Before I had my children I worked as a Parent Educator for women healing from drug addiction. Some of them had their children taken away from them, some were pregnant, many had babies under 1 year old while in the program. I had so much empathy and compassion for the women; their stories were tragic and painful and filled with injustices. My role to play in their lives was to help them learn parenting skills that would help them break the cycle of abuse they had fallen victim. My mind wanders back to them often because I know better than to believe that it is parenting skills that these wounded mothers needed. They needed to heal from the lack of secure attachment they had with their own mothers and learn better how to create that secure attachment between themselves and their own children.
Unfortunately, living in our culture today, you don’t have to be a recovering drug addict to be a mother who doesn’t know how to create connection between you and your child. The message mothers receive today is all about detaching from their little ones from the earliest moments.
Child carriers start mothers off in disconnecting from their babies. Moms have been lured by the ease of transporting their little ones from the house, to the car, to the mall or friend’s home or doctor’s office – their babies “content” to sit in this chair for the duration of the time they spend shopping or visiting. For healthy baby brain development infants must have interaction through holding, eye contact, and movement. Babies have a short range of vision – roughly from your chest to your face. When they are strapped into a carrier, rocked in the seat when they fuss or stifled by a pacifier, or their bottle propped at feeding times, the baby’s sensory and relationship abilities are not able develop in the same way a baby who is held, rocked in your arms, fed while gazing into your eyes.
Time-Outs are one of the discipline techniques that are damaging, not helping, parents to connect with their children. Super Nanny and Nanny 911 have popularized this discipline strategy so that most parents who identify themselves as alternative or positive discipline or gentle discipline families would say it is their #1 parenting tool. Day care centers and preschools and elementary schools use time-out as well. Unfortunately, isolation increases a child’s anxiety, distrust, and feelings of shame. For children who are well-connected to their parents, time-out appears to have the gentle affect the parent is looking for – the child stops their behavior – but the strategy is toying with the child’s attached feelings for you; yes, they desire to be close to you and if you threaten that security, that connection, a healthy child will obey out of the fear of losing that closeness. Parents are using time-out, thinking that it is an idea for the child to regain calm, to find a quiet place for himself, not realizing or knowing that they are communicating “when you need me most, I will be the furthest from you.” For parents with children who are more consistently challenging, this is a red flag of the deep need for the connection between parent and child to be healed, not further threatened by punitive isolation which will only increase the child’s disconnect, anxiety of being separated, and feelings of shame for being so “bad” that they are denied yet again of your help and comfort.
Lack of presence is common in the hurry that is now life. Being fully engaged with full body listening, taking the time to be respectful and courteous, finding the “yes” more easily than the “no”, really being in the present moment with your child rather than in the past-this must define life more than the race of the clock. Children know when your mind is wandering back to the office or to your to-do list. Sadly, it isn’t that children demand a parent’s full attention 24/7 (unless they’ve been denied your presence, then they are driven to fulfill the unmet need) – they merely seek the consistency of the little moments through a day – a story together on the couch, a snuggle after nap, holding hands on a morning walk, a smile at breakfast… Children are exhibiting more clinging, difficulty to separate, demanding of their parents to play and entertain them behaviors than ever before. This behavior may be a result of parents unknowingly “pushing their children away” by trying to ensure their kids are never bored (which may lead to the child being unhappy-see the note about “harmony addicted” below) by buying their kids more toys, scheduling more activities, playdates with peers, screen time – anything to appease the child as he seems insatiable, literally obsessed with needing attention and entertainment at every moment.
Too much screen time. Children who are less attached are more inclined to seek screens. Screens don’t require the child to be socially responsive. A child who is uncooperative and challenging for a parent can be quieted and appeased with screens which is why this can be such a difficult activity to avoid or monitor for a parent who is overwhelmed or feels a lack of joy from the relationship with their child and needs more breaks away from the child than time with her. The screens help the parent achieve some time of peace and quiet while, unfortunately, also increasing the child’s lack of attention and attachment to others.
Mothers and fathers who are harmony addicted will struggle more often with their children. There’s a common belief in today’s parenting that a healthy child is a happy, content child who doesn’t express disappointment through tears and tantrums. Many parents will go to extremes to prevent their child from their own upset by removing limits and boundaries. The child whimpers and the parent fixes, saves, and makes everything right as rain again for their little one so that the child doesn’t have a realistic perspective on what is acceptable and what is not acceptable behavior nor that real life has bumps and valleys that can be survived and conquered. If the parent does set a limit, “we have to go now, love, the pool is closing,” the parent often will appease the child with a bribe, “no worries, you don’t need to cry, we can get some ice cream on the way home.” Limits and boundaries create security and trust for children. Parents can establish these limits using clear and sensitive parental authority and comfort their child by staying close and assuring them, “it’s not easy having to end the pool fun; no worries, we’ll get through this together my sweet boy.”
Sensory Processing Disorder or other disorders on the Autism spectrum. Sometimes we’ve done everything humanly possible to create connection with our little one and they struggle because there is something else going on for them. Because our culture emphasizes normal or above normal behavior equal to how intelligent a child is, many parents unnecessarily struggle with their young child who is exhibiting some of these characteristics. No one likes to be labeled and many parents worry that a diagnosis would require their child to take drugs. What if there was information that would help you better understand your child’s challenges? Always be informed and strive to know more about what is happening with your child than anyone else. There is nothing shameful about seeking help for your child. The younger your child is when you seek support and help, the better he or she will be. Please don’t deny your child help out of your own desire to remain convinced that due to your child’s intelligence, he or she must be “normal.”
Where can you begin to either
1. Continue to strengthen your connectedness with your child, or
2. Heal your relationship with your child? or
3. Understand more about autistic disorders that may be interfering with your secure attachment?
Stepping toward a new lifestyle. What I’m suggesting to the parents I support is a lifestyle change. Are you intrigued and willing to live counter-culture? Do you want to find out the steps to take to create a different family culture or tweak or receive support for living counter-culture? You may want to think about joining me in my next Virtual Parenting Group where you meet other parents beginning or continuing this path through group coaching calls, a group forum, supportive coaching videos, audios, and reflective content using Simplicity Parenting as our foundation to dive deeper into creating a family of parents and children who enjoy the company of the other now and into the tween, teen, and adult years. You’re so fortunate that you can start now, while your children are still so young. Enhancing and healing the connection between you and your child is within a grasps reach, mama.
In addition to creating a new lifestyle, parents who suspect their child may fall on the autism spectrum, can review this list of resources for more support and help.