Imagine an infant lying contentedly in her crib. She may be watching her hands or gazing with fascination at her own feet when she suddenly becomes aware of a need. She may be hungry, or wet, or lonely, or tired. Whatever the cause, she cries to let her caregivers know that she needs them. And those caregivers usually rush to pick her up and soothe her. Especially when parents are new to the job, it may take several bumbling efforts before the cause of the baby's distress is discovered and resolved. Eventually, however, the baby goes back to resting contentedly and her parents breathe a sigh of relief—until next time.
How many times in a day do you think this little scenario unfolds? Dozens, even hundreds of times—and each time, a baby learns more about trust and about the family she is now part of. If this cycle continues consistently throughout her childhood, she will develop what researchers refer to as "secure attachment," what Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs called a "sense of belonging and significance" more than 100 years ago, and what in Positive Discipline is simply called "connection." This sense of being wanted and cared for unconditionally sets the stage for everything children will learn in life.
Responding consistently and lovingly to a child's needs turns out to be the single most important thing parents (and other caregivers) can do for a child. Every piece of important early learning happens when a child and the important adults in her life interact face to face: how to manage strong emotions, how to learn language, how to read signals and cues from other human beings. Children who are lucky enough to have a secure attachment tend to learn more quickly, to be more cooperative, and to develop the social and emotional skills they will need to thrive. Children who do not have a strong connection may never develop to their full potential.
How, then, can you build a strong and lasting connection with your child? It's not complicated, but it does require time, patience, and commitment. Here are six things you can do to create a sense of belonging and worth for your child: