All posts by The Attached Family

How a Child’s Identity Schema is Related to Self-Regulation

By Denise Durkin, M.A., early childhood mental health consultant and self-regulation specialist, www.ourholistickids.com

We know that when we engage children personally over time through our warm, sincere, kind and playful interest in them and their activities, we deepen our positive attachment through this attunement to and presence with them, and they are more likely to comply with our directives even if we call to them from across the room to pick up their toys. But why is this so?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

To deepen our insights into why children behave the way they do and increase our psychological literacy overall (it helps with all relationships), it’s worth looking at the underlying dynamics of attachment as they relate to the beginning stages of the most important concept a child will ever develop in her lifetime—her identity schema.

In psychology and other fields, the term schema is used to describe a mental concept or template used to organize knowledge. Schemas are dynamic, meaning they develop actively and are self-revising. We all have unlimited schemas that we have developed over time, such as our schema for a house, for budgeting, for an ideal companion, etc.

In this discussion, a child’s identity schema refers to her self-concept. A child’s earliest schemas are tightly-woven formative structures for her sense of self and the world at large—for her idea of who she is, how safe the world is, and how the world sees her. As I see it, this tight web of information and experiences the child begins to internalize in early life is the core origin of her identity schema.

I am talking about a child’s first impression about herself, about who she believes herself to be. This belief is directly related to her capacities for self-regulation as she grows up and into adulthood. For example, her ability to tolerate strong emotion, focus on and complete tasks, communicate well and engage rewardingly with others hinge on how safe and balanced she feels, which tie back to her self-concept.

The first kind of identity schema is made up of emotional imprints, not words, since emotions are preverbal. The thinking here is that we can start to trace the beginning of a child’s identity schema at eight months in utero, when his amygdala begins sensing his mother’s hormone levels. If the mother feels safe and contented, the baby likely will, too. If his mother is in danger or under stress and her cortisol levels are high for extended periods, the baby may experience continued stress, translating to an emotional imprint of being unsafe. Hence, the infant’s first concept of himself may be as feeling unsafe, ergo, “I am unsafe.” This is an awareness that the child won’t be able to recall consciously in later years, yet the emotions are real, and they leave impressions that affect the development of his formative sense of self.

In the early months and years of a young child, negative experiences such as poverty, lack of physical or emotional nourishment, and other hardships may validate and reinforce his negative identity schema. This may translate to impressions such as, “People don’t care what I have to say, what I like, what I want. I can’t have what I need. What’s wrong with me? I’m not good. I’m not enough.” He may feel both emotionally unsafe and internally imbalanced.

In contrast, when an infant’s needs are taken care of in loving, compassionate and timely ways,  he begins to internalize a positive identity schema. The positive emotions he feels by way of his caregivers knowing and meeting his needs relay these truths to him: “My needs are met. I am taken care of. I am valued. The world is safe. I am lovable. I am good.”  The implications for a child’s personality, expectations, happiness, social successes and more, based on this initial schema development, are staggering.

As he begins to understand words, he also begins to internalize the second kind of identity schema—the cognitive schema for who he is. As he toddles about, the child learns more about himself through labels and the meanings that other people intentionally teach him, such as, “I am a boy. I am a brother. I am a good buttoner. I like painting.” Let’s remember that he acquires both emotional and cognitive schemas by either assuming them or by being directly taught them. Therefore, it is our very important job to be mindful of what identity schemas we teach and children internalize.

The choice of attitudes, words, and statements his parents, caregivers, and teachers use with him directly or indirectly affect the messages he internalizes. In a best case scenario, he feels, “I am enough. Life loves me. I am free to be who I am, as I am. I am absolutely cherished.” Once a child feels both safe and balanced, he is capable of self-regulation. And when he is feeling both safe and balanced in his body and in the world—feeling seen, understood, respected, and taken care of—he is much, much more likely to take directives from his caregivers and to decrease behavioral challenges.

But nobody’s perfect, and we all do what we can based on the skills and awareness we have at any given time. Increasing our psychological literacy can help us make the most insightful and caring choices as we consider our children’s innermost needs and how to meet them.

Since our goal is to raise our children to be in “right relationship” with themselves as the prerequisite to being in right relationship with others and the world, focusing on their earliest schema development, particularly their identity schema, puts them on the right track for all kinds of successes over the course of their childhood and adult life.

 

Set Kids Up for Success in School

By Bill Corbett, author of the Love, Limits, & Lessons: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Cooperative Kids book series and the founder and president of Cooperative Kids, www.CooperativeKids.com

Whether you’re reading this before your children start school or after they have started, the following guide can help you implement habits that support your child during the school year.1132275_33114655 blackboard

1. Adjust Summertime Leniencies. As school approaches or starts, set up a family meeting to discuss the rules that will change at home: bedtimes, homework, TV time, removing entertainment electronics from bedrooms, having to turn in social media devices, and friend sleepover rules  Allow your child to voice her concerns over these changes, negotiate until agreements are reached, adopt the policies, and implement them on a specified date. It’s also a good idea to document the changes and post them where all can see them as a reminder of what everyone has agreed to.

2. School Supply Shopping. Sit down with your children and determine together what supplies they are going to need for the coming school year. Take your younger children shopping and let them be in charge as they retrieve all the items on the list. Give them a set amount of money to spend to accommodate all that’s on the list. You’re the guide and the coach, so remain calm if extra items make their way into the basket. Allow your children to pay for the items at the checkout and carry the bags to the car.

3. The Work Space at Home. Collaborate with your children as to where homework will be done.  You can take turns coming up with the ideas, and if the kids suggest unreasonable locations—such as in front of the TV—allow them to be placed on the list at first. Go back through to review the list and remove any locations that are not agreeable to both of you. Collaborating with your children is a way of helping them feel respected and learn problem-solving skills, but you’re still responsible for setting healthy boundaries. Set up the space that was decided on, and help your children organize the supplies that were purchased at the store.

4. The Homework Schedule. Each child is different when it comes to doing homework, so this next exercise will require patience. Help your children individually determine when they feel that they are best able to work on homework. Some children can do it as soon as they get home, and others need a break before starting it. Coach each child into establishing his own schedule, make it clear and defined, and then document it. Your job will be to help reinforce what is decided.

5. Control of Entertainment and Distractions. If you have never previously done what I’m about to suggest, announcing it to your children could be a challenge, so remain calm and be patient. I strongly encourage you to announce a rule that any and all entertainment electronics and handheld social media devices are to remain off or be turned in to the parents during the established homework times. This new rule should be in effect on school days (Monday through Thursday), even when there is no homework, and during weekend homework time. Removing the temptation to check electronic devices during homework time can help children focus attention on the tasks at hand. I have heard many stories from parents who did not implement this rule and had their children come home after school reporting they had no homework, only to suddenly and mysteriously remember a homework assignment later that night at bedtime.

6. The Bedtime Schedule. It is not your responsibility to get your children to fall asleep. That must happen naturally, and your children are more in charge of that than you are. Your job is to create an environment and an atmosphere that is conducive to your children getting sleepy and eventually falling asleep. You can define when bedtime will occur, ensure that it happens, and remove all distractions from their bedrooms, such as video games, televisions, cell phones and computers.

7. Nutrition. Many children (and adults!) find it hard to choose broccoli over candy bars. This is where you come in as a parent. You can ensure that your children have healthy foods to eat and control and minimize the least healthy foods when possible. This means making sure that your children have healthy dinners at night and nutritious foods available to them for breakfast and in packed lunches. I have seen many families where the family dinner experience is gone and everyone fends for themselves. Even if you are not always able to eat together, you can make sure that healthy foods are available for family members to choose from.

8. Being Available. I have heard from many parents who face challenges that make it hard to implement these suggestions: single parents who work long or evening hours, families in which both parents work in another city and don’t get home before 7 p.m., families with multiple after school activities that make it hard to be home and enforce a set schedule for dinner, etc. Do the best you can to be available to ensure that agreements are upheld and, more importantly, to provide help with homework and other assistance whenever necessary. They can’t do it on their own and need you to coach and guide them.

 

Trust Your Children More; Teach Them Less

By Bonnie Harris, M.S.Ed., director of Connective Parenting, www.bonnieharris.com, reprinted with permission

The more stories I hear from parents, the more I know that trusting our children’s capabilities and detours is the path to connected relationships and success. Sometimes trusting our children goes against our standards of good parenting.810896_71237717 books

But who are we to know what our children should do with their lives; who are we to know what they need in order to get there? Our job is to remove the obstacles in their way of reaching their potential and accept and support who they are so they will have a firm foundation on which to launch into their futures.

A parent in my group put trust to the test. Her son didn’t like to read. He figured out a loophole in the school’s point system for reading. If he performed poorly, he would be put in the achievement bracket that required fewer points to get by. “He basically was reading See Spot Run books,” his mother told us. Her husband, who does not read, was furious and kept on him to no avail. She supported his decisions and left the process up to the school, although she did share her own experience of pleasure from reading. Allowing him to fail and trusting his reading capability, she maintained connection. With her trust, he discovered Harry Potter and everything changed.

When my daughter was little she begged to play the violin for a couple of years before I found a teacher. Practice turned grueling. When we reached the point where our relationship was at risk, I allowed her to stop. A year later, of her own accord, she took it up again. At 13, she bought herself a $1,700 violin. Today she is a professional composer. Who knew?

When we support and trust who our children are and know it is not up to us to find their gifts and talents, we learn that all they need is self-confidence to find their way.

Children resist with all their might when they think we are against them—when we criticize, blame, threaten, lecture—when they don’t trust that we understand and accept them. To find their way, they need to trust us to trust them.

We parent by the misconception that our job is to teach our children how to act and perform in the world, and if they don’t do it right (according to whom?) then they must be forced with some kind of manipulative, punitive tactic to get them on track. What track? Whose track? What if your child is meant to establish a new track or a track you don’t approve of? What if it’s a track that public schools don’t teach?

We are fraught with the anxiety of parenting, fearing our children will fail unless we teach them … What? How did you like your parents telling you what to do and when to do it? Did you ever think, They’re clueless, they don’t understand me, they don’t trust me?

What children need from us is our guidance and leadership. They need us to keep them safe and to make the big decisions they cannot be expected to make—to know that they should not be expected to act like a grown-up to know better, to understand tooth decay, to want them to do their homework, to hurry to get out the door in the morning.

We must trust that they want to be successful, that they want to please us, the most important people in their lives. They want to learn; they want to find their paths. It’s when we get in their way with our own agendas, our critical tones, and our disapproving eyes that they come to the conclusion there is nothing out there for them and that the most important people in their lives can’t be trusted.

Guidance and leadership does not mean engaging in power struggles to prove our rightness and put down their arguments. It does not mean punishing them, taking away their favorite things, isolating or grounding them—making them feel miserable and thinking that will motivate them to do better. Likewise, it does not mean manipulating them with bribes and rewards. Our intentions are well-placed; the methods we use to motivate are misguided and wrong. They send our children in the direction we most fear. They leave our children floundering in a world of unpredictability where they turn to their peers for guidance and leadership.

Practice trusting. Start by simply listening and truly hearing what they are trying to tell you, even and especially when you don’t like the noise they are making.

 

Breastfeeding the Right-Brained Way

By Kathleen Kendall-Tackett (PhD, IBCLC) & Nancy Mohrbacher (IBCLC), authors, originally published on TheAttachedFamily.com on March 17, 2009

baby breastfeedingIn modern Western cultures, mothers have more information about breastfeeding than any time in human history. Unfortunately, most of this is information for the left side of the brain, which is fine for lots of tasks. But too much left-brained information can make you anxious about breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is a right-brained activity. What do we mean by that? Think of left-brained instructions as head knowledge. Right-brained learning yields heart or body knowledge. To illustrate the difference, think about riding a bike. Did you learn by reading about it? Talking a class? Talking to other people about it? Or did you learn by just getting on a bike and doing it?

The Right-Brained Dance of Breastfeeding

Mothers and babies have physiological responses that draw them to each other, that encourage them to look at each other, touch each other, and interact. Much of this behavior is guided by the right side of the brain. This is the side that has to do with affect or emotion. Continue reading

The Vital Importance of the Grandparent-Grandchild Bond

By Rita Brhel, managing editor of Attached Family, API’s Publications Coordinator, API Leader (Hastings API, Nebraska), originally published on TheAttachedFamily.com on November 8, 2008

It has only been about 20 years since Dr. William Sears coined the term “Attachment Parenting” in reference to a set of nurturing parenting practices, such as babywearing and breastfeeding.

Today, Attachment Parenting International has helped to expand this approach to parenting to include children beyond the infant years and secondary attachment figures including fathers and, yes, grandparents.

The Value of Secondary Attachment to a Child

Mothers have long since been the focus of Attachment Parenting information, the role of secondary attachments cannot be ignored. According to the article “Back to the Future: How Early Attachments Shape Your Relationships” in the Summer 2007 issue of Attachment Parenting: The Journal of Attachment Parenting International, all attachments whether parent-child or grandparent-grandchild play a crucial role in shaping what a child’s perspective of what “normal” relationships are like.

“It refers to the ‘image’ of love people carry inside them that consists of the positive and negative characteristics of all their childhood caretakers,” according to the article’s author and Imago Relationship Therapy therapist Rod Kochtitzky. As adults, “we are left with someone who both loves us in the ways we were loved in our family of origin and also hurts us in ways that we were hurt in our families.”

Grandparents Provide a Vital Relationship to Children

Obviously, grandparents whose grandchildren live with them or are being raised by them play a vital role as primary caregivers to those grandchildren.

But even grandparents whose grandchildren do not live with them have a critical role in supporting their grandchildren’s parents. Grandparents can be great sources of parenting tips – and affordable childcare – to their grandchildren’s parents.

But it is those whose grandchildren who are in high risk situations, such as poverty and stressful family events, who can really make a difference in helping to shape a child’s sense of normalcy in relationships.

The Protective Role of Grandparents

For example, the 2007 article “The Protective Role of Grandparents” by Kate Fogarty, PhD, in the University of Florida’s Family, Youth, and Consumer Sciences newsletter, explored the effect of a healthy grandparent-grandchild bond on the negative effects of maternal depression on parenting and a child’s functioning.

According to Fogarty, compared to non-depressed mothers, those with depression typically have minimal, inconsistent responses to their children’s needs; express more negative than positive emotions toward their children; and are less engaged when interacting with their children.

These parenting behaviors lead to inhibited cognitive development and increased behavior problems in the children of all ages. Teenagers feel these effects especially strongly, because they influence their social and academic functioning. Furthermore, school-aged children and teenagers of depressed mothers are significantly more likely to be depressed as adults.

Fogarty then referenced a study (Silverstein & Ruiz, 2006, “Breaking the Chain: How Grandparents Moderate the Transmission of Maternal Depression to Their Grandchildren,” published in Family Relations, 55) showing that the stronger the attachment of the grandchild to a grandparent, the less likely the child of a depressed mother is to experience depression in adulthood.

What Determines a Strong Grandparent-Grandchild Bond?

The Silverstein study listed these elements to be crucial in developing a strong grandparent-grandchild relationship:

  • The child feeling a sense of emotional closeness to his grandparent;
  • The child having regular contact with his grandparent;
  • The child viewing his grandparent as a source of social support.

A strong emotional bond with the grandparent effectively models a healthy relationship, lessening the negative effects of parenting by a depressed mother, who is often the primary caregiver. Imagine the very positive effect grandparents can have in their grandchildren’s lives, if they’re already receiving a healthy relationship model at home.

Interactions Shape the Brain, Young or Old

Daniel Goleman, PhD, discovered that every person-to-person interaction literally shapes the human brain – and that the more important the relationship, the more profound the effect of those interactions on brain development. This research was reviewed in Mark Matousek’s article “We’re Wired to Connect,” originally published in the January/February 2007 issue of AARP Magazine and later reprinted in the Summer 2007 issue of Attachment Parenting: The Journal of Attachment Parenting International.

“Young or old, people can affect our personalities,” writes Matousek. “…Anger-prone people, for example, can ‘infect’ themselves with calmness by spending time with mellower individuals, absorbing less aggressive behavior and thereby sharpening social intelligence.”

Matousek quoted Goleman in crediting his two-year-old grandchild in helping to maintain his emotional health, likening time spent with her as “a vitamin” or “an elixir.” Think of the influence of his emotions on an impressionable toddler!

The Valued Grandparent

Besides modeling what constitutes a “normal” relationship, grandparents provide children with a sense of safety and protection, a link to their cultural heritage and family history, and a companion in play and exploration, according to an article by Mary Gavin, MD, on http://kidshealth.org entitled “Bonding with Grandparents.”

Roma Hanks, PhD, speaks highly of the role of grandparents in her article “Connecting the Generations: The New Role of Grandparents,” published in the 1997 issue of The Harbinger at Mobile, Alabama: “It is my belief that grandparenting is the most important family role of the new century. …Today, there is a growing alliance of grandparents who will positively influence the lives of their grandchildren and the younger generations in their society, some by providing urgently needed daily care, others by building deep emotional connections with their grandchildren.”

“It is my belief that grandparenting is the most important family role of the new century.”
~ Roma Hanks, PhD

Summer Vacation: Freedom From or Freedom To?

By Shoshana Hayman, director of Life Center, the Center for Attachment Parenting in Israel, www.lifecenter.org.il and an international faculty member of the Neufeld Institute, Canada www.neufeldinstitute.com

“There’s nothing to do!  I’m bored!” is the battle-cry of children everywhere during summer vacation. Yet after weeks of counting the days for school to end, children are at a loss for what to do with their newly found freedom.180180_2234 bucket

When I asked a number of children what they were looking forward to during summer vacation, their answers were revealing. They all said freedom from …  a schedule, homework, boring lessons, tests, bullying from classmates and getting into trouble with teachers. Although they were looking forward to having some control over their time, their activities and who they chose to be with, they didn’t express any clear ideas about what they would do with the luxuriously long days that were about to stretch before them. When we respond to “I’m bored” by filling our children’s time with activities, we miss an important point. Children need times in their lives that are unstructured, when there is “nothing to do.” Continue reading

Three Simple Communication Tips for a Happier Vacation

By Stacy Jagger, MMFT, owner of Sunnybrook Counseling, www.sunnybrookcounseling.com

If you are anything like me, it is so easy to overdo it on a vacation. I am known among my friends for squeezing all I can out of a day, and sometimes it’s just too much. On the last Disney trip we took, when I thought my daughter would remember all of the rides, the shows and the interviews with fantasy characters, her favorite memory was sitting on her daddy’s shoulders watching the fireworks in the rain. Yes, the pouring rain. I could have done that in my backyard.3ä illustration: Travel rest from work.

Nevertheless, we will return to Disney this year with Grandpa. I’ve determined to remember that there isn’t a perfect day, not even at Disney. Each day holds beautiful moments and frustrating moments, moments of glory and moments of defeat.  It is realizing that we live in this blend that keeps me in check, keeps me in reality, even at the Magic Kingdom. I have found that keeping the balance and digging for gratitude in each beautiful or frustrating moment makes all the difference. That, and a few key phrases like the following: Continue reading

Acceptance

By Shari Adelson-Pollard
**Originally published in the Fall 2007 Special Needs issue of The Journal of API and published on TheAttachedFamily.com in August  2009

Brandon, the author's son
Brandon, the author’s son

When I was young, I would sometimes join in with other kids who picked on those who were different. In my fifth-grade class, there was a girl who had a neuromuscular disorder. Her name was Michelle; she was a small girl, shorter than the rest of us, with long brown hair. We made fun of the way she walked. Then in junior high, a boy who was mentally retarded rode our school bus. Every day, the kids would tease him, throw things at him, and mimic his speech. He tried to ignore them, but you could tell he was really hurt by it. He would sit in his seat and keep his head down.

I wish I could say I increased my acceptance of people with disabilities over the years. But my attitude as an adult still left much to be desired. I clean houses for a living, and one of my clients has a teenage son who has a mental disability. I would dread the days that he was home from school because he would want to tell me all about his Yu-Gi-Oh card collection, and he was always afraid I would vacuum up his beloved Legos. I would have preferred to avoid his company.

I had similar feelings for the young woman with a mental disability who works at our grocery store. I’m ashamed to admit that I used to dread her carrying out my groceries, because she would repeat the same story several times. And I was in too big a hurry to hear what she was saying.

My Son…with Down Syndrome

Then I became pregnant with Brandon, my fifth child. Things seemed normal at first. I refused all prenatal testing, even though I was 38 years old. I felt that nothing a test could tell me would matter or change my idea of having a baby.

But toward the end of my pregnancy, something seemed different. Maybe it was because I had suffered a tubal pregnancy six months before and was still skittish, or because I didn’t feel as much fetal movement as I did with the others. Or maybe it was mother’s intuition. Out of curiosity, I started checking websites for information on Down syndrome. Looking back on it now, it gives me an eerie feeling that this diagnosis was the only thing I ever researched, because when Brandon was born, he was diagnosed with Down syndrome.

During those first hours following the diagnosis, I was full of fear of the unknown. I was angry, sad, hurt, and felt lots of self-pity. Then of course, I wondered how this would affect my other children and how they would react to their new brother.

The day I came home from the hospital, the early intervention team called to tell me about physical and occupational therapy. I was astonished at all that was expected of my little son, and of me. I am the mother of four other boys; I thought nothing could shock me anymore! But I realized my new beautiful son was going to need our help and I was determined he would get it. This was my first step towards acceptance.

A Change in Heart

Two weeks after Brandon was born, my oldest son, Conrad, graduated from high school. In a class of more than 400, it is hard to stand out as one of the best. Only three students were chosen to give speeches during the ceremony. One of the boys chosen had Williams Syndrome, a chromosomal disorder. I cried through his whole speech. Afterward, he was given a standing ovation. For the first time, I thought to myself, “Brandon is going to have a bright future with plenty of friends.” This was another important step toward acceptance of Brandon’s diagnosis.

My next steps were easier to make, because of the wonderful support I received from my family, just as I had my whole life. When I had had marital problems and divorced, my parents opened their home to me and my children, letting us live with them until I was able to get back on my feet, which was a great help and comfort. Then I revisited the website I had sought out while pregnant, the BabyCenter.com Down syndrome bulletin board. Interacting with other women in my situation enabled me to relax a bit and feel more confident.

Remorse and Healing

As I took even more steps toward acceptance of Brandon’s diagnosis and the changes it brought into my life, I regretted my previous attitude toward people with disabilities. I still feel bad about my behavior toward those who couldn’t help their circumstances in life. I wish I could go back and change the way I treated them. But all I can do is pay attention to how I react and treat people now.

Now, when I see the young woman at the grocery store, I take the time to listen, to ask her questions, and to make conversation with her. Now, when my client’s teenage son is home, I talk to him about his cards and ask him about his baseball team, and I really enjoy our chats.

These days I make a point to be friendly to other families who have a child with a disability. During a recent trip to Disneyland, while waiting in line for the monorail, I saw a child with Down syndrome in front of us. I started small talk with the parents, instead of looking away. Turns out they lived in our area, and we became friends. Acceptance has its benefits!

Sibling Acceptance

Best of all, I’ve seen how accepting Brandon’s brothers are of him. My two younger boys don’t even notice a difference in Brandon. My older two boys are already protective of him. My son Corey always says, “Brandon, you’re going to be the smartest person ever with Down syndrome.”

I’m confident that Brandon’s brothers will not have the same narrow views that I used to have regarding people with disabilities. I think they will be the kind of boys who will refuse to join in with the teasing so common in our society. I think they’ll be more welcoming to the hard-working individuals who carry their groceries.

Hope for Other Parents

I want to offer hope to parents facing a new diagnosis of Down syndrome. I was and am where you are, and where you will be. Remember, the broken heart is in you, not your child with Down syndrome. Within a short time, your broken heart will transform into a heart filled with love and amazement at this incredible person. You, too, will find the peace of acceptance.

Responding With Sensitivity
It is preferable when speaking about a child with a disability to put the child before their physical or mental characteristics. This makes their identity as a child most prominent. For example, one might say “a child with Down syndrome” rather than “a Down syndrome child.”

The Opportunities of Summer Vacation

By Shoshana Hayman, director of Life Center, The Israel Center for Attachment Parenting, www.lifecenter.org.il

I love summer vacation. I remember picnics at the beach and playing in the sand. On very hot days my older sister and I would run through the sprinklers and make up our own original games. During the long summer evenings my father would play ball with us, and we’d all enjoy family dinners outside on the porch after nightfall when the heat of the day finally gave way to cool breezes. My granddaughter just told me that she has already begun to count the days when school is over. Like most children, she can’t wait for summer vacation to begin.526913_44076249 butterfly kite

But what is it like for parents? The approach of summer vacation is mixed with feelings of worry about how to fill the long hours, what to do about the constant complaint that “there’s nothing to do,” how to handle the endless bickering and fighting between siblings, and how to find adequate supervision for children while parents are working outside the home.

Since the most important influence on a child’s development is parental love and healthy parent-child interaction, summer vacation is an opportunity to make sure that children have large doses of loving connections with the adults who love them.  During the summer, children are free from the pressure of structured schedules, homework and extra lessons, and parents can seize this as an opportunity to create stronger attachments with their children and provide them with the kind of rest that frees a child’s vitality and creativity. Children also need freedom from the pressure of being in large groups with so many other children. Summer vacation is an ideal time to give them a large dose of attachment to home base and limit separation from home and loved ones. This allows the child’s sympathetic nervous system to come to rest, and the processes that lead to calm and creative endeavor can be restored.

It is frustrating to face the fact that our modern culture does not support the health and welfare of parents and children, and as a result, it has become more difficult to be with our children and help them grow up. Still, we have to move from thinking that children need to fit in with the needs of adults and instead think in terms of how to take care of children’s developmental needs, our primary responsibility. We need to ask ourselves a lot of questions.

  • If I need child care during the summer, is there a grandparent or other relative who can be with my children?

  • Is there a summer camp with groups small enough so that the counselors will interact with my child in a warm and caring way?

  • What kind of activities can I plan with my children that will give us opportunities to talk, laugh and enjoy being together? Examples may include cooking and baking together, arts and crafts projects, making decorations for the house, putting together family history and photo albums, making gifts for other family members, playing outside together, board games, becoming involved in the child’s interests, etc.

  • How can I turn mealtime into a festive family occasion?

  • When I’m at work and not with my child, how can I give him a sense of connection with me?

The primary answer we are looking for is how to create deeper attachment—deeper feelings of closeness, sameness, belonging, significance, love and being known.

When parents are empowered with the understanding of the significance of their role in their children’s lives, they can look forward to summer with more confidence and enthusiasm. The more parents find within themselves how they can be the answer to their children’s need for love, frequent loving interactions and deeper attachment, the more they can enjoy each day with their children. Parents will come up with their own unique answers that are most appropriate for their own families, so that they can be the parents their children need. Summer vacation has the potential to become a haven of nurturing, love and new growth for parents and children together.

You can also read Keeping a Schedule When There is No Schedule for some ideas about managing the endless free hours of summer.

Keeping a Schedule When There is No Schedule

By Shoshana Hayman, director of Life Center, The Israel Center for Attachment Parenting, www.lifecenter.org.il

One of the best things about summer vacation for children is that there is no fixed schedule. Kids don’t have to get up early to be in school on time. There is no homework that has to be handed in before a deadline. There are no school bells that compel children to change activity or location each hour. Summer vacation is a chance to breathe and enjoy the freedom from being forced to conform to someone else’s schedule and demands.1386821_77277854 garden clock

If they could have their way, children might spend summer vacation doing exactly as they please. Waking up in the morning at 11 a.m., staying in their pajamas until well past noon, eating breakfast cereal out of the box followed by a popsicle, sitting in front of a screen—computer, TV or iPad—with no time limit, coming inside from playing outside according to their own whim, and staying awake past midnight. In truth, some of us adults wouldn’t mind getting a break from our intense schedules and spending the summer this way, too!

The more mature a child is, the more he can see the value of keeping a sense of order and routine to his life. The more he can develop balance and the ability to overcome his feelings of “I don’t feel like it” with the tempering feelings of “I want to do what’s good for me and/or others,” the more he can take control of his life and create healthy habits and routines for himself. Since children lack maturity and the tempering feelings that come with more mature thinking, they depend on us to take responsibility for them. It’s up to us to create order for them, help them keep healthy daily habits, and give them a sense of routine, even during summer vacation. While the schedule does not have to be as intense as it is during the school year, we still want to take care of them in a way that’s in their best interest and give them a feeling of security from knowing that their parents are in charge and taking care of their needs.   Continue reading