Strategies for Building Attachment

Last Updated 9/14/2020

How you interact with children sets the tone for your relationships with them. When your relationship with a child sends signals of safety, stability, nurturance, and responsiveness, children can learn to trust you and the environment they are in. When a child can trust their caregivers and environments, their minds are free to grow and more successfully manage their feelings and impulses. Attachment leads to safer happier environments for children and adults alike. Here are three basic strategies that can help strengthen attachment.

  1. Get to know children
  2. Affectionate interactions
  3. Recognize character traits- the “insides”

Get to know children

Getting to know children, just like getting to know adults, is a time-dependent process. It does not happen immediately but develops through observation and shared experiences. Some ways to aid you in this process are…


Parent/Guardian questionnaires: a set of questions focused on the child’s likes, dislikes, strengths, challenges, and parent/guardian expectations can allow caregivers to initiate interactions that are likely to be more individualized, engaging, and child-centered.

Casual, personal conversation and interaction: Conversing with children on their level while checking in about their lives and experiences lets them know you care about who they are. Playing with children or working toward common goals (i.e. making something together) are powerful ways to establish connections.

Reflecting children in the environment: when children see images of themselves, family or foster family, their culture, and their artwork displayed in the environment, it can promote a sense of belonging and let them know that they are valued.


Affectionate Interactions

Responding to children with affection is easy to do when they exhibit positive “good” behavior. The challenge comes when children behave in unkind or disruptive ways. It is important for caregivers to maintain that calm affectionate approach, especially when a child is disruptive. The caregiver’s responses should let the child know…

  • You are seen
  • You are safe
  • You are loved

Affectionate interactions may include…

  • Fingerplays and singing songs
  • Reading aloud
  • Being silly and playing together
  • Verbal reminders “You are safe, you are loved.”
  • Calm, assuring voice
  • Physical touch or proximity (some children do not want physical touch but still benefit from a trusted adult remaining close by)

Recognize character traits – the “insides”

It is important when interacting with children that we focus on authentic praise and recognition of character traits rather than what we see on the outside. In practicing this we emphasize that we value who a child is. For children who have experienced stressful challenges, authentic recognition and praise need to be even more frequent.

Instead of saying… Try saying…
Hi Jimmy, what a cool dinosaur shirt! Good morning Jimmy. I feel so happy you are here!
Tina, you have such pretty curly hair. Tina, how was your visit with your nana and papa?
What a cool sculpture you made! It looks like you worked really hard on that sculpture! Can you tell me about it?

Bilmes, J. (2012). Beyond behavior management: the six life skills children need. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

Williams, C., Kurtz, J., Juarez, A., & Benitez, D. (2019). Module One: Instructor Guide. In Understanding Trauma and Strategies to Promote Healing. San Francisco, CA: California Child Care Resource & Referral Network.

Perry, Bruce. Six Core Strengths for Healthy Child Development. 2002,

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