6 Stages of Attachment – Unbreakable Connection with Your Kids

I’m nostalgic these days, reviewing the journey of parenting so far. There’s space now that 3 are launched and have landed so well. One to go! I remember when my children were tiny – I was full of love and delight, watching their every move and new discovery. As they grew a little older, they watched me, eyes full of admiration. In grade school, they came to me with their problems and we worked things out. Sometimes messy. I tried and failed and learnt along the way. Yet it seemed I could do no wrong in their eyes. Fast forward to the teen years and how things changed. They looked at me like I was an alien and I saw “you are kidding, right?” – at times disgust and disappointment darted from their eyes. They played the teen tug-of-war – wanting connection, wanting independence. And eventually it has come back full circle. Living fulfilled and contributing lives, they take initiative to contact their dad and I. They set coffee dates with us. We enjoy family togetherness whenever possible. We also reach out to them. There’s mutual respect and encouragement. My heart is full of wonder and joy! It’s what I had imagined – independent, yet interconnected with love. Full circle… full connection.

Gordon Neufeld, a Canadian developmental psychologist wrote the book “Hold On To Your Kids”, explaining a model for developing strong relationships. These 6 stages of attachment create the foundation for every relationship your child will develop – with you, siblings, and friends. They are a cornerstone of parenting, because from this safe and secure place of attachment, we act to influence and guide our children. They ideally develop within the first 6 years of a child’s life, yet set the foundation and become the ongoing strategy for connection with any age child – newborn to adult. From keeping kids on track academically to managing challenging behaviors; from teaching them to carry through on responsibilities around the home and how to act and interact with others, this model helps call us back to what’s most important: connection with our kids, no matter their age or how challenging things get.

6 Stages of Attachment, according to Gordon Neufeld:

1. Proximity – The most basic stage of attachment is Proximity. A baby begins the journey of  attachment to the parent through contact, touch and closeness. We send them the message that they’re adored and we love them close to us.Mother and child excersising

 2. Sameness – Around age two, a child adds Sameness – the desire to be like their parents. They mimic words, mannerisms and behaviors.  This helps the growing child—and later when they are teens—continue to feel connected to us when we emphasize interests or inclinations that we share with them.

3. Belonging or Loyalty – Around three years, a child’s connection further develops through Belonging or Loyalty. Children of this age are possessive of their parents, pushing siblings away and saying things like, “My mummy” or “I want to marry you, Daddy.” To be loyal means to take the same side as the other person. With bonding through loyalty, the child begins wanting to do what is asked of them.

4. Significance – Connection deepens even more at this stage of Significance, around 4 years: By letting our child know how they are special, we strengthen the sense of closeness. The understanding is that parents will hold close what is special or precious to them. The child feels significant, unique with who they are as an individual.

5. Love – Around five years old, the child moves into Love. This is where warm and affectionate feelings begin to help deepen attachment. A child who experiences this kind of emotional intimacy with the pareMother talking to her childnt is able to tolerate much more physical separation and yet still manage to hold the parent close.

6. Being Known – And finally, Being Known, from six years onwards, children reveal their secrets. Children attached don’t like to keep secrets because of the resulting loss of closeness.  They allow themselves to be known because of the significant safety they feel. Being known is being heard and seen and accepted for who they are. Each stage solidifies the attachment between parent and child. On the other hand, if any of these are weak, the relationship weakens. Notice the times your kids cooperate with you without your having pushed and prodded. Chances are you’ll see that your connection to them felt loving and strong.   

Here are some ways you can build attachment, based on these stages:

– Invite your child to do something with you – Any way in which you invite your child into your presence sends the message that you want to be close and connected – cuddle, read a book, play a game, build lego, prepare a meal or bake together, play badminton or go for a walk together, enjoy made up stories or a joke telling session.

– Let them see your delight in them. Smile at them. When they come into the room, let them see your face light up without a reminder or request. Look happy. Nod ‘yes’. Mouth the words “I love you” or a special phrase between the two of you. Make eye contact as you think “I adore you. You are so special.” At times of tension do these little things often and they will feel a difference.

– Be close while your child is busy – if your child doesn’t want to do something with you or is resisting connection, move close to them. Make sure it’s a distance they can handle.  Watch them play, participate in sports or after school activities, be present when they’re doing homework. This can be encouraging for them. You don’t have to hover, or say anything. If connection isn’t happening on a deeper level, being there often opens your teen (Sit in the same room as they play video games or do homework or play on their computers). 15 minutes a day can make a difference.

– Invite your child/teen to depend on you. This concept is poorly understood in our societies. Building independence is to be taught at all cost. We think we’ll spoil our child/teen by doing things for them. Gordon Neufeld says “to spoil meat is to leave it out of its proper environment, the refrigerator; likewise, we spoil kids by taking them out of their safe environment, ie, proximity with their parents”.  How can you invite your children to be dependent on you? I occasionally make lunch for my teen, even when he usually does it himself; or get her breakfast ready when she can do it. Give money for a special outing with friends. Make an unmade bed, pick up toys…

– Connect before you direct – If you want your child to do something, connect first. Find out how their day went, what’s happening in their lives that’s important, what feelings they have, or what they are struggling with. Nothing is so urgent request that it has to be done before connecting and they will be much more ready to be directed once they have felt the connection.

– Decide for your child – In those times when stress and chaos reign in your kids life, you can use phrases like, “I’m taking care of this” or “I’ll figure this out” or “Let me think about it” if you’re not sure what to do. Then take care of it. Or later take time to brainstorm with your child, so it becomes a shared responsibility. This is particularly helpful when you notice frustration and challenges building, or during transition and change.  It’s not a forced thing, yet a reliever of responsibility at a time when it’s needed.

– Be on their side –If they’re having challenges with friends or school, or have big or hard feelings around other areas of their lives, let them know you’re there to help them through rather than Mother talking to her daugtherblaming, shaming or judging. When they start to share their truths, listen without interrupting. Show them you hear what they have to say. Let them know that nothing will ever happen to break the connection between you.

– Eat meals together often. This ritual is so much more about connection than food. Make meal time fun and happy. Stay away from heavy discussion, correction, and discipline. Connect by listening to what’s happened in each others day. As they get older, ask what their thoughts and feelings are around events that have happened nearby or in the world. Ask what they would do in a situation you’re facing. Reminisce together. Ask what the ‘high’ and ‘low’ is of each other’s day.

This is just a brief introduction to the importance of attachment and ways to strengthen it.  I hope it’s encouraging for you and gets your creative juices going in ways to connect with your kids. Let me know what you come up with!

It’s up to us as parents to create and hold the attachment with our children/teens. Not the other way around. Continue throughout your child’s life to intentionally find and use tools to portray each of these attachment stages to them.  By building deep roots of connection, we help our kids be resilient, strong, and naturally inclined to cooperate with us. Championing you as a parent to stay connected with your kiddos~  


Signature of Becky Matchullis - Expat Family Resilience Coach

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