written by Michael Grose – 21 May 2018
What do a baby, a three year old and a fifteen year old have in common? Each is an age of bonding, which is a vital developmental task of childhood.
A baby bonds with their mother (and father)
Forming bonds with one person, usually a mother, is one of the tasks of infancy. Bonding is a by-product of care-giving for most mothers. The intensity of nurturing and caring for a baby brings special closeness that is hard to replicate.
A parent’s responsiveness to a child’s signals impacts on their development. A strong bond with a parent fosters a baby’s sense of security and becomes the model for future relationships.
A father’s bond with a child is also important at this age, but often happens according to a different timetable than a mother’s. Fathers generally need to be proactive to create bonding opportunities with their baby. Simple activities such as nappy-changing, burping after feeding, and bathing all offer men opportunities to get a little closer to new borns.
A three year old bonds with their family
Around the age of three children start to form relationships with their siblings, and their broader family in their own right. That’s not to say, that previously they didn’t have relationships with their grandparents, aunts, uncles or brothers and sisters. But at this age children start to form stronger attachments to other family members, and begin to find their own place within their family structure.
It’s important to include children in family activities such as meal times, family outings and Christmas gatherings so they can feel a part of the family, and are able to form connections with various family members.These relationships are the templates for your child’s future connections to other groups.
A fifteen year old bonds with their community
Fifteen year olds are ready to bond with the adult world around them. It’s no coincidence that many parents face enormous challenges containing this group, as they are getting ready to spread their wings. Without adults to bond with, young people will form strong bonds with each other.
Spend time with your fifteen year old, and look for opportunities for your young person to spend time with other adults, whether it’s through a part-time job, sport or other leisure activities.
Instigate rituals, such as giving a fifteen year old a house key, that recognise their expanding maturity. Young people at this age tend to be less self-absorbed than in previous years and are developmentally ready to connect to their community. Forming connections with others makes us human, and is the source of sustained happiness over time. Your child has an in-built timetable that helps him form the necessary connections to others as he or she is ready.
Understanding the developmental tasks of each stage helps you make sense of, at times, nonsensical behaviour, as well as assist you to meet his or her developmental needs.