Attachment and Bonding are Important for Pre-schoolers

About the Author — Karen Stephens is director of Illinois State University Child Care Centre and instructor in child development for the ISU Family and Consumer Sciences Department.

Attachment and bonding should be reinforced throughout the early childhood years. The strong emotional ties an infant forms with family and caregivers needs to be enriched and further developed. Pre-schoolers who enjoy secure attachments and responsive child-rearing maximise benefits first seeded in infancy. These include an optimistic attitude toward life and greater resilience to stress or trauma. Refined brain development and learning pathways expand, too. Pre-schoolers’ trust in adults, self-confidence, and even immune system get a boost from strong emotional attachments.

Here are some tips for nourishing bonds with pre-schoolers:

  • Identify your child’s temperament, whether it is “spirited,” “easy,” or “slow-to-warm up.” Choose parenting strategies that are sensitive and responsive to it. Work with a child’s temperament, rather than against it, to convey acceptance and respect.

  • Plan family routines and schedules to maximise time together. Set priorities and refrain from over-extending yourself. With young children, it’s not a matter of quality of time versus quantity of time you spend together, they need both. Explore and enjoy the world together in simple ways, reading and singing together, taking walks, or playing together in the backyard or neighbourhood park. Good childhood memories build bonds that last a lifetime.

  • Include pre-schoolers in the everyday jobs and chores of family life. They enjoy a great sense of belonging when taught how to make a positive contribution. Include ways that are scaled to a child’s age and abilities. Three-year-olds can help pick out cereals during grocery shopping. They can help feed pets or put their dirty clothes in the laundry basket.

  • Pre-schoolers feel closer to parents they believe in. Be a good model. Behave in the same respectful manner you expect of children. Avoid fibs and white lies that can confuse and alienate children.

  • Observe behaviour. Listen daily to tune into children’s needs. Pay attention to children’s non-verbal language. Pre-schoolers communicate a lot through their behaviour. When you respond to their behaviour, they feel more accepted and understood.

  • Be your child’s island of security. Be alert to comfort needs and respond in ways that particularly soothe your child.  Some children enjoy having their foreheads stroked, others just want a lap to mould into.

  • Gentle touch and physical closeness are important throughout the early childhood years. During bath time, mealtime, or bedtime, children who are hugged, kissed, nuzzled, and gently handled soon learn they are special to others and worthy of love.

  • Be consistent in your own mood and temperament. A parent’s large mood swings make children nervous and edgy. Children need stable, reliable parent responses that are predictable more often than not. If you suffer from an ailment such as depression or substance abuse, seek help. Keeping your mental outlook on an even keel is a lasting gift to children.

  • In your discipline strategies, be dependable, respectful, and caring in order to build trust.

  • Focus on your discipline goals and style and practice them consistently. With your parenting partner, discuss and agree upon discipline techniques so they are compatible, otherwise parents undermine each other and confuse children. If you utilise childcare services, work as a team with teachers so guidance actions are comparable and mutually supportive.

  • Be aware of your child’s stage of development. Nurture emerging skills with toys and interactions geared to your child’s abilities. Offer a variety of engaging and developmentally appropriate toys. The success children experience during play builds confidence, self-esteem, and brain connections.

  • Rejoice in and applaud pre-schoolers’ growing attachments to others, siblings, cousins, childcare providers, and friends at school. To feel secure in your love, pre- schoolers need to know you aren’t jealous or resentful of their attachments with others. Make sure your child has no need to feel as if loving others means he or she is being disloyal to you. Feeding a child’s sense of guilt undermines a relaxed, secure parent-child bond.

  • Avoid comparing siblings to each other. Focus on each child’s individual strengths and talents, rather than using them to size children up to each other. Refrain from saying things like, “your brother never used to act like that. Why can’t you learn to be more like him?”

“With young children, it is not a matter of quality of time versus quantity of time you spend together - they need both.”

  • If you use childcare services for your child, find the best care you can. Look for trained personnel who understand pre-schoolers’ typical and atypical development. Be sure they understand pre-schoolers’ attachment needs and how to help children cope with separation anxiety. You will want to know they understand developmentally appropriate practice and curriculum so pre-schoolers experience success and a sense of competence. Find a programme that has a good track record for keeping staff for years at a time, rather than just months.  If pre-schoolers experience a revolving door of teachers every few months, they will experience a repeated sense of loss. 

  • In simple, everyday ways, find ways to express how much you love and cherish your child.