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Session 6/15

Page 3/4 Topic B: The Five Dimensions of Secure Caregiver Behaviour

Topic B: The Five Dimensions of Secure Caregiver Behaviour


What is the best way to act when you focus on relations work with children?

It is not so much about what you do (the task), but about the way you do it (the relation quality, the way you behave when interacting).
The way you relate to a baby (especially during the first two years of life) is a learning process, where the child learns how to cope with separations and how to relate to other people. This is learned from the first caregiver(s), and interaction with early caregivers forms the child’s attachment pattern.


A SECURE CHILD – THE SECURE ATTACHMENT PATTERN

Caregivers practicing the Secure Base and thus promoting children’s secure attachment behaviour

When a caregiver acts secure, the child tends to be sad when the caregiver leaves – but not for long. When it has learned that the caregiver always comes back, and always provides the secure base when needed, the baby will stop feeling insecure when left alone and in stead, it will spend a lot of time playing and exploring as we saw in session 4.
A young child with good caregivers will develop a Secure Attachment pattern.
As the child grows older, it will develop a positive idea of itself and a positive and trusting attitude towards other people, children and caregivers. It will seek for care and help when it needs it.

It will not only be able to play with peers, it will also be able to leave a friend and find other playmates when it gets bored by an activity. It will prefer some caregivers over others because it feels more attached to some caregivers than others, and it will prefer some peers over others and develop friendships with them. When the child grows up, it will function well in social relations, and it will be able to learn in school and exploit its full potential.

Secure attachment is more important for children’s long term success than for example intelligence. And even insecure older children can develop secure attachment in a foster family if you work with them systematically and give them time.

This happens only if caregivers work to relate with the baby or the young child in a secure way.


WHAT DOES SECURE CAREGIVING MEAN?

Science has studied what caregivers do to give the child a secure relationship and develop a secure attachment pattern in the child. Here are five videos and texts to illustrate and explain the five dimensions of secure caregiver bahviour:

1: MUTUAL CONTACT
What caregivers do to give the child a secure relationship and develop a secure attachment pattern in the child:
They often respond when the baby wants contact. They also often take initiatives to contact and stimulate the baby.
They use a melodious voice and clear facial expressions to show what they feel. They talk to the baby and try to make eye contact with it. They follow the child’s rhythm: some children respond best when the caregiver interacts slowly, other children respond to faster interactions.


2: SENSITIVITY
What caregivers do to give the child a secure relationship and develop a secure attachment pattern in the child:
They act in a sensitive way. They have tasks (feed the baby/child, getting the child dressed, sing songs or make other activities, etc.), but they “read” the feelings of the child and resolve the task in a flexible manner: if the child is sad, they comfort the child while putting on shoes, if the child is happy putting on shoes it becomes a play, etc. Being sensitive means that you don’t follow strict rules, but in stead you motivate the child by meeting it and understanding the way the child feels right now.


3: BEING AVAILABLE
What caregivers do to give the child a secure relationship and develop a secure attachment pattern in the child:
They are available to the child. If the child is distressed, sad, or in need, there is a caregiver around to comfort and soothe it, providing a secure base. Care is given immediately and without conditions, until the child feels secure again. In this example from Italy, several young people had problems doing their homework because of a lack of confidence and concentration problems. The caregivers decided that they should always do their homework with a caregiver sitting next to them. This improved their school performance and increased their self-esteem.


4: FEELING WITH THE CHILD, NOT LIKE THE CHILD
What caregivers do to give the child a secure relationship and develop a secure attachment pattern in the child:

If the child is angry, sad or very desperate, the caregiver feels with the child, but not like the child. Even though the child is excited or angry, the caregiver does not become excited or angry – he or she stays in a calm feeling. The caregiver does not scold or punish the child. She may be firm, but does not feel angry like the child does, and she talks to the child in a kind and calm way, even if the child scolds or rejects her. A child will become more insecure if the caregiver also becomes angry when the child becomes angry.


5: MENTALISING – TALK ABOUT FEELINGS AND THOUGHTS

What caregivers do to give the child a secure relationship and develop a secure attachment pattern in the child:
The caregivers are interested in what the child feels and thinks, and they try to mirror the state of the child’s feelings and thoughts. Even before the child can understand the words, they talk to the child while they are wondering what the child may feel and think. For example when the baby looks at the caregivers, they may say “Oooh, you are looking at me now, that is nice, I think you are happy now, are you not?”. Or while they change a diaper they say: “It is so nice to have a fresh diaper, I can see that you are happy now!”. In this way the baby learns to understand how language and feelings are connected, and it learns to understand itself and others.

With a teenager who complains about a teacher, the caregiver may for example respond: “I wonder what your teacher is thinking about his class? You told me he often looks tired when he starts in the morning. Could you say something that would cheer him up?“


QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION

Think about a normal day with your children: In what activities can you pay more attention to responding to the children when they seek contact?

Mutual contact: Do you have activities every day where you pay much attention to mutual contact between yourself and the children (singing, playing, etc.)? How can you make mutual contact activities with the children while doing practical tasks?

Sensitivity: Think of a daily task and think of how this specific child reacts to something it is supposed to do (eat, dress, do homework etc.). What is the best way to motivate the child to do the task? What tone of voice will you use? Does a little teasing or laughing help? Should you take the lead if it’s difficult for the child to start? Or wait for the child to take a decision? What works best?

Being available: If a child needs your attention or help (afraid, insecure, unhappy, in pain), how long does it have to wait before you attend to it? You should not require the child to act in a specific way to get your help, the child should get help when it needs it. If there are many children in the family, what can you do to overcome this problem, so that you are accessible as much as possible? Perhaps make rules about when you are available and when you are busy with other things, so they feel secure about when you pay full attention and when not?

Feel with the child, not like the child: When a child is uncomfortable, angry, constantly arguing, irritated or has a temper tantrum: How does the feelings of the child affect you and make you respond? How can you pay attention to what happens to you and be calm, firm and kind even though the child is acting unreasonable? What kind of behavior can make you angry or irritated? How can you ensure not to feel like the child? Reflecting the thoughts and feelings of the child: How can you talk to the children while you work with them?
For example: When you perform a task with a child, you also talk about what you see happening in the child: “Now you are going to play with this toy – I can see that you are a little afraid of it because you have never seen this toy before – that’s okay, let’s have a look at it together” or “Now you are drinking from your bottle, you are really hungry, it’s so nice to eat, that makes you happy, doesn’t it?”, etc.

Mentalising: Reflecting the thoughts and feelings of the child: How can we talk to the children about their own thoughts and feelings, and train their understanding of what others think and feel? For example: When we perform a task with a child, we also talk about what we see happening in the child: “Now you are going to play with this toy – I can see that you are a little afraid of it because you have never seen this toy before – that’s okay, let’s have a look at it together” or “Now you are drinking from your bottle, you are really hungry, it’s so nice to eat, that makes you happy, doesn’t it?”, etc.


ACTIVITY SUGGESTIONS

  • Reflect on how you can improve the ways you relate to children (mutual contact, sensitivity, etc.).
  • Find everyday examples and reflect on how you can make improvements in relations work.
  • Reflect on especially what challenges there may be in improving relations work (“I am too busy, it is difficult to do something new, etc.) and reflect on how you can overcome some of these problems.
  • Reflect on how old negative attitudes can prevent you from practicing secure caregiver behaviour:
    • “My parents always used to scold me, how can I avoid doing this when I work?”
    • “As a professional you should not have personal relations with the children”.
    • “I do not have time and energy to do all this”.
    • “If the children start getting attached to me, they will be sad when I leave and I will be sad”.

All these attitudes have something true in them, nevertheless you should discard them, they are not good for child development. Yes, if you did not receive good care from your own parents you must exercise being a good caregiver, but you can do it.
Having personal relations with children and letting them get attached to you is part of the professional job. Yes, children will be sad when you leave if you allow them to attach, but this is part of life and much better for them than if they never learn to have a personal relation with a caregiver at all.

Working with children in the foster care system, you are also a “parental attachment figure”. This does not mean that you must love them, but allow them to love you because you behave in a secure and kind way.