As a mother, my main goal is to make sure that my child feels safe, loved, protected, cared for, and free to be their most authentic self, while also remaining kind to and respectful of others. I also know that I'm not the only person who will end up contributing to this goal. In fact, multiple people will provide the things my child needs to feel secure; things that I can't necessarily provide. And while it is, at times, scary to think about other people having so much power and influence in my child's life, it's wonderful to know that I don't have to be the only source of comfort my child can turn to in times of need.
Thankfully, for the time being, I have a say in who my child interacts and spends quality time with. Children need close people in their lives that they can trust and feel safe with, and I'm privileged enough to be the sieve that filters out safe people from people who, perhaps, wouldn't be so safe. But how many close people does a child need in their life to feel safe and secure? How big should my child's social circle be, and how many people should I allow in their life, right now, to ensure that they feel as safe and secure as they deserve to feel?
Romper woke with Andrea Vargas, a child and adolescent counselor, and Allison McQuaid, a clinical therapist, to better understand the importance of a child’s sense of security, and learn how parents can help their children develop healthy, close relationships with others as they grow.
“Bowlby’s Attachment Theory is based on the idea that the quality of the relationships a child has with their caregivers early in life has a profound impact on the rest of their lives,” Vargas tells Romper. "Secure attachment develops when the caregiver is responsive to the young child’s needs." Vargas explains that in the early year of a child's life, they depend on their caregivers to help them feel nurtured and safe.
"Children who are not able to securely attach to a caregiver because they did not get needs met due to chaos and unpredictability, form an 'insecure attachment,'" she says.
In later years, children who were unable to securely attach to a caregiver can have difficulties trusting adults, making friends, and struggle with emotional regulation, Vargas says. As they grow older, they are likely to continue to struggle with their self-esteem, and this struggle will impact their relationships when they become adults.
“Having a secure attachment is essential for healthy and appropriate emotional development," McQuaid tells Romper. Luckily, though, it is possible to build the security of a child throughout the lifespan, McQuaid says.
If you’re wondering if your child has enough people in their life that they have a secure attachment to, and you’re the only person they feel that closely bonded to, there's no need to worry, McQuaid says. "It really only takes one solid, consistent, securely attachment caregiver in a child's life to make a positive impact as far as ensuring that a child will feel the most secure," she says.
If a child just has one person that believes in them, loves them deeply and they can count on, it can make a world of a the difference in the life of that child.
Of course, a large support system is always better, Vargas says. But, again, if your child only has one person in their life that provides them with a sense of safety, security, and stability, they will be OK.
"Dr. Bruce Perry, a renown child psychiatrist, says that ‘relationships are the agents of change and the most powerful therapy is human love.’ If a child just has one person that believes in them, loves them deeply and they can count on, it can make a world of a the difference in the life of that child," Vargas explains.
If you’re wondering whether or not your child feels secure with other people in their life, there are some signs to look for when they interact with others. When children are around people they trust, “they feel comfortable to be themselves and express their thoughts and feelings freely," McQuaid says. "They play, the laugh, they cry, have temper tantrums, they embarrass themselves, and they feel confident that the love/support/trust for the people in their life will be unconditional."
Another sign, according to Vargas,that children feel more comfortable around people they trust is their ability to be their true selves. “For example, there are children who can be timid and shy with new people, but those who know them well know that same child is quite the chatter box," she explains. "When children are with people they trust, they will ask more questions and disclose more about their daily lives. Also, they when they feel safe, they will express their emotions without fear of judgement.”
So what can people in your child’s life do to make them feel more secure? Vargas says they can avoid distractions (like cell phones), listen to the child's needs and give them choices when developmentally appropriate, remain consistent, provide structure and routine, be patient and forgiving, apologize when they've made a mistake, and let them know that no matter what their love is unconditional.
Another way to develop a bond with a child that helps them feel secure is to stay connected and attuned to the child, look them in the eye, play with them, and respect their boundaries, McQuaid says.
Since having a secure attachment is essential for healthy and appropriate emotional development, it’s important that we do all that we can to make sure our children have at least one person they can feel close to. Whether it’s mom, dad, the nanny, abuela, their older sibling, their auntie, or all of the above, it’s a good idea to make sure your child trusts, and feels completely safe around, at least one person.
And keep in mind that it’s totally fine if that one person is you.