Suppose parents, for fear of spoiling their baby or letting her manipulate them, restrain themselves from responding to her cries and develop a more distant, low-touch style of parenting. What happens then? The baby must either cry harder and more disturbingly to get her needs met or give up and withdraw. In either case, she finds that her caregiving world is not responsive. Eventually, since her cues are not responded to, she learns not to give cues. She senses something is missing in her life. She becomes angry and either outwardly hostile or withdrawn. In the first case, the baby is not very nice to be around, and parents find ways to avoid her. In the second case, the baby is harder to connect with, and again, parents and child enjoy each other less. Either way, this child will be difficult to discipline. She comes to believe that safety and security depend on no one but herself. Problems in relationships develop when a child grows up thinking she only has herself to trust in. Since the parents don’t allow themselves to respond intuitively to their baby’s cues, they become less sensitive and lose confidence in their parenting skills, another set-up for discipline problems.
You can tell the unconnected baby by his expression – or lack of one. He does not seek eye contact and he does not evoke the warm feelings so evident with connected babies. “He looks lost” is a comment we once heard about an unconnected baby. You can also tell an unconnected baby by the way he holds himself stiff, as if conformed to his baby seat rather than to soft shoulders.
As the unconnected child gets older, much of his time is spent in misbehavior, and he is on the receiving end of constant reprimands; or he tunes out and seems to live in his own separate world. This child becomes known as sullen, a brat, a whiner, or a spoiled kid. These undesirable behaviors are really coping strategies the child uses in search of a connection. The unconnected child doesn’t know how to regain a sense of well-being because he has no yardstick to measure attachment. He has difficulty finding a connection because he isn’t sure what he lost. This scene results in path-up parenting, with perhaps much time spent in counselors’ offices.
The unconnected child is less motivated to please; he’s less of a joy to be around. As a result, unconnected parents don’t find job satisfaction on the domestic scene, so they seek fulfillment in professions and in relationships not involving their child. Parent and child drift further apart. Unlike the connected child who is a joy to be around and develops healthy friendships, peers may shun the unconnected child. He may even put off people who can help him form connections. The emotionally rich get richer, and the emotionally poor get poorer.
With professional counseling, children and parents can begin connecting and settle into a style of discipline that brings out the best in each other. It will require a lot of energy to accomplish this at a stage when it is naturally designed to happen. Newborns are more into being held than six- or nine-year- olds. The best chance for staying connected later on is to get connected early.