Is your child securely attached? Part 2

“Did your Dad play with you?”

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In Is your child securely attached? Part 1 Dr. Margot Sunderland answered Dad.info's questions about the importance of attachment, explaining how secure attachment is the foundation of our mental health and well-being and how you can support your child’s attachment even if you aren’t the primary carer.

Here in Part 2, Dr.Sunderland answers our questions about attachment play explaining why we can struggle to do it and parenting mistakes we all make.

I don’t remember my Dad playing games with me...

It is a very poignant answer when you ask adults “did your Dad play with you?” and some people say yes but many people say no. You don’t mourn someone unless they have met you in joy and pain. You don’t mourn them because we know that attachment triggers opioids which are lovely well-being chemicals and so when you lose someone your brain goes into opioids withdrawal which is as awful as coming off heroin. You miss that person, it is a terrible pain, but of course who would banish love from the world? But if you want the child to love you, play with them. 

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What if I already know that I struggle with being emotionally available, the idea of sitting playing with my child and meeting them in joy and pain isn’t going to be natural for me?

Some parents I work with will say ‘I don’t know how to do it, because I didn’t have it, but I want to do it’ It really is about getting some tools. There are lots in my book ‘What Every Parent Needs to Know’. We know that attachment is fragile. You can’t be shouty one minute and playful the next. If you are shouty because you lose it (and of course people lose it), you need to apologise. It is called relational repair or attachment repair you need to say ‘oh my goodness I am so sorry I wanted you to stop doing that but I shouldn’t have shouted at you’. So you need the ability to have self-awareness and that is the problem. If you have had a shouty parent yourself you can easily go back in and do that again to your own child and think it doesn’t matter. It does matter.

It is a struggle though not to shout...

You can’t have secure attachment by one minute being angry and rageful and another minute being playful I’m afraid it cancels it out. That isn’t my opinion it is evidence-based research. The science of parenting really.

Go and shout at a wall instead!

You can’t be frightened of a parent and have secure attachment. You know when you constantly say ‘don’t do this, don’t do that, stop that, put that down’. You can’t have secure attachment if you do that. If you use six commands to every praise you will end up with oppositionally defiant children. Commands are lethal.

Any Dad that goes into personal counselling is wonderful. What a gift to your kid because you are then sorting out your own emotional baggage. People will often say well it won’t affect your child well it can do, it often does. Just find yourself.

I want to try but how do I do attachment play?

It is about quality one-one times. People often don’t have a repertoire. It is not playing on ipads. Sit on the floor opposite them. The joy is you will see your kids face light up. Social play, social joy is a lovely thing.

If you haven’t been played with well by your Dad or Mum how the hell should you know how to do it? So people sometimes do round and round the garden or play a bit of football and that is it! 

Attachment play is face to face time.

Although we know watching a film together is good too if you are talking about what is happening, you know where the child says “oh look at that, the hedgehog running” and the Dad says “I saw that too”. That supports attachment if they talk about what is happening.

What could I try tonight when I get home?

I call it Face Noises (and my ten year olds still love this). You press their nose and then twiddle their ears and you get a noise, you have to remember what it is. Then they do it to you and repeat, you’ll get the idea. If you want to buy some things just get feathers, bubbles, stickers, all things you can buy very easily. The joy is you will see your kids face light up. There are masses of things you can do that are face-to-face, attachment play games. All sorts of banging drums games, or face-to-face with sticker on the nose, or a cotton wool ball in your pocket that you can do very easily. I have masses of these ideas on my DVD. If you are a Dad with limited time you don’t want dead time where you are sitting there with nothing to do. Rather than that worry, planning games give you something to do and is going to engender love.

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About Dr.Margot Sunderland

Dr Margot Sunderland, award-winning child psychologist and author of best-selling book What Every Parent Needs to Know, has released her latest DVD - Communication Skills and Attachment Play: The First Five Years - which aims to equip early years professionals, teachers and parents with a multitude of tools, skills and practical ideas to support children’s learning, brain development and emotional wellbeing. The video-based learning resource will support secure attachment and enrich relationships through its beautiful footage of adult-infant interaction, all backed by the latest neuroscience research.

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