Early Childhood

What Matters Most and Lasts Longest

I remember the joy I felt when I was raising children watching my daughter pack her red wagon with snacks, her baby doll, and some well loved blankets and books for a first trip around the block.  It was her maiden voyage, and I was in wonder of her focus and courage.  Today her son, our 9-year-old grandson, is excited to take his first forays alone into the world with his mother’s cell phone.  That way he knows exactly how many minutes before it is time to return and–besides that–mom can call him or track him with her Find Friends app.  The world is a constantly changing place.  So how do we do our best and navigate the changes in our environment, especially new technology?  What can we depend on when there are so many ways in which we are charting new territory?

As simple as it sounds, I believe one constant is our innate ability to connect with our children.  I’m speaking of the eye-to-eye and heart-to-heart moments that are possible during daily activities.  This connection is what grounds us all in an ever changing world and can give children resilience with whatever challenges life lays before them.

One of the main issues we all must face is getting along with others while remaining true to ourselves.  If you and your child are bonded, they can go out into a changing world with a sense of themselves.  As adults if we can be with others without losing our distinctiveness as individuals, this is a state of integration or wholeness.  Naturally, this is what we wish for our children.  It is a firm foundation from which to launch and one which can ever be returned to.

Actually, constantly agreeing with others or its polarity—always arguing with others– is an insecurity in disguise.  According to psychologist John Bowlby, successful early attachment is necessary for adult emotional development, and strong affectional bonds can set the stage for children’s healthy development.  We can’t control the ever changing and sometimes tumultuous days ahead, but we can stay connected.   Helen Ward, president of the Kids First Parents Association says,“In order for children to grow up into the mature adults we desire them to be, they have to spend time with adults they are attached to….”

So what are some ways to establish this strong, deep, emotional connection?  You’ve likely heard it before, but bedtime can be a time to connect.  Meal time is the perfect time to avoid stressful conversations about adult concerns like finances and politics, and focus on the yummy food or the fun your child had playing that day.  Making eye contact and focusing on your child as they talk shows your child that she is important to you and that her experience matters.  Mornings can offer the same opportunity for connection.  If it’s possible, awaken your child in a connecting way like reading a favorite book or lying in bed with them for a few minutes—what works will naturally vary from family to family but the point is to “connect before you direct.”  This feeling of belonging with you is valuable for a child’s development and their strong sense of self.  Further, a sense of belonging builds an ability to face the vicissitudes of life.

In 1988 child psychologist David Elkind wrote the book, The Hurried Child, saying, “we are going through one of those periods in history, such as the early decades of the Industrial Revolution, when children are the unwilling victims of societal upheaval and change…Today’s child has become the unwilling, unintended victim of overwhelming stress.”  These words could be spoken about children today if we simply reflect on how technologies, wonderful though they are, have caused our world to be “forever speeding up.”  In fact, our children may be even more hurried than they were in 1988, but we can slow it down by creating moments of connection.   We can hold onto our attachment with our children.  As child psychologist Gordon Neufeld says, “A child gives his heart to whomever he is attached.”  I would add, give your heart, and it will naturally be given back.

Author, Jan Matney, LCPC