Attachment for mammals – and therefore for us humans – is like water for a fish; without it a child cannot survive. This existential dependency on a so-called external structure does not only apply for the baby and toddler, but for the entire developmental time from childhood to adulthood. Even though it is possible for us to survive, we will never reach our inherent creative potential as humans.
What do we mean by dependency on an external structure?
The biological core needs of a child, especially during the first 6-7 years of life, can only be seen and answered by parents and close attachment figures. The child is neither able to identify these core needs nor answer them by him/herself. The child’s sense of self, the way to perceive his/her needs, will and way to perceive life, develops through those many daily experiences with close relationships.
When we are open enough to look closer, children will show us when we do not notice their core needs, such as the core need for connection or autonomy. They bring along incredible resilience and power. They protest and, for example, become angry and vehemently demand from us to truly see them. When we then understand this anger not as something against us, which needs to be controlled, but rather as information, that something is not right, or, at times, as an expression of this existential dependency on us as their external structure, we are able to respond to it. Then, we manage to look behind their behaviour and recognize what it is truly about.
This process needs our ability to attune, our openness to a curious everyday learning during encounters and our willingness to take the child’s feedback seriously and to adjust ourselves and our decisions.
We, as attachment figures, have the function to see the children in an attuned way, which also means that we co-regulate their nervous system. When children are stressed, feel anxious or have emotional experiences they cannot integrate. They need essential contact, which means safety for them. Children lack the basic capacity to regulate themselves. Our presence, body contact and safety enable the child to relax and to return from survival mode back to attachment mode.
If children are seen in their existential dependency in a caring and attuned way, they grow into their true human potential; their sensitivity and their open and soft heart. If children are tense and cheerless, unmotivated or constantly demanding, cool and do not seek comfort and safety in stressful situations but rather stay cold, they show that something has come out of balance and that they need something else from us.
Children and young people experience our attachment as a sense of warmth and safety, which simply flows to them without the need for them to do anything. They rest and play in a relaxed way in this warmth and safety and are enthusiastic.
Only attachment authorises us to guide children and to give them orientation. Without attachment we do not have permission. Many problems with children find their source in attachment. Perceiving and respecting them as individual beings, from the beginning of their lives, means to meet them as “absurd other universes”. This form of deep respect represents the opposite of the often living practice of seeing children as the extension of ourselves, our wishes or as our projections.
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