When we give birth to a child, we also need to cultivate the village of adults that will help us raise them. This community may consist of daycare workers, teachers, coaches, instructors and extended family. This is critical as children flourish in environments where there is a seamless connection or invisible matrix of adults surrounding them.
The challenge for parents is to not leave this formation to chance.
Children have natural shyness instincts that move them to resist contact and closeness with those they don’t know well. As an attachment instinct, shyness ensures that a child follows, obeys, listens to, and shares the same values as those to whom they are closest. Children should naturally shy away from those who have not been sanctioned by their closest attachments.
When we look for people who will help us care for our children, we consider many things, such as their background, training, facilities, and demeanor. But one of the most important things to consider is whether we can foster a caring relationship between them and our child. If young children don’t feel at home in their adult relationships, they will be difficult to care for and may turn to their peers to connect, over their adults.
Here are five ways to help your child connect with their village:
1. Take the lead
At a doctor’s office, for example, a parent needs to take the lead in introducing their child. When we have the attachment lead with a child, we need to guide them to other caring adults and show them we approve of the connection.
We can’t assume that adults will collect our kids and start building a relationship with them. If we allow others to do the introductions for us, we are not in the lead. We are meant to point out to our children those we believe to be their best bet for leaning upon.
2. Look for—and point out—similarities
One of the ways children feel connected to adults is through sameness, when they feel they have something in common with them. Parents need to work to prime the relationship, describing similarities and working hard to highlight those areas of likeness.
There are many ways to draw out similarities, from similar interests, experiences, to desires. When kids feel that they have something in common with people who care for them, they are more likely to be more receptive to their care.
3. Foster a sense of approval and connection
When a parent demonstrates that they like another adult, a child will often follow their lead. On an instinctive level, the child’s brain says, “If you like this person, then I will like them too.” When they see us expressing warmth, delight, and enjoyment to another person, they are likely to follow our lead.
This requires us to be thoughtful in our conversations regarding the adults in their life and ensure that what our children hear preserves these relationships. For example, when a child has a new teacher, it will be important to express approval and interest in this person, encouraging a child to share their daily experiences with them. It is important to not judge what these adults do in front of the child, as we will run the risk of thwarting their relationship.
4. Create routines and rituals to foster connection
Routines are great at orienting kids to the transition between their adults, such as at drop off and pick up. This could include a standard hello as well as some simple conversation about everyday events, like the weather or plans for the day. When a parent feels the child has connected to the adult they can say their goodbyes and leave swiftly. Hanging around to talk or prolonged goodbye often agitates young children, as they don’t know who they should orient too.
Rituals foster connection and a sense of community. From celebrating holidays to special occasions, when children see adults gathering, sharing meals together, playing games or going on outings, the sense of being cared for by a village is further highlighted. For young children, gradual entry and school orientations are also important rituals which allow a child to warm up to and feel comfortable with a teacher or daycare provider.
5. Maintain a hierarchy of attachments
It is fine to introduce children to many adults as long as we keep their attachment hierarchy in place. Parents need to be at the top of the hierarchy with all other adults falling under them. To ensure this, a parent needs to explain to whom a child should go for help when needed.
If a child sees a parent being reprimanded, dismissed, or treated poorly by other adults, it can threaten their attachment hierarchy with the parent at the helm. If a parent needs support, then it is best to do it in a way that preserves the parent role in the eyes of a child. Admonishing parents in front of their child can hurt a child in the long run. They need to feel and believe their parents know how to care for them, even if the parent needs support in being able to do this.
Kids will miss their favorite people, and we can help them feel at home with a network of caring adults. Parents need to introduce their children to this supporting cast of adults who will help raise them—by devoting more energy to this instead of the peer to peer relationships, we build a seamless attachment matrix around them.
Children shouldn’t have to question who is caring for them. They need to be free to play and focus on learning about who they are and what they can do.