The Invisible Bond Not Limited to Parents

By Shoshana Hayman, director of the Life Center/Israel Center for Attachment Parenting,

Ricki was in trouble again with her first-grade substitute teacher, this time for accidentally spilling water on her desk. She missed her regular teacher who was on a four-month leave of absence after giving birth. Ever since the new teacher came, Ricki hated school. She was sure the teacher didn’t like her — for forgetting her homework one day, for not paying attention another day, and now for spilling water on the desk. She returned home each day, filled with foul frustration, which erupted in attacking her younger brother, taunting her older sister, and talking back to her parents.

She counted the days until her real teacher would return to teach the class. She was so excited with anticipation that she prepared a folder from an empty cereal box and decorated it with foil paper and stickers. Then she drew some pictures, wrote her teacher a letter, and put these in the folder. On the morning her teacher was to return, Ricki got up extra early and carefully got dressed and brushed her hair. She wanted to look her best for her teacher. She also wanted to make sure to be at school early.

There she was, the teacher, standing at the head of the stairs. When she turned around and saw Ricki at the end of the hallway, her face lit up into a big smile and she stretched her arms out wide to Ricki. Ricki, too, smiled and ran as fast as she could into the inviting arms of her teacher.

What magic did the teacher possess that drew Ricki to her,that commanded her attention and brought out in Ricki the desire to please her? It’s called attachment energy, and it works like a magnet. The teacher knew intuitively how to collect Ricki and activate the deep attachment instinct that is meant to connect a child to the caring adults who are responsible for her. It is an invisible bond that creates an irresistible attraction that is felt but not seen. It is what we all long for, children and adults alike.

But children need it even more because they are not yet mature enough to exist without it. They cannot learn without this invisible connection. Children of elementary school age, and even many high school students, have not yet developed enough independent thinking, personal goals, or maturity to sustain the effort needed to achieve these goals. They are still of the age when they do the bidding of adults in order to fulfill their attachment needs. It is so important that these needs be met if children are to develop the mature independence and social responsibility we long to see in them. Ricki loves and wants to please her teacher, because her teacher smiles at her and takes delight in seeing her. Her teacher gives her the generous invitation to come into her arms and exist in her presence. Her teacher knows how to collect her with her eyes, smile, warmth, and making Ricki feel special. Ricki can feel that her teacher loves her.

The substitute teacher can do this, too. All of us who care for children can do this because it is intuitive. It is a transformation we must make in our hearts, because what matters most to children and adolescents is not what we do for them, but who we are to them. We must collect our children and students, because it is the only way our children and students can rest and feel secure. Learning and growth can happen only when there is rest from the pursuit of attachment. When a child can rest in the secure feeling that she is loved and accepted as she is — even when she forgets her homework or spills water — she can cope, adapt, learn, and grow.

6 thoughts on “The Invisible Bond Not Limited to Parents”

  1. This is an excellent post, thanks for sharing. Secondary attachments to teachers, caregivers, friends and extended family help to enrich our childrens lives. I believe strongly in the importance of community in developing healthy attchment. In today’s western society we typically no longer have the help of the community in raising our children. In fact we often actively discourage what is viewed as interference or meddling from outside of the immediate family unit. So encouraging secondary attachments where they do occur in our society is really something we should be nurturing and celebrating.

  2. I’m my child’s Mother. What the heck am I doing wrong and how do I fix it? I know it’s not going to be smooth going 100% of the time, but I’m at wit’s end sometimes with frustration that I’m just not doing it right.

  3. Dear Michele,
    Life is filled every day with frustrations, both for children and for us parents. There are many answers to your question. If you can perhaps expound a bit more — why do you think you’re doing something wrong, when does your frustration level rise, etc. I can try to give you some insight that will give you some direction and a feeling of being more in control so you can be more of the mom you want to be for your child (which is already half of the journey of getting there:-)).

  4. This is such an important topic – secondary attachments make for healthier, happier, more resilient children and should be celebrated and encouraged! My daughter went to a small private school for the last two years that closed, and she was devastated at the loss of her beloved teacher, Anne. So she sent Anne a letter, and Anne responded ~ and now they are pen pals. It is teachers, people like that who make our parenting jobs so much easier.

  5. Young people are hungry for contact with people whom they admire, who excite and inspire them. These qualities can be found in their real relationships with the ordinary women and men who surround them.

    Can you remember a teacher, a neighbour, an auntie, or a family friend who touched your life deeply? Consider who these people may be in your child’s life and how you might support the development of their relationship. Spending time, ordinary time is a great way, but not the only way.

    Could skype be the way to stay in touch; or encouraging her to drop off something on her way home; or a day out; or an invitation to breakfast?

    Life with children can easily circulate around their timetable and their socialising but a child’s life that includes meaningful relationships with other adults is a rich one.

    It takes a village to raise a child.
    Notice who comprises your village…

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