Fostering Healthy Attachment

Mother, O Mother, come shake out your cloth,
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
Hang out the washing, make up the bed,
Sew on a button and butter the bread.

Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She's up in the nursery, blissfully rocking.

Oh, I've grown as shiftless as Little Boy Blue,
Lullabye, rockabye, lullabye loo.
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due
Pat-a-cake, darling, and peek, peekaboo

The shopping's not done and there's nothing for stew
And out in the yard there's a hullabaloo
But I'm playing Kanga and this is my Roo
Look! Aren't his eyes the most wonderful hue?
Lullabye, rockaby lullabye loo.

The cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow
But children grow up as I've learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down cobwebs; Dust go to sleep!
I'm rocking my baby and babies don't keep.

- Ruth Hulbert Hamilton

Its obvious: modern parenthood is not for sissies. The demands are mounting. I believe this is especially true for most moms, as they find themselves caught between historic expectations (the sole care for home and children) and new ones (wage earner, provider). Add suburban sprawl (extra driving), extra-curriculars and sports' schedules and its no wonder that moms (and dads) find themselves over-scheduled. And of course, amidst all the activity, parents are supposed to be sure their children are intellectually and emotionally nourished.

But research is now showing that old-fashioned wisdom (once again) turns out to be true. A child's emotional well-being and even scholastic aptitude can be predicted (to an extent) by the quality of their emotional attachment to caregivers.

Before you panic, here's the good news: good attachment can be fostered while you run through your day! Rather than being something to add to your growing "to do" list, it is something that can add meaning to the daily living you do now. Rather than any one set of responsibilities, attachment is a foundation for interaction. Which is to say: You can start fostering a healthy attachment with your child RIGHT NOW, while still running like mad!

The truth is, we all need attachment (or connection) with our loved ones. Parents' cups' run low too. A little love and connection can go a long way toward shoring up our motivation to keep going. Sometimes we just don't know how to give or get it.

So, to help your creative juices flow, I've created

Ways To Foster Healthy Attachment In Daily Life

  • Babywearing while on the go
  • Eye contact with baby while waiting in line
  • Mimic faces and sounds back and forth
  • Singing (especially with hand motions)
  • Rocking to sleep
  • Holding baby close so s/he can smell and hear your voice
  • Describe what you're doing and where you're going while driving
  • Any of the "infant" ideas, plus:
  • Try counting things to your toddler as you walk by it (an excuse for interaction)
  • Describe what you see your toddler doing (it makes them feel important to you)
  • Prepare your toddler for what will happen next and where you're going (when running errands for instance). It helps them feel calm and lets them feel secure (no surprises!)
  • Repeated rituals are very important to toddlers and let them feel secure with you. Singing the same song while diaper changing or waking up, and saying goodnight to all stuffed animals are good examples.
  • When waiting in line, try naming things for them, and letting them have a try. Congratulate any efforts!
Young Children-
  • Any "toddler" ideas, plus:
  • When picking up from school or activities, ask them about their day. If they need direction, try "hi/lo"- where they get to tell their "high" and their "low" for the day. Show you're listening by reflecting their feelings, "It sounds like that hurt your feelings." or "Wow, you sound like you felt special when she did that!"
  • Attend activities where they get to "shine" (sports, school plays etc...) Make an effort to make a big deal about their participation (regardless of winning/losing). Bring flowers, take out for ice cream- anything to make them feel "special" for their effort.
  • For chores, create a "chore chart" where they get a sticker or smiley for their day's effort. It affirms that you see them and their efforts are noticed and appreciated!
  • Give them chances to practice what they're learning in school. The car is a great place for this- sing the ABCs, work on addition/multiplication tables. Big congratulations for things they learn!
  • Take the time to answer the incessant "why?" questions. Not only does it help their brains grow, but it often is an excuse to interact with you when they don't know how else to get your attention.
  • If you struggle with your child interrupting, create a "signal" that shows that you heard them, and will get back to them quickly (like a finger in the air). Discuss it ahead of time. This helps them know that they have been heard, and helps them work on patience. Congratulate ANY patience they show while waiting!
  • Bedtime is a great time for special routines that you share. Its also a great time to talk about tomorrow- and what will be happening. Again, this is an excuse to interact with your child- but it also helps them to develop a sense of security and permanence because they know what is coming!
  • Take turns making up a story while waiting or driving. For instance, you start with "Once upon a time there was a dragon...." Let your child fill in the next sentence or two, and then you add to the story. Let the story get as silly as the child likes!

Hopefully this has gotten your creative juices flowing. In future articles, I'll be sure to discuss How To Foster Healthy Attachment Through Discipline. But for now, enjoy those little ones. Unfortunately, they "don't keep".


Technology and Mental Health

Yahoo was formed in 1995 and went public in 1996- immediately becoming a part of every young person's vocabulary. Offering free email addresses and a search engine, Yahoo was "it". Until...

Google files for incorporation Sep 1998, and not long after- everyone who's anyone "googles" their questions online.

In 2003 "Tom" created Myspace- arguably the first widespread social networking site. Old friends reunite and anyone "cool" has a Myspace page. Until...

Facebook (although created earlier) became open to everyone over age 13 in 2006. Offering status updates among other things, it becomes the newest "to the minute" way to keep in touch with friends.

Don't even get me started on Twitter...

Once upon a time we lived in a land where decades (or more!) passed between technological inventions. Whole (short) lifetimes existed, and for the most part, the old people didn't have to learn a whole lot "new". A father could pass on his knowledge about carpentry for example, and his son could continue the tradition more or less the way his dad did it. This was the case with most of human history. Change came slowly....

Let me make an obvious statement: this is not true any longer.

What was once the "it" invention, quickly becomes outdated. Inventors extol the virtue of their latest innovations, only to be outdone by competitors 6 months later. The Iphone becomes cheaper and outdated almost the second you buy it (grumble). It's an incredibly exciting time to be alive if you have a technologically gifted mind.

But what about the rest of us?

Throughout human history, we have evolved to accept a certain pace of life. Our minds, our understanding, our perspective are all based on a lifestyle that traveled (at fastest) by horse. To travel from A to B, took time. Your mind was free to wander. You breathed fresh air. Definitions of "road trip" did not include drive thrus, loud music, or speed traps. I would imagine that time spent getting from A to B allowed reflection, decompression, imagination, and if you were lucky- conversation.

So the question I want to pose is- how do you think it affects our minds that many of us literally never sit in silence without a monitor in front of us. Very few of us enjoy more than a few minutes of outside air a day (and usually only when walking from our cars). Our idea of "decompression" is to get Starbucks. Our idea of conversation is now often- text messages, status updates or email.

I enjoy modern comforts as much as anyone. I enjoy starbucks, road trips, facebook and blogging (clearly! ha!) But I'm left to wonder: what is it doing to me?

The human creature adapts slowly. It always has. A great example of this is our obesity epidemic. Our bodies have adapted since the beginning of time- to make the most out of every calorie. To store fat from foods so that we have it in famine. To prevent starvation. To give us energy for the next hunt. To ensure survival. Try telling your body, "I actually don't need you to store fat any longer and if you could just ignore the calories I'm sending- it would be great!" It won't listen (I've tried.)

It is no stretch to see that the human mind is likely the same. While we travel at 80 mph, drinking caffeine, sitting by artificial light until late at night, listening to music or tv constantly... what is our mind making of all this noise? Does our mind know what to do with it? Watching TV feels like rest at the time. But strangely, I don't walk away feeling rested.

Someday, one of the many things I would like to study is just that. We already know that exercise is good for the mind (see my earlier blog). What about fresh air? What about a slower pace? What about sunshine?

The mind is an organ that succumbs to physical realities just like your heart. If you abuse it endlessly- there must ultimately be a consequence. So what is that consequence?

All I know is, that when I get going really fast- I crave the technology. It is a struggle to push that power button off. But once I do, when I'm on the other side, I'm so grateful I did. I feel rested, calmer, happier, and more connected to my loved ones.

The irony that I write this on a blog is not lost on me. Ha! I love technology and love the additions it has brought to my life. So (like most things) it will have to be a balancing act. Anything short of living on a compound will require that I make friends with technology.

But I think the balance is worth striving for....

I'm curious- what is your experience with this? Do you feel technology has helped or harmed your emotional well-being? What do you do to decompress in a real way?