SECURE ATTACHMENT PARENTING
Surprisingly often, I get asked, “What’s your secret?” when it comes to my children’s behaviour. I do not consider myself a guru or an expert on any level. I feel like we’re winging it half the time, and it’s hard to say how much credit you can give yourself for your child’s nature. People frequently say to us, "You’re laid back, so that must be why your kids are laid back." It’s a nice sentiment, but the last thing I want to impose on parents with so-called “challenging” children is that your kid is that way because you’re uptight. I don’t believe there is a hard-and-fast rule, nor do I believe every child responds the same way to one style. However, I can’t help but observe how my eldest child behaves and interacts with others in a way that often stands out from his peers. As an example, we were attending a friend’s housewarming, where several children were present, and one of the guests commented that our son was the only one who, when asked, “How are you?” responded, “Good,” followed by, “How are you doing?” He was only two-years-old at the time, yet seemed acutely aware of his social environment. He displays exceptional social skills, such as patience, empathy, understanding, respect, a keen ability to adjust his demeanor to make another child more comfortable, and an eagerness to join in unfamiliar activities. I would describe him as highly emotionally stable. He has had tantrums, but far fewer than some of my peers describe with their same-age children, and he recovers remarkably quickly from them when they do arise. He’s intrepid – willing to branch out and try things on his own rather quickly. He’s never been one to cry when we leave, or to cling to us from fear of strange people or situations. Through my observation, I have come to believe that our parenting style that we refer to as “winging it”, most closely matches a legitimate parental philosophy called Secure Attachment Parenting Style, and I believe that this style influences and optimizes those tendencies in our children that other parents are seeking and striving for.
It’s extremely important to note the distinction between attachment and secure attachment. Attachment parenting, gone wrong, can be like raising a stage five clinger. Essentially, these children are on a constant validation-seeking mission. An insecurely attached child might feel they need their parents’ permission, approval and presence at all times. This misidentification is what gives Secure Attachment a bad name. It’s this outcome that fuels the fear response that we see in people who think you can “over-love” kids. Secure attachment differs from insecure attachment in genuine trust and genuine connection. Your mere presence is not enough. A child is going to respond differently if a parent next to them is staring at their phone screen versus if the parent is across the room making eye contact with them, smiling and responding. Fostering a connection involves saying "I love you" out loud and making sure they feel it, too. It involves telling them you believe in them and you’re proud of them, making them feel safe and providing support when they want to try something new or on their own. It’s helping them to name, accept and process their emotions. It involves engaging with them in play, entering into their imaginative world and really seeing them for who they are. Everyone – not just kids – longs to be seen, heard, validated and valued. Above all, it means communicating, both verbally and non-verbally, that your love for them is unconditional. It’s particularly important to provide security to all children equally, regardless of gender or gender-identity. Address your unconscious biases regarding the type of love boys and girls need, because there really is no difference.
To emphasize trust, I find one of the best ways is to keep your kid in the loop, as much as possible, on an age-appropriate level. Kids can pick up on a lot more than you realize. Not only do they respond to and mirror the energy of those around them, but they are also keen observers. Even before they are able to talk, it doesn’t hurt to verbalize your plans for them. Especially when there is going to be a change in activity or something out of the ordinary, it is helpful to tell them in advance as to prepare them and prevent them from feeling blindsided or confused. For example, say, "We are going to change your diaper now and then we are going to have a nap," or, "We are going to play at the park for five more minutes, and then we are going home to have lunch." To expand their confidence, empower them to make choices from a young age. Give them simple options as often as possible, like picking what shirt to wear or what book to read. Would they like to go on the swings or the slide? A yellow cup or a green cup? Provide two healthy snack options and allow them to choose. To promote independence, encourage independent play. It’s helpful if you initiate an activity in an environment where they feel safe, but note when they take charge, at which point you can fall back and follow their lead. Don’t force, just encourage. Also, allow them to assist with chores as they are able. I lift my one-year-old daughter up so she can flip the light switch off when we leave a room, and it’s clear as day by her reaction that she feels immense pride from doing this. From something as simple as getting them to help wipe their food tray after a meal or put their toys away, these small actions positively reinforce self-reliance.