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The attachment of a child to its parent does not happen overnight. Many behaviours and interactions are needed to develop a strong attachment bond.

Child psychologist, Gordon Neufeld, identified six stages that a child can go through to develop a secure attachment with their parent. In these six stages, the responsiveness of the parent and the focus on providing the right needs are helpful to increase attachment and strengthen the bond.

You may find knowing these stages helpful as a parent as you will be able to anticipate what emotional and attachment needs your child could be expected to have at different stages of their early lives, this will in turn help you shape you parenting. It will allow you to understand their needs better, which will also help you understand their behaviour better, too – yes, you read that right, you could find out how to understand your toddler better!

Generally, the six stages of attachment correspond to your child’s age, for example stage one would be expected to happen at age one. Developmental and neurological challenges, trauma, illness, and separation can all have an impact on the timing of these stages- please understand that you can’t rush your child through these stages, they will move at their own pace and ensure the needs at each stage have been met.

The six stages are as follows:

The first stage is proximity, where the child needs to be close to the parent and have physical contact. Babies will curl into you, reach out to you, cry when you are not around, be soothed by skin-on-skin contact, they like being held, and so on and so forth.

The second stage is sameness where the child wants to be like the parent and develops language skills. Two-year-old’s love to imitate household activities, facial expressions, gestures, and mannerisms- they usually only copy one caregiver, but don’t take offence, this will change.

The third stage is belonging, where the child wants to be loyal to the parent and feel they belong. Children start saying ‘my mummy’, ‘my toy’, ‘my, my, my’ – don’t worry, it does pass.

The fourth stage is significance, where the child will attach more if the parent makes them feel important. Despite their greater independence, four-year old’s need feelings of being safe, secure, and significant to their loved ones- they really need attention from the special people in their lives.

The fifth stage is love, where the child will develop more complex amotions and understand the feelings of love for their parent if they reciprocate. Five-year old’s may be full of ‘I love you’ statements as the sense of love becomes very important to your child.

Finally, the sixth stage is being known, where the child completes a secure attachment if they are seen and understood by their parents. Listen to your child during this stage because if you forget, you’ll know about it! Children will be hurt if you forget which is their favourite toy, forget they don’t like banana and need you to read them their favourite book.

It’s important to note, that attachment can be temporarily broken if we become distracted, disconnected, or angry with our child, and vice versa, if a child feels frustrated, overwhelmed, or angry. However- an attachment that has broken down earlier that day can be re-established though connection, empathy, and attention. Therefore, bedtime bonding is such an important time to slow down and be in the moment with your child.

Written by

Jacqui Garrigan

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