Four subjects are foundational for parenting young children: Adverse Childhood Experiences and Importance of Resiliency, Healthy Attachment, Child Development, and Impact of Alcohol and Drugs In-Utereo. A vital skill for everyone working with families is the ability to be a Guide on the Side, as parents, significant others, and caregivers learn about these topics and related Essential Parenting Skills.
Attachment is a powerful emotional connection between children and their parents and caregivers. This connection is formed from birth and nurtured by behaviors that allow children to feel secure, knowing that they are loved and their basic needs are being met. Strong, healthy attachment to a caregiver is crucial in the first years of a child’s life and results in feeling: “I am a loved child.” “I am safe and secure in my caregiver’s care!” “I am the center of my caregiver’s/parent’s attention!”
Attachment is often described as being as important for survival as the air we breathe. In addition, research tells us that “attachment may be the key to breaking the multi-generational cycle of addiction and abuse.” (The Relationship of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) to Adult Health Status. Presentation: US Dept. of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families.)
Three elements to Healthy Attachment
1. Being physically and emotionally available to children “in the moment”. Parents/caregivers need to learn to: (1) Manage their own stress, so they can be emotionally available to their children and (2) Set aside all distractions (including turning off their cell phone, TV and other electronics) to focus on their children, especially during feeding and play times.
2. Being responsive to children’s needs. This includes: (1) Understanding and interacting appropriately to children’s behavioral and verbal cues; (2) Maintaining daily schedules and routines; and (3) Providing good food and adequate sleep. (Sleep is being identified as a significant risk factor for both physical and mental health.)
3. Being nurturing. That includes: (1) Giving children affirmations and saying “I love you” every day; (2) Providing lots of loving, nurturing touch (hugs, kisses, cuddles); (3) Playing with and reading to children OFTEN; and (4) Being available to calm and soothe children when they are upset. Some examples of responsive/nurturing behaviors are detailed on the Responsive Caregiving Exercise on page 9.
Be aware that parents/caregivers who have experienced a number of ACEs themselves or are in recovery may not have experienced a secure attachment. As a result, they may have:
Limited physical or emotional availability to their children.
Difficulty establishing trust.
Limited ability to empathize with their children.
If you would like more information:
A series of excellent videos by Harvard Center for the Developing Child. https://www.youtube.com/user/HarvardCenter.
Still Face Experiment: Dr. Edward Tronick – UMass Boston. Just under 3 minutes. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apzXGEbZht0&feature=youtube_gdata_player
©2020 Tisch, Gardner, Sibley