What is a “secure attachment?”
Attachment theory has been around for a long time. It is based on research originally done by Mary Ainsworth. It was an advancement of a theory created by John Bowlby’s observations. But really, you probably don’t care as much about the names as you do about what it means for you. So on to the point: There are several styles of attachment. These describe the relationships babies/toddlers develop with a primary caregiver (usually the mother).
1) Secure Attachment: Seeking out a parent/caregiver for comfort when distressed. Feeling safe to explore the environment because trust exists that the caregiver will be there as a safe base.
2) Resistant Attachment: Children who are very nervous around strangers and show a lot of distress when a parent/caregiver leaves, but refuse to be comforted when the parent returns either.
3) Avoidant Attachment: The young child is disinterested when parent/caregiver leaves, seems equally at ease with strangers as anyone else, and seems to show no preference for the parent/caregiver over a stranger when needing comfort.
Securely attached teens are the happiest teens. They really play out the role of a toddler on a larger scale. Your teenager will think of you as a homebase and check in sometimes. Your teen is comfortable exploring their world knowing you are there whenever they need to reset or take a breath. If something upsetting is happening, you are who they go to to sort out what to do next.
If you do not have this type of relationship with your teenager, don’t be hard on yourself. Just start from where you are. First try and think of the things in your home that might prevent this. Are you meaning to lovingly give correction but actually coming off as critical? Is your teen punished when he or she comes to you with a situation where a bad choice was made? Is there a lot of yelling and chaos in the home? Even if this doesn’t reflect your heart towards your child, are you coming across as indifferent by not listening well? Maybe you are on your phone too much or often preoccupied with work?
The first step in building a secure attachment with your teen is non-judgmental listening. Let them talk without you interrupting or giving an opinion. Thank them for sharing with you. If you feel advice is needed, ask if they want it. If your teen says no, try to remember that your highest priority right now is building a securely attached relationship, which means taking the longer view on every conversation for now
I know this is hard. I had a teen counseling client years ago from Newport Beach who came for anxiety therapy. Even still, this teen had a secure attachment with mom. Mom was really good at listening without judgement. It provided safety and in the long run allowed her to give input into the daily details of this client’s life. I want that for you and your child too.
Also, as a mom, I can tell you that you won’t do it perfectly everyday, and that’s okay. There is a lot of grace where there is a lot of love.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT
What is a “secure attachment?”