What are characteristics of secure attachment in infants and toddlers?
How do you form trust and what does secure attachment look like? Here are some examples. A baby would show delight by smiling, cooing, and wiggling their arms and legs when they see a parent or familiar adult. We see that they get excited. When you hold them or feed them, they'll relax and respond with ease, and don't tense up. This lets you know there that the child has feelings of safety and comfort from their caregivers. They'll gaze into your eyes or sit and cuddle with you. They'll coo with you and make efforts to communicate through sounds and gestures. They smile, giggle, and show joyful enthusiasm. They'll engage in reciprocal play with adults. They might fiddle with or touch your face, or might touch your mouth as you're singing or talking to them. This is the beginning of reciprocity, the serve and return that happens when children feel attached and secure with adults around them.
In older infants and certainly toddlers, they'll begin to observe and show concern for other infants and toddlers in distress through facial expressions and crying. It's not unusual that when one baby cries, you'll hear another baby, and all of a sudden you've got three or four babies crying. This is because they're sensing concern and showing really early stages of empathy. You may see a toddler who's crying and another one looking and observing. They're beginning to understand themselves as different and separate from other children, which is part of both cognitive and social-emotional development. Secure children begin to play independently. They're observing that solitary play moving to parallel play. They're observing the children nearby. But they also can be soothed and comforted by familiar adults when they're upset. They explore and show curiosity about new things. They might have some frustrations now and then, but they can be soothed, calmed, and comforted. They're happy to say hello and goodbye and are beginning to be more social.
This Ask the Expert is an edited excerpt from the course, Exploring Cognitive and Social-Emotional Development of Infants and Toddlers, presented by Jean Barbre, EdD.