Mammals naturally attach to their caregivers and naturally detach from their caregivers as they mature. A young child when scared by something will run towards a caregiver even if running towards the caregiver brings them towards the frightening thing. As they get older they naturally change to the adult fight or flight response which is to run AWAY from the frightening thing even if that involves running away from the caregiver.
Insecure attachment creates attachment issues not secure attachment. It makes it so that the child has to seek out and cling and manipulate in order to get the comfort that they instinctively need but that they are not able to get in any other way. Children are resourceful and will find ways to have their needs met if their needs are not being met. It’s an excellent survival trait.
When they have to work so hard to have their needs for attachment met they don’t go through the natural and healthy peeling off phases the way a securely attached child will because they’re WORKING for what they need.
A child who has an abundance of healthy food available at every point in time doesn’t become a food hoarder. A child who knows that food is scarce becomes a food hoarder. Survival trait.
So why does a securely attached child look like they have an attachment issue at different points? Why will a nine month old freak out when left at daycare? Why will a child cling to their mother or father and be fearful of strangers? Because that’s what normal childhood development looks like. And it’s healthy. It only looks like an attachment or fearfulness issue if their developmental phase isn’t being respected. And since often this developmental phase is addressed as an issue that the child needs to be “broken of”, it often becomes a prolonged phase that parents vow to never repeat with a future child.
My 15 month old daughter walked into the YMCA childcare center all on her own and didn’t look back. When she was ready to come out she walked over to the door and threw herself up against it with a funny tongue-out smile and patting hands because she knew that I was there and ready to be responsive. I have had to leave her with other caregivers. But I make sure that when I come back I work on repairing our attachment and making sure that she feels secure. I don’t expect her to bounce immediately back to normal. I expect her to act like a child that has gotten lost and then been found. And she does. And I reassure. And then she toddles off again when she feels secure.
When she gets older she will understand that she can ask the caregiver to come find me in the YMCA and she’ll be fine with being there because she knows who to ask. And then I’ll leave her there while I go work out or swim alone in the pool for some “me” time. Until then it’s just a fun experience for her where she’s experimenting with independence. I’m “waiting out” the developmental phase and letting her move rapidly ahead of where she would be if I was trying to ‘train’ her into comfort.
Children’s instincts have them prepared for a world where it’s easy to get lost in the forest and not be able to find their way back to their cave. Where they can get eaten by lions and tigers and bears if they are separated from their caregivers. They need to grow enough for their understanding and mental capacity to catch up to the fact that they live in a world with telephones and GPS systems and door locks and very few wild tigers.
Pushing them away before they’re developmentally ready triggers panic upon separation.
In some kids they’ll process that it’s fine to be left alone and that mommy will come back to get them. When mom HAS to go back to work, there’s sometimes no other way. And they do learn. Different kids at different rates depending on their personalities and the caregivers they are left with and how their parents approach the separation.
Because I have a choice I’m choosing to wait it out and take the slow gentle road.
Children learn better with consistency than with inconsistency. So I try to be as consistent as I can and when inconsistency happens then I make sure to put in more work to repair the inconsistency. Just as I would with any other area of parenting. Insecure children are created by insecure attachment, not by secure attachment.
What a lot of parents see is the impact of “creating a monster” by allowing their child to be securely attached and then panicking and pushing the child away when they’re naturally more clingy as they go through a developmental phase. Yes. That will create a very clingy child. Pull ’em closer when they need to cling. Reassure them that it’s okay to go be independent and it’s okay to cling and that they’ll go be more independent again when they’re ready. Because it’s normal. And they will be ready. Because independence is FUN.