Episode 8: Building Attachment through Play

Mother and father playing with their young boy. Boy is placing a crown on his mother's head while he father looks on smiling.

On this episode of Play. Learn. Thrive., clinical psychologist Dr. Sarah Bren shares with Alanna insights from her years of experience with attachment theory and its implication for child development. 

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By creating a safe atmosphere for children, we are allowing the attachment process to thrive – if a child is feeling safe and secure, securely attached to a caregiver, then they are able to relax because their brain is not going to go into fight or flight mode.

Sarah goes deeper to discuss how important it is to encourage independent play and the role it plays in growing more curious and confident children. She provides tips for encouraging proper attachment and developing healthy independent kids all while reassuring listeners that it is harder to mess up than you think.

Play is an important part of a child’s development; it provides cognitive and learning benefits, and an important part of our lives as adults as well!    

Main Takeaways:

  • A bit about Sarah’s career as a psychologist (specialty in parenting, support and family therapy)
  • Diving in to the psychological theory of attachment: a child’s biological, hardwired drive to form a bond with their caregiver that keeps them safe and allows them to survive. Think of it as a lens through which the child experiences the world.
  • Attachment informs a child's motivations. We can use that information to help soothe the child, direct the child’s behavior, encourage certain behaviors, and discourage others just by using connection.
  • Attachment happens whether our kids are regulated or dysregulated
    • Our attachment relationship can be a tool to help a child regulate
  • Hierarchy of needs – if a child feels safe then playing/separating is tolerable
  • Independent play – children are innately born knowing how to play
    • Our kids don't actually need us to do all that much for them, certainly not when it comes to play.
  • Every kid plays in the same ways, no matter their circumstances or where they grew up in the world.
  • Lack of play has had a detrimental impact on kids who are currently in their teens and in their early 20s, who really can't problem solve and work independently because they've always had the parent, tv or video game who's entertaining them.
  • Allowing kids to play with mixed ages encourages social emotional learning.


The basis to successful play is establishing a healthy foundation, or secure attachment as Sarah likes to say. If a child feels safe and accepted only then are they able to explore and play successfully.  Taking steps to work towards healthy separation can be difficult. It’s a normal response for them to feel upset when you leave, it means that they have a secure attachment.  Instead of feeling guilty, find reassurance in knowing you have developed a strong bond and their brains are developing as they should.

Similarly, wanting to direct play for a child is a natural response, so promoting independent play might take a conscious effort at first but the benefits are easy to see. By stepping back and allowing your child to take the reins and use their imagination you are instilling important life skills that will continue to serve them into adulthood. Research clearly demonstrates that allowing children the opportunity to play presents vast emotional, cognitive, physical and creative benefits and it’s easier to do than you think! Less is more, challenge yourself to remove the distractions and excess toys and be amazed at the creativity your child can produce.

Related Links:

Sarah’s Website: drsarahbren.com

Instagram: @DrSarahBren

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