- Pregnancy & Childbirth
- Attachment Parenting
- Family Nutrition
- Family Wellness
Throughout life your child will be exposed to positive influences builders and negative influences breakers. Parents can expose their child to more builders and help him work through the breakers.
This baby feels loved; this baby feels valuable. Ever had a special day when you got lots of strokes and showered with praise? You probably felt like queen for a day and hopefully you behaved accordingly. The infant on the receiving end of this high-touch style of parenting develops self-worth. She likes what she feels.
Responsiveness is the key to infant self-value. Baby gives a cue, for example, crying to be fed or comforted. A caregiver responds promptly and consistently. As this cue-response pattern is repeated many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times during the first year baby learns that her cues have meaning: "Someone listens to me, therefore, I am worthwhile." A stronger self emerges.
Of course, you can't always respond promptly or consistently. It's the predominant pattern that counts. You will have days when you are short on patience. Babies pick out the prevailing parenting style and form impressions. As baby gets older it becomes important for him to learn how to deal with healthy frustration, as this will teach him to adjust to change. The important thing is that you are there for him; that's the message on which baby builds his sense of self.
The confidence-building aspects that result from attachment-parenting pay off especially with high-need babies. Because of these infants' more intense demands, they are at higher risk of receiving negative responses. When attachment parenting produces mutual sensitivity between connected parents and high-need babies, they learn to see themselves in a good light.
Because of responsive nurturing, the connected baby knows what to expect. On the other hand, the disconnected child is confused. If his needs are not met and his cues unanswered, he feels that signals are not worth giving. This leads to the conclusion that "I'm not worthwhile. I'm at the mercy of others, and there's nothing I can do to reach them."
We emphasize the importance of early nurturing because during the first two years the baby's brain is growing very fast. This is the period when a baby develops patterns of associations – mental models of the way things work. The developing infant's mind is like a file drawer. In each file is a mental picture of a cue she gives along with the response she expects. After a certain interaction, the baby stores a mental image of what happened. For example, baby raises her arms and a parent responds by picking her up. Repetition deepens these patterns in the infant's mind, and eventually emotions, positive or negative, become associated with them. A file drawer full of mostly positive feelings and images leads to a feeling of "rightness." Her sense of "well-being" becomes part of baby's self.
Infants who get used to the feeling of well-being they get from attachment parenting spend the rest of their lives striving to keep this feeling. Because they have so much practice at feeling good, they can regain this right feeling after temporary interruptions. These secure infants cope better with life's setbacks because they are motivated to repair their sense of well-being, which has become integrated into their sense of self. They may fall down a lot, but they are likely to wind up back on their feet. This concept is especially true for a child who is handicapped or seems to come into this world relatively short-changed in natural talents. Children who do not have this early sense of well-being struggle to find it, but they are unsure of what they are looking for because they don't know how it feels. This explains why some babies who get attachment parenting in the early years manage well despite an unsettled childhood because of family problems. Consider the famous case of Baby Jessica, the two-year-old who because of a legal quirk was taken from the familiar and nurturing home of her adoptive parents whom she had known since birth, and given to her biological parents who were strangers to her. She is likely to thrive because she entered a strange situation with a strong sense of well-being created by early nurturing. She will spend the rest of her life maintaining that feeling despite the trauma she endured.
Martha Notes: Tip of the Day"Shortly after the birth of our eighth child, I was overwhelmed with two babies in diapers and the needs of four older children at home. My stress was reflected in my face; I was often not a happy person. Fortunately, I recognized what I was showing of myself to my children. I did not want my children growing up believing that mothering is no fun or that they caused me to be unhappy. I sought help, fixed my inner feelings and polished my mirror so that my children could see a better image of themselves."
When you give your child positive reflections, he learns to think well of himself. He will also willingly rely on you to tell him when his behavior is not pleasing. This becomes a discipline tool. "All I have to do is look at her a certain way, and she stops misbehaving," said one mother. She had saturated her child's self awareness with positive feelings, and the youngster was used to the way he felt being on the receiving end of these strokes. When mother flashed a negative reflection, the child didn't like the feeling it produced. He changed his behavior quickly to regain his sense of well-being.
Children learn to associate how you use their name with the message you have and the behavior you expect. Parents often use a child's nickname or first name only in casual dialogue, "Jimmy, I like what you are doing." They beef up the message by using the full name to make a deeper impression, "James Michael Sears, stop that!" one child we've heard about refers to his whole name as his "mad name" because that's what he hears when his parents are angry at him. We have noticed that children with self-confidence more frequently address their peers and adults by name or title. Their own self-worth allows them to be more direct in their communication with others. Our two-year-old Lauren dashes by my desk chirping: "Hi, Dad!" The addition of "Dad" impressed me more than an impersonal "Hi!" A school-age child who is comfortable addressing adults by name will be better able to ask for help when needed.
Don't expect your child to excel in sports or music or academics just because you did. The one thing your child can excel in is being herself. She must know that your love for her does not depend on your approval of her performance. That's a tough assignment for a parent who may have been raised to perform for love and acceptance.
While some children will wisely seek out complimentary playmates on their own, sometimes it is helpful to set up your child by purposely exposing him to appropriate peers. Some groups of children just naturally seem to get along well. If your child's group does not seem to have the right chemistry, it would be wise to intervene. By being a monitoring mom, Martha was able to come to the rescue of one of our children who was being intimidated and blackmailed into stealing money from us. This junior racketeer in the neighborhood was busted because Martha became suspicious of certain phone calls and listened in one day. Our frightened seven-year-old was in way over his head and was greatly relieved when we intervened.
The roots of a young child's self-concept come from home and nurturing caregivers. After six years of age, peer influence becomes increasingly important. The deeper the roots of home-grown self-confidence, the better equipped kids are to interact with peers in a way that builds up self-worth rather than tearing it down. They know how to handle peers who are fun to play with and those that give them problems. When children are attachment parented, they are well equipped to manage different environments (home, grandparents, preschool, Sunday school) with different rules very well. For healthy social development, a child first must be comfortable with himself before he can be comfortable with others.
Every child searches for an identity and, when found, clings to it like a trademark. "Asthmatic" had become Greg's label, and he wore it often. His whole day revolved around his ailment, and his family focused on this part of Greg instead of on the whole person. Instead of feeling compassion, Greg's brothers and sisters had become tired of planning their lives around Greg's asthma. They couldn't go on certain trips because Greg might get too tired. It became a family illness, and all, except Greg, were put into roles they didn't like.
To take away Greg's label would be to take away Greg's self-esteem. So, we made a deal. I would treat Greg's asthma; the family would enjoy Greg, and we all worked at giving "the asthmatic" a healthier label to wear.
Around age six, when your child begins elementary school, other adults become influential in her life. These are people who are around your child enough to influence her behavior and model values. Once upon a time persons of significance in a child's life came primarily from within the extended family, but in today's mobile society a child is likely to have a wider variety of peers and persons of significance. This means that today's parents need to be vigilant as to who is modeling what behavior to their children. Here is where there is confusion in the ranks of parents as disciplinarians. There are two extremes. On the one side are the parents who feel it's healthy for children to experience a lot of different value systems while growing up so that they will be more open-minded as adults. On the other side are parents who want to protect their child from all outside influences and any ideas that may differ from their own beliefs. This child grows up in a bubble-like atmosphere.
Somewhere between these two extremes is the right answer for your child. Throwing a child into the melting pot of diverse values at too young an age, before she has any of her own values, may produce a child who is so confused that she develops no conscience and no standing value system. Parents who overprotect may end up with a child who cannot think for herself, leaving her vulnerable to challenges or so judgmental that she condemns anyone with different beliefs. Somewhere in the middle is the parent who grounds the child in a firm value system and guides her as she encounters other value systems. The child, because she has a strong value system to begin with, is better able to weigh her parents' value system against alternatives and develop her own firm code of values. It may be different from the parents'. It may include many of the parents' values with a sprinkling of alternatives learned from peers or teachers. But the important thing is that the child has a value system from which to operate. He is not a leaf hurried downstream in the river that takes the path of least resistance, overflows its bounds, and eventually drains into a large sea of uncertainty. Many children flounder, sometimes for the rest of their lives, searching for values that should have been formed in infancy and early childhood.
Parents, don't be misled by the complacent term "latent" applied to middle childhood. This is not the time to sleep and get careless. This is the age in which your children build consciences and learn your value system. In fact, it's the only time in their entire life when they unquestionably, at least early in that stage, accept their parents' value system. Slowly they form their own standards through interaction with peers, other families, and teachers, and through neighborhood relationships and church/synagogue friendships. They discover a larger world with a variety of beliefs and behaviors. As they talk (endlessly) and observe and experiment in a variety of situations, they learn about how they will choose to act and react. Trying belatedly to impose your values on a teenager whose main developmental task at this stage is to identify his own values is difficult. The best way to get your values across is to "walk your talk" by living your values.
Enter the work force early. Beginning around age two, children can do small jobs around the house. To hold a child's interest, choose tasks the child has already shown an interest in. Our two-year-old, Lauren, had a thing about napkins, so we gave her the dinnertime job of putting napkins at each place. A mother in our practice told us: "I couldn't keep our three-year-old away from the vacuum cleaner. So I gave him the job of vacuuming the family room. He kept busy and I got some work out of him." Starting between ages two and four, a child can learn the concept of responsibility to self and to parents and for his personal belongings. Once he learns a sense of responsibility for these things, a sense of responsibility to society will come naturally in the next stage of development.
By three years of age, a child can be taught to clean sinks and tubs (using a sponge and a small can of cleanser). Young children love to scrub. Three's and Four's love to sort laundry into darks and lights. At five, the child can be doing dishes every night. Teach him exactly how you want them handled (for example, excess food in the garbage, dishes rinsed, and then put in the dishwasher). Be sure to use unbreakable cups and plates and put messy pans in the oven to be cleaned later by an adult.
By seven, a child can be cooking at least one meal a week from start to finish. Teach him how to fix his favorite meal and let him learn how to pick out the ingredients at the market. Encourage school-age children to make their own lunch. Besides giving them a sense of responsibility for their own nutrition, they are more likely to eat what they make. Once taught, the child can be left alone in the kitchen—no hovering mother. Relax and talk to your mate.
Other jobs boys and girls love and do well when first taught alongside a parent include: washing the car, sweeping outdoor living areas and sidewalks, gardening, vacuuming, dusting, and baby tending. By seven or eight they can put in a load of laundry, and by ten they can be doing their own laundry. When children have jobs in the home, not only are parents relieved of some of the busywork, but children feel they are contributing to a cause. They feel useful and needed. And the energy they spend on the home becomes an investment they are making into the value system of that home.
Stuffing feelings doesn't do any good for the child, the parents, or the relationship. It tells the child that you are threatened by her feelings or she gets the message that you don't care to understand her feelings. The child picks up on your attitude and learns that expressing or even having feelings is not okay. The child decides that the feelings that accompany the ups and downs of her daily life are not worthwhile. In a child's logic, if her feelings are not worthwhile, she is not worthwhile. If this unfeeling pattern repeats itself over and over, the child quickly learns both to suppress the feelings and especially to hide them from her parents.
Even more devastating than being uncaring is responding to a child's feelings with anger messages, "I don't want to hear any more bellowing about that stupid fish!" The fear of parents' reactions to her feelings turns a child into a feeling stuffer.
on the positive side, picture what happens when a child feels free to express herself and a parent accepts her feelings. Consider this example: "Daddy, the necklace Grandma gave me for my birthday broke." Dad stops what he is doing and focuses on his child, looking into her eyes and placing his hand around her shoulder. He says, "I'm sorry. That was such a special necklace." Both his verbal and his body language convey: "I am available to you; your feelings are important to me. You are important to me." His reaction frees the child to tell him more about her feelings and to work through them by talking to him. Instead of retreating into her shell or erupting into a tantrum, she has been given a way to express her sorrow. And he has boosted her self-worth by accepting her feelings, which are a reflection of herself.
Every infant whose needs are met has self-esteem built in. Like an arborist caring for a tree, your job is to nurture what's there, do what you can to structure your child's environment so that she grows strong and straight, and avoid whittling away at the tender branches. You can't build your child's self- esteem compliment by compliment, activity by activity. Parents are already overloaded with guilt because they may not be doing enough to foster their child's self-worth. You don't need a degree in psychology to raise a confident child. Much of parenting is easy and fun. Hold your baby a lot, respond sensitively to her needs, enjoy your baby. Then sit back and enjoy the person whose self-esteem is developing naturally.