Attaching to Our Kids

Parenting, Calgary

Up until now, my previous parenting articles highlighted the importance of establishing a solid relationship with our children. Over the past several decades our society has changed dramatically and, somewhere along the way, we have lost our instincts to parent our children effectively. It is now time to learn to bring them back to us through attachment. This week’s article outlines six ways of attaching, from the most basic to the most complex.

Senses. Being close to our kids is the first way of attaching – through sight, smell, sound and touch. Babies obviously need all of these things for healthy development, but it is a need that we carry with us into adulthood.

Sameness. This is also apparent from a young age. Even my daughter at 2 years of age would imitate my every action and now =comments that she wants to grow up just like me. As they get older, you see kids wanting to be just like their friends. Kids seek to be like those they feel closest to. (So let’s make them want to be like us!)

Belonging and loyalty. Kids need to feel like they belong and when they do, they often lay claim to that person. My daughter would be fiercely jealous anytime another child came over to see me and always asks why I work with other kids and why can’t I stay home with her. With attachment comes loyalty to their attachment figure. A significant outcome of loyalty: obedience. Aha. Exactly what we are looking for. Again, we see undying loyalty in older kids who would do anything for their peers.

Significance. Not only do kids need to belong, they need to feel like they are important. Young children are always on the lookout to impress the adults in their lives, searching for signs of approval. Think of starry-eyed kids just starting school who would do anything for approval from their teacher.

Feeling. Kids feel close when there are warm, loving feelings in the relationship. Kids find comfort in a loving relationship with their parents and are able to hold on to that comforting feeling even when they are physically separated from their parents.

Being known. This is typically seen as children enter school, where they are seen and heard psychologically rather than just physically. Children who feel close to their parents often share their secrets with their parents as a means to maintain that closeness. There is huge risk associated with this form of attachment, as sharing our secrets makes us very vulnerable. Indeed, we often have a very difficult time sharing our most personal concerns with anyone.

These are six different ways of attaching, but the ultimate goal is the same: to connect. Ultimately, we want our kids to connect to us, as parents. However, in our ever busy society, our attachments with our kids have become increasingly at odds with the attachments they have with their peers. And yet we unintentionally push our kids further and further towards their peers, failing to understand the significance of our attachment. One classic example happened recently when I dropped my daughter off at her dance class. She was having a difficult time adjusting to the new class and wanted me to come with her, which made her feel more secure in the new environment. I promised I would stay with her for one more class to see how she liked it and then she could decide whether she’d be willing to go on her own from then on. However, when I got to the class, the teacher immediately told me I had to leave the class and that my daughter needed to “break her attachment with me” (yes, she said that verbatim). At the time I was so shocked I left without thinking. At the end of class my daughter came out so upset saying, “You promised me you’d stay one more time.” I was beside myself because I put a rupture in our attachment and in her trust for me. But this sort of thinking has become common place. I don’t mean to say that we need to make our children completely dependent on us, as that can be debilitating, but we need to definitely put more stock into our attachment relationship with our children, especially if we want them to show us the respect and obedience we expect.

Though it may sound simple, I challenge you to think about the above six ways of attaching and find ways to implement consistently. As I mentioned before, it takes time and effort, but bringing our children back under our wing will have huge payoffs.

Information gathered from “Hold on to Your Kids” written by Drs. Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate.