The power of nurturing touch on child behavior

When we think of providing nurturing touch, what most often comes to mind may be skin-to-skin with our newborn, babywearing, or infant massage.

Nurturing touch continues to be a critical need for children (and adults!) of all ages. We just have to be more intentional to make time for cuddles, hand-holding, hugs, massage, and other forms of nurturing touch with our walking, talking toddlers, busy school-agers, and autonomy-seeking teenagers.

This video, featuring London massage therapist Carol Trower, discusses her work in using massage in UK schools to reduce bullying and problem behaviors. Not only are these goals met, but the children who receive massage are also reportedly more connected to one another, express more empathy, and have improved academic performance.

It’s an inspiring message of the power of nurturing touch for child well-being:

Attached Family: Parenting without shame

shame-cover-v2Attachment Parenting International (API) is pleased to announce the release of the latest issue of Attached Family: “Parenting Without Shame.”

In this issue of Attached Family, API examines shame versus guilt and how shame contributes to emotional trauma. API looks at the intersection of parenting and shame, keeping in mind that shame is a normal emotional response to certain social situations, but like anger or disappointment, when unresolved, shame can lead to lifelong difficulties.

Inside this issue, you’ll find mind-bending, inspiring, and empowering features to stretch your parenting wings:

  • “What is Shame?” by API Executive Editor Rita Brhel — defines shame, how it differs from guilt, when it crosses the line to become toxic shame, and what parents need to know
  • “Core Beliefs Color Your Parenting,” also by Rita Brhel — explains how shame-based core beliefs affect our everyday decisions, including our parenting behaviors
  • “What Makes Emotional Trauma? Fear, Disconnect and Shame,” an interview with Daniela Sieff, PhD — explores the ingredients to developing a shame-based view of oneself and what is all involved in healing, which certainly underlines the importance of prevention through parenting
  • “Parenting as a Protest Against Hate” by Lauren Gottschalk-Scher, motherhood fashion designer — looks at how parenting can be activism
  • “What is Normal, Healthy Infant Sleep?” by API KnowledgeBase Coordinator Art Yuen — discusses what biologically normal sleep in infants, and adults, looks like and the effects that artificial light and work productivity expectations have
  • “6 Tips to Lessen Separation Anxiety,” also by Art Yuen — looks at goodbye routines and other ideas for children and their parents when separation is necessary, such as for working parents
  • “Self-Validation Before Self-Control” by Denise Durkin, MA, child mental health consultant — explains how development of a positive self-worth must be in place first before trying to teach a child self-control
  • “Engagement vs Redirection to Create Emotional Safety,” also by Denise Durkin — describes the differences between these two discipline techniques and why engagement may be the better choice
  • “11 Ways to Parent Outside the Box” by Brooke Campbell, MA, creative therapist — gives ideas on how to incorporate more attunement in parenting
  • “How to Heal Attachment with Your Teen” by Shoshana Hayman, Neufeld Institute Faculty — outlines how the teenage years can reveal attachment weaknesses and how to restore a close attachment when necessary.

Shame can be a difficult topic for parents. This issue of Attached Family helps you be able to explore this topic safely. API hopes you take away the idea that parents don’t need to fear shame as a normal emotion, but rather that when shame enters our children’s lives, that Attachment Parenting is exactly how to address it in a healthy way.

Sharing gratitude on a nightly basis

Before my children go to sleep at night, I have 3 questions that I ask them:

  1. What did you learn today?
  2. What was your favorite part of the day?
  3. What are you grateful for?

These questions have become a ritual for us as we have been doing it for years. We continue to do so even as we navigate the middle school days for my youngest and now are moving into the high school years for my oldest. I know we all look forward to this time of connection as it opens up a conversation that goes beyond the simple responses to those questions.

I have been surprised to find that the topic about gratitude is often the one that is discussed the most. There is an appreciation for all of us when we take the time to offer our thanks for something that happened during the day. My girls’ answers may be about a material item they received or a favorite food that they were able to eat — especially if it is a dessert — and I have found that is a practice for me to listen to their responses without judgement.

hands-heart-grainsIt is a gift for each of us to pay attention to one another in a way that offers a willingness to receive whatever the other person has to offer. I am thankful for this opportunity to connect with my kids and for us to grow in our understanding that often it is the simple things in life that we are most grateful for.

Sometimes my girls give me the same answer for all 3 questions, and I am fine with this as I recognize that maybe being tired overcomes the desire to engage in conversation. I trust that they are offering what they can in the moment and that on a different day I may hear much more when they are ready to share. It is also possible that one event was the highlight of their day and the one thing that does answer all 3 of the questions. When I realize this, I am excited that they were able to engage in an activity that was filled with joy.

The time just before we fall asleep is one of my favorite moments of the day. I know that this can be a magical time when both girls are willing to open up with me and express what they are thinking or how they are feeling, which they might not do during any other time of the day. Every once and awhile, I have tried to get them to answer the questions over dinner only to be confronted with the comment that the day is not yet complete so I will just have to wait until later in the evening.

Over the years, I have grown to realize that this simple time with my kids is one of the best ways to engage in peaceful parenting as it reminds us what we are thankful for and encourages a dialogue that may not have taken place. I am amazed at all the events that they encounter in a day without me. I trust that they are navigating each experience with grace even when it is not so easy. I know that they will talk to me when needed.

As we move into a season where many families are expressing gratitude, I am reminded of how lovely it is for me and my kids to share our thanksgivings on a nightly basis. 

Nurturing children for a compassionate world


Each day of our lives…


A lesson in button pushing

Editor’s note: Welcome to APtly Said’s celebration of mothers! This year’s theme for Mother’s Day is “Life Lessons” as Attachment Parenting International celebrates with an inspiring series from May 7-11. We hope you enjoyed your Mother’s Day and were able to reflect on what you’ve learned through your motherhood journey.

Shoshana-150x150When my first son transitioned into toddlerhood, I discovered that I had a lot more to learn about raising children than I realized! The most compelling question I asked myself was how to preserve our warm and loving relationship when I also had to say, “No, you can’t have that,” or “No, you can’t do that.”

I still remember the day he was able to pull out the books from the lower shelf of a bookcase in our living room, crumpling and ripping the pages with his sweet, pudgy little hands. How could I stop him without hurting or alarming him? I thought about how challenging it was going to be to guide him without provoking his defenses against me.

The more he grew and became independent, the more insight I needed to navigate the daily incidents that cropped up and compelled me to steer him in the right direction. “We have to put the toys away before taking out more,” “Bedtime is now,” and “Homework comes before television,” were only some of the daily situations that I had to take charge of.

When our children are not inclined to follow our instructions, they push our buttons and we lose our patience. For the first time, it occurred to me that parents might be pressing their children’s buttons when we don’t understand what makes them react to us the way they do.

I have 6 children. As the years went by and I became more seasoned in my parenting, I saw how easily their buttons could be pushed — how easily they could become alarmed, frustrated, and insecure.

It was easy to get the right behavior out of children by scaring them, threatening them, warning them, or taking away things from them that they cared about. “I’m counting to 3, then I’m leaving without you!” has always brought forth the right behavior in young children, but at a very high price. When you push your child’s alarm button too often or too many times, the very system that alerts him to beware of a risky situation begins to work in a distorted way and new problems start showing up.

This is an even more startling revelation when it comes to adolescents, because this same alarm system in the brain continues to harden the defenses even more when their buttons are continually pushed. They become tear-less and fearless, as they lose their caring and other vulnerable feelings altogether. This is on a continuum and can potentially lead to addictions and other problem behaviors like cutting.

Hands TrustWhen my children grew past the years of breastfeeding and needing to be attached to me through physical closeness, I learned that I was only at the beginning of the attachment story. The work of attachment was my responsibility, so they could rest in the relationship and be free to discover their own selves.

It was not a given that the relationship would be preserved simply because it got off to a good start. The relationship was still fresh and tender, and still needed to be cultivated, secured and deepened throughout all the years ahead of us. This was to be the shield from hurtful people and environments outside of our relationship. A deeper attachment was the answer to ensuring a healthy alarm system and preserving my children’s ability to experience all of their vulnerable feelings, so they could develop meaningful and deep relationships as well as develop their individuality and the traits that characterize maturity.

I needed to keep my relationship with my children clean from wounding. Their buttons might have been pushed by their friends or even by their teachers, but I needed to be aware of not being the one to provoke their defenses. I wanted to be that safe place — a home base or haven — where they could feel rest and comfort, no matter at what age. This challenged me to find ways to stand by my rules and limitations, preserve order, and transmit values in a way that protected our relationship.

This was my greatest learning experience, so that I could do the most important work than any parent does — help my children grow up to be mature, responsible, caring, and considerate adults.

For the love of art, authenticity and our children’s dreams

“People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.” ~ Thomas Merton, American writer

pixabay - artistWhen my daughter was a toddler, an acquaintance asked me, “What would you like your daughter to be when she grows up?”

I paused. I understood the question, yet I was perplexed and slightly irritated. I responded, “You’re asking me what I would like her to be when she grows up? I’d like her to be happy and do whatever her heart desires.”

A few years later when it became apparent that my daughter’s talent and passion was with the arts, I was asked by a few well-intentioned family members if I was okay with her becoming an artist in the professional sense, pointing out the abiding stereotype of the hopeful, struggling, starving artist. When I replied that I would absolutely be okay with her choice, as I believe it’s essential for an individual to follow their innate talents and interests, I was met with a few raised eyebrows.

It’s not uncommon in our society for parents to persistently persuade or push their kids in the direction of a specific college degree or profession. Parents reason that those professions are more reputable or associated with higher incomes, or are in high demand — securing a job post-graduation.

Naturally, parents want their kids to succeed in life, struggle less and achieve more than they did themselves. We bear our own life experiences while navigating through parenthood: Our dreams, regrets, failures, achievements and successes are all engraved in us. Consciously or subconsciously, we project those experiences onto our kids. We ought to examine who we are and how it plays out in our parenting paradigm while recognizing and respecting who our kids are.

Being a pragmatic person, I realize that a career in the arts may not offer the perceived financial security or stability that other professions do. We need to manage reality and ensure our kids grow up to become adults who are well adjusted in this world and that includes being able to support themselves financially without struggles.

That said, being a mindful person, I recognize the importance of being an authentic person who possesses inner balance, contentment and peace. Hence, I think that an individual should feel free to elect a profession of their own choosing — a profession that speaks to who they are, nourishing their mind, heart and soul. We are all unique beings with different interests and aspirations, fulfilling different roles in our society — all of which make our world more colorful, diverse and interesting.

As I was gathering my thoughts on this topic, the controversial Old Navy toddler girl T-shirts surfaced at the end of December. I was troubled with the shirts reading “Young Aspiring Artist,” with the word “artist” crossed out in exchange for “astronaut” or “president.”

Perhaps a better display on the T-shirts would have read “Young Aspiring _____” to leave the child free to fill in the blank.

Many people echoed my sentiments. Social media erupted in outrage with online users criticizing the retailer for oppressing and minimizing children’s creativity. Many wondered, “What message are we sending our young children?” and “Is being an artist not a suitable career path for our children?” In response to the backlash, Old Navy issued an apology and the T-shirts were discontinued and pulled off the shelf.

Re-reading Thomas Merton’s quote above, our role as parents is to guide our kids to find their way to the wall they gravitate toward, rather than direct them to the one we perceive would be the right one for them.

Maybe my daughter will not become an artist after all. Life is full of twists and turns. But what I do know is that I will walk alongside her on her path, lending her my support and advice…because it is on her path that she will find and climb her own ladder, the one leaning against the wall that is her calling.

Editor’s pick: The role of control vs collaboration in teens’ future relationships

Free images com - Gabriella FabbriTrust, mutual respect and collaboration are the foundation of a strong relationship, whether the relationship is between spouses, friends, or parent and child.

For a child, the relationship with his or her parents is the first — and most significant — relationship. Parental example has considerable impact on kids, and through our relationship with our child, we model how to engage in relationships.

The Attachment Parenting approach promotes mutual respect and collaboration between the parent and the child, rather than a power struggle, which may lead to different forms of control or manipulation by the parent.

It is important to clarify that Attachment Parenting does not identify with the permissive parenting style where parental boundaries and limits are lacking — nor is Attachment Parenting the same as “helicopter parenting” where the parent is overbearing and demanding, allowing minimal freedom for the child.

This week’s featured article is from Reuters, reporting on a study conducted at the University of Virginia that investigated the negative effects on future relationships of teenagers with controlling parents. The study concluded that teens with controlling parents have difficulties handling disagreements as they get older.

“In this study, we examined psychological control on a continuum, and found that the more psychological control parents exerted, the more difficulties teens had establishing a sense of independence and closeness during a disagreement with close friends or romantic partners,” psychologist Barbara Oudekerk told Reuters:

The Scientific American referenced the same study and mentioned that “separate findings suggest that parents who explain the reasons behind their rules and turn disagreements into conversations leave youngsters better prepared for future disputes.”

When we explain to our kids why we reach our decisions and get them involved in the decision making process, they grow to understand that there is reasoning behind our decisions.  Mommy or daddy didn’t say “no” because they are the authority figure and the child simply needs to comply — as in “because I’m the boss” or “because I said so!”

When the parent-child relationship is built on collaboration rather than control — as in the case of Attachment Parenting — kids will learn to be cooperative because they know there is a reason behind the parent’s decisions. They will develop their own reasoning, critical and independent thinking as it was cultivated and modeled by the parent.

The child may or may not like or accept our decisions. The goal is not to please the child, but rather that the way we set boundaries serves as building blocks for a relationship that is built on trust and respect. Furthermore, we teach our kids how to navigate through disagreements and reach conflict resolution.


**Photo source: Fabbri