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Publication #FCS2309

Strengthening Families: Nurturing and Attachment1

David C. Diehl, Jessica N. Wente, and Larry F. Forthun2

Parenting is a tremendous responsibility full of many moments of joy. But sometimes the rapid rate of a young child's growth and development can leave parents feeling a little overwhelmed. This Strengthening Families Series highlights six factors that promote positive parenting and protect against stressors and frustrations that can lead to harsh parenting: Parental Resilience, Social Connections, Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development, Concrete Support, Social and Emotional Competence, and Nurturing and Attachment. Each of these protective factors offers families and children some defense against distress. However, together they combine to create a solid foundation of knowledge, parenting skills, and support that can help families thrive during everyday circumstances as well as persevere during times of stress or crisis (1).

Overview

Children possess an amazing ability to learn, experience, and feel. When they are nurtured with warmth, compassion, and consistency they can develop at their own pace. Parents who love and respect their children as individuals can seamlessly provide them with a safe and positive environment in which to grow and experience life. According to the Administration on Children and Families,

  • A child's early experience of being nurtured and developing a bond with a caring adult affects all aspects of behavior and development. When parents and children have strong, warm feelings for one another, children develop trust that their parents will provide what they need to thrive, including love, acceptance, positive guidance, and protection (2).

Children who experience consistent warmth and affection are more likely to do well academically, develop stronger peer and social relationships, explore their environment more, have more self-confidence, have stronger communication skills, and show more persistence in life (3). When children do not experience consistent affection and nurturing, they may have difficulty forming positive relationships; lack of nurturing may even alter brain growth and development (4).

Ideally, families are a safe haven for children where they feel warmth and acceptance. A child's family should provide protection and guidance, teaching children how to grow into competent individuals, socially and emotionally. The home environment should foster a sense of security where the child will find protection and know that he or she is valued.

What You Can Do

While nurturing comes naturally for many parents, it can be helpful to think about the concrete ways in which parents can strengthen their bonds with their children. Here are some ideas of things that you can do to help foster nurturing and attachment between you and your child:

  • Make sure your child knows that he or she is the most important individual in the world to you! As renowned scholar of child development and co-founder of Head Start Urie Bronfenbrenner once said, "Development, it turns out, occurs through this process of progressively more complex exchanges between a child and somebody else—especially somebody who's crazy about that child." The positive messages we send to our children shape how they see and feel about themselves.

  • Choose to breastfeed your infant, if possible. Breastfeeding has nutritional and emotional benefits for babies, and recent research has found emotional and health benefits for mothers as well. If you are not breastfeeding, try to hold and cuddle your baby whenever they are taking their bottle.

  • Establish a "give-and-take" relationship with your infant. Babies learn to interact by responding to visual cues and interactions with parents. By establishing eye contact, making faces, and playing games such as "Peek-a-Boo," parents create a world that is responsive and understandable for a baby.

  • Learn what your infant or child likes by responding to cues. Different children will enjoy different kinds of touch and interaction, so pay attention to your child's reactions. Use these reactions to figure out what works best for your child.

  • Be affectionate. A hug in the morning is a great start to the day. Children need both physical and emotional affection to help create a sense of security.

  • Encourage your child. Verbal encouragement is a different form of affection, so find ways to congratulate your child on a job well done or encourage your child in times of challenge.

  • Play with your child. Remember that children learn through play. It affects every aspect of their social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development.

  • Use touch to soothe your children. When children are upset, they frequently need a hug or a gentle touch to provide them with comfort.

  • Establish consistent and predictable routines that your child can count on. Help your child know what to expect for morning, afternoon, evening, bedtime, and weekend routines. This predictability will help your child feel secure and safe.

  • Provide consistency in care. In order to develop healthy attachments, it is important that your child have a consistent, loving caregiver.

  • If you are struggling emotionally, or if you think you might be suffering from any degree of postpartum depression, talk to your doctor. Parents must take care of themselves to be caregivers for their children.

  • Be your child's emotional health trainer. By becoming aware of your own wide range of emotions you can help your child learn to accept and trust that what they are feeling is okay. You can then train them to handle their emotions effectively by using empathy to explore with them what they are feeling.

  • Help your child manage his or her own behavior. By setting realistic limits for your child's behavior, you can then help the child manage his or her own behavior by employing rewards and natural consequences.

  • If your child is struggling with specific behavior issues, seek professional advice and reliable resources. Some children are more challenging than others are; so if you are struggling with your child's behavior, connect with resources and get the support you need—you are not alone in the challenges you face.

Finding Resources and Information

Endnotes

(1) This work is based on the framework developed by the Center for the Study of Social Policy, with more information available at http://www.cssp.org/reform/strengthening-families.

(2) Administration on Children and Families: 2011 Resource Guide. (2011). p. 9. Available at http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/guide2011/guide.pdf.

(3) American Academy of Pediatrics. (2011). Family Dynamics. Available at http://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/family-dynamics.

(4) Mayo Clinic. (2009). Reactive Attachment Disorder. Available at http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/reactive-attachment-disorder/DS00988.

Footnotes

1.

This document is FCS2309, one of a series of the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Published December 2011. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

David C. Diehl, assistant professor, Jessica N. Wente, graduate student, Larry F. Forthun, assistant professor; Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences; Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences; University of Florida; Gainesville, FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.