We are raising children at a time when there is an abundance of information about what children need, and how to build and sustain the attuned connections that provide the foundation for their healthy growth and development. My resources page identifies some of the key authors and organizations that have shaped my thinking about parents, children and the art and science of connection. These are some of the foundations of my approach:
Children are neurologically wired to seek out emotional connection with their parents and primary caregivers; when children feel emotionally connected, they have their greatest access to their inner resources and abilities. When a child feels emotionally connected–the neuroscientists use the term “feeling felt”–their limbic systems and nervous systems become flooded with a feeling of being safe and secure. From this place of emotional connection, children’s physiological processesa (temperature regulation, heart rate, immune system, etc) optimize, their emotions become regulated (what was scary feels like less of a threat), and they can now access the (still developing) rational parts of their brains (planning, delaying gratification, having perspective on feelings, remembering the “rules,” etc,).
Children are naturally cooperative–except when they are disconnected. When a child can feel that she or he is a valued part of a larger family or relational “system,” the child is predisposed to want to participate in the smooth functioning of that system.
Disconnection is a normal part life for a child. For babies, it can happen with something as simple as a parent walking out of the room to answer the phone. For an older child, a long day at preschool can drain away his sense of connection to you. At any age, something in the present moment can unconsciously remind the child of an earlier trauma or difficulty, undermining his sense of connection and safety in the here and now.
Disconnection throws the child’s brain out of whack. When a baby gets disconnected, the natural response is to cry. With older children, they oftentimes signal that they are disconnected by “acting out”—refusing to share, biting another child, whining, or having a tantrum. Your child is acting this way because he cannot access the part of his brain that has good judgment, an ability to delay gratification, be reasonable, or remember the rules. He is spinning out in his own emotional whirlwind.
Crying and acting out are your child’s pleas for help. Your child is telling you, “I feel alone here! I’m too upset to think!” Children need the presence and warm attention of an organized, mature brain in order to release stress, integrate difficult life experiences and regulate & harmonize the various parts of the brain. I teach parents concrete ways of being with children in times of emotional upset and off track behavior to bring them back into balance.
Children are eager to reconnect with parents, and there is much a parent can do to help a child stay connected longer, and come back into connection when things fall apart. It can feel like our kids our miles and miles away when their feelings are big and their behavior is “bad,” but there are simple ways that parents can support children to come into connection–and children are very eager to do so!
Parents need support, connection, and chances to integrate their own narratives, in order to be able to be so present to children’s experience. In addition to offering you my attention and support in classes and coaching, I teach parents a parent-to-parent listening practice so that you can build your own support network for the valuable work you are doing with your children.