As we have been stuck at home or with our families during this pandemic, it can feel hard to feel
motivated to connect with others. Sometimes you just want a break! Thinking of connection in
terms of meaningful interactions that assist in decreasing behavioral instances is a helpful step to feel safe, heard, and valued.
Briefly, attachment is formed in infancy by the way your needs are met by your caregiver. When your needs are met consistently you develop trust that you are safe, seen, heard and loved. When your needs are not meet consistently, or met in ways that are frightening, trust is not developed. You do not feel safe, seen, heard or loved. Take this a step further and think about how you express needs in your adult relationships. How do you want your partner, friend, co-worker, etc. to respond? Bottom line, children need to feel safe and know that their caregivers will meet their needs. As do adults.
Adult Attachment 101:
Your own history influences your patterns of attachment throughout your lifespan. Your ability to self-regulate develops from attachment as this was your first experience in using your voice to be heard. Your understanding of your own history, how it influences your behavior, and how you interpret the behavior of others, is part of being a mindful parent. You can then understand what behaviors “push your buttons” and why, so it will become easier to understand how to be proactive about managing them. You develop the ability to be attuned to yourself and to your child’s signals. Your core reflection in those tough moments of parenting could be “Is this about my child, is this about me, or is this about my history?”
Why is Connection Important:
If you are connected to your child, you will recognize the information they are offering through their behaviors. These behaviors are telling you how they are feeling. We cannot expect our children to have the words or express how they are feeling on your terms. They need this expression modeled. They need their self-expression to be fostered. They need their behaviors to be seen by their parent with patience, calm and curiosity. When you can engage in this way, you are connecting with your child and your relationship will grow. When your relationship grows, your child’s behaviors will improve because you will both be speaking the same language.
Ways to Connect:
Using healthy, appropriate touch and eye contact is just the beginning of creating connection. Identifying meaningful ways you can give your child choice without having a wrong answer helps children practice and learn good decision-making skills while joining with you. Compromises create an opportunity for your child to practice and learn social skills, keep the behavior and day moving along and created an opportunity for your child to be heard. All principles of connection.
Time-In Versus Time-Out
A time-in is helpful to use when your child is having a hard time regulating themselves. Time-ins are timeouts where a parent or caregiver stays with the child to coach him through his troubles. For instance, if a child needs to be removed from a situation because of behavior or big emotions, the parent goes with the child and stays. Basically, you use this as an opportunity for the child to begin to practice calming themselves with assistance from an adult. It is important to note that if you are not calm or regulated yourself, the child will not successfully connect with you in a calm manner and could instead continue to escalate. A regulated parent who uses time-in continues to keep the child close to send the messages that you are there for support and guidance while also setting limits for expected behaviors.
Attachment is also fostered by behavior matching, awareness of voice quality and tone, and playful interactions. My favorite way to empower parents to use these skills and build more is something traditionally called Special Playtime. Special playtime is a chance for you to focus on your child’s good behaviors and build a strong, nurturing relationship. You can use the time to actively listen and practice praising, imitating, and describing your child’s behavior. The more you practice the skills, the easier it is to use them in everyday situations. This time is purposeful in your planning and activities. You want to use toys and activities that create connection, instead of parallel activity such as video games or electronics. Ideas for toys include, blocks, art supplies, toys that call for imagination (action figures, dolls). It is helpful to have a selection with multiplies so, for example, if your child chooses to play with the cars you can also have a car to play with to match the child’s play. Special playtime does not include sharing attention with others, multi-tasking, your phone or work, running errands, going to the park or shopping. This time is typically spent in your home, beginning at 5-10 minutes a day and increase to 20 minutes or more as you, the parent, build your own skill set of using praise, description, imitation, and active listening.
Tips for Special Playtime
Try to make special playtime with your child happen at the same time each day. Be predictable and consistent. Even if your child has had a bad day, keep the special playtime. Connection to each other should not be treated as a privilege. It is a great way to show your child that you always love them .
Allow your child to lead the play activity.
Young children are told what to do all day. They have few chances to take the lead. If they are given time each day when they get to know the most about the activity and make the decisions, it will help them feel more independent and build confidence.
Praise your child’s good behaviors.
Make the praise specific, so your child knows exactly what you like.
Imitate your child’s behavior.
Copy or mimic things your child does or things she says. Play with the same or a similar toy and attempt to use the toy like your child is using it. When you imitate your child’s behavior, your child will do those behaviors more often.
Describe what your child is doing.
Talk in as much detail as possible about what your child is doing. This is similar to the way a sports reporter or commentator might describe what is going on to someone who can’t see the action. This shows your child you are interested in what she is doing and giving her your full attention.
Reflect your child’s words and emotions.
Reflect or repeat back what your child says. Watch her behavior and reflect what you think she is feeling. When you reflect your child’s words and feelings, you show her you are actively listening and help her understand and deal with her feelings.
Limit questions during special playtime.
When we ask questions, we lead the conversation. Our questions may also suggest that we are not really paying attention or that we disagree with what our child is doing. For example, asking, “Wouldn’t you rather play with the blocks?” suggests you do not want to play with the toy your child has chosen. Asking “Why are you doing that?” suggests that your child is doing something wrong.
Limit directions during special playtime.
Directions tell your child what to do or guide her activities. Directions take the lead away from your child. Remember, the child should be in the lead during special playtime. If the child does what you tell her to do, she is not making the decisions about the special playtime activity.
Ignore minor misbehaviors during special playtime.
Ignore minor challenging behaviors like whining that happen during special playtime. If your child is doing something dangerous or destructive, stop the behavior immediately and use a consequence like distraction or removal of a privilege.
The Connected Child: Bring Hope and Healing to Your Adoptive Family (2007) By Karyn Purvis, David Cross, and Wendy Sunshine
Parenting from the Inside Out by Dan Siegel
Kamini Verma, LCSW-S, RPT-S is a therapist in Texas who is passionate about assisting children and their families through periods of healing, development and growth. She has 10+ years of experience working with children, adolescents and their families on topics related to healing from trauma and abuse, crisis intervention, creating home stability, adoption, attachment, grief and loss, mindfulness and questions of sexuality. Kamini is a Registered Play Therapist and Trust Based Relational Intervention ® Certified Educator. She enjoys crafting, cookie decorating and spending time with loved ones.