Attachment Presentation

• This is a general discussion about mental health
• It is not to be interpreted as specific advice in a specific
• Every situation is unique and requires advice to be tailored
and adapted to that situation
• If you are looking for advice about a specific situation or
child/youth with mental health issues, speak with a health
Learning Objectives
• By the end of this presentation, participants will
be aware that:
– Strong attachments/connections are necessary (but not
necessarily sufficient) for mental health and resiliency
– Modern society weakens attachments between
children/youth and adults, which contributes to mental
health and behavioural problems
– What we can do as parents, professionals and society to
(re)build our attachments with our children/youth
Britney’s Story
– 17-yo female who is having thoughts of
– Living with her mother; parents separated;
no contact with father
– Gr. 12 student
Current resources
– Seeing a therapist once weekly for 2-months
with no improvement
– Depressed for past few months
– Triggering stress
• Boyfriend (of past year) broke up with
Today’s youth are struggling…
• Mental health issues (e.g. depression,
anxiety, suicide rates up 3-4X since
• Behaviour problems (e.g. bullying, drug
use) -- youth crime up 300% since the
• Narcissism and lack of empathy
(Twenge, 2011)
Behaviour problems
Why are today’s youth
so vulnerable?
Q. Why do young children tend to be
happier than older children?
A. Young children are happy because if all
goes well, all their needs are met… Its
easier with young children!
Possible needs…
• Hug?
• Reassurance?
• Food?
• Nap?
• Diaper change?
When you consistently meet a child’s needs
 Emotional security
View of world: “World
is a safe place… I
can trust others…”
View of self: “I feel
better, thus I am
Ainsworth; Bowlby
Attachment is the single most important ‘resiliency’ factor
for mental health
• Resiliency
– Ability to overcome adversity is known as
– Not everyone exposed to stresses develops
problems; many in fact, will thrive…
– Secure attachments to caregivers and nurturing
adults are the most important source of resilience
(Bowlby, 1940; Ainsworth, 1979; Schore, 2001;
Neufeld, 2004)
Q. What happens to parent-child
attachments as children get older?
A. They often weaken….
Young child
If our children/youth are turning away
from parents, to whom are they turning
Peers, technology, and material things
and Things
Neufeld, 2005
Q. Why is it a problem for children/youth to turn to peers,
technology and material things as their primary
A. Peers / things cannot meet your core
emotional needs…
• Peers /things are conditional
• Friendships come and go / peers are still maturing and
changing / Your BFF one day can be your worst enemy the
• Only parents are unconditional
• Only parents can reliably provide emotional support,
acceptance and validation
Normal vs abnormal peer orientation…
• Some peer orientation is normal.
• Friends and social skills are good
• But when a teen’s mental health is
dependent on their peers, and
when a child’s moods and suicidal
ideation hinges upon relationships
with peers, then this is a
Orchid children are particularly
• Most people are dandelions
• Able to take root and survive almost
• Some people are orchids
• More vulnerable than the dandelions
• Fragile and needing special care
• But capable of blooming spectacularly if
given that special care!
Britney’s Story
My boyfriend was the only one who
understood me…
Now that we’re not together
anymore, I feel so alone…
I have no one to talk to…
Why do today's young
people turn away from
parents as they get
Q. Back in the old days, what did kids learn
about parents from these shows?
A. Popular media - What is the message
about parents?
Media helps push our kids away...
• Today’s kids (either your kids or
your kids’ peers) spend several
hours a day on average in front
of a TV, or other screens
• Media messages are that
• Parents are lame
• The secret to happiness and
success is having friends,
and turning to your peers
B. Decreased “expert” role: Where do young people turn if they
want to find something out?
Q. A child is playing ball with a parent. Who
is going to be more competent at it?
A. The parent and thus the child learns that
parents are competent and to look up to
In traditional societies, the young
learn from and thus respect their
elders… (But not so in modern
Margaret Mead, 1956
Q. In today’s technology
obsessed world, who is better
with modern technology, our
1) children or 2) parents?
A. Our children know more
about the technology than we
do, which makes them think
they are superior…
Boy, my
dad is
Boy, I hate
these video
Economic Factors: Housing costs 2-3X more than in the
1970s – 40% of Canadian couples divorce… thus both
parents work outside the home..
Q. So who are the kids hanging out with when both
parents are working outside the home?
Kershaw, 2012
From an early age, our children spend more time with
peers in daycare and school than they do with adults.
How modern technology
weakens relationships
2010 Kaiser Family Foundation Survey
• U.S. children/teens
• 7 hr/day
• ”Entertainment screens"
• Television, cell phones, hand-held games, iPads,
Internet games, Facebook and video games
• 2-hrs/day
• Violent video games
Q. What’s the big deal about video
Screenshot from Call of
Violence negatively affects children’s
• Violent video games are harmful
– Research confirms numerous harmful effects of video games on
behaviour, mood, relationships, physical health, sleep
• Violence in media in general
– Children/youth are exposed to violence in movies, televisions,
popular culture
– All of this desensitizes us to violence and cruelty
American Academy of Paediatrics,
Media Policy Statement
Dangers of modern communication and
social media
• Potential for addiction
• Superficiality is not true
• “I have 500 Facebook friends, but
I can’t really talk to anyone”
• Promotes jealousy and
• Cyberbullying
Dr. Gwenn O'Keeffe, 2011; Dr.
Sherry Turkle, MIT and TEDS Talk
Destroying genuine human interaction
two thumbs at a time
How to (Re)Attach to your Youth:
Common Sense Principles from
Attachment Experts such as Neufeld
and Hughes
Classic view
• Attachment as a fixed foundation for the future… all
built in a child’s early years
• Attachment is more like
bathing – you have to
keep up with it…
How connected are you to your child?
• Do you and your child
 1. Spend 1:1 time together?
 2. Have things in common?
 3. Prioritize each other’s relationship over other
competing distractions and relationships?
 4. Enjoy doing things and being helpful for each other?
 5. Express affection to each other?
 6. Does your child openly come to you to share how
s/he is feeling, e.g. for emotional support?
Adapted from Neufeld’s Modes of Attachment, 2005
Britney’s Story
Yes, I do spend a lot of time with my
mom, but I can’t talk to her…
She worries too much…
She nags me and lectures me…
Deep relationships are better than shallow
Deep relationship
* As should be with parents
Superficial, shallow relationships
* As is developmentally normal
with peers
The Most Powerful Strategy to Connect:
Empathy and Validation
Empathy and Validation
• Every one has the core need to feel loved and
accepted no matter what
No matter how they are feeling
No matter how successful/unsuccessful
No matter how good/bad
No matter how smart/dumb, etc…..
• Parents can and need to be able to meet this need
better than a child/youth’s peers
Even your spouses can’t meet this as well
as only parents can…
For the men in the room…
• Your girlfriend/wife/female
friend tells you a problem she
is having with a co-worker at
• Q. Most of the time, what does
she want?
1) Your brilliant advice
2) Your listening, validation
and support
Listen for feelings, accept and validate
(Connection before Direction)
EMPATHIZE “I can see that you’re
feeling really sad about this…”
(giving supportive hug)
VALIDATE/ACCEPT “That’s okay if
you’re feeling sad…”
SOOTHE “We’ll get through this…”
“How can I support you?” “Do you
want me to listen?” “Or do you
want some advice?”
Avoid advice, minimizing, invalidating
“You’re feeling sad about that?
Come on, there’s a lot worse
things than that…
Don’t worry about it…
Don’t cry…
There’s a lot of fish in the
“You need to just get over
Crying is good because parents can then
provide comfort
• When your child is upset,
explore your child’s feelings so
that your child can ‘grieve’
about whatever the stress is
• Crying with a parent is
1) It helps your child’s brain
process the sadness
2) It helps your child see that s/he
can turn to you for support
Empathy and validation:
Connection before direction
• Its Monday after the weekend, and
you need a favor from a co-worker
• Q. Do you say
1) “I need you to do this for me
right now!”
2) “Good morning!” “How’s it
going?” “How was your
weekend?” “How are the kids
Other ways to connecting based on
Neufeld’s Modes of Attachment
Spend 1:1 time with your child
▪ Invite your child to spend 1:1
time with you
▪ Have “dates”
▪ 1:1 time encourages deeper
communication and connection
▪ Example
▪ Car rides together (good)
▪ Going for a hot chocolate together
▪ Warning sign is a youth that
doesn’t want 1:1 with a parent
Connect through things in common
• We feel closer someone when
we are similar or have things in
• Find things in common with
your child, such as
– Interests and activities…
– Shared memories
– Warning sign is a youth that
wants nothing in common with
Prioritize your child
• When you are with your child,
show your child that you value
your attachment to your child
over your cell phone, email,
texting and other distractions…
• Warning sign is a youth that
does not prioritize parent, or
vice versa
Cats in the Cradle,
Cat Stevens
Be helpful and useful to your child
• Counter the tendency in Western
society to encourage kids to be overly
independent and not need us
• You WANT your child to be
dependent on YOU
• You do not want your child to be
dependent on others, or turning
Be helpful and useful to your child
• Surprise your child every once in awhile by
doing things that your child should be able to
do on their own
– Driving them
– Helping when they are short on time
– Picking up stuff they need, etc.
• Warning sign is a youth that refuses help or
being dependent on parents
Express love and affection
• Harlow’s monkey experiments
showed that monkeys required
physical affection for development
• Children and youth need affection,
both physical and emotional
• Warning sign is a youth that refuses
affection from parents
Attachment tip:
At every separation, talk
about the reunion
Q. You’re just had a great date with someone,
and you want to see the other person again…
What do you say?
1) “I had a wonderful time.
Bye!”, or
2) “I had a wonderful time.
Want to get together on the
Whenever there is a separation, talk about the
next reunion
• If you as an adult would feel insecure about a lack of bridging,
then think how insecure a child would feel...!
• Children naturally feel more insecure because they are still
forming their primary attachments with caregivers…
Neufeld, 2005
Whenever there is a physical separation, talk about the next
• Before your child leaves for school
– Parent: “See you after school” “Can’t wait until we go for our walk
later after school”
– Text your child during the school day
– Give your child transition objects, e.g. notes in your child’s lunch box;
special jewelry or possessions
• Before parent leaves for an errand
– Parent: “See you in an hour”
• Before bedtime:
– “See you in the morning” “What do you want for breakfast?”
Neufeld, 2005
Whenever there is an emotional
separation, talk about the next reunion
• Parent:
– “I really can’t let you talk to me that way. It is
unacceptable. You need to go to your room and cool
down.” (or, if that isn’t going to happen, “I need to go to
my room and cool down.”
• Bridge the separation
– “Let’s get back together in 20 minutes if we’re both
calmer then”
– “I love you; we’ll talk about this later and work it out.”
Neufeld, 2005
When there is a reunion, ensure there is a
• When the child wakes up in the morning
– “Good morning!”
• When child comes home after school
– “Hello!” “Good to see you!”
– “I was thinking about you doing your presentation when I was at
work today”
• When parent sees child after a longer than usual absence
– “I missed you so much” “I was thinking about you” “It wasn’t the
same with you gone”
Neufeld, 2005
Summary and Call to
Attachment and Connection to our
• Strong attachments (i.e. connections, relationships)
of children to nurturing adults is one of the strongest
foundations for mental health (i.e. resiliency factor)
• Unfortunately, many factors disconnect us from our
• The good news is that there are strategies that you
can use to help strengthen your connection with
Call to Action for Parents
Spend 1:1 with your child
Connection before connection (by listening,
accepting, validating, and ideally avoid giving
advice or judgment)
Give hope by bridging all separations
▪ Every time a parent leaves a child, whether physically or
emotionally, talk about the next reunion with the child
Unplug and limit negative media messages
Neufeld, 2005; Hughes, 2009
Call to Action for Society
 Family friendly government policies
– Mandating businesses institute family friendly policies
– Quality childcare
– Postnatal not just prenatal classes
 Family friendly workplace policies
– On-site, in-house daycare
– Flex time, job sharing, temporary/permanent part-time, telecommuting,
mandatory parental leave, family medical leave, family health
benefits, childcare…
 Family friendly media
– Culture/media that promotes parents as important
References and More Information for information
about mental health and help…

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