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Session 6/15

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

Topic B: The 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 relate to a baby (especially during the first two years) 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.


Caregivers practicing the Secure Base and thus promoting secure attachment patterns

When a caregiver acts secure, the child tends to be sad when the caregiver leaves – but not for long. It will soon start crawling away and 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 some 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.

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


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 text to illustrate and explain:

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.

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.

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 without conditions and quickly, 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. Staff decided that they always do their homework with a caregiver sitting next to them. This improved their school performance and increased their self-esteem.

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. A child will become more insecure if the caregiver also becomes angry when the child becomes angry.

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.


If you look at a normal day with your children: In what activities can you pay more attention to responding to the children when they want contact?

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

Being sensitive :Think of a daily task and think of how your foster child reacts to something it is supposed to do (eat, dress, etc.). What is the best way to motivate the child to do the task? How can you be sensitive towards this child – what caregiver behaviour gives the best result?

Being accessible to the child: 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.

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.


  • 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 problems 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”.
    • “We 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 drop 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”.



Reflect on how you can do relations work by organizing the daily activities in new ways:
  • Maybe you could divide your work in new and more efficient ways, so your children know where and when you are accessible to them.
  • Are there maybe more daily activities in which you can include your children?