Engaging resilience: How responsive caregiving lays the foundation for children to thrive


People search for connection with others. No matter what our age, we seek to have a sense of belonging with someone. This is especially true for children who are dependent on adults for their care and protection. Attachment in relationship with a caring adult provides children with the stability and security they need for healthy emotional, social, and behavioral development. Without secure attachment, a child may not learn how to form and maintain relationships, resulting in emotional instability and feeling an absence of belonging with others.

Getting face-to-face with your child can help to facilitate back-and-forth interaction.

Secure attachment begins during infancy and continues throughout childhood. It begins the moment we first hold our child, when we say our first welcoming words. Through our consistent nurturing and engagement, our child learns to seek our voice, our face, our touch, and our companionship. They reach out to us through babbling, cooing, and smiling, inviting us to engage. How we respond to these overtures has implications for the relationship with our child and their relationships with others. It is through our response and continuing exchanges that a child begins to relate to us as a person and to gain a sense of their own personhood. These conversations reinforce attachment, leading to increasing security and trust that we are there to protect and care. Our goal, as trusted parents, is to assist our children to learn how to protect and care for themselves and eventually others. But this occurs through the relationship we have negotiated with them through the process of engagement.

Throughout our lives we are presented with obstacles which can be traumatic and challenging. Some obstacles are more difficult than others, but all require us to believe and to feel secure in our ability to withstand them. Resilience is acquired evolving from the secure attachment with a caring adult to the secure attachment within ourselves. With each success we have in overcoming obstacles, our confidence in our ability to solve problems and withstand adversity is confirmed. We develop a sense of competence as a survivor and view challenges as something to be overcome rather than feared. Resilience motivates us to try new experiences, knowing that we are able to navigate whatever we confront.

Engagement with someone to whom we feel securely attached teaches us about relationships and the importance of equity in them. We understand trust and respect because it is what we have known, and we value communication as an instrument for stability and security. We treasure fruitful conversation that brings mutual understanding and appreciation of each other’s thoughts, beliefs, and feelings. We experience a reinforcement of our emotional wellbeing and a strengthening of our resolve to live and thrive.

It is imperative for children beginning at a young age have the opportunity for secure, engaging relationships. It is through the safety of these relationships that they will emotionally and socially develop, emerging into adulthood resilient and able to handle the challenges which they can be assured will confront them.

We discussed how helping families to increase communication can help build family resiliency and protective factors in a special webinar with two pediatricians. Click below to watch the recorded webinar.

Watch now!

Carol Wesley

Carol is a marriage and family therapist specializing in children and families experiencing health challenges. She practices at the Achieve Center in Wausau, Wisconsin where she is the Clinical Director.

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