Essential Principles of Parenting:
1. Connection - Attached:
The first component, ATTACHED, has been adapted from John Bowlby’s ‘Attachment Theory’. Of interest here is not the whole Attachment relationship, but that aspect of Attachment that I see as contributing to Self Worth. Feeling ATTACHED to both a mother and a father, in an intact family provides emotional security. A strong, healthy, emotionally secure Attachment style takes a minimum of two years to develop and contributes to long term mental and emotional wellbeing. During these first two years of a child’s life that is required to build a strong, healthy attachment style, it is the Attachment relationship with the mother that is of special significance since this is a time of emotional development. Attachment with the father in early infancy is important as is his parenting input to emotional security. However, during the early years, his role is secondary to that of the mother and his role becomes more important later in childhood.
The conditions of Attachment, as described in "Attachment Theory" apply here. (Suggest: Read “Attachment Theory”, listed under "More Info"). For a minimum of the first two years of the child's life, Mum needs to be physically accessible and emotionally available virtually 24/7. Mum can leave the baby with Dad or Grandma while she goes for a relaxing massage, catches up on some much-needed sleep or goes shopping without the drama of juggling baby, stroller and bags of shopping. Or Mum and Dad decide they need a night out to nurture their relationship. Interacting face-to-face (talking, smiling, nonsensical ‘conversations’) with the infant is important for cognitive and emotional development. The infant’s early lessons in speech development consist of lip reading – watching the lips of the speaker in face-to-face situations.
Emotional regulation is an essential lesson and it goes something like this: Mum is nursing the infant in front of her and notices he ‘looks glum’. She mirrors (ie, copies) his expression, but in an exaggerated way and says something like, “Mummy’s little Bunnikins looks so sad – he has such a sad look on his face”. [Mum has demonstrated that she understands how he feels and she has provided a label for those feelings. This also teaches the infant how to recognise how others are feeling (by their facial expression) – so this is a lesson in the first step of the eventual development of empathy]. She then continues,“Why is Mummy’s little Bunnikins so sad? Never mind – Mummy will make it all better – Mummy will make those sad feelings go away”. She gives him hugs, cuddles and kisses, making reassuring, affectionate noises, caressing his back and smiling as she does so. And lo – the sad feelings do go away – Mummy does make him feel better – and he starts to smile. Mum smiles (mirroring his smile) and acknowledges he is now smiling by giving him more hugs, commenting to him that he now looks a lot happier. [What he has learned is that bad feelings can be controlled – can be made to go away. He learns that something can be done to make him feel good - such as distraction, turning attention to something more pleasant. Even more important, in time, he learns that he can do that himself – hence learning emotional regulation]. Kids who do not learn this emotional regulation tend to become overwhelmed by their feelings. This high emotional arousal becomes their ‘normal state’ and they subsequently tend to have a low tolerance for peace, harmony and tranquillity. They tend to live life from one crisis to the next and if life around them becomes too peaceful they seek out or manage to create drama. Friends eventually run out of sympathy when they see that their ‘poor friend’ is not really a victim but tends to create the dramas herself.
Another essential lesson for kids to learn is ‘impulse control’. Those who have spent substantial time during their first four-and-a half years in child care had not learned this ability and have been found to be and were more likely to engage in impulsive, risk-taking behaviour as adolescents. An experiment I read of somewhere found that ‘impulse control’ in four-year-olds predicted later success in life and career. In the experiment, four-year-olds were offered two choices: they could have ‘one marshmallow now’ or they could have ‘four marshmallows later’. Some could not wait for the treat and opted for the ‘one marshmallow now' (ie, instant gratification). Those who chose to wait for the greater reward of ‘four marshmallows later’, were found to be more successful in their life as adults. There are probably other abilities associated with 'impulse control' that are being learned and contribute to success as an adult, such as being able to ‘see ahead and picture a goal’, plan how to proceed, implement that plan, and importantly, perseverance in achieving that goal which means coping with frustration, delays and disappointment, dealing with obstacles by finding ways to remove them or find a way around, being flexible in switching to alternative strategies. Teach your kids that ‘delayed gratification’ is more rewarding and more enjoyable than ‘having the one marshmallow now’.
Mum and infant do not have to be interacting all the time nor does Mum have to be within view of the infant at all times. The infant needs to be able to sleep in its own room and be able to begin to learn self sufficiency in being able to tolerate being on its own. For example, the infant needs to be able to self soothe (via learning emotional regulation) and be self entertaining (via being provided with visual stimulation of colourful mobiles and soft textured toys). However, that does not mean that a baby can be left indefinitely without company. The infant needs to be able to feel confident and secure in the knowledge that Mum is ‘physically available’ to respond to its cries and ‘emotionally available’ to be in tune with its feelings and to provide the affection, comfort and attention it needs. Mum – sing to your infant. It does not matter if your voice is not great – it does not matter if your voice is awful - infants are not musical critics. Years ago, I read the results of a study that found that a mother singing her baby too sleep had a far more soothing effect than the electronic gadgetry with recorded music.
After the first two years, ongoing CONNECTION behaviour involves family priority in activity (not just in thought), family activities, family togetherness, eating the evening meal together, and discussing the day’s activities (ie, not eating in front of
the TV or each child eating the meal in front of their computer in their own room), family support and family loyalty. Emotional security is fostered by a relationship (ATTACHMENT) between parents (based on mutual love and respect, conflict resolved constructively) and family harmony (with conflict resolved constructively).
Not doing the things suggested to meet emotional needs will result in these needs being unmet. The implicit message received by the child is, ‘My parents regard me as unworthy of providing emotional security”. During the first two years, mother and child may be together virtually full time with Mum within sight and hearing, but there may not be a lot of interaction. They may spend a lot of time in separate rooms with little interaction, the infant may be left to cry for lengthy periods before Mum responds (ie, not available physically or emotionally). Use of the television or ‘baby DVDs’ as a ‘baby sitter’ may mean insufficient mother-child interaction that is required to build healthy attachment and emotional and cognitive development. This has also been found to provide over-stimulation for the infant as well as hamper cognitive development. If parents’ relationship is volatile, with periodic splits and reunions, ‘attachment’ will also likely be ‘fractured’ and 'anxious’. ‘Attachment’ may be fractured or anxious for a young child alternating between separated/divorced parents (no matter how civilised they believe they are being in shared custody arrangements). (More on the subject of family breakup in “Repressed Anger” under “MORE INFO”).
Violation of what I refer to as the 'innate ATTACHMENT contract' will result in kids receiving a subconscious, implicit message, “My parents regard me as unworthy of their commitment and efforts to provide me with emotional security”. This will create some degree of anger (repressed) in the child, as well as low Self Worth. Parenting behaviour that violates the child’s attachment needs includes the child being abandoned by a parent, through desertion, separation or divorce. This will undermine or destroy a child’s feelings of connection, security and stability. There will generally be anger (repressed) towards the parents for taking away the child’s security, particularly towards the parent who ‘left’. However, even if Dad was the ‘guilty’ party and has left of his own accord, or Mum kicked him out, the anger may also be felt towards Mum for not being a better wife (even if it is not her fault) or for kicking him out. Desertion by the father prior to birth may also be experienced subconsciously as abandonment.
Death of a parent is also experienced as abandonment, even though it is not the parent’s fault (although death by suicide, ie, by choice, is the ultimate abandonment). It may seem irrational for the child to feel abandoned. Nevertheless, rationality does not enter into consideration. Abandonment is what the child feels, lifelong. This may also create a lifelong fear of abandonment in other relationships.
A single mother may not be able to cope with the children on her own and work to support them as well, or she may be an alcoholic and puts one or all of her children into foster care or an orphanage with a promise to ‘come back and get them’. Children may be taken away from their mother because she is deemed unfit and placed with foster carers. Even though quality of Attachment beforehand may have been poor, and even though the children were taken away from their mother, they may still feel abandoned by her. Infants and toddlers spending substantial time in the care of someone other than the mother (eg, child care, nanny, aunt, grandmother) may develop an anxious attachment style and have lifelong problems in relationships due to ‘separation anxiety’. These kids may feel subconsciously that the mother has violated the ‘innate ATTACHMENT contract’ that she has entered into. (Suggest: Read “Parents Misled" under "More Info" for more info on impact of 'outsourcing parenting').
The infant needs exclusive access to Mum for the first two years so the birth of a new sibling within that time period may be regarded as a violation of the ATTACHMENT needs of the toddler (child #1), resulting in low Self Worth plus anger (repressed). The new baby, #2, is the focus of parental attention and the toddler may feel pushed aside to make way for the new baby. #1 may engage in affectionate behaviour towards #2, but this is ‘approval seeking behaviour’ which masks the true feelings. This affectionate behaviour towards the baby is in response to being told by parents to, “Give your baby brother a kiss”. #1 will feel some degree of resentment towards #2 and in spite of the affectionate displays in front of the parents, may give the baby pinches and smacks when no one is looking. #2 may become ‘mummy’s little helper’ by helping her when it is the baby’s bath time, but again, this is ‘approval seeking behaviour’. If the toddler ‘reverts to infantile behaviour’, it is engaging in ‘attention seeking behaviour’ because it is missing out on attention since #2 has arrived.
DO NOT reprimand a toddler for engaging in this infantile behaviour, particularly with comments such as, “Don’t be such a baby”. This child IS still a baby with Attachment needs (eg, exclusive access to the Attachment figure, which is Mum) and if the toddler is two or under when the next baby arrives, then the toddler’s attachment needs have been violated by the parents. Reprimanding the toddler for attempting to elicit its innate needs from the parents is unjust treatment of the toddler. This may reinforce the toddler's feelings of rejection and subconscious belief that his parents regard him as unworthy of having his ATTACHMENT needs met.
Boarding school. Generally, a practical alternative to home schooling or other forms of ‘distant learning’ for families living in isolated areas or long distances from a school. Or simply when parents believe a boarding school will provide a better education than is available locally. Or, parents just being snobs. Parents may be well intentioned in wanting to provide the best education for their child, but they were unaware of the emotional cost borne by their child when packing off their seven-year old to boarding school. This is violating the child’s attachment needs and results in some degree of emotional insecurity and emotional deprivation (plus violation of other needs that the parents are not present to meet). Some kids attempt to compensate by forming attachments with other kids in the same situation as they are. They create their own substitute
family and make life long bonds and friendships, but this does not serve to make up for unmet needs by parents. Others have a difficult, lonely time, and for those who are sent to catholic boarding schools, not all nuns are warm and cuddly. From anecdotal evidence, many of them appeared to be cold, mean and sadistic. (Perhaps some nuns are resentful of being handed over to the church as teenagers, by parents wanting to score brownie points to get into heaven).
Mother and child are literally ‘joined at the hip’, with the mother not letting the child out of sight. The child may fail to develop independence, an autonomous sense of self and self-confidence. Excessive Connection behaviour by a mother may be the consequence of poor ‘attachment’ with her own mother as a child, hence this excessive behaviour is meeting the mother’s needs which were unmet as a child.