Skip to main content

Being Emotionally Available builds Secure Attachment

Josh is going to get a little personal here.

In 2018 I ran for city council. It was an excellent experience that I will never forget but it was also a dramatic stressor on my family.

The night of the all candidates forum, just as I was about to walk out the door, my then seven-year-old son looked at me and said, "when is normal dad going to be back?"

Those words went straight to my heart.

It was difficult to explain to my emotionally vulnerable son why I was doing what I was doing, and how after campaigning, even if I got elected, I would be more available to him- or at least that was the plan.

When I didn't get elected, my children joyfully celebrated (punks). They weren't celebrating because I lost, they were celebrating because they believed their dad was going to "be back". Routine and structure might return to what it looked like before this whirlwind year. Their dad was going to be emotionally available.

Emotional availability, simply put, is being there for your children. It doesn't mean that you answer to every beckon and call with over jubilation. But it does mean responding to their bids for your attention. It's nurturing them when they are sad or scared. It's the positive interaction during the transition to school. It's knowing that if they are sick at school, that they can call you, and that you can come and get them if they require it.

Emotional availability is a necessary component in building a secure attachment with your child.

So, let's back up, why is it important to be emotionally available and how does this relate to attachment?

Do I belong? Do I have value? Am I worthwhile? - These are all questions children's emotional systems ask at a young age and form their attachment- or sense of security in primary relationships. When bids for connection are made as an infant, such as responding to their crying, these responses tell them that they do belong, have value and are worthwhile. These make them believe that relationships are safe and they are worthy of having them.

As a child grows, those questions, regardless of how they have been answered in the past, are constantly being revisited. The cues to connect look different as the child ages from infancy to toddler-hood to the teen years and beyond.

In Harry Harlow's classic research on rhesus monkeys, an infant monkey was provided with two options for care: one was a wire parent that provided milk to drink and the other was a heated terry cloth surrogate parent that did not provide food. What they found was the infant monkeys spent more time with the cloth parent than the wire parent that provided food.

Harlow interpreted these findings to illustrate the importance of warmth and safety as more important to attachment and relationship than meeting physiological needs.

Going back to my experience, while I was continuing to provide shelter, food, and their beloved internet; I wasn't responding to their bids and cues for connection. They needed to know that they were safe, valued, belonged, and worthwhile.

We all are torn by the many demands of the world and at times it can feel like we are running ourselves ragged to provide for the necessities our families need. However- if we want to have safe, meaningful and warm relationships with our children the thing that matters most is our ability to be emotionally available to them.


Popular posts from this blog

Children and Loss: How to support children when bad things happen

Loss is a painful but inevitable part of life. Children regularly experience small losses like misplacing a favorite toy, changing plans away from something they were looking forward to or not being allowed the candy bar they had their heart set on. Sadly, childhood often also includes more intense loss like a beloved friend moving away, a pet dying, disasters such as flooding or house-fires, the reorganization of a family unit through divorce, or the death of someone close to us.

We can feel a variety of emotions when new lose something we care about. Sadness, or emotional pain, is always at the core of this. Sadness is a powerful and uncomfortable emotion. We love our children and don’t want them to hurt. However, it is important to remember that sadness is a healthy response to loss.

When we lose something rewarding to us we feel sad. We feel sad as a way to promote continued engagement with the things we find rewarding. If we did not feel sad we might be less motivated to search …

Nerdy Parenting’s Comprehensive Guide to Helping Kids Sleep Better

Establishing and maintaining healthy sleep patterns is one of the most important things we can do for our children. Sleep impacts nearly every area of functioning. When I assess anxiety, depression, emotional regulation, behavioural problems or any other concern related to mental health in childhood- sleep is one of the first things I ask about. Also, children’s sleep concerns can dramatically influence parent’s sleep patterns, capacity and the quality of life experienced within the home.

Before we talk about how much sleep children need and how to help them get it, it’s important to consider how sleep has changed historically for humans. Prior to the invent of artificial lighting and debatably smart phones- humans typically slept in direct conjunction with natural light cycles. Initially, and still practiced in some hunter-gatherer societies, humans slept in small groups around a fire. Safety was determined by the presence of the group and the maintenance of the fire. As we found or…

Things to do with our kids that can help end bullying

I hate bullying. I have been privy to hundreds, and likely thousands, of stories of the devastating effects of it in the children that have come through my office doors. However, I think sadly most of our attempts to stop bullying miss the mark.

Years ago one of my favourite professors and a well-respected expert on children’s behaviours told me that I should never tell a child to do something a dead person could do. What he meant by this is that children are designed to think in terms of action and not inaction. Rather than telling them to stop doing something we should give them something active to do.

Instead of telling kids to stop bullying we need to tell them what to do instead. I think the thing we need to be asking our children to do and training them in is empathy. Simply put, empathy is imagining the experience of others. Through practicing empathy kids get better at it. We all do.
Empathy allows children to know when they are being hurt and know when those around them are …