The Attachment Dance

– Debra Wesselmann and Cathy Schweitzer

When your attachment relationship with your child is at its best, you and your child may experience the relationship as a dance in which both partners are moving to the same rhythm. Although you are in the lead, it’s not forced. There’s a flow, and it feels right to both of you.  When you are struggling in your relationship with your child, it may feel like dancing with a partner who hears an entirely different tune – for both of you. The fun is gone. Both partners may be attempting to force things to go their way, but nothing is working, and you wind up tromping upon one another’s toes.  You and your child may be in sync one day and out of sync the other…or you may struggle every single day.

Forcing your child to get into step won’t work to smooth out the dance. On the other hand, if you refuse to engage in the dance until your child hears the same rhythm that you hear, you will wait for an eternity.  To smooth out the relationship and develop a positive attachment, you will have to entice your child to engage with you and follow your lead.  This will take time, it can’t happen overnight.  Begin by showing that your want the relationship, no matter how awkward and difficult it feels right now.     

Remember that even if your child works hard to behave as if he doesn’t want a positive relationship, what he really doesn’t want is rejection. At the same time, he may try to get his needs for interaction met through attention-seeking behaviors. This is simply the way that your child learned to dance somewhere in his life. All children require attention, and lots of it, whether positive or negative.  Punishing your child’s misguided dance steps will only reinforce the mixed-up, negative interactions between you. You will develop a new, more enjoyable dance by staying engaged, positive and playful, patient, and non-shaming.  Over time, your own new steps will entice your child into a new kind of relationship – one that you can both enjoy. 

Don’t try to figure this out on your own.  Work with a skilled professional who can help you effectively navigate this journey with your child.