By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)
A cup of hot cocoa, a bubble bath, a cozy blanket, a cuddle with a fluffy dog, a steamy bowl of soup, a tuck into bed — all of these are warm, but none compares to a snuggle with someone we love and who loves us. And this is especially true for Sophie, the little girl whose story is told in The Warmest Place of All, a new children’s book by Licia Rando, M.Ed, illustrated by Anne Jewett. After trying comfort after comfort, Sophie climbs into bed with her mother and father and discovers a true sense of peace and wholeness.
Attached parents understand the importance of cultivating emotional attachment with their children, and use the Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting as a guide to do so. But there are many parents in the world, especially in Western society, who may be confused as to what children need. They seek out early independence through sleep training, discouragement of physical affection, punitive discipline, and other practices not consistent with Attachment Parenting (AP) — when what is most important for their child’s development is that warmest place of all: wrapped in the arms of a parent attuned to the emotional needs of that individual child, apart from any cultural influences.
Let’s turn to Rando, mother of three from Boston, Massachusetts, USA, to learn more about how she is working to help parents provide children with the warmest place of all.
RITA: Hi Licia. Your book is such a great read, really taking the reader on a journey, and has a solid AP theme: that what really matters in a child’s life is time with his or her parents. What inspired you to write this book?
LICIA: I became interested in parenting styles as I was growing up and saw kids getting hit and sworn at, and I wanted to do something about that. Then, 17 years ago, while considering adopting a child, I did a lot of research into Attachment Theory, reading John Bowlby’s studies and Harry Harlow’s studies on rhesus monkeys. Through this journey in learning about abuse and trauma and the effect on children, I realized the importance of parenting.
Then, years later, neuroscience began coming out with studies that confirmed what Bowlby had suspected, and that was a very exciting time. I became interested in, and wrote about, how parents who were neglected and abused as children can go about learning to parent in a connected way. You can read about this in one of the sections in my Caring and Connected Parenting Guide for new parents on my website, LiciaRando.com.
So, I wanted to put everything I had learned in a story form that could reach more parents, a story with a warm, fuzzy moment that could help parents realize that snuggling with a parent really is the most important thing in the world to your child.
RITA: A lot of parents really struggle with learning how to raise their children differently than they were raised – where non-AP practices were the norm.
LICIA: Dan Siegel and Mary Hartzell describe this in their book, Parenting from the Inside Out, how people have emotional memories from when they were young, memories they don’t even know they have except that they have certain triggers that stir strong emotions for no apparent reason. Parents really need to evaluate what happened to them as children, first, in order to be able to connect with their own child.
RITA: Some parents don’t understand how their relationships with their children will change if they take the time to examine their parenting style and make a commitment to change. I know parents who are really struggling with connecting with their children, who have anger problems and whose children frequently act-out, yelling back at the parent the same way the parent yells at them. These parents can’t believe that there are families where conflict resolution is peaceful and children are willingly cooperative. Can you give us your top three tips for parents who are seeking this?
LICIA: First, if you have a background of trauma, abuse and neglect, or loss such as of a parent, you need to come to understand how that is affecting your life. It goes back to Parenting from the Inside Out. It’s a matter of learning why you parent the way you do, to identify your triggers, and to retrain how you interact with your child and others when your strong emotions are triggered.
I’ve heard people say, “This is just the way I am.” But it’s never too late to change, never too late to become a better parent and person.
Second is listening and speaking respectfully to your child. You need to set limits, but it should be done with respect while showing that you understand what the child wants. Say, “I understand how much you want to go see this movie, but it is a school night and you can’t be out late. The weekend would be a better choice.“ When there is an altercation, go back and talk about it after you have calmed down or burned the energy with a walk or exercise. Take responsibility for your part in the eruption. Reflect with your child about inner emotions that played a part. For example, you yelled because you were worried about where your child was, because you love him and want him safe.
Third is modeling. Your kids are constantly learning how to act from you. Modeling is the best teaching tool. If you express anger in a certain way, that’s how your child will learn to express anger. So, if you yell and scream and throw things, so will your child. And if you talk respectfully with your child during a conflict, that’s how your child will learn to deal with his anger.
What you’re doing affects more than yourself. It affects your children, too, and it’s passed through the generations and interactions with others. So, your behavior affects your grandchildren, and their children and grandchildren, and all the way down the life — and other children outside your family.
RITA: Which is why AP is so important…
LICIA: It’d be a more peaceful world if we could all interact like that. I really believe that family peace is the way to world peace.
RITA: I love that quote: Family peace is the way to world peace! We should put it on a T-shirt. So, since your book came out in September 2009, what kind of response have you received?
LICIA: I’ve read the book around a lot, in libraries and bookstores. Little kids just love it. From their reactions, I feel like I just hit the nail on the head. They know! They really relate to that feeling of snuggling with Mom and Dad.
RITA: What kind of response have you received from adults?
LICIA: A lot of people are buying the book for holiday gifts. Parents like to use the word, “sweet,” when they refer to it.
I wrote the book in simile, so it can be a good teaching tool, and sent it the reviewers who recommend books for classroom use. They wouldn’t review it! They didn’t like the idea of a seven-year-old child crawling into bed with her parents. I was surprised that it was being censored, especially with the disrespectful and violent books and movies out there. They’re so worried about this one illustration — a very loving and beautiful illustration of what children long for.
But there are teachers who’ve read it and love it and are using it in their classrooms. It just won’t be formally reviewed for teachers for classroom use.
RITA: That just goes to show, unfortunately, how much more work there is to educate our culture about the importance of AP. How do you see your book furthering AP?
LICIA: From all that I’ve learned from abuse statistics and brain trauma research, the really vulnerable age for children is from infancy through four years old. The Warmest Place of All is meant to emphasize the importance of early connection for parents. Research shows that if children get that connection early in life, parents have less difficulty with that child later on. And that the earlier a child receives harsh discipline, the more likely the child will act out later on.
My book also emphasizes the importance of touch. Why touch is so important is that it releases the hormone, oxytocin, which makes us feel good. The Warmest Place of All helps parents to actually feel the experience.
RITA: You have such a vast knowledge base of how parenting affects child development, as well as how to help parents learn the importance of connection. Are there more books promoting AP in the works?
LICIA: This is my life mission. I am always writing books that link or connect people and form community. I want to help people to connect with one another, especially between generations, like older people with the young child, parents with their children.