Between the ages of 0 and 3, a child’s main developmental challenge is to build a secure attachment with their caregivers. It’s possible to build a healthy attachment with your little one by picking up on and responding to their needs - even before they can talk.
Why is this important?
- Noticing and responding to your child’s needs creates a strong bond and healthy attachment. The attachment patterns that are formed in the first year of life will affect your child’s relationships through adulthood, so these years are critically important.
- Attachment is related to a whole host of childhood behavioral problems, including ADHD, toileting problems, accidents, and trouble feeding.
- Adults who formed insecure attachments in childhood are more likely to suffer from substance use disorder, homelessness, promiscuity, criminality, and teen pregnancy.
- Secure attachment is one factor that protects children from suffering the consequences of toxic environmental stress.
- When children’s emotional and physical needs are met, they become emotionally healthier adults with better relationships, self-esteem, and the ability to regulate their emotions.
How to be responsive to your child's needs:
- Before they can talk, the only way your baby can communicate with you is by crying. When your baby does cry, try to figure out what’s wrong. Are they hungry? In pain? Do they need a diaper change?
- Always respond to your babies’ cries. The idea that you can spoil a baby with too much attention is a myth. Comforting, holding, or talking to your baby will make them feel safe and worthy of attention: their primary need during their first few years of life.
- Learning your babies’ different types of cries, babbling, and smiles can strengthen your bond with them. Pay close attention, and try to understand what your baby is trying to tell you.
- Toddlers like to explore on their own, but they still need your physical presence to feel safe and secure. Encourage your child’s curiosity, but also let them know that you’ll be right behind them the entire time.
- If your child expresses interest in a particular toy or object, reflect that interest back to them. Play with them, and encourage their fascination.
- No matter how old your infant or toddler is, one of their primary needs is affection. Make sure to spend enough quiet time cuddling with them, singing to them, and letting them know how wonderful they are. They love hearing your voice and feeling you close.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Childhood Development: Toddlers. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/childdevelopment/positiveparenting/toddlers.html. Accessed March 25, 2021.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Childhood Development: Infants. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/childdevelopment/positiveparenting/infants.html Accessed March 25, 2021
Rees C. (2007). Childhood attachment. The British journal of general practice : the journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners, 57(544), 920–922. https://doi.org/10.3399/096016407782317955