I’ve been spending my life trying to put the pieces together of how attachment unfolds. And in fact, I had a wonderful opportunity of taking a whole year off just to be able to study all the attachment theories throughout the ages, actually, and see how it is that attachment is meant to happen. And it’s a beautiful story, really. I’ll try to tell it very quickly and very simply.
In the first year of life, a child does attach through wanting to be with, to be in sight, in smell, in hearing, in touch.
But by the second year of life a new way of attaching should open up in which the child wants to be liked, not only with, but liked. And this is the key to language acquisition, to stamping out form on their behavior; it’s a key to so many things.
If that goes well, the third part by the third year, a child becomes preoccupied with belonging and becomes preoccupied with loyalty to be on the same side as which is a different way of closeness, to take the same side, to serve and obey. And that’s when the obedience instincts begin to be there.
By the fourth year of life, you should see in a child a huge quest for significance – to matter, because he feels close now when he is dear to those that he’s attached to.
Now if everything unfolds properly, the fifth year is incredible. The limbic system, the command center or the amygdala of the command center, the limbic system, the emotional brain pulse – all of it stops and the child gives his heart to whomever he is attached to. He falls in love. And he’s deeply emotionally attached to his kitten, to his grandma, to anything that is there.
And this is amazing. And it’s so important because when the child develops at that level, that’s a stage for the rest of parenting. We cannot parent children whose hearts we do not have. We can’t parent even our grandchildren whose heart we do not have. Or our adult children. This is absolutely essential. So children need to fall deeply into attachment and we need to make it easy for them.
The last stage is a very interesting stage. If it’s safe to attach, there’s no defendedness emotionally, then the child actually wants to share all that is within his heart. And so the 6-year-old is busy telling her secrets, and not to have any secrets that divide. This is the beginning of psychological intimacy, which should characterize our marriages and our best friendships.
And so we’ve got all kinds of intimacies: with, like, belonging, mattering, our heart, emotional intimacy and then finally psychological intimacy. And this is a context in which children are meant to be raised. So the beginning – the infancy and toddler – is just the beginning of a wonderful unfolding and development of the capacity for a relationship.