He told me he was afraid of losing

by Kelly Shealer on September 4, 2015

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kelly shealer 4Earlier this summer, I signed up my 5-year-old son for a kids’ triathlon — a bike race, running race and water obstacle course. I was sure he’d be excited. He loves to race in the yard and pretends he’s riding his bike in the Tour de France. But when I told him about it, he was adamant that he didn’t want to do it.

He told me he was afraid of losing.

I tried to explain to him that it wasn’t a timed race and that they weren’t naming a winner. Everyone was going to get a medal and a T-shirt. I talked to him about how it was for ages 3 to 6, so he would definitely be faster than a lot of the kids but that there might be some older kids who were faster than him, and I tried to help instill some confidence by telling him how he is really fast both on his bike and on his feet — which is true.

But he was still worried about not being fast enough.

I was really surprised by this, because we’d never pushed him into competition, so I wasn’t sure how to handle it. The race wasn’t something he had to do, and it would have been easy to say, “If you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to.” But I didn’t know if that was the best thing to do.

I knew that he’s going to have plenty of times where he does have to do something that he doesn’t want to do or is anxious about, and this could be an opportunity for me to help him through that gently and help him learn to cope with that type of situation. That’s ultimately what we decided to do.

I considered that maybe he wasn’t just anxious about not being the winner. It could have also been uncertainty about not knowing what to do or what to expect at the race, so my husband spent time the night before practicing with him and trying to give him a sense of what it would be like. This really helped change his attitude to one of excitement.

On the morning of the race, my son was happy and excited. We had learned that parents were allowed to run alongside their children for part of the race, so my husband planned to be with my son.

Just before the race, my son was nervous about where to go, and when it started, he immediately looked around to make sure his dad was with him. It was clear that he didn’t want to go on his own, but once he started bike-riding, it seemed like all his original concerns were gone. When he ran for his medal at the end of the race, he was smiling excitedly and having a blast.

I know that if my son’s anxiety about the race was much more intense, that morning could have been a lot different, but I do feel like my husband and I did our best to support him in what he was feeling. I’m happy that, instead of forcing him to do something he didn’t want to do without considering his feelings — or avoiding the situation altogether — we were able to help him handle his fears about it.

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Smartphones and parenting

by Kim Allsup on September 1, 2015

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girl-with-smart-phone-1616794Instinct tells you it’s been too long. She’s been too quiet. It has only been a few minutes since you held her. Probably all is well, but you can never be sure without checking.

And, even if all is fine, you long to lift her, hold her, gaze at her. You wonder why you didn’t carry her everywhere today as you often do, wearing her and, instead, have put her down across the room. As you look toward her, just out of sight, you consider loading the dishwasher. You walk toward the sink, but mid-stride, that first instinct wins out. You tell yourself it will be just for a minute and then you’ll get back to work. Just a quick check in.

You always have an ear listening in her direction as she often calls for you first.  But this time, you are the one to seek out, lift and hold the rectangular little body of…your smartphone.

Could it be that our smartphones are hijacking our inborn biological systems, the bonding instincts that are activated when we become parents? Are we actually driven by borrowed biological systems to hold these devices, carry them, interact with them and be concerned about “feeding” — aka, charging — them in ways that go beyond our tendencies with other tools?

While pregnant with our first child at age 18, I worried that one day I might forget the new baby in the grocery store. I knew I would love our baby, but what if I became distracted for just long enough to get in the car and drive away? Once our son arrived, I was thrilled to discover that not only was it impossible to forget him, but that it was challenging to leave him home with his dad because he was perpetually on my mind and I felt empty without him in my arms or at least nearby. When I went back to college, I studied maternal attachment in an attempt to grasp the science behind the apparent magic of maternal attachment. I was awed to learn from the research of Klaus and Kennell that mothers of newborns have instinctive ways of touching, holding and gazing at their babies in their first moments. How much, I wondered, did instinct support our roles as mothers and fathers?

kim allsupNow, 45 years later, I am an elementary school teacher. I started to think about a potential link between smartphone addiction and parental attachment systems just after I taught my students about the cuckoo bird. My students had looked curious when I told them how the cuckoo lays her egg in the nests of other birds that, unwittingly, raise the nestling as their own. They grimaced as I spoke about the interloper pushing the natural offspring out of the nest and how the baby cuckoos behave in ways that trigger an instinct to care and feed from their new mother.

I wondered, could our smartphones be like baby cuckoo birds that activate the magical bonding system I experienced as a young mother? Teenagers today certainly appear to be as attached to their smartphones as I was bonded with my baby back in the era when all phones were attached to a wall and did not offer Facebook, Twitter, a camera and a flashlight. Is addiction to our smartphones and their ability to connect to social media rooted in a deeper place than a fondness for cute cat videos?

In the case of the birds that unwittingly become foster parents, the calls and the gaping mouth of the chick automatically trigger the feeding instinct. Similarly, are there features of the smartphone that automatically turn on our biologically based attachment behaviors?

I can hear readers saying, “Hold on there. One baby bird looks similar to other baby birds, but my smartphone looks nothing like my baby!” This is true enough. It seems far more believable that pets, especially dogs, with their expressive faces, hijack our attachment systems. In fact, new research highlighted in this April 2015 New York Times article suggests that that our dogs routinely utilize our parental attachment mechanisms, that gazing into the eyes of our own dogs and our own babies both cause a surge of oxytocin.

This bonding hormone that is released in some animals and in people in a variety of pleasant social interactions, oxytocin is especially strong in women during and after childbirth and during breastfeeding, and high levels of oxytocin are found in both mothers and fathers of babies. We are all likely to experience a surge in this hormone that reduces stress hormones when we get and receive hugs. Now scientists are discovering that contact with others through social media or a phone call from a loved one also causes the release of oxytocin.

So, while a smartphone does not look like a baby, it is — like a baby — associated with a frequent surge of this hormone that brings relaxation, reduces fear and promotes bonding. A second similarity between the smartphone and a baby is that they are carried continually or, when not carried, kept in continual awareness. We also maintain an awareness of the need to feed babies and to charge cell phones.

Finally, the classic pose of the phone cradled between the palms of two hands is very similar to the “encompassing palm contact on the trunk” along with “intense eye-to-eye contact” observed by researchers Klaus and Kennell when studying mothers’ first contact with their babies. It is not that the baby looks like a smartphone, but that our inner experience of ongoing awareness along with bursts of the bonding hormone during connection is similar whether we carry and connect with a baby or a socially connected smartphone.

Do you experience your smartphone as a cuckoo in your nest?  Please share your thoughts about the possibility that your smartphone could tap into your instinctive attachment systems.

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Practical wisdom and encouragement, engaging conversation, at your fingertips!

August 31, 2015
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Practical wisdom and encouragement. Engaging conversation. Your favorite authors and speakers in a rare chat with host Lu Hanessian and API’s Cofounders. Martha Sears… Bill Sears… Peggy O’Mara… Gordon Neufield… Jim McKenna… Ina May Gaskin… Scott Noelle… and 21 more. In their own voices, style and humor, with their parenting insights for you on… Tantrums… […]

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Give your child what school cannot — rest for the brain — and free them to grow into their own

August 28, 2015
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Becoming mature is not inevitable. Not all children enter the adult world able to hold on to themselves while, at the same time, mix with others. For some adults, the ability to respect the boundaries and values of others, and still keep their own, is not an easy to do. For these adults, having their […]

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Being a mother means…

August 24, 2015
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Being a mother: It means… …to hold and nurture you inside my body until the moment you arrive in this world. …having unconditional devotion to another being till my last breath. …to trust my instincts and teach you to trust yours. …to care for you, embrace you and answer all your cries. …to endure exhaustion […]

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He just wants to be held

August 22, 2015
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By Julinda Adams I am the mother of two boys ages 15 and 9. Earlier this year, when I read the APtly Said post, “Using presence to raise independent children,” it reminded me of my own experience, and I left the following comment: “I, too, had a grocery store experience with a stranger’s advice, but […]

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The cost of denying employee accommodations for actual breastfeeding

August 17, 2015
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Editor’s note: Because many parents come to Attachment Parenting by questioning the status quo, many members of Attachment Parenting International (API) become passionate advocates in their communities for this approach to parenting, such as through the API Leader and Support Group program. Some API members become parent educators, lactation consultants, birth doulas, babywearing consultants, infant […]

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To 3 and beyond: An interview with Janell Robisch on breastfeeding

August 14, 2015
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I received a copy of To Three and Beyond: Stories of Breastfed Children and the Mothers Who Love Them at a critical point in my parenting journey. At the time, I was breastfeeding my third child at 2-1/2 years old. The longest I had breastfed my other two children was 9 months, and my original […]

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