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All humans are essentially genetically programmed to seek a secure relationship with a caregiver. Attachment is an inborn system of the brain that has evolved to keep a child safe. It enables a child to:
- Seek proximity to the caregiver
- Go to the caregiver at times of distress for comfort as a safe haven
- Internalise the relationship with the parent as an internal model of a secure base
The idea is that children come into the world biologically pre-programmed to form attachments with others for the purpose of survival. That an infant is programmed for behaviours such as crying and smiling that stimulate innate caregiving responses from adults. With repeated experiences of a primary caregiver responding to a baby’s cues in a dependable way, this sense of security is built and a child develops an internal sense of well-being that enables them to go out into the world to explore and make new connections with others.
This ‘attachment’ refers to the emotional connection that babies form with their caregivers and are built on shared experiences over time that contribute to a sense of trust and connection. A healthy, secure attachment supports a child's social and emotional development throughout his or her life. Secure attachment is associated with a positive developmental outcome for children in many areas, including social, emotional and cognitive domains.
Understanding attachment through the 4 S’s.
We need to be Seen, Safe and Soothed in order to feel Secure.
Being seen means that our inner mental life is sensed beneath our behaviour. Our caregiver hears our cry, figures out what our inner need is, and then offers us something that meets that need.
Being safe means we are both protected from harm and not terrified by our caregiver.
To be soothed means that when we are distressed, our caregivers response makes us feel better. When we need comfort, we get a hug.
All of this – being seen, safe and soothed in a reliable way – gives us an overall sense of security in the relationship.
Understanding attachment through Attunement, Balance, and Coherence (ABC)
Another way to understand how attachment is created through communication is by looking at the ABC’s of the attachment process: attunement, balance and coherence.
- Attunement is when the caregiver’s own internal state is aligned with those of the child. Often accomplished by the contingent sharing of non-verbal signs.
- Balance is when the child attains balance of their body, emotions and states of mind through attunement with the caregiver.
- Coherence is the sense of integration that is acquired by the child through their relationship with the caregiver in which they are able to come to feel both internally integrated and interpersonally connected to others.
When a caregiver’s initial response is attuned to the child, the child feels understood and connected to the caregiver.
Attuned communication gives the child the ability to achieve an internal sense of balance and supports them in regulating their bodily and emotional states. These experiences of attuned connections and the balance they facilitate enable the child to achieve a sense of coherence within their own mind.