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Parenting With Intention

Dad, kids, holidays

Part One:

Fostering a Secure Parent-Child Relationship During the Holidays

The holidays are fast approaching and it’s a special time for us to stop and consider what we are grateful for in our lives and set intentions for the new year. For some parents, it is easy to get caught up in daily routines--taking kids to school, going to work, picking the kids up, having dinner, going to sleep, and repeat--with little room to consider how you want to show up as a parent for your child. You might look back and wished you could have managed your stress a little better and yelled at them a little less or have been more patient.

Parenting is rewarding as much as it is stressful. Children tend to know how to push your buttons more than anyone else in your life. Without setting an intention for the kind of parent-child relationship you want to foster, stress might take over the job of parenting for you-- which we know does not necessarily lead to a kind of relationship you want with your child.

Most research indicates that children’s healthy emotional and social development is largely contingent on whether they have a secure attachment with at least one adult in their lives, which typically is a parent(s) or primary caregiver. A secure attachment is a type of relationship when a child trusts that he or she can depend on their caretaker for emotional support. It is a type of relationship allowing the child to feel safe to be themselves and to express their emotions without feeling ashamed or criticized. Research indicates that when a child has a secure attachment with their parent or a caretaker, they are more likely to play well with their peers, are better able to regulate their emotions, and are more likely to have higher confidence and self-esteem.

All of this research extolling the protective benefits of a secure attachment lead us to consider an important question:

Why doesn’t every parent strive to foster and create a secure-attachment with their child?

Well, it is often easy to read about what a healthy parent-child relationship should be like, but it is sometimes difficult to determine how to get there and what it looks like in our daily lives. To make it simpler, I have compiled a list of simple suggestions you can try to do that only takes a few minutes of your time every day. Even implementing one or two of these suggestions may make the biggest difference in you and your child’s lives and in creating a secure attachment bond. Additionally, it is shown that when a parent has a strong, secure bond with their child, the child is more likely to be cooperative, throw fewer tantrums, and it is easier for them to adjust to new environments-- such as babysitters or daycare-- so it’s basically a win-win for everyone!

Here are a few steps to take this Holiday season to begin to create the environment necessary for intentionally fostering a secure attachment with your child.

1. Put your phone away

Okay, I’m not talking about putting your phone away in a lock box for 100% of the time you are with your child-- but it is a fact that technology, especially smartphones, have become a necessity and something we depend on too much-- whether it’s for work, social life, podcasts, or even to read this blog. In a study of 1,000 children, 50% indicated that their parents spend too much time on their phones, and over 30% of children expressed that they feel unimportant when their parents are on their phones.

Children are closely attuned to their parents’ attention, because evolutionarily, their brains have been structured to send “alert” signals if they are not receiving the attention needed for their survival, social, and emotional development. When a parent is distracted, they become less predictable, less reliable, and less attentive to their child--- which often lead to insecure or disorganized attachment instead of secure attachment. When a child has disorganized attachment with a parent, they learn that they don’t know what to expect from their parents, often have less empathy towards others, and learn ways to get their needs met in unhealthy ways.

Research indicates that children’s stress level rise when the parent is physically present, but is distracted and less attentive to the child’s needs. By doing so, a researcher expressed that "We are behaving in ways that certainly tell children they don't matter, they're not interesting to us, they're not as compelling as anybody, anything, any ping that may interrupt our time with them.” -Catherine Steiner-Adair, ED. D.

How might a child feel when their parent choose to interact with their phone rather than their own child who is right in front of them? How is a child making sense of their worth? That they matter less than a cellphone? It goes a long way towards creating secure attachment if a parent chooses to put their phone away, make eye contact with their child and ask them about their day! This sends a message to the child, “You matter. You are important to me. I care about you and I am here for you.”

Children who do not receive this message or who receive the opposite message may gradually learn to not communicate with their parents about their day or their feelings, and learn that their parents are not someone they can trust to attend and attune to them.

So during the holidays, test out how your children might respond when you put your phone away and give them your consistent, dependable, focused, loving attention that they deserve. You might even learn something new about your child!

**This is Part 1 of Parenting with Intention; a 3 part-blog series by Aika Erlandson, LMFT-Associate at Austin STRONG: Relationship Building Center**

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