Today’s kids are up against pressures and influences never experienced by previous generations. In our fast-paced world, parents are challenged with the great responsibility of parenting. Is parenting really so difficult? What has changed over the generations from our childhood and that of our children’s? Why is it that many children today are less afraid of getting in trouble, less likely to take advice from adults, seem less innocent and more immature, and simply bored when away from their friends or not involved with technology?
Not only children, but also parenting seems to have changed over the years as well. We live in a time where such understanding of child development is known: We have a variety of parenting classes that help parents attain skills, lectures on how important it is to show love to our children, as well as an abundance of books on childrearing. Yet, what is it in our parenting that some of us are lacking?
The parents of Shifra, a fifteen-year-old girl, were very frustrated and confused when her behavior had changed over the last two years from the loving, sweet, respectful daughter they once knew. Shifra had now become disrespectful, verbally aggressive, secretive, and distant. She no longer enjoyed family trips, eating meals together, or communicating with her parents for more than two minutes. Yet when she is in the company of her friends she seemed happy and content. Shifra allowed her friends to empower her and provide her with a sense of self more than her parents. Her parents, not knowing what to do or how to help, considered it a behavioral problem, which they dealt with by punishing, grounding, giving her time-outs, and other methods of discipline, which just brought about more problems. They wondered what they should do, how they should act, and if this just characterized normal teenage uprising.
The authors of Hold on To Your Kids, Dr. Gorden Neufeld and Dr. Gabor Mate, explain: “The secret of parenting is not in what a parent does but rather who the parent is to a child. There is a special kind of relationship with out which parenting lacks a firm foundation - The Attachment Relationship. In order for the child to be open to being parented by an adult, he must be actively attaching to that adult by wanting contact and closeness with him.” During the infant stage of life, this force to attach is rather physical - an infant’s needs are met physically by being fed, held, and comforted. If these babies continue to be nurtured this way then the attachment will evolve into an emotional closeness. Children who have not attained this type of attachment from the responsible adults in their lives are more challenging to parent or even to communicate with. Parents are not automatically given the authority to parent just because they are adults, love their children, or contemplate that they have their best interest in mind. Only when there is an attachment relationship between the parent and child will the child be more approachable as the parent tries to nurture, comfort, guide, and direct them. “This relationship needs to last as long as a child needs to be parented.” However, in our society, this relationship is looked down upon as our children become adolescents and are drawn into a world that doesn’t encourage or emphasize the attachment bond. Now more than ever young people are turning for instruction, modeling, and guidance not to their mothers, fathers, teachers, and other responsible adults but rather to their peers. Peer Orientation vs. Adult Oriented, as Dr. Neufeld and Dr. Mate explain, is when children look to their peers, rather than adults, to get a sense of who they are, where they are, how much they matter, what they stand for, and what they value. “Since children orient to those they are attached to they feel lost and disoriented when that sense of connection is gone, which happens most often when parents are not available enough emotionally to their children. This void is intolerable for children usually forcing reattachment to someone or something - most often to peers.” This reattachment materializes when parents are emotionally preoccupied with their own interests, a crises, a change in family dynamics, an illness, marital discord, financial pressure, etc. which removes them from being committed to the parent child attachment relationship. Since at that time parents cannot offer their children emotional support or are unaware of this detachment occurring, children have a need to attach themselves toward something or someone that can provide the emotional support they long for.
More than just a behavioral problem, Shifra and her parents are encountering a relationship problem. They would therefore need to work together to rebuild the attachment relationship with their daughter by reconnecting to her and strengthening their relationship bond: spending quality time with Shifra while providing undivided attention. Making her feel truly special and loved will help her feel that her parents are really there for her. Words of appreciation, admiration, warmth, and compliments all help repair the relationship which help empower her sense of self not from her peers but from her parents. Small gifts or buying something special just for her shows they are thinking about her. Showing affection by a loving touch or a hug can be helpful if and when she is comfortable with it. Helping her with a specific task that she may have difficulty with would demonstrate that she matters most in their life - that she remains their top priority. Of course this can be very challenging when there are many children that need our attention but our goal is to treat every one of our children like the only one - to provide them with a healthy sense of self, security, and an emotional attachment.
Next time we will explore the six different ways of attaching and how to rebuild the attachment within the parent/child relationship.
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