Too Much Attachment to Your Child? Too Little? Where's the Sweet Spot?

Posted: November 6, 2019

You're doing the best you can as a parent, but do you wonder if your child is close enough, or if she's too attached? 

Here's what an expert has to say: 

In the results of a pair of extensive studies, the idea that more attunement is better was challenged.  Problems with insecure attachment developed by age one with infants whose mothers were least or most attuned.  Attachment insecurities resulted in infants whose mothers were too vigilant or too withdrawn in interactions.  Attachment was strongest in the midrange of coordinated attunement.    
                                            -Dr. Beatrice Beebe: Colorado University Medical School

As I was training new parent coaches in this concept recently, I got to wondering if parents understood how much attachment is healthy and how much is too much.  

What does it look like if parents and children, for a variety of reasons, (not anyone's fault) are not well-attached?  Please note: this applies to both moms and dads.  We often underestimate the power of dads in the attachment process, but in my coaching, I see that when dads step up to strengthen their bonds, the children respond BEAUTIFULLY - fewer meltdowns, less arguing, happier kids.  

Here are some signs of underattached children.

Young children:
- don't come to their parents for comfort. 
- prefer strangers to their parents or will over-attach to strangers.
- don't act as if they've missed their parents when they return.  (This may be familiar comfort with the coming and going, so don't read too much into it.) 

Elementary-age children:
- are overly independent. 
- don't regard their parents as resources for help.
- don't seek their parents' input on challenging situations.
- don't notice that their parents have feelings. 
- are fine if they are away from their parents. 

Middle and high school-age children: 
- may be very vulnerable to the influence of their peers. 
- may only want to be with peers, excluding parents from their plans.  (Some of this is totally normal.) 
- may act out for reasons they can't identify.
- may seek teachers or coaches for advice or listening. 
- may drown big feelings with substance abuse. 

Here are some signs of overly attached children.

Young children:
- have a great deal of difficulty separating from parents (This is often the case at the beginning, but if it persists, there may be an issue.)
- can't let parents leave their sight at home without becoming anxious.
- have difficulty relating to others outside the immediate family. 

Elementary-age children:
- may get reports from school about being sad about not having mom or dad with them well into the school year. 
- refuse summer camps or birthday parties.
- may feel responsible for parents' feelings and want to protect their parents.
- may be overly compliant.
- may not feel like their own desires matter.  

Secure attachment is characterized by parents who are comfortable with their children's stages of evolving development and grow with their children as they grow, moving from "manager" to "mentor."  These parents ask their children's opinions, listen reflectively to their ideas, and say, "I trust you to ...".   Healthy attachment is also evident by children being able to gradually let go of their parents' involvement in their lives.  Sometimes parents "let the rope out" too soon, and children develop anxiety.  Sometimes parents maintain their children's dependence on them too long, resulting in defiant and avoidant relationships.  When the attachment is healthy, for the most part, children are able to develop confidence in their own decision-making, their ability to implement their ideas, and to navigate their friendships.  Many children go through stages of under- or over-dependence, but if you see an ongoing pattern, it may be time to seek professional input. 

Does this mean that there's no hope if attachment has waivered?  Not at all. There's plenty of hope for children and parents whose attachment needs strengthening.  Parent coaching can offer effective tools! Click here for all the info.

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