At the core of the process of forming a safe harbor is a concept known as attachment. The term "attachment" refers to two interconnected and interdependent concepts: (1) a set of behaviors present in all humans from their first moments of life that is activated when a child feels distressed or in danger to help ensure safety and survival; and (2) the type of closeness and connection a child has with his primary caregiver that depends significantly on the caregiver's response.

Attachment behaviors (crying, clinging, searching, calling, crawling, etc.) allow the child to monitor the whereabouts of and obtain a close proximity to his primary caregiver. These are most highly activated when a child is not physically close to the primary caregiver at a time when he feels distressed or in danger. How the caregiver responds to a child's attachment behaviors will determine whether a child develops a secure or insecure attachment with his caregiver. The type of attachment the child develops will dramatically affect his self-esteem, morals, mental capacity, personality characteristics, emotions, behaviors, relationships with others, and actual brain chemistry. A child who has a good attachment learns to trust his family and the world enough to grow up healthy and happy. A child who has a bad attachment does not trust others and learns to manipulate, cover up, fight, and control the world to survive emotionally.

A healthy attachment allows a child to develop good social skills, good emotional health, good thinking skills, and good morals. When attached in a healthy way to her primary caregiver, a child develops a way to self-soothe, a good feeling about herself, trust and respect for others, and a belief that she has an important role within her family and the world.

There are two essential ingredients necessary for an adult and child to become attached in a healthy way: the adult must be dependably available and present over time, and the adult must be responsive, sensitive, and emotionally invested in interactions with the child.

A child can have a primary attachment with a person other than his biological mother and/or father. He can have a primary attachment with an adoptive parent, a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, a foster parent or any other adult who is consistently dependable, stable, and invested in his care.

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