I have 3 children. The first came to us via foster care and the second 2 I birthed.
Before our first son came to us, we took PRIDE training(required for all foster parents) and learned some things about how trauma affects children. We thought we were ready for anything. We also thought we were amazing parents because he was an amazing baby. We didn’t have time off and both worked so we did a good job of sleep training to teach him to sleep through the night. We would let him cry it out and would check on him every 5 minutes, so he knew he was not alone. By doing this, he was sleeping through the night by 3 months old and continued to be an amazing sleeper…until he turned 2and decided that sleep was for the birds. Since we didn’t have time off, our friend kept him during the day from the time he was 5 days old until he could start daycare at 6 weeks old. When we fed him a bottle, we frequently were watching tv or scrolling on our phones. He was also an amazing baby because he didn’t cry when we dropped him off. He would go to anyone, and we were SURE it was because we were such great parents!
Before our second son was born, my husband and I met with a doula and did birthing classes. We learned different positions to ease the pain of childbirth because I was determined to have a “natural” (epidural free) birth. I was scared about how the baby was going to come out, so I read books about birthing and talked to others who had babies. At 41 weeks, I had to be induced because he wasn’t coming and was big. After 15 hours of Pitocin induced “natural” labor, I was BEGGING for an epidural. None of what I had planned or read about was happening. All of my preparation went down the drain, but fortunately, after a grueling 21 hours, my healthy 9 lb 7 oz baby was born. He had to spend a little time in the NICU because of a breathing issue, but when we took him home 3 days later, we thought we were ready because we had done the newborn thing before! Since he was bornin May and I was a teacher, I got to have 3 months of maternity leave with him. I breastfed him and he was a SLOW eater. I felt like I was wasting my life away sitting to feed him, so I started reading a lot of books on my phone while I was feeding him. When we would use a bottle, we frequently watched TV while we fed him. Sleep training did not go as well for him because he was STUBBORN! He would cry until he threw up, so although we tried to let him cry it out, we had to get up with him more during the night. We were sure we were doing something wrong! He was a little fussier than his brother when we dropped him off and we didn’t understand why he wasn’t as “good” of a baby as his brother was.
Before our third son was born, we had started to struggle with behaviors with our oldest son. We watched a lot of trainings on attachment, connection, and Trust Based Relational Intervention. Everything that we read to help our oldest son emphasized the importance of attachment in the first year of life. Labor and birth were easy with my third son. He came quickly and didn’t have any medical issues. Since he was not a “planned” baby, I struggled with liking him in the first couple of weeks. He was colicky and super fussy. On top of that, we were struggling with big behaviors from our oldest son who was having trouble adjusting to the new baby. We were stressed. But because of what we had learned about attachment and connection, we did things a little differently with this baby. When I breastfed him, I put my phone away and made eye contact with him (something that is not extremely comfortable for me). When we gave him bottles, we turned the tv off more and made eye contact. When he cried during the night, we got up and met his needs. Since I was now working at For the Sake of One, I took him to work with me for the first couple of months and then he went to a babysitter. He cried every time I dropped him off. He did not sleep through the night. To the outside world, he was not a “good” baby because he cried so much whenever we dropped him off with anyone new. To this day, he doesn’t like new people and wants to be with mommy and daddy more than anyone else in the world.
Because this blog is about the importance of attachment. Our first son appeared to be the perfect baby. We did everything the “world” told us to do to ensure that he was an easy baby, and he was, but he was diagnosed with an attachment disorder when he was 6 years old. We have worked to be securely attached, but it was harder with a 6-year-oldthan it would have been with a baby. Our second son is definitely attached to us, but we have had to work through some issues. Our third son is probably the most securely attached child you will see. We have learned over the years that when you know better, you do better.
British psychologist John Bowlby described attachment as a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.” In easier terms, this means that attachment is the ability to feel safe and secure with one or 2 caregivers. Children attach to their parents and adults attach to their partners, but only when they feel safe and secure. Attachment in childhood is the basis of adult mental health and will direct the types of relationships adults will have.
1. Make loving eye contact. They have discovered that babies and caregivers have mirror neurons in their brains that light up in the same locations when loving eye contact is made. The caregiver is literally forming the child’s brain.
2. Respond to the child’s needs. This may seem like you are giving a child whatever they want, but it’s not. Babies do not know how to regulate themselves and need to feel safe and secure for their nervous system to properly develop. Remember that sometimes we as adults “need” candy or fast food in order to feel better about an emotional situation. Children are no different.
3. When a new child comes into your home (whether through adoption or birth) take time to establish a primary caregiver. In the first six weeks, one or two caregivers should be responsible for meeting ALL the child’s needs.
4. Play with your child. Play disarms fear and makes children feel safe. When you are playing with a child, make sure your face shows them that you value them and your time with them. Laugh with them. If you have multiple children, take time to give each child 5 minutes of one-on-one time each day.
And remember, its never too late to start over. If you realize that you did not promote healthy attachment with your baby, start now! As we always say, when you know better, you do better!