Tag Archive for attachment

To Teach or Not To Teach

Parents want their children to grow in knowledge, to do well in school and get accepted into a university that will set their career on a great trajectory. To accomplish this end, parents often take the role of teaching their children. That is all well and good, but it’s not the most effective way for parents to reach these goals. Offering didactic teaching is not really the best option for a parent. In fact, it’s definitely not the way children learn best. Know what does help your children learn to the best of their ability? Your relationship with them.

It’s true. Children learn best when their parents build a stable and reliable relationship with them, a stable and reliable resource of security. Research actually suggests that a parent who nurtures a stable, reliable relationship with their children is more valuable than explicitly teaching them. The relationship actually helps increase their ability to learn effectively. Moreover, trust in the parent-child relationship is more important than teaching strategies a parent might use or lessons a parent might teach. When children enjoy a secure relationship with their parents, a relationship filled with trust and stability, they learn more easily.

Knowing that parents represent a child’s primary “teacher” of important lessons (including emotional knowledge, values, and priorities) the parent-child relationship becomes even more important…kind of scary too. I never took a “parenting class” to learn how I might pass on these important lessons to my children; and I know mistakes are inevitable. Fortunately, when a child learns from a parent with whom they have a strong, stable relationship, they even correct the mistakes their parent inevitably makes.

If children experience a more avoidant relationship with their parent, one in which the parent-child relationship does not offer the stability of coregulating emotions and emotional connection, they will learn equally from parent and stranger. At first glance, this sounds okay. However, it means that children indiscriminately learn important emotional knowledge and values from strangers as readily as they learn them from their parents. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my children to learn from just any stranger.

If, on the other hand, children experience an anxious attachment with their parent, one in which they remain insecure in the relationship and unclear if the parent will remain available to them in times of need, they still learn from their parent. However, they do not correct the mistakes their parents might make. They indiscriminately accept all knowledge from their parents, right or wrong. They will leave the home with mistaken ideas passed on by their parents. Consider the dangers this can present when learning important emotional knowledge and values from a parent with an alcohol or drug problem.

But a secure relationship, a stable and reliable relationship…that opens the door to learning. Your relationship with your children is the most important gift you can give them to enhance their ability to learn. The more secure and trusting your relationship, the more easily and effectively they will learn. Not only will they learn more easily, but they will learn the important lessons of values and emotional maturity primarily from you. Even better, they will recognize mistakes you make and improve upon the lessons you teach them. So, if you want your children to do well in school and learn the lessons that will help them do well in life, focus on developing and nurturing a secure, loving, reliable relationship with them.

In Our Families, Keep It Close Enough for Jazz

I enjoy jazz. I love listening to musicians as they share the stage and play together. In seemingly magical ways, they interact with one another through the music and share in the fun with everyone present. They seem connected, like they can read each other’s mind. They anticipate the next move, the next chord, the next phrase. They are in sync…perfectly attuned to one another.

These musicians teach our families an important lesson. They teach us how to “get in sync” with one another, attuned to the subtle nuances of each other’s communications. When we do “get in sync,” we will resolve discord more easily and find greater harmony more quickly. Plus, when mistakes or conflicts arise, we will back one another up and reestablish the harmony of the home more quickly. How can you get in sync with your family? Follow the example of jazz.

  • Develop mutual goals and priorities. Healthy families established priorities they can all support. Like the over-arching structure, theme, and direction of a piece of music, these priorities represent something bigger than any one person within the family. Long-term goals of vacations are a simple example of this. Other overarching themes are more complex, like becoming a family known for engaging in kindness or for being actively involved in their community. Having these overarching themes and structures will allow your family to get in sync by working together with “their ear to the overarching direction” of your family life.
  • Learn one another’s nonverbal cues. Yes, verbal communication is important. But nonverbal communication is essential for attunement. Paying close attention to nonverbal cues gives you a wealth of information that will help you resolve discordant issues among family members and more effectively work to create interesting harmonies. “Listening” to the nonverbal communications of facial expression, eye signals, and even body movements allows you to make small adjustments to your behavior that will decrease misunderstandings and increase effective interactions, strengthening the theme of a strong, healthy family in your home.
  • Balance one another’s strengths and weaknesses. We all have strengths and weaknesses. The most effective couples and families are more aware of one another’s strengths and weaknesses. They step up and support one another in their strengths. They humbly ask for help in areas of weakness. They learn when to step back and allow another to take the lead as well as the appropriate time to step up and utilize their strengths to enhance the beauty of the family interaction.
  • Practice a give and take. Listening to jazz groups you will notice different players taking the spotlight at different times When one player begins an improvisational solo, the other players play more quietly and support the solo. They follow he soloist’s lead. In families, there is a time and place for each family member to take the lead. The other family members can gather around them and support them in the “solo.” If anything goes awry, the rest of the family can quickly jump in to help them out, lift them up, and get them “back on track” while making it all sound so easy and good.

Four hints we can take from jazz as we strive to make our families “close enough for jazz.” Of course, we will never be perfect. But those imperfections allow us to grow, learn to better tune to one another, and maybe even make some new, interesting harmonies. After all, we don’t have to be perfect…just “good enough for jazz.”

Through the Parenting Maze

The art of parenting has gotten lost amidst media hype and controversy. Instead of focusing on effective common sense aspects of parenting, the popular media turns our attention to the sensational and controversial. Tiger moms, free range parents, helicopter parents, attachment parents…a dizzying array of parenting styles presenting the opportunity to debate and argue, which may be great for media ratings but not so good for effective parenting. What is a parent to do?   In reality, each of these parenting styles actually has benefits; and each can have a negative impact when taken to an extreme. Take a moment with me to consider the pros and cons of each of these parenting styles.


Exhausted MomTiger Mom Parenting. Tiger moms balance high expectations with love for their children; and children tend to live up to the expectations of those who exhibit great love for them. Tiger moms teach that persistence and effort leads to success. This helps children develop a “growth oriented mindset” shown to result in persistence, effort, and resilience.

On the other hand, tiger moms can become intrusive. Their children may experience difficulty establishing an identity apart from their overinvolved and demanding parent. Children may even rebel in an effort to establish their identity apart from parental expectations and demands.


Helicopter parenting. Helicopter parents obviously love their children. They delight in their children and want them to grow into successful adults. To aid in this growth, helicopter parents maintain an awareness of their children and their children’s world, create opportunities for their children, and leverage the environment for their children’s success. This can lead to some wonderful opportunities and successes for their children.

Helicopter parents can also become intrusive. If they do not allow their children to experience failure, they rob them of the opportunity to learn persistence and resilience. By fighting their children’s battles, they rob them of the opportunity to “fight for themselves” and problem solve under pressure. In the long run, children whose parents manage their environment and time too closely will prevent their children from learning to manage their own schedule and assure their own safety.


Attachment parenting. Parents who practice attachment parenting delight in their children. They become active students of their children and their children’s world. Children of attachment parents come to see themselves as valuable, significant, and loved. They learn to talk through and resolve concerns and disagreements they might have with other people.

Taken too an extreme, attachment parenting can result in permissive parenting. Children may not have clearly defined limits reinforced by a consistent “no,” whether spoken or unspoken. Although they learn to solve problems with like-minded parents, they may experience difficulty working through the drama introduced by other children who have not learned these skills.


Free range parenting. Children who experience free range parenting learn independence. They learn creative problem solving as they experience various obstacles in their life. In addition, children of free range parents learn how to manage their safety. They learn what they can and cannot without adult help. Free range parenting also allows children to learn how to manage their own time and schedule effectively.

Free range parenting, when misapplied, can result in neglect. If parents are not aware of their children’s developmental needs and unique vulnerabilities, they can place their children at risk of harm or overwhelming failure.


Overall, we find parenting strengths in each style of parenting. We also see that any parenting style can be taken out of context and misapplied in response to our particular fears or weaknesses as a parent. Rather than getting caught up in the debate and controversy of the latest parenting fad, take the time to learn what makes each parenting style effective (whether you want to call it a balance of love and limits, rules and relationship, or structure and love). Then—whether tiger mom, helicopter parent, attachment parent, or free range parent—practice that balance with as much consistency as you can muster.

Hot Sauce Vs. the Power of Relationship

When you build strong, secure relationships with your children, you promote world peace. Does that sound like an overstatement? Well, consider Mikulincer’s research. Mikulincer rescuerasked 120 undergraduate Israeli Jews to give both an Israeli Jew and an Israeli Arab a sample of hot sauce. He used these two groups because “research has shown that [these two groups] tend to react to each other with prejudice, hostility, and overt aggression” (you know this by watching the news).  Before the undergraduates set apart a sample amount of hot sauce to give an Israeli and an Arab, half were subliminally primed with the name of a person with whom they have a secure attachment (a strong, loving, life-enhancing relationship). The other half of the group was not. The results: the Israeli Jews who were not primed with the name of a person they have a secure relationship with were more likely to give larger amounts of hot sauce to the Israeli Arab than to the fellow Israeli Jew. Those primed with the name of person they have a secure relationship with gave equal amounts to each and kept the amounts relatively small. The participants showed more tolerance and even compassion after being primed with a secure relationship. They held to more harmonious values, even when engaging a group of people with whom they have long-standing conflict.


Obviously, relationships are powerful. Family relationships (our primary attachment relationships) are even more powerful. They impact more than our immediate family. When children leave the nest, their family relationship goes with them. It impacts how they view and respond to other people. Do you want to raise children who exhibit tolerance toward other people? Do you want your children to act compassionately toward others? It begins you’re your relationship to them. The more secure your relationship with your children, the more likely they will exhibit tolerance and compassion toward others. To build a secure relationship with your children:

  • Prioritize spending time with your children.
  • Verbally express how much you love your children. Tell them you love them. Acknowledge their work. Recognize their efforts. Encourage them. Validate them. Each of these verbally expresses love.
  • Practice healthy, loving touch with your children. Give them a kiss good-bye or good-night. Put an arm around their shoulder. Slap a high five. Even the NBA (link) has found that appropriate touch increases trust and security.
  • Offer age appropriate limits, boundaries, and consequences. Yes, discipline is an essential part of a secure relationship. No need to become harsh. Simply make the limits known and understood. Then, as calmly as possible, enforce the consequences of breaking those limits and boundaries.


These four tips will go a long way in helping you develop a secure relationship with your children. By developing that secure relationship, you will raise more tolerant and compassionate children. You will be doing your part to promote world peace in your own corner of the world!

Begin Operation M.O.R.E. in Your Family

Grandfather with granddaughter on sunset at seaI have begun a covert operation in my home and with my family. I have named it Operation M.O.R.E. for More Oxytocin Release Events (MORE). I have left the operation covert at the time so I can assess the impact of my actions. After the initial evaluation, I plan on taking this operation public and including the whole family in Operation MORE. The purpose of Operation MORE is to increase the number of events that will release oxytocin in various family members. Why have I chosen to do this? Research suggests that:

  • Oxytocin promotes attachment and bonding. It helps create M.O.R.E. intimacy in relationships.
  • Oxytocin helps to reduce feelings of stress. We live in a stressful world. If oxytocin release can help relieve stress, we might as well have M.O.R.E.
  • Oxytocin seems to intensify men’s fond memories of their mother and decrease negative memories. Perhaps more oxytocin in general will help produce M.O.R.E. fond memories of family in general.
  • Oxytocin can intensify the bond between sexual partners. Even more, it promotes faithfulness between spouses. Men who had received a nasal spray of oxytocin were less responsive to women other than their wife…they became M.O.R.E. singly focused on their wife.
  • Oxytocin inhibits tolerance to addictive drugs and reduces withdrawal symptoms. In other words, a steady release of oxytocin will decrease the likelihood of drug abuse.
  • Oxytocin seems to improve a person’s ability to interact M.O.R.E. with others (study done with children who had autism).
  • Oxytocin triggers “defensive aggression” against outside threats. In other words, it helps promote our instinct to become M.O.R.E. protective of those we love.
  • Oxytocin counters the effect of stress hormones (cortisol) and, as a result, will promote “M.O.R.E. better” sleep.
  • Oxytocin fosters generosity. In one study, those who received a nasal spray of oxytocin were 80% M.O.R.E. generous than those receiving a placebo.


That is enough reason to increase the oxytocin flow in the family and begin Operation MORE. Here is the plan of action, the ways to complete this covert operation and produce MORE oxytocin:

  • kids hugHug family members for at least 10 seconds. Do it at least once a day, maybe even M.O.R.E.
  • When the opportunity arises, hold a family members hand with one hand over the other, make eye contact with them, and give them a compliment.
  • Watch an “emotionally compelling movie” (AKA—a chick flick). I know it is a sacrifice to watch chick flicks with the family, but research suggests a 47% surge in oxytocin (that’s 47% M.O.R.E.) while watching an “emotionally compelling movie.” Sometimes we have to make sacrifices in our covert operation to enhance family intimacy.
  • Sing. That’s right. Singing helps release M.O.R.E. oxytocin. Encourage your family to sing.
  • Dance. One study found oxytocin increased by 11% after dancing (dance M.O.R.E.).
  • Do something exciting or thrilling. Have an adventure–anything from a roller coaster ride to watching a scary movie. Enjoy a thrill together.
  • Laugh together.
  • Go for a walk. To make this even more powerful, hold hands while going for a walk and have an open, transparent conversation while you do.


So far, Operation MORE has proven successful in my home. I have noticed M.O.R.E. laughter, M.O.R.E. intimacy, and M.O.R.E. joy in our interactions. In fact, the success has proven so dramatic that I have chosen to take Operation More public in my home. Perhaps you can join us by starting Operation MORE in your home as well.

Book Review

The Attachment Connection: Parenting a Secure & Confident Child Using the Science of Attachment Theory  by Ruth P. Newton, PH.D

Ruth Newton, PHD, offers a excellent parenting advice for those who have children from birth through four years of age. In The Attachment Connection, she provides a wonderful and understandable overview of attachment and parent-child bonding as well the role of both the mother and the father, the importance of non-verbal communications, and how all this impacts the child’s overall development. She then offers practical ideas to help parents build secure relationships with their children from birth to four-years-old, giving specific information for newborns, two-months-olds, four-months-olds, six-months-olds, nine-months-olds, twelve-months-olds, eighteen-months-olds, two-years-olds, three-years-olds, and four-years-olds. For each age group, she presents the reader with tables that point out developmental expectations, new skills to watch for, and games to promote development. Dr. Newton presents all this information in a fun to read format and offers practical examples to further explain each idea she presents. This is one of my personal favorites when it comes to parenting books and books about attachment. An excellent and very practical book.

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