Posts Tagged ‘Attachment’

I am the proud Grandfather of a little girl who is two and a half years old (at the time of writing.)  A couple of months ago, she had a big upsurge in language acquisition.  Word, words, words – a whole new crop every day.  And she only needs to hear a word once, even quite complex words,  to repeat them.  (Hmm… in that case, there are quite a few words that need to be dropped from Grand-Dad’s vocabulary, very quickly thank you!!) And hard on the heels of word acquisition came sentences – whole sentences that make sense, convey quite complex information and, by and large are grammatically correct.  (There is a sensitive period for grammar in child development.) 

She is also showing a blossoming enthusiasm for exploration of experiences and ideas.  She is into everything, she wants to be involved in everything and she wants to do as much as she can for herself.  In this, she fairly sparkles with self-confidence, assertion and determination.  If she wants to struggle with something by herself, she will firmly rebuff any attempts to help her and readily speaks up to tell us what she wants.  She will also ask for help and ask for a hug if that is what she feels she needs.

I am fascinated to watch this development of enthusiasm, assertion, confidence and determination.  Fascinating too, to contemplate this in the context of my daughter’s (and her husband’s) decision to foster and enhance these qualities in the context of positive parenting. 

What are some of the principles of positive parenting?

      – holding and cuddling

      – not leaving a child to cry or become distressed

      – not leaving a child to cry (scream) herself/himself to sleep

      – providing comfort when the child requires it

      – co-sleeping, or having the child sleep in the same room

      – no smacking (hitting)

      – no intimidation or shaming

      – the use of positive methods of discipline

      – treating the child with the respect that we would expect from others

According to John Bowlby, one of the earlier attachment theorists and researchers, the ideal of a parent-child relationship is the development of a healthy self concept in the context of the relationshp with the child’s parent(s).  

          Self                                                 Parent/Other

        Competent                                       Available

        Valued                                             Responsive

        Worthy                                             Nurturing

        Cherished                                         Affirming

 It requires little imagination to see that a healthy self-concept, as nurtured and developed interactively with parents can then generalise to healthy concepts of self in relation to others.   

Some people, particularly new parents, are confused and troubled, however about certain aspects of this approach, particularly in the face of some “expert” advice.  Whilst we can all agree that children need love and care, we can hear advice relating to babies such as: “Well you have to establish a routine, you know, or they will run you ragged.”  Or, “They will have you on, you know,” etc.

There is confusion too because of the many messages and practices that have been ingrained into our culture (and indeed our collective unconscious) regarding the “correct” ways of rearing children.  How often did we (have we) heard maxims such as:

      Children should be seen and not heard

      Speak when you are spoken to

      Don’t talk back

      Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about

      And , of course, the old tried and true favourite: Spare the rod and spoil the child

Remember the line from the old Cat Stevens Father and Son song: “From the moment I could talk, I was ordered to listen…”  Unfortunately that is the growing up experience of many children.

Often I have seen psychological insecurities beginning at a very early age and these accumulate as the child grows older.  Then, of course, the child comes into contact with other similarly blemished children in the school (or pre-school) systems where unpleasantness and suppressed aggression is acted out, compounding the problems that have already been established – and often enough traumatising the kids who have been raised in positive homes. 

Feelings on all of this can run deep and strong.  Recently, in New Zealand we have had “Anti-Smacking” legislation passed; it is now an offence to hit children.  The reason for this is unfortunately all too obvious: our beautiful country has an appalling history of child abuse and child battering; children have been hit far too often and far too badly.  I have spent much of my working life helping people get over the down-stream effects of this.  There has been a storm of protest at this legislation from people who want to retain the right to hit children, with much tub-thumping and doom-saying.  We are told that unless parents retain the right to discipline with a “loving smack” (isn’t that a wonderful oxymoron!!) then civilisation as we know it will come crashing down as little tyrants run rampant and embark on lives of crime.  Oh yeah  – and the sky will fall.  (I exaggerate only a little – the latest development is that a petition to parliament has forced a referendum which is to be held shortly.) 

Hitting children is the obvious end of the abuse scale (well … to me it is anyway.)  There is, however, a continuum of abusiveness (much, if not most of it, unintended and some of it indeed perpetrated in the name of good practice) so that the societal norm has taken on the appearance of normal – which to a significant extent it ain’t.

Philosopher Ken Wilber puts forward the notion that some ideas evolve into human consciousness when the conditions are right for them to do so and they are subsequently incorporated into our culture.  He maintains that prior to their appearance, (or evolution,) these ideas were simply not conceivable because of the prevailing cultural structures of the time.  He gives the example of feminism, which prior to 1792, was an idea that had not entered our consciousness (and, according to Ken W, could not.)  (Mary Wollstonecraft published “A Vindication Of the Rights of Women in 1792.)  I can think of several other examples: the awareness of racism and the notion that we are entitled to select our own marriage partner are two that spring to mind.  And, of course there is the idea and practice of positive parenting.

This, in my (sometimes less than humble) view is an idea that has evolved, has made progression into our consciousness and continues to do so with increasing rapidity.  We have pretty well got over the notion that children are property, or commodities to be used, abused and disposed of as we see fit – we have child labour laws and don’t send them down mine-shafts or up chimneys nowadays.  (Yes, I know there are lots of countries that still do exploit children.)  There are significant numbers of parents who are moving on further, however and are challenging the (often questionable, or downright shonky) opinions of child rearing “experts” and challenging the practices of bygone years – what psychologist Alice Miller calls poisonous pedagogy.

The internet is proving to be a wonderful resource for those of us who wish to be positive parents, with articles, blog sites and support contacts.  Positive parenting is not necessarily and easy task and it is often made more difficult when new parents have to resist the (often subtle) advice, admonitions, criticisms of family, friends, acquaintances and the weight of a body of professional opinion that is firmly entrenched in Old World Order. 

When I see my Grand-Daughter, at once so robust and so fragile, I can see the rapid development of a psychologically secure personality with a healthy concept of self and self in relation to others.  Positive parenting brings positive psychological development, which actually isn’t surprising when you think about it!

If you would like to know more about positive parenting, the following are good resources (click on the link for access) :

      – Attachment Parenting International

      – My daughters sites: Parenting Baby to Sleep and Children Need Love

      – PhD in Parenting, which has excellent information on positive discipline, among other things.

      – The Sears site


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