We are all created for connection -- our discipline and guidance practices should be based on making a deep and lasting connection with our children.
When you walk down the aisle of parenting books at the library, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of suggestions for raising good kids. Often the advice one side of the aisle stands in direct opposition to advice on the other side. If you poll your family members or dare to post a question in a parenting forum, you're bound to hear counsel from all over the spectrum. So how is a parent to know which wisdom is true and which to toss?
I heard an interview recently with Dr. Karyn Purvis, a child development expert and coauthor of The Connected Child. She devoted her life to supporting families in healthy parenting, especially parents of fostered and adopted children and children with a history of trauma. As I heard her explain the foundation of her book, I started to see it as the strainer through which all other conventional parenting advice could be sifted.
She said that we are all created for connection and so our discipline and guidance practices should really be based on making a deep and lasting connection with our children. She emphasized the importance of setting guidelines -- all healthy relationships have clear boundaries -- but in a way that builds trust and understanding. Children thrive on knowing they have reliable and safe authority figures and there are a few ways she recommends parents establish that confidence.
The first is to give your children a voice. This is important for a toddler throwing a tantrum and a 14-year-old who has shut down and will not communicate. It is important for parents to ask questions and to say specifically, "I want to hear what you're feeling. I'm here. If you tell me what you need, I will do all I can to help."
And this is so important -- follow through with that promise. Sometimes in those moments, we instinctively feel the need to retreat and put them in a space alone to sort out their own emotions before we can resolve the issue. But she encourages parents to stand firm in the fire and walk through that frustration with our children.
Children need to know their emotions are not a deterrent of love; that they are still lovable when they are sad, lonely, annoyed and lost. This sends the message that no matter how difficult the times, this child is loved and belongs to his parents. Parents can still refuse to accept disrespectful language or violent reactions and give children time and space to communicate.
She also talks about specifically voicing that connection. Truly, we are wired to be connected to our children from the beginning. It's obvious in pregnancy that a mother's and child's lives are so intertwined. And after the birth, our young are so much more dependent upon us for longer than most other mammals. That time is vital to establishing a trust that, as parents, we are a safe place, we hear their cries, we attend to their needs.
Dr. Purvis pointed out that because women now have to return to work so soon after birth and parents are working longer hours now than ever before, babies are held less and cry more than in cultures and decades of the past. She strongly emphasized that the time families are together should really be focused on intentional connection.
Babies should be held for as much of the morning and evening as possible. Little ones need to be told, "I like being with you." "I like to hear what you think." "You are a joy." "You are precious." "You can trust me." "I'm so happy you are mine." Don't we all need to hear that from those we love most?
The takeaway was that while some parenting methods may yield good behavior, the real goal is bonding and connecting with our children. Good behavior out of a sense of respect and because children value the relationship is much more long-lasting that good behavior out of obligation, fear or guilt. Each family's specific methods may vary, but we can all share in this common goal.
Photo Credit: Chris Price