The experiences in the early years of a child’s life profoundly impact them for the rest of their life. Having a close connection to a parent allows a child to reach their potential. Many parents let situation after situation happen in their family without using it to ‘grow’ a better relationship. Their actions do not fit their values.
How will you spend your three-day weekend?
Will your actions fit your values? Will you connect with your family or make a faulty connection? The types of faulty connections often continues in a family as the child ages. The strongest deterrent to high-risk teenage behavior is a strong emotional connection between your child and yourself. Healthy relationships create resilience to dangerous acting out behavior, but some parents can’t seem to understand how to connect with their teenager.
To forge that vital close connection to your child, you need to know the way healthy relationships develop. Attachment creates the foundation for virtually every relationship your child will ever have, beginning with parents, and later with siblings, friends, and intimate partners. This attachment is the cornerstone of parenting. It can help with keeping your child on track academically, managing challenging behavior and maintaining the all-important role of being the one they turn to for advice and support.
The most primitive and primary stage of attachment is proximity.
Through touch, contact, and closeness, the infant begins attaching to their parents. Research data supports the notion that young children feel most comfortable in an environment approximating that before birth. One dominant stimulus in the prenatal environment is the constant rhythmical beat of the mother’s heart. But often, as our children get older we forget the benefits that proximity gives to the role of parenting. The Parent- Child connection is greatly enhanced by gentle proximity.
Keys to proximity includes:
- Sitting with your child on your left side – closer to your heart beat.
- Sharing the warmth – is comforting for children but this is often neglected by parents as their child gets older.
- Slight movements (stimulation) or rocking might be helpful.
- Skin to skin contact – massage of shoulders or temples help with close connections.
Proximity must be built into the first stage of a secure connection. Parents often take the easy way out and talk to their child as they come into a room or even talk from one room across to another room. Some parents call out as soon as they get home from work and the child responds through a closed door, and yet, both parent and child feel this is communicating.
Imagine the power a regular intimate conversation would have on your child.
The number one overlooked situation for good parenting practices is being close enough to the child that they can hear your breathing, smell you and see that you are non-threatening. If you sit down or lie down side by side with your child, they can miss the ‘uncomfortable eye to eye territory” where a child might feel judged.
Placing yourself on an even playing field such as both sitting on the floor, or both lying on the carpet, where a parent is not taller or where the parent is not in the position of authority since they are so much bigger causes a child to relax and be more comfortable. If you can match your breathing to the rhythm of your child’s breathing, your child will feel safer. Being in this close area of proximity to each other usually keeps your voices at a more acceptable and comfortable level so more will be accomplished in understanding each other, compromising or negotiating what needs to happen. Children can be more honest when they don’t feel threatened.
Start with small steps!
If you do not have a relationship with your child, you will need to start in small steps, so it does not seem so demanding. Many families start developing a gentle proximity of four feet. Be in the same room, sit on the same couch but don’t press for conversations. A clear connection is usually not apparent until you’re within a few inches of each other but any starting place is better than giving up on the relationship.
A 4-year old view of his Expat family with staff drawn in pencil
Many cultures raise their children in extended village families, where the babies are always ‘attached’ to someone, giving them security. This is not the case in many of our families. Some families even have caregivers who are interchangeable due to the family moving or the need for day care while a parent works. We owe it to our children to reconnect with them so we can make the most out of our relationships. Although the attachment relationship is universal, our parenting beliefs and practices do differ around the world.
Attachment methods are those responses that parents use to develop a deep and lasting connection with their child. There are an increasing number and diversity of these practices with all the movement of people around the world.
Attachment influences early brain development, which has an impact on a child’s lifelong abilities to regulate thinking, feelings and behavior. When you invite a child to be in your company, you’re promoting proximity. This most basic invitation to be near your child – whether it is a cuddle, playing a game or sharing a reading book together sends the message to your child that you want to be close and connected.
There is only one ideal way to work in close collaboration with your children – you have to get physically close to them. They need to hear you without you being too loud or demanding, so you need to lean in towards them and speak gently. Sometimes just sitting side by side without words can be very powerful. You need to be close enough that your child can feel your presence. This is a ‘comfort’ for many young children. It can also mean love for a teenager even if at times they appear not to want you close.
As a Parent – Rethink eye contact and pre-censoring
Many times it is important to avoid eye contact because our children are very good at reading our faces and our emotions. As, parents, you owe it to your children to give them honest verbal and nonverbal communication about your own feelings.
You also have to be careful that you do not pre-censor any activity or event that your child might enjoy or grow from with your facial responses when your child is telling you about them. In seconds, you can change how your child feels about an event, new toy, or new friend. This is particularly the case of anything that puts us out of our comfort zone or into our dislikes. In schools, a common concern is how a parent views his/her child’s new teacher. If the parent is not supportive or positive about the teacher, the child will quickly stop investing as much energy in learning.
Violence is closely associated with deprivation of close human physical contact either in infancy or adolescence, according to the neuropsychologist, James Prescott. Close proximity and contact define attachment behaviors in children.
Get close to your kids. The mixture of cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and respiratory and other physiological sounds as well as movements have been found to have a calming effect on one person to another. All over the world, parents know that a combination of touch, movement, and speech calms an upset child. Research has proven that verbal empathy alone was ineffective as a soothing strategy, but if verbal empathy is combined with close physical contact, the soothing strategy is paramount in the emotional support a human feels.
Make the experiences in your child’s life impact them and have valid meaning for the rest of their life, get close!
In loving memory of one of the best Huggers in the world – My Grangy! Edna Hawley Avery in Russell Springs, Kansas with my family. In this photo, Jackie is the oldest grand-daughter, followed by Jeff, then Jill and baby Julia.