Originally published at WonderfulMama Online Magazine
“Love is a constant process of tuning in, connecting, missing and misreading cues, disconnecting, repairing and finding deeper connection…” Penny Gibson of Capacity Therapeutic Services, gives some great tips for promoting security and valuing connection in your parent-child relationship. Xx
What you do matters. Your daily actions and interactions with your child can make a difference in shaping and developing your child’s being. Perhaps you’re wondering what you can be doing specifically, to ensure that your child has a secure attachment. That is, the sense that they can rely on you to be prompt, reliable, and consistent in responding to their needs and restoring safety. Children live in a world of perceived threats and dangers and being connected to a safe and predictable adult can be a matter of survival.
The different styles of attachment may develop as a direct result of your behaviours, as their primary caregiver. Attachment is cultivated by babies and children ‘cueing’ their caregiver with signals to activate a response, such as a feed, a change of nappy, a cuddle or sleep. Basically, your child learns that if they need something, they can perform a particular action and you will respond with a solution, comfort, and protection.
So what makes a relationship secure? Based on evidence and my experiences, I have summed it up into three areas:
Providing a safe and predictable home base. This means keeping your child safe from harm and a sense of threat. You might need to stay by your child’s side as they explore a new environment or take on a challenging activity. Requesting your assistance is their way of indicating that they trust you and rely on your presence. Adventuring alongside your child also harnesses the power of play in promoting your bond.
Creating a positive learning environment. This relies on you being available to your child, delighting in their exploration and becoming their greatest ally as they grow and develop. You can do this by watching them play and showing interest when they share new learning and knowledge with you.
Attuning to their needs. This involves soothing their distress, viewing their internal world beneath their behaviours, and tuning into their signals. You can use positive language, tone of voice and eye contact to show understanding and to give them an emotional boost and encourage them to persist.
Remember, you’re an active player in all of this! If you can become familiar with your child’s cues, this can help you to balance the tricky nature of promoting your child’s independence, with being protective. This is not easy, even for the most emotionally intelligent parent. So be kind to yourself, that you might miss cues and take the time to notice the subtleties and patterns in your parent-child interactions.
There may be other individuals in your child’s life who can, and will most likely, influence your child’s attachment. Other adults, carers, and peers can be important attachment figures for your child, especially as they get older. From the age of eight, children tend to start looking outside of their family for other influences, for their security and sense of self. This is why friendships, in particular, become so important. It can mean that your child will become more reliant on endorsements from their peers, so be sure to facilitate opportunities for them to develop their social supports.
So, how does a child come to know that they are unconditionally loved? What does unconditional even mean?
To me, unconditional parenting involves loving your child for who they are. It doesn’t hinge on how they behave, whether they’re successful or not or any other standard. It indicates to them “I’ll always be here. I may not approve of your behaviour or your choices, but I don’t love you any less because of them.” From an attachment perspective, your relationship with your child can be hinged on having ‘unconditional positive regard’: basic acceptance and support of them regardless of their words or actions.
Conditional parenting, in contrast, can mean to parent with conditions. Seems obvious right? “If you do this, I will approve”. Except that approval can translate to feelings of being loved, accepted and belonging. This may not be something you want your child to question as it can imply that kids must earn love by acting in ways we deem appropriate or by living up to our standards. The challenge is that there are so many pressures and stressors facing parents that contribute to feelings of overwhelm. Such stress can reduce our ability to think rationally and clearly and we may behave in ways that go against our better judgement. We might feel bad, get annoyed at the kids for triggering us and so on and so forth.
So let’s keep it simple.
Here is my advice for what you can do each and every day to promote security in your parent-child relationship:
Spend small, frequent amounts of time with them throughout the day. You are busy. It’s OK, in fact it’s proven to be better, to spend smaller chunks (5-10 minutes) of quality, interrupted time with your child throughout the day rather than hours on end.
Check-in with them and promote opportunities for discussion. Ask them questions about their day, read a book or watch a video together, and have dinner at the table.
Give hugs and show tactile affection. Offer cuddles, squeeze their shoulder, hold their hand, or sit close together on the couch. And keep in mind this advice from a Disney employee: “When you are hugging a child, always be the last one to let go. You never know how long they need it.”
Role model the behaviour you want to see. Speak respectfully to your child and your partner, family, friends, school teachers, etc.
Commend them for playing well with a sibling or their effort in a task.
Accept them for who they are and for their individual differences.
“Love is a constant process of tuning in, connecting, missing and misreading cues, disconnecting, repairing and finding deeper connection. It is a dance of meeting and parting and finding each other again. Minute to minute and day to day.”
– Dr Sue Johnson.