By Gila Brown, MA, parent educator, www.gilabrown.com
We know the Eight Principles of Parenting are fundamental in establishing the critical attachment bond with our little ones.
As children get older, their needs evolve. Once we’ve parented through infancy and toddlerhood, whether or not we’ve followed the Principles, how can we ensure that we raise compassionate, independent, secure, and cooperative older children? As the need for discipline increases, how can we respond positively and in alignment with the Eight Principles of Parenting?
Attachment Parenting (AP) defines ways through which we can connect with our young children. From the time an infant is born, we use the Eight Principles to establish a secure bond. We prepare ourselves for becoming a parent, we breastfeed, cosleep, and keep baby in our arms. We learn to read her cues and show consistent, loving care. As she becomes a toddler, we meet her tantrums with respect and positive discipline.
For older kids, however, the window for applying some of the commonly thought-of AP practices has closed. It is too late for breastfeeding or babywearing. Tantrums are much less frequent at this age. However, it’s important to remember that AP lays the foundation for positive parent-child relationships from birth through the teen years, and beyond.
Therefore, we might consider reframing some of the Principles in order to offer parents more direction for raising attached, older children. While traditional parenting approaches dictate that we control our children through discipline tactics, AP teaches us to pre-empt the challenges by strengthening the attachment bond and thereby preventing the need for mainstream discipline tactics, empowering children to resolve conflicts independently, and eliciting more cooperation from them.
Respond with Sensitivity by…Listening without Judgment
Learning to listen to children without judging them is not an easy goal. Being able to do this consistently is even more difficult. Be that as it may, it is the single most effective tool a parent can use in order to encourage an older child to open up. When a child feels secure enough to share his thoughts and emotions regularly, the need for discipline decreases.
When a double-digit (age 10+) child sees that his parents are willing to listen to him, respectfully and without criticism, he comes to see them as people who love him unconditionally, regardless of what he has to say, how he feels, or even the actions he takes. In turn, he is increasingly willing to express his love and respect for them. As he begins to see that his family values him just as he is, he is more likely to cooperate with others and be empathetic to parents who need some extra help. He is more likely to enjoy the time he spends with parents and family, and ultimately he trusts that he is safe and loved unconditionally. Children are constantly communicating with us, either through their words or their actions. By taking the time to listen, and controlling our impulse to correct, instruct, criticize, or control, our children begin to learn that they can safely open up and express their authentic selves. Consequently, their inclination to act-out subsides.
Provide Consistent, Loving Care by…Focusing on Feelings, Not Behaviors
Rather than schedule Baby’s feedings and activities according to our schedules, we respect our baby’s needs and provide for them accordingly. For the older child, it is equally important that we do not attempt to control their needs and subsequent behaviors. It is important that we recognize when we begin to replace their needs with our own. When we respond to our children’s feelings, rather than their actions, two things occur:
- They feel heard and validated.
- Once they feel understood, the hurt feelings and resulting behaviors subside.
When a child is upset, we reflect back to them what we believe they are feeling, rather than addressing their actions, such as “You are frustrated that your little brother keeps using your toys” and “You’re feeling embarrassed that your teacher yelled at you in class.”
There is no need to advise, philosophize, judge, or expand upon their feelings. We need to look beyond any problematic behaviors and acknowledge the feelings that cause them. Acting out is simply the result, or symptom, of the underlying cause. By responding to their feelings, we can address the root of the problem rather than just the symptom. Just as we’ve learned to respond to our baby’s cues, challenging behaviors in our older children are our opportunities to identify their unmet needs.
Practice Positive Discipline by…Empowering Children to Problem-Solve
Children can handle most burdens that come their way. We tend to forget how creative and competent they can be. Once we trust that a child has the compassion and ability to make appropriate decisions on their own, we no longer need to control their behavior with rewards and punishments or force our decisions on them. By listening without judgment and focusing on feelings, we can guide our children to discover their own solutions or make restitution when appropriate. We can also engage them in brainstorming discussions to identify win-win solutions to almost any challenge.
Strive for Balance in Your Personal and Family Life by…Reconnecting
Reconnecting refers to setting time aside for one-on-one time with our kids. By reconnecting, we create opportunities to strengthen the bond with our older children outside of the daily routine. Try something new together or do something special. By leaving egos, judgments, and cell phones at the door, this opportunity to let down our guards and focus on what is special about our children allows us to get to know them at a deeper level. A child who has this type of connection with at least one adult will exhibit fewer behavioral problems.