Attachment in the 2nd Year
Healthy Attachment Cycle – Second Year
As you see in this cycle, our goal with attachment in the second year is to continue the development of our child’s limbic (emotional regulation) system by helping them through the stress of not getting what they want. Remember, little children WILL experience stress or cry over not getting what they want. It is NORMAL for children to get upset or cry or even have a fit. They are learning emotional regulation and do not have it internally until they learn it from us. I can’t say this enough……. THEY LEARN THIS FROM US. Here’s how it goes. Child is now aware of differences of things like candy vs. veggies, etc. Child wants a lollipop before dinner. As a parent, we know that it’s best that they eat a healthy dinner so we say something like, “Sorry baby, we can’t have it now but we can have that after we eat our dinner.” Child is pretty upset about this and our job is to have some empathy and understand that as an 18 month old, it feels like the end of the world when we don’t get what we want when we want it. So we comfort them. We don’t give in to their demand, but we do offer comfort and help them calm while still maintaining the limit.
Here are a few examples of how this can go wrong. One example is always giving them what they want in the first place. Another is giving in to their demand when they protest, cry etc. just so that they stop crying. And another is if we reprimand, shame or have an inconsistent response to them for the expression of their sadness/anger over not getting what they want. Instead we want to express empathy for their feelings, while still keeping the limit. In this process we get to help them gain awareness of their feelings and learn to tolerate hearing “no”. And so much more, such as learning new appropriate ways to express their feelings and learning the difference between needs and wants.
Disrupted Attachment Cycle – Second Year
Parents want to do a good job. Mostly we all want to produce healthy children. We do not want our kids to be those spoiled brats we have all seen. We can meet our kids needs, all of their needs, and we can limit their wants and teach them how to tolerate hearing “no”. We can do both. I hear confusion a lot on this topic. Parents fear that if they comfort their child when they don’t get what they want, this is “spoiling” them. It is imperative that we comfort our children in this process. Remember they do not have this ability internally until they learn it from us. The second phase of attachment is to help them learn how to experience and tolerate the stress of not getting what they want and still being able to calm. And there you have it, you have taught your kids healthy emotional regulation that will serve them the rest of their lives. I have seen kids who don’t have their needs met who are considered spoiled because they get all of their wants and never learn to hear “no”. And on the contrary, I’ve seen kids who get all of their needs met and are fantastic at handling not getting their way. And have seen all of the combinations in between.
Hopefully this series of articles has helped to explain the attachment process and some of the essential steps that need to happen for development. And hopefully it helps distinguish the difference between needs and wants and how to handle both. Even after the first and second years we are always attempting to meet needs and limit wants and helping our children learn emotional regulation. And remember, if things happen that disrupt the process, the good news is that we can always go back and repair.