How to make our kids feel secure.
No matter what individual parenting style we prefer, we all want our children to grow into secure, happy adults. It helps if we understand that the human brain is hardwired to connect to others, actually changing itself and evolving based on the types of interactions we have with people and situations.
Child development specialists believe building relationships – safe emotional interaction and dependence on a loved one – is the most basic human need we have.
That’s where attachment theory comes in. It tells us that when a child’s needs for emotional and physical comfort are consistently met by a nurturing caregiver attuned to those needs, they grow to be emotionally and socially healthy adults capable of trusting relationships. They also become more independent, self-reliant and self-assured.
We can help our children feel secure by responding to their needs promptly with empathy, comfort, respect and nurturing touch, particularly when they are sick, hurt or otherwise in distress. It’s worth noting that emotional distress manifests quite differently in younger children, who may fuss, cry, or experience night terrors, and older kids, who may become surly, irritable or rude.
Attachment Parenting 101
Attachment parenting is a philosophy and practice that is intuitive, characterized by a deeply empathetic response to a child’s physical and emotional needs. While early attachment parenting may involve breastfeeding, baby-wearing (in a carrier), and/or co-sleeping (in a ‘family bed’), its tenets generally embrace respectful communication and a warm, structured approach to child-rearing that is principally family-centred, no matter what the child’s age.
Children who are comforted predictably form trust with their caregivers, learn how and when to trust others, and have greater confidence to explore their environment. Providing positive discipline – that is, non-punitive guidance focused on teaching, modeling, problem-solving and redirection, or natural consequences – also builds on this trust. (See Cooperative Discipline, Northumberland Kids, February/March 2008.]
Although attachment parenting has been criticized by some for being too prescriptive, particularly for working moms, its proponents say that it is extremely flexible. In fact, one of its central tenets includes striving for balance in one’s personal and family life, ensuring sufficient self-care and always respecting our own needs so as to remain at the top of our game.
One of the most important factors in supporting our child’s needs has to do with whom we choose to be as a parent. By reducing our own stress level and becoming more attentive and emotionally available, we succeed in offering them a safe ‘port’ in the everyday storms of life. Taking the time to connect within ourselves as individuals helps us to be better able to tune in, connect with and meet our kids’ needs.
Attachment parenting requires us to be fully present, pay more attention to our children when they are distressed, and respond to them in a more thoughtful way.
For example, a popular expression among adults in the face of a child’s undesirable behaviour like whining is, “Ignore him, he’s just doing that to get attention.” A common reaction if the behaviour escalates is to give a ‘time out’ – isolating the child in her room.
Yet both these responses are a kind of pushing away, a refusal to be fully present with the child, even in unpleasantness. This seemingly small rejection can send a potent message to our children that they are only wanted or valued when they behave in a prescribed way, ultimately leading them to feel insecure about who they are.
But paying full attention or engaging in mindful attunement to our child promotes safety and security. Being in the moment means interpreting what your child is attempting to communicate with their (sometimes nasty) behaviour and attending to how they feel rather than allowing yourself to be distracted by chores, the stress of your lengthy to-do list or your adult timeline. This is a powerful way to positively impact your child’s self-worth.
Paradoxically, the first step to enabling yourself to be fully present for your child, or anyone else, is to give yourself a break – literally. Mindfulness takes practice. Taking time for yourself daily – whether for meditation, Yoga, exercise, or simply sitting quietly watching the clouds float by – is key to finding that inner peacefulness from which true mindfulness originates. Basically, you cannot expect yourself to ‘be there’ fully for anyone if you are unable to be there for yourself.
Research shows that positive emotions evolved to encourage activities like exploration, learning, relationship-building, and investment in the future – expansive behaviours that are often avoided when we are stressed. While negative emotions narrow our focus and enable us to deal effectively with immediate challenges, positive emotions broaden our outlook, enabling us to build competencies and connections that enhance our future success.
From the perspective of attachment parenting, our ability to respond to our child with compassion helps them feel safe while teaching them efficient self-care strategies. Equally important to the physical demands of feeding, bathing, sufficient sleep and exercise is the acknowledgement of their social and emotional needs.
Children can better manage their less pleasant emotions – like fear, anxiety, frustration – when they are allowed to express them with impunity. From within a more relaxed and secure environment, they can begin to self soothe – using a blanket or stuffed toy for comfort when young, and mental reassurances, deep breathing, or even visualization techniques as they get older.
This enhanced capacity to deal with their own challenges builds the self-confidence they need to become less adverse to calculated risk taking and more willing to engage in creative problem solving as they grow.
Children who appear the most independent are the ones most securely
attached to their primary caregiver. In fact, it is that very sense of security, knowing without question that they are loved and supported, that enables them to be innovative risk-takers in school, at home, and ultimately in adult life.
Allowing ourselves to become the mindful parent – taking the time to nurture that sense of inner calm – is the most significant step we can take to help our child develop that sense of independence and self-reliance they need to succeed.
Attachment Parenting at Any Stage
♦ Babies crave touch – attune to your infant’s needs and respond with immediate attention; cuddling helps regulate your little one’s nervous system.
♦ Toddlers respond to your comforting voice, whether you’re singing songs, reciting rhymes or telling stories at bedtime.
♦ Preschoolers thrive on play: tag, hide and seek or make-believe games all build connection in a fun way.
♦ Share in your primary school-aged
child’s interests in and out of class and acknowledge their strengths whenever possible.
♦ Encourage your teen to share their opinion on a variety of topics or help make important family decisions that impact them; engage in problem-solving in partnership rather than as an authoritarian.
♦ Stay connected to your young adult without smothering or demanding – keep your door open and be supportive while trusting them to be self-reliant.