Creating Connection: How It Leads to Happier Healthier Children
by Jane Sheppard
To help your children reach their greatest potential, you must first create a strong bond with them before, during, and after birth and continue to nurture and strengthen this connection throughout the various stages of their childhood. Children who grow up with plenty of loving physical contact and a healthy, emotional bond with at least one parent know at a deep, core level that they are genuinely loved and valued. With a healthy sense of their own worth, children can more easily tap into their natural state of happiness and develop to their full potential. By being present – by tending to their emotional needs as they develop — you teach your children to love and value themselves.
How Parents Can Create Connection:
1) Develop and nurture a strong parent-child bond;
2) Learn to listen to your own intuition;
3) Allow your children to discover and trust their own internal wisdom.
The Alliance for Transforming the Lives of Children (“aTLC”) has invested thousands of hours developing a proclamation and blueprint of evidence-linked principles and actions that combines scientific research with deep-rooted wisdom on optimal human development. One of the main principles they set forth is, “Every child needs to be securely bonded with at least one other person-optimally the mother.”
Creating a Healthy Parent-Child Bond
Provide your children with as much close physical and emotional contact as possible, making this a consistent element of their reality. Actions that promote bonding with babies include breastfeeding, cuddling, massaging, rocking, and keeping them in close proximity to your body as much as possible (e.g. baby-wearing and co-sleeping). Parents’ natural tendency to “mirror” babies’ facial expressions, actions and sounds are another way of acknowledging babies and demonstrating they are valuable and loved.
When you respond immediately to your babies’ needs, they feel wanted and worthy of your attention; they come to view the world as a safe and benevolent place to explore and grow. When children become demanding and clingy, it most likely means their bonding and attachment needs have not been met consistently.
This way of parenting, sometimes termed “attachment parenting” or “connection parenting”, provides babies and young children with what they need for optimal development of the brain, immune and nervous systems and overall well-being. It is not a fad or a new style of parenting. It has been the norm in much of the world throughout history. Unfortunately, it seems our society as a whole is becoming more detached from our babies and children. It’s become common in modern Western society for babies to sleep alone in cribs in separate rooms and carried everywhere in plastic car seat carriers, away from the warmth, scent, and soothing heartbeat of their mothers.
In a fast-paced society such as ours, where there are a lot of distractions competing for a parent’s attention, forming a strong connection with your children is more necessary than ever. Fortunately, in addition to the enormous benefits to babies, connection parenting can be a blessing for busy parents, making parenting easier, calmer, more fulfilling, and fun.
Sleeping right next to your baby enables you to breastfeed more easily during nighttime awakenings without getting out of bed. Hearing and feeling the breath and slight movements of your sleeping baby confirms he or she is safe and can give you peace of mind during the night. In addition to being the only complete nutrition and immune-building food available for your baby, breast milk is easier, less expensive and far more rewarding than formula, and eliminates the need for bottles and all that comes with preparing and cleaning them. Carrying your baby in a sling allows you to meet his or her need for touch, while freeing your hands for other tasks. You can go about your day, holding your baby close, breastfeeding discreetly right there in the sling. Your contented baby then is able to see and experience more of the world from this vantage point, increasing his or her learning from life.
The positive effects of connection parenting extend both ways. Babies carried in slings are happier, calmer, and cry less, and parents who wear their babies are also calmer and more confident as parents. Becoming more in tune with the natural rhythm and energy of your baby allows you to be more deeply in tune with your own innate sense of well-being. When you deeply connect with your children, you more easily connect with your own sense of joy and experience greater health and awareness. Nature intends for you to form a strong, intimate bond with your children. When you do, you thrive right along with them.
Creating Connection with Older Children
It is never too late to create a stronger connection with your children. If your kids are older and you realize you could have done more to bond with them as babies, you can let go of any useless guilt that arises and celebrate that you do the best you can at any given moment, within your present situation, available resources, and life circumstances. You can always begin right now to turn around your relationship with your children – at any age.
To create a healthy bond with older children, give them one-on-one connection time with your undivided attention on a regular basis. Talk to them with respect, engage with them in their self-directed play and activities in non-controlling ways, actively listen to them, and allow them to fully express their feelings. Older children also need plenty of physical affection. Build a bond of trust and respect with your children without interruption, judgment or defensiveness.
Specific ways to create a stronger connection with older children can include:
- Ask them for their opinion
- Create one-on-one time with your children with all your attention on them
- Look them in the eyes when they are speaking
- Let them complete their sentences without interruption
- Don’t judge what they say; instead listen carefully and let them know you’ve heard them and respect their input.
- Give plenty of hugs and affection
In her book, Connection Parenting: Parenting through Connection instead of Coercion, Pam Leo provides tools and helpful guidance in creating and maintaining a bond with older children.
Nurture a Connection with Our Own Inner Wisdom
Parenting can be challenging when you have many different opinions coming in to your mental awareness from friends, relatives, doctors, books, etc. Well-intended advice on strict regimens and “baby training” methods can be the biggest interference in creating a bond with your children. When you can loosen the grip of these outside voices and tap in to your own inner guidance to parent from your heart, you will naturally know what to do to meet your children’s needs. Go with what feels right, what your natural instincts are telling you.
Parenting is an “in the moment” endeavor. Since no two babies are the same, and their individual needs can change from moment to moment, there can’t possibly be a set of guidelines better than a mother’s own intuition. In fact, nature has helped this along by providing mothers with powerful maternal hormones – prolactin and oxytocin – that are stimulated by holding and breastfeeding, and are the chemical basis for a mother’s intuition. By forming a deep bond with your baby and continually checking in with your own internal wisdom, you have everything you need in order to fully meet his or her needs.
Dr. Sears, who first came up with the term “attachment parenting” 30 years ago refers to it as “a style of baby care that parents would naturally practice if they followed their own intuition rather than listening to the advice of others”. Even though most books and advocates of attachment parenting refer to specific practices that are most likely to foster attachment and bonding, there are no rigid rules. You can choose what is right for you and ignore what is not. As long as you have the intention of creating a bond with your children and are in tune with your own intuition, you will know what’s right for them.
Allow Your Children to Follow Their Own Inner Guidance
If it is your goal to have happy, healthy children who live to their full potential, you must help them to maintain their connection with their internal guidance, and not derail it with your own disconnection and need for control. You don’t want to “raise” your children to become what society deems successful and acceptable. You want to nurture, assist, and allow your children to grow to be the happiest they can be – truly tapped in to their inner voice. Try to give up control and “attachment” to how you think your children should be, and allow your children to explore their world, express their creativity, and create their own path and dreams. This is easier said than done in this society where trusting oneself above all others is not genuinely encouraged.
Children have a passion to explore life and are thrilled and amazed at the simplest things. They live fully in the moment. They have a natural, positive expectation that things should go well for them. They know that life is supposed to be fun and joyful. Over time, due to parental, educational, and societal conditioning, they learn to ignore this natural joy and may even forget it was ever there.
Most adults have lost touch with this, too, since we learned at a young age to ignore our natural impulses. This disconnection has caused us to constantly search outside of ourselves for things that we think will make us happy, including drugs, relationships, religion, shopping/consumerism, television, food, alcohol and all things that we assume are the solution to our dissatisfaction. But the only true source of happiness is within us. Let’s not take this away from our children; let’s encourage them to trust their natural inclinations and feelings.
You can teach self-discipline without breaking the connection you have with your children and without disrupting their inner connection that is so important to their healthy development. Instead of viewing negative behavior as a challenge to your authority, you can listen to what your children need in the moment. Pam Leo explains in Connection Parenting, “Once we understand that uncooperative behavior is a communication of a child’s unmet need, a hurt, or the response to an adult’s unrealistic expectation, we do not have to take the behavior so personally.” She also states, “The level of cooperation parents get from their children is usually equal to the level of connection children feel with their parents.” You do not have to compete with your children to get your needs met. You can find ways to meet both their needs and yours with dignity and respect, not coercion and control.
It’s important to note that healthy parenting is not about perfection. All parents make mistakes and feel regret, but you can view those as opportunities for growth, allowing you to be easier on yourself and your children. Your children can be your wisest teachers. You can view parenting as a journey that you take with your children to become the best and happiest you can be. This happens most easily when you trust your children and yourself.
Creating connection with your children will be the most rewarding, delightful journey you will ever experience. By parenting with connection, you can help create a different world in which people love, honor, and respect themselves and each other. A world where people fully connected to their inner potential, gifts, and wisdom are contributing to a world of true health, harmony and peace.