Attachment figure, why is my child harder on me?

But what is the attachment figure ?

Imagine. We come to pick up our child at the nursery and suddenly, it’s the tragedy. Baby has been LOVE all day with Grandpa-Mamy, and he starts screaming as soon as you enter the room. Well done ! Welcome to the world of the attachment figure!

It is disconcerting, of course, but quite normal!

The attachment figure or how to fill baby’s emotional reservoir?

Originally, the attachment theory

Late 1970s, the psychiatrist and psychotherapist John Bowlby modeled attachment theory. Still unknown in France, she comes to askemotional attachment like a innate basic need of the child as well as the physiological needs (eating, sleeping, etc.). In fact, the attachment will be created by a appropriate and repeated response to the baby’s emotional needs in order to make him feel safe.

According to Bowlby, during the first 9 months of his life, Baby will develop a special bond with his main attachment figure. This is the person who will take care of him in priority and in a privileged way, with rapid, constant and adapted responses. This bond will allow him to grow and build his intelligence. It is often the mother who takes this role, but it is not automatic. The more the bond is nurtured, the more the child can develop his emotional, social and intellectual skills. Then, Baby develops secondary attachment figures, for example with dad (or other parent), nanny, etc.

Finally, this is Bowlby’s theory… At CPMHK, our experience would tend to show us that the child can have several attachment figures.

The need for attachment, a normal survival reflex

And all this is quite normal! Let us remember that the Human is a mammal. As such, we are simply programmed to find a quick response to ensure our survival. In nature, if a Little one needs security in the face of danger, it is urgent not to hesitate before finding where to turn.

note that the attachment figure has nothing to do with love. It is a benchmark, a base-back. An aircraft carrier on which the child will be able to land to find himself in safety, refuel (emotionally), and return “repaired” to explore the world.

Through this theory, we understand that whims or “cinema” are in fact overflows of emotions due to the child’s need to find a response to discomfort (hunger, cold, unpleasant sensation, etc.). His anger is expressed in the face of this non-response from the attachment figure, and the impossibility of fulfilling his need himself.

Why a different behavior with the attachment figure?

As we have understood, the attachment figure is the referent person who brings confidence and security to the child (and sometimes the child has several). It is she who will allow him to unload the stresses and emotions of the day. In short, we are the person with whom he feels the most secure, and with whom he can express his fears, his accumulated tensions and his anger.

As in nature, it is wise to only show your weaknesses when you are safe. You imagine ? It would be too dangerous to reveal yourself.

In short, it’s a good thing if baby is more difficult with us! (But we agree, it’s sometimes exhausting 😉!)

When the child attacks us, that he explodes for what seems to us to be nothing, he only seeks we can help him to release his anger, accept and understand his emotion… He doesn’t necessarily wait for an answer, but arms to reassure him, an ear to hear him.

Let’s be clear, all this is unconscious ! The child does not understand what is happening to him. OK, I admit that I too have trouble remembering that when my Loulou “hits” me, it’s because I am his attachment figure! 😅

Attach to better detach

In other words, the stronger the attachment figure, the more autonomy the child gains. Contrary to what some people claim, filling baby’s emotional reservoir does not make him dependent. Quite the contrary. (What makes him dependent is more a close relationship where the parent is afraid to leave him). A two-year-old cannot deal with his emotions on his own. It is through the link to the adult that he will be able to see, accept and understand them. This is what some parents seek to develop through the proximal mothering.

The more the parent or the referent can guide him, the more the child will be able to walk to accept his emotions, to decipher them and to overcome them.

Also, if attachment figure responses are random, when there is uncertainty, the child sometimes maximizes his requests or even expresses his anger at an inappropriate responsee. Clearly, the less we are available, the more sticky it is. 😉

The phone call

You noticed this amazing unable to make a phone call without being interrupted? Our Mini has been playing quietly in his room for 20 minutes, we finally decide to call a friend and Paf … Loulou needs us, right now! Bingo. As you have understood, there too, it is a reflex linked to the attachment figure. “Mom / Dad, I see you are not available. I need to check that I’m still important to you. ” So, let’s try to take a few minutes before picking up the phone to top up the love tank.


It also enlightened some sunsets of my son. Everything seemed to be going well. Meal, little ritual, history, extinction of fires… and EXPLOSION! What’s happening ? Why always me ? Why now ? In fact, from the nursery, we went through the stages (return, bath, cooking, meals…) and we did not finally have REAL time together. The love reservoir is not really full and this moment of contact at bedtime releases tension.

Moreover, if your child has mega anger and you no longer know how to manage, that you have the impression that he goes out of his hinges as soon as he is upset, we have gathered tips and advice in our “Special Anger” pack. Packed with tips and ideas that are welcome and easy to implement, it helps to better live through these difficult times. To receive it directly in your box, leave us your email below. 👉

Concretely, how to meet the need for attachment?

Everything was going well until we entered the room. And suddenly our child turns into a monster! Shot emotional discharge.

It is not AGAINST us, it is THANKS to us!

And yes, we take a deep breath and we think about the attachment theory. It is because Baby has confidence in us that he can relieve his stress. So, exit the comments of Step-Mom (or other, I have nothing against mine 😉) “With me, it was going very well!” Normal is that he knows that we love him unconditionally! (But sometimes it’s still tiring!)

Caregiving, or filling the reservoir of love

Once we understand that it wasn’t against us (you can also go dig on the side of the inner child), accompanying it will be “easier”, even if it is not always easy!

  • welcome emotions of our child with kindness and empathy by helping him to name them: “I see that you are sad / angry / upset…”;
  • his give a big hug to allow him to regain his composure. Chemically, in the brain, we bring back oxytocin, the hormone of love and calm, replacing adrenaline and cortisol, secreted by stress;
  • help him at find a solution on their own. Of course, we’re not going to tell him to go and bottle-feed on his own either.

You can also find our great article on the magic of active listening.

The theory of attachment finds an echo through the insights provided by the neurosciences.

As a “preventive”, take quality time

When the child explodes, maybe the love tank has need to be filled… because one emotion was too strong, because something upset him in his day, or simply because it’s time to go to the pump … The children do not have a light reserve … or rather, it is up to us to learn to decode them: it depends on the moments and the children: in my Loulous, I spotted the makes them moan for nothing / the nonsense / the interruptions / the bickering … In short, remember: the gasoline failure does not always happen when you have time! 😉

Suddenly, you understood it, the more quality time we spend with our child, the more we fill their reservoir of affection. Which, I agree, is not always easy, because we also need some rest sometimes! Here are some ideas for anticipating:

  1. Stop at the park after nursery or school can be a good idea, if you play with Loulou.
  2. I also love Charlotte’s advice with the Giant’s game, which my 6-year-old daughter still calls on me regularly. We get on the bed and challenge each other. “Little tiny chip, you don’t think you can knock me over, anyway.” ”
  3. Play brawl with Dad, or Mum for that matter can also be a great opportunity to be in physical and emotional connection, while being in the game.

You don’t have to be perfect to create attachment

In short, we will have understood, attachment figures participate in the development of the child whether at the social, emotional or cognitive level. And that bond is created through predictable, constant and regular attention. So, do we reserve the right to Do not listen the good old advice “let him cry, you’ll make a fool of it”! However, we will never be available 100% for our child! No pressure, there is no such thing as a perfect parent! And we too have our emotions, and the right to be tired or not very available. We will just try to explain to them what is happening to us, so that the child will know that it is nothing to do with it. And you will see, it is incredible how they want to help us: “You know, I’m very tired tonight. I suggest you take a moment to build a tower, and then I’m going to make the meal, ok? ”… That’s why Cool parents make happy kids… Hey, does that ring a bell ?! 😉

And if you want to keep evolving, check out the cool boost. A monthly subscription to move forward together, each month on a theme of parenting or personal development. Because, to be well with our child, you must first be well yourself 😊. On the program, thoughts, tips and good humor … in 20 minutes a week? Click below to see the program👇

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