: It is very important to give children positives. The best rewards are emotional—smiles, hugs, words of appreciation, and praise: “I really like the way you helped clean up. How about a hug.”
Dr . Terry Levy and Mr. Michael Orlans co-wrote this article. They are the co-authors of two books and co-lead seminars on attachment and trauma. They welcome hearing from you.
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