I remember the hand-stitched quilt my grandmother made me. I wrapped myself in it so frequently that by the time I turned 4 it had worn through to the batting. I remember certain blocks with fabric combinations that I was drawn to. I would rest my cheek on them and open my eyes. The patterns and colors filled my entire visual landscape and my imagination. I formed a bond with that quilt. It was like a cocoon that I returned to for comfort and daydreaming.
The memory of my grandmother and that quilt have been a part of my life ever since. As children, we bond to many types of situations and environments, both big and small. Altogether, these bonds make up what is sometimes called our primal landscape.
This landscape is the foundation for how children come to know their sense of place in the world and is a key factor in the decisions they will make throughout their life.
Children mostly bond through play and by carrying out the learned roles of family and community. When bonded to something, children show a predicable level of comfort and attention to it. However, the bond that occurs between a young child and their parent is generally considered to be the most critical to a child’s development. This early family bonding activity becomes the legacy on which children build relationships throughout their life.
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When a child is positively bonded to their parent, they are more likely to have a clear sense of place and be confident in personal interactions and everyday activities.
While children develop much of their primal landscape through their relationship with their parents, bonding with other types of childhood environments is highly important. Within the home, parents typically set up activities, routines and model values for children to bond to. Things like story time, family dinner time, crafts and gardening are things children can attach to that will lead to confidence, creativity and opportunities throughout their life.
Another thing children bond to is their physicality. Bonding with their physicality gives children insight into the range of possibilities they have with their body. When a baby’s arm bumps a mobile and it begins to move, they become attracted to their arm and all its possibilities. They are bonding with their body and establishing a clear and lasting framework for how they relate to it the future.
While parents can create positive things for their children to bond to at home, they can’t always control what happens in the community. As a parent, it can sometimes feel like a sprint to keep enough positive activities filling your child’s day so that they have less time to engage in the negative ones.
It might be helpful to prioritize what you want included in your child’s primal landscape when deciding what types of community activities you set up for them. Also, keep in mind what kind of sense of place in the community that you want as a foundation for your child have as they move through life.
Some children might be challenged developmentally in a way that makes it difficult for them to bond. Early signs include lack of eye contact, inconsolability, and failing to stay close to a familiar adult in strange situations. Consider speaking to a professional if you have concerns. Whatcom County Single Entry Access System, called SEAS, is a hotline for parents of young children who might be having difficulties with attachment.
Unfortunately, sometimes children bond to extreme experiences that are out of their control. Such experiences can elicit brain trauma and a defense response that the child might bond to out of necessity. Last year, 4,500 Whatcom County children were reported as being possible victims of child abuse. For many of those children, bonding with things is easier than bonding with people. Call 911 or Child Protective Services if you suspect a child is being abused or neglected.
In general, young children have a natural desire to bond. Holiday family traditions, hobbies and fun activities like bicycling and going to the farmers market are other examples of things that your child and the entire family can bond to. By developing strong attachments early in life, children will have a clearer sense of place and purpose at home, in school and with their peers.
Giving your child the opportunity to make healthy bonds will give them the best opportunity for creating positive relationships and making healthy lifestyle decisions throughout their life.