Relationships are really important to us all, right from the word go; how we manage to attach to our carers can have a significant impact on how we experience trust in relationships.
We are learning about relationships all through our lives by the experiences we are having. These relationships can have an impact on how we relate to ourselves and others in our adult relationships also. How we understand and manage our relationships is one of the keys to living a healthy and happy life.
There have been three main types of attachment identified through research over the years:
  • Secure attachment: we can trust that our needs will be met.
  • Insecure attachment: our needs will be met sometimes but not others, so we cannot depend on this; and
  • Disorganised attachment: this kind of attachment is often related to abusive or chaotic environments where the child can be severely neglected.
Alongside the understanding we have of attachments and how important an impact they have on a relationship, I would like to introduce you to another concept, and that is one of mentalising. Mentalising is basically being aware of your emotions and, in short, how to look after and understand your own mind; it is the ability to know what you are feeling and also relate to another’s feeling. It can be described as “keeping mind in mind”. (Allen, 2008)
Mentalising could be described as a development construct, and it is believed that one of the most important factors for mentalising to grow and develop is through a secure attachment, a relationships that has a close emotional bond. (Midgley & Vrouva, 2012). The caregivers will provide an environment where the child can reach out at times of distress and be met with the kind of containment and support that will allow them to understand and manage their experiences. The child with encouragement will start to explore and discover their outer worlds and gain a greater understanding of their inner worlds.
“Developmental research shows that we learn about our mind from the outside in; it is through the mind of another person – ideally a secure attachment figure that we become fully aware of our own mental states.” (Allen, 2008: 17)
Parents who mentalise will have children who mentalise. Mentalising is also about attunement and self-regulation, children will learn about relationships and minds from all the various family members around them. Mentalising can be difficult at times of crisis in a family, when for instance a separation may occur and the parents may find themselves being overwhelmed by their own sense of loss and finding it hard to be attuned to the child’s needs.
Three key aspects to Mentalising:
  • It is the basis of self-awareness and a sense of identity – it allows us to have a sense of control over our own behaviour.
  • It is the basis of meaningful, sustaining relationships, it helps us to see things from another perspective.
  • It is the key to self-regulation and self-direction (Allen, 2008: 13 -14)
Now that we understand the importance of attachments and being able to mentalise for early relationships, it is also important to remember why these are also key to maintaining relationships with your adolescent.
Adolescents are going through another developmental stage -  this includes social, cognitive, emotional and physical aspects. The journey through adolescence can be a very unsettling period; part of adolescent development is a move from dependence to independence and this can be challenging, not only for the adolescent but also for the parents. The key to maintaining a good relationship with your adolescent is openness and transparency. Be there for them, don’t be afraid to talk with them, take the opportunities as they arise, and remember that although they may be separating out, you will still be one of the most important relationships in their lives. They need your support now more than ever to help them through this developmental stage. Remembering what it was like as an adolescent yourself may help you to understand what it is like at some level for the adolescent today, and the many different challenges and issues that they are facing in today’s world.
  • Allen J.G., Fonagy P., Bateman A.W., (2008), Mentalising in Clinical Practice, Washington , DC: American Psychiatric Publishing Available from: [Accessed: 25/08/2014]
  • Midgley Nick, Vrouva Ioanna, (2012), Minding the Child, Routledge
Relationship Counsellor



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