In my experience, it’s possible to divide different models of parenting into two broad groups – the behaviour management approach and the attachment/connection approach. The current mainstream model is the behaviour management approach, which focuses on praise or positive reinforcement of ‘good’ or desirable behaviours and ignoring or negative reinforcement of ‘bad’ or undesirable behaviours. The premise is that the key issue to be addressed is a child’s behaviour, and that certain strategies applied consistently can effectively manage this behaviour. This approach includes strategies such as ‘time-out’ and ‘controlled crying’, and often results in the kinds of outcomes that parents generally want – well behaved children who listen, infants who sleep through the night, etc. However, in my experience, these outcomes come at a big price for children. It can produce children, and later on, adults, who aren’t in touch with their emotions, who carry a lot of shame, and end up feeling ‘not good enough’ or somehow bad, which they often can’t understand because they had very loving and well meaning parents.
The alternative parenting model is the attachment/connection model. The premise here is that babies and children are biologically wired for connection and attachment with caregivers, and that they thrive when they feel loved and attuned to. In this model, what we see as ‘challenging’ behaviours (such as tantrums, defiance, and acting out behaviours) are actually a child’s way of showing that they are needing more connection with a parent. The idea is that babies and children have a lot of feelings, but because their brains are not fully developed, they can’t yet put their feelings into words, so it comes out in other ways – like aggression, whining, not sleeping, hyperactivity etc. It’s up to the parent to recognize that their child is trying to communicate that they feel disconnected, and need help to get back into connection with the parent.
In this approach, my focus is on helping parents to learn to identify the signs that a child is feeling out of connection, and to help them to use empathy to support the child to express their feelings and emotions – generally through crying and laughter. Strategies such as special time, attachment play, loving limits and supported crying help children to come back into connection. I also support parents using mindfulness to identify how some of their own experiences of being parented as children might be making it difficult for them to manage some of their child’s behaviours and triggers, and to help them to work through their own wounds so as to be able to be more present and connected with their children. When children feel loved and emotionally clear, in relationship with parents who can be really present and loving, they are usually easy to be with, cooperative, and naturally loving and helpful. In this way, as parents we can help our children feel safe, confident and thrive in their world.
The Aware Baby by Aletha Solter
Attachment Play by Aletha Solter
Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting by Laura Markham
Calm Parents, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life by Laura Markham
Parenting from the Inside Out: How a Deeper Self-Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive by Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell
The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture your Child's Developing Mind by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting by John Gottman and Joan Declaire