Promoting Healthy Attachment Through the Senses

For the past 137 years, Children's Service Society of Utah has been involved in child welfare throughout the state by empowering families, caregivers and professionals through services supporting the safety and well-being of children. During this time, advocates have engaged with children and families in various settings, promoting healthy attachment and bonding and working hard to ensure every child feels safe and cared-for.

In 2002, Children's Service Society opened its doors to supporting kinship families. With an understanding that not all families include parents who are present in their children's lives, but that there are other relatives and family friends across the state and nationwide who love and provide for children just as a parent should. GRANDfamilies was created as a program to help families navigate kinship care, grief and loss, attachment, substance abuse prevention, and much more.

In striving to help families understand the complexities of trauma and attachment, we have put together some information on how to promote healthy attachment through the five senses.

Attachment is the bond between a child and their caregiver. This bond determines how the child will form relationships. An easy way to understand the importance of attachment from a young age is to consider the cycle of how children develop trust. The cycle begins when the child has a need. Let's say you have a newborn. Your baby is hungry (need), so they express that need by crying (arousal displeasure). You, as the caregiver, will try your best to meet that need. You pick your baby up, rock them in your arms, and feed them (gratification). The baby's needs were met, and they reach a stage of relaxation until another need arises. When the baby first displayed signs of displeasure and you met their need, it reinforced to your baby that they could trust you to meet their future needs and healthy attachment began to form.

As children grow and develop, their needs change. But, the cycle presented above does not change. We must find ways to meet our children's needs and to promote healthy ways to attach. This can be done by focusing on the five senses:

    1. Smell. The olfactory gland is next to the memory part of the brain. This is why smells can often trigger memories; both positive and negative. Children may respond well to scents that trigger positive memories. This could include the smell of cookies or bread baking in the kitchen, applying lotion to their skin with scents that smell good to them, or playing outside where they can take in the smells of the fresh air, flowers, trees, and nature around them. Take note of which smells provide a positive experience to your child, and which smells do not.
    2. Touch. Did you know that 8 touches a day helps maintain stability, and 12 touches a day aids emotional healing? Touch is very important! However, it is equally important to be aware of your child's tolerance for touch, which means asking for their permission to touch them as you work to develop that healthy attachment. "May I give you a hug?" is a simple way to show that you respect their boundaries, and that you would like to show your love to them in a way they are comfortable with. A simple way to provide that touch is to put some lotion in the palm of your hand. Ask your child if you may share some with them. If they say yes, you can then rub the lotion from your hand into their hands. Examples of good touch could include kisses (depending on age and where appropriate), hugs, hair brushing, gently tickling the arms or back, and applying lotion.
    3. Taste. Avoiding arguments over food is important. Flavors and textures of food affect people in different ways. Take note of your child's favorite foods, and provide those things as often as circumstances allow. Your child may experience food jags; i.e. may have a change in appetite or eating behaviors. Be sensitive to your child's needs in this area. Also worthy of noting (for all of you chocolate lovers out there), sugar reduces pain and chocolate increases endorphins. A sweet treat every once in a while, can be a good thing!
    4. Sound. Audio stimulation can have many effects on children. If the environment is too loud, they may struggle to regulate their emotions and can become overwhelmed. Some examples of how to promote healthy attachment through sound include singing, reading aloud to your child, reciting nursery rhymes/poems, and talking to them while riding in the car or sitting around the dinner table.
    5. Visual. Just as too much audio stimulation can influence a child's behavior, so can clutter and disorder that may be overwhelming to the child's eyes. Order and neatness, colors and textures, and how you present yourself (smiles, open arms, etc.) can have a positive influence on your child.

Every child is unique and will respond in different ways to different attempts at bonding. It's important to be aware of your child's needs, personality, and what they are or are not comfortable with. The hope is that in meeting them where they're at, while also utilizing these tips above, you will be able to help your children develop a healthy attachment and trust. 

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Friday, 22 October 2021

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