Screentime and Attachment Parenting

family-time-2-1380315-m There are issues that Attachment Parenting International (API) does not take a stance on — circumcision, vaccinations, cloth diapering and elimination communication, to name a few — and instead advocates for all parents to be informed when making parenting decisions that work best for their families. The same applies to choices about media access for children.

To me, Attachment Parenting (AP) doesn’t mean we’ll achieve perfection or that all AP parents will come to the same conclusions. It means we’ve made a commitment to inform ourselves and make conscious choices. We can all respectfully “agree to disagree” when parents have informed themselves and understand the pros and cons. Biases and prejudices should have very little — nothing! — to do with it. Have we considered the research? Have we carefully observed the dynamics in our own families? Can we tell whether media is connecting or disconnecting parents and children in our homes?

kara cardenFor my family, I want media to be an event, not a lifestyle. I want my kids to be able to happily go for weeks without using it! So occasionally, if I see symptoms of dependency, we go on “detox” and course-correct — basically by getting busy with other things. I want us — adults and children — to use media, not have it use us. And I certainly don’t want media — with all it’s commercial motivations — to cheat my kids out of time to be creative, to be helpful, to be thoughtful, to just be.

For us, that means once or twice a week, we consume a little media, mostly together. The other six days, it’s just not an option. That’s how we thrive best.

For some of my AP friends, that’s way more than the none they believe is best. Compared to other AP families, our media use is a fraction of what happens in their homes.

Information and discernment can lead us to our own version of balance. This can change depending on the age and stage of our children, which is completely aligned with API’s focus on the importance of understanding child development needs.

I think it’s important for parents to take a good, close look at the research and have an open, honest conversation with others. Instead of judging or lobbying for one “side” or another on media use, the focus can be on informing ourselves together. Just being willing to ask the question, knowing that answers may be variable, would be a great service to our AP communities.

Mirroring

angry“I see your hand is squeezing his toy. Your face is getting very red. Your feet are stomping the ground.”

There’s something very reassuring about being seen and affirmed like this.

Describing what you observe is happening in a non-dramatic, non-judgmental tone of voice is called mirroring, and can be used as a positive discipline technique as well as an attunement exercise in learning how to respond with sensitivity.

The simple act of mirroring can be very helpful to prompt someone out of their “reptilian” midbrain and into more rational thinking and behavior.

We can also mirror what our child says: “So you’re extremely angry because he got a bigger bowl? I heard you say that you want the same size as he gets. Is that right? You feel he always gets better things.”

Reflecting back to someone what they’ve said is a quick way to help them feel heard and understood. And when we feel that way, we have less reason to do big, disruptive things to get our needs met.

Like any positive discipline technique, mirroring shouldn’t be the only tool in the parenting toolbox and it shouldn’t be used too early during a meltdown, or too often. After all, we want our children to fully feel their feelings and process them. But at a certain point — discerned by a connected parent — mirroring can really de-escalate a blow-up.

Mirroring works so well in my family, that I even appreciate it when my spouse does it for me! I probably wouldn’t appreciate it very much if a stranger or mere acquaintance began giving me their view of my play-by-play, but in an intimate, trusting relationship, one or two observations can generate just enough of a pause for calmness to get a foot in edgewise. Or it might prompt the last explosive outburst and then calmness.

Mirroring also encourages self-reflection. Self-reflection could be described as mirroring for oneself.

I sometimes forget to do it, but I’m training myself to remember: When I’m feeling big, bad feelings, I need to stop. And access the feeling. And name the feeling. And acknowledge the feeling. Then go on. It’s like the feelings are trapped inside, zinging and pinging around, but naming them gives them an escape route. Very cool.

kara cardenAs someone who has practiced meditation for a long time — another excellent parenting tool! — I’ve always benefited from attempting to become a “witness” or “observer” to my life. I think mirroring is helping my kids develop this mentally healthy ability, too.

Emotions and feelings can get very big and amorphous. Getting grounded in our bodies is a “state-regulating” tool that will help me and my children for our lifetimes.

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