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Every parent knows whether or not they are close to their son and/or daughter. In this modern emotional world, an increasingly common term to define this bonding or connectedness is “attunement.” Attunement means that you are attempting to respond to your child’s emotional needs, resulting in the child’s sense of being understood and valued. The capability to attune differs on the personality and temperament of children and how easy or difficult it is for us to relate to them, given our own individual personality traits and family experiences. Being attuned or attached in a healthy way to your child occurs most of the time when he or she is younger. However, that tends to drop considerably when your child becomes a teenager.
There are many challenges of parenting today such as the stresses of work, financial worry, marital tension and conflict, the determination for success, modern day stresses on our kids, and mixed families due to divorce and remarriage. There are more forces than ever that are tearing at relationships with children.
How can you increase attunement and connect with your children in a way that promotes emotional health? When we consider an attachment perspective, it all starts with safety in the home with primary caretakers.
Below are FIVE SIMPLE CONCEPTS you can use to help promote secure relationship patterns with your children:
1) Accept Your Child’s TEMPERAMENT – each child is born with a certain temperament which is developed by an early age. Most kids are classified into one of four categories: easy-going, challenging, “slow-to-warm-up kids”, and mixed temperament kids. What really matters is how well parents adjust to their children’s personalities if parents and children have mismatched temperaments or if both have difficult temperaments. Accepting a child for who they are helps them to feel secure and okay with their personality and identity.
2) Invest in TIME with your children – Most parents make a distinction between quality time and quantity time. What this can translate into is “I don’t have much time for my children, but when I do, I want us to have fun together”. To actually have quality time with kids, parents have to spend a lot of ordinary time with them. This time is the kind that develops trust, learns their love language, and to truly understand their ways. Quality moments require many hours of little moments – talking about your children’s day, having conversations, reading and telling stories. Kids NEED both high-quality and high quantity time. They need you in healthy doses!
3) Deliberately TOUCH your kids every day – This can be from high-fives and wrestling matches to strokes of the hair, squeezes of the hands, and goodnight kisses. Those with babies should hold them gently and lovingly, not just functionally. Within the safety and warmth of their arms, children learn that relationships are nurturing and secure. This can be challenging if as a parent you have an avoidant attachment style. For parents that have the ambivalent attachment style, the need to monitor how much the children are touched is an important factor. It is important to pay attention to their children’s cues and adjust their behavior appropriately. It is important to know which type of touch feels good to your children and then respond in that way every chance you get. This may change as they get older so don’t take it personally if they are not as receptive; just be willing to give affirming touch when you can.
4) TEACH your children important values and life lessons – this includes teaching your children the significant lesson of learning how to handle negative emotions by not ignoring them or pushing them aside. When some parents use messages such as “just get over it” and “you shouldn’t feel that way” this can be harming and ineffective especially as they get older. Instead as a parent you will need to set limits on how your children behave when they are upset and teach them ways to manage feelings and solve problems. When you do this, you create a secure base from which children can deal with negative emotions. Also, keep in mind that one of the best ways we can teach our children is by having them see us live out the principles and guidelines we are sharing with them. Remember, they are constantly watching and learning.
5) Demonstrate TENACITY to your children – when we stick to something and remain persistent in the face of stress this is tenacity. Tenacity helps create a resilient family structure, one that generates warmth with clear limits and realistic and constructive boundaries. When families maintain commitments to setting healthy boundaries and fostering open communication this can help create a healthy and stable environment. It also lets them know you are not going to give up on them even in challenging times, which brings safety and security.
When trying to re-connect with children there can be several hurdles to overcome, so it is important for parents to put on their patience’s hat and to also have self-awareness of their own personal struggles that can be triggered in the interactions with their children who they have lost connection with for whatever reason. Parents can once again find joy in their life after re-connecting with their children and observing the growth and development of them in the family.
Below are FIVE PRINCIPLES you can employ during this time of re-building the relationship with your children.
1) Foster UNIQUENESS. Every family is filled with individuals who are, though related, are much different than the others. A huge mistake is to think that you can raise and relate to each child the very same way. This can potentially build resentment between the children.
2) Be careful with RIGIDNESS in enforcing household rules. Parents can do a dis-service to their children when they have too many rules. Trust is the key to building healthy family relationships. It is essential for parents to articulate their expectations well and follow this up with consistent, fair consequences.
3) Families need RITUALS that foster togetherness. Embrace the benefits of families eating together several times a week, having meetings where each member can have a say, and outings where a son or a daughter has alone time with a parent (not as a punitive event), but a fun time where you laugh and learn more about one another.
4) Helping them develop their LEGACY. In helping them develop as a person, it is important to educate children on the highs and lows of our extended relationships. You can talk to them about deceased family members, visit gravesites and childhood homesteads, share memories of your upbringing, and the good and bad lessons you learned along the way. When you are vulnerable with your child, it will help them to open up and relate in real ways.
5) Model appropriate use of WORDS in your communication to the children and in front of them. Parents can devastate or hinder reconnection by using ill-conceived language during times of frustration such as “You always….” Or “You never….”. This can really destroy their confidence in re-bonding with you and potentially in other important relationships. It is important that they hear words like “I love you,” “You are valued and special,” “Thank you” and “Everything is going to be okay” on a regular basis. Also, be sure to share that you love them just for who they are and be specific in your compliments. If you build love in your children, they will not lack self-confidence.
The above guidelines may seem simple; however, when it comes to reconnecting with your children, they are very powerful. It is important that COMPASSION, COMMUNICATION and COMMITMENT are consistently shown to connect with them through the rebuilding process and beyond.
Chess, S. & Thomas, A. (1987). Knowing Your Child. New York: Basic Books and Thomas, A. & Chess, S. (1977). Temperament and Development. New York: Bruner-Mazel.
Go to www.earlymomentsmatter.org to learn about attachment and to get an award-winning toolkit that introduces ways in which parents and caregivers can help their children build secure attachments.