Nurturing and protecting the Attachment bond between parent and child is vitally important at every age, not only in infancy. It is important to think about Attachment in relation to everything we say or do to a child. Will our next action or next words draw our child closer to us or drive him away and threaten his Attachment to us?
The language around raising children did not include the term ATTACHMENT until the nineteen-sixties when the research of two British psychologists, John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, began to influence the thinking of other professionals in the field of child development.
Once the importance of parent/infant attachment came to be a subject of study, thinking about human behavior and parent/child relationships changed rapidly. With today's brain imaging and brain mapping as research tools, developmental psychologists such as Gordon Neufeld and psychiatrist Gabor Mate' are filling in the missing pieces to the behavior puzzles parents have been trying to solve for generations.
Finding infants and children to have unique emotional make-ups along with their own particular inborn needs and studying the results when such needs are either fulfilled, ignored or misinterpreted has been a revolutionary way of thinking about children and human potential.
The Behaviorists had insisted there was nothing significant going on in the brains of infants and children and instructed us to be concerned only with behavior. We were told infants were born devoid of emotion without inborn drives or psychological needs of any sort. The infant brain was described as a blank slate. Our responsibilities were to keep children clean, well-fed and obedient.
Following Behaviorist thinking and neglecting our young by denying the existence of and disregarding their feelings and emotional needs has brought our children and our families into an unhealthy state of affairs. Harmful to the children themselves and dangerous in having created individuals who make up a dysfunctional and violent society.
Most particularly in the last twenty years and to a greater degree today, this level of dysfunction has many parents finding living with children to be difficult, problematic and exhausting.
In the P.E.T. course we are told THE RELATIONSHIP IS EVERYTHING and now developmental psychologists are confirming this when their brain research tells us ATTACHMENT IS EVERYTHING.
In his book, HOLD ON TO YOUR KIDS,* Dr. Gordon Neufeld explains the importance of Attachment to building healthy relationships and tells us why a child's ability to cooperate is determined by the strength of the Attachment bond and a parent's position as a child's compass point.*
In the "good old days" mom and her children were home together and mom was in the kitchen when Bobby or Suzy came home from school. Without the distracting influence of television, computers, cell phones,
the unremitting sensory input of today's commercialism, pressure cooker schools, and scheduled activities filling many hours away from each other, most parents automatically and without trying could foster enough connection to their children for them to be cooperative and easy to live with no matter how lacking they may have been in "Parenting Skills."
In today's fast-paced world, it has become increasing important for parents to be consciously aware of Attachment needs and to make a deliberate effort to strengthen and secure the Attachment b,ond beginning in infancy and all through the teen years.
This includes the physical side of Attachment; holding, hugging, embracing, rocking, carrying in a sling, co-sleeping if you choose, cuddling, holding hands.
Attention must be given to emotional Attachment needs as well by being kind and respectful, listening attentively, avoiding the poisonous Roadblocks** to communication, providing comforting routine and eliminating punishments and rewards from the crucial
Attachment is the most fundamental and compelling human need.
We search for a satisfying attachment all our lives. The need is so potent, children and adults alike will make unwise attachments if a nurturing loving one is not available. The emotional hunger for feeling connected sometimes drives individuals of any age into faulty, unsatisfying and possibly dangerous connections. Children join gangs looking for or trying to replace a missing Attachment.
As busy as we are, it has become imperative to make time in our lives to meet a child's need for focused time with us. Somehow, some way, we must whittle out a slice of time each day or each week. An hour is wonderful. Thirty minutes is good. However we can manage it, our child will reap immeasurable benefits from the intimate time he knows we have set aside exclusively for him and Attachment will be strengthened.
Such special one-on-one time fosters his self-esteem while strengthening Attachment. Arranged to be spent doing whatever he wants within reason, this is not a time to teach or direct activities. He is nourished when we make this time an intimate interlude following his ideas and plans for being together.
An ideal way to spend regular one-on-one time with a baby is to enjoy rocking-chair-time when we rock quietly together or singing, humming or talking softly accompanies the rhythmic rocking.
Beware of thinking of Attachment only in terms of the "physical." Carrying a baby in a sling is lovely if we remember not to scold or yell at him when he's grown out of the sling or neglect his needs for routine and order, peace and quiet because it is so easy to carry a baby around in a sling anywhere any time.
Keep in mind the responsibility to treat children with respect.
Yelling, punishing, shaming, ignoring, lecturing will drive our child away from us and weaken or destroy the Attachment.
If our behavior toward a child severs the bond completely, we lose our ability to influence him. Although the bond can be broken at any age it becomes dramatically apparent in the life of a teen when he turns to his peers seeking Attachment. If his closest peers happen to be gang members or other teens indulging in drugs, risky dangerous or illegal behavior, he is in serious trouble.
When a parent sees a child going off in such directions, the usual response is to become more critical, more demanding and more punitive, driving the teen further away and more securely into his peer Attachments.
A new gang member has not suddenly "turned bad." He has grabbed and is clinging to an Attachment life-raft, leaky as it may be.
It is never too late to turn things around for a teenager in this sort of predicament. If a parent is able to reverse course, abandon traditional reward/punishment tactics and begin to work with the child as a respectful supportive ally instead of a critical controlling enforcer the teen may welcome the change. A parent's heart-felt involvement in repairing the relationship and rebuilding the bond may bring him back into the fold. If there is too much anger and hostility on one or both sides for any hope of change through sincere efforts at self-help, professional help is advisable.
For a full understanding of the importance of Attachment to our relationship with our children and to their emotional growth, I highly recommend reading Dr. Neufeld's book, HOLD ON TO YOUR KIDS
and viewing any of the Neufeld DVDs available through many libraries or from www.gordonneufeld.com
*HOLD ON TO YOUR KIDS
Copyright 2004, 2005 by Gordon Neufeld, Ph. D. and Gabor Mate' M. D.
Published by Ballentine Books
Random House Publishing, Inc. New York, NY
** Please read the chapter on ROADBLOCKS