What You'll Learn
- Trusting Your Parenting Decisions
- Explaining Attachment Science
- Practical Ways To Cultivate A Secure Attachment
- Using Your Own Nervous System to Ground You
As a parent, you may feel overwhelmed with all of the decisions you need to make about your child, their care, and ultimately how you are going to handle parenting decisions. In the end, there are many ways to be a great parent. If we look to science, it has shown us that secure attachment is one decision that will aid in brain development and build a connection with your child. Dr. Tina Payne Bryson joins us to talk through the four pillars of secure attachment, the importance of secure attachment for children and adults, and how science can help guide your parenting decisions.
Trusting Your Parenting Decisions
“Trust yourself and trust your baby,” Dr. Tina said. No one decision we make is really going to impact who our child becomes. “You want to do what is right for you, your family, and your baby,” she explained.
No one decision we make is really going to impact who our child becomes.
“When people come at you—especially if they’re really adamant about that one approach and that one way to do it—to me that’s always a red flag. To me, that’s more about the person feeling a need to defend their decision than it is you,” Dr. Tina said.
When you get input from people that isn’t aligned with your parenting style just say, “Thank you for caring about me and giving me this input, but I’m going to try it this way and see how it works out.”
Explaining Attachment Science
Attachment science is not attachment parenting. “If you do nothing that is prescribed in the attachment parenting approach, you can still have a baby that is beautifully securely attached to you,” Dr. Tina said. “And the flip side of that is true. You can do all of those things and have a baby that is not attached to you.”
“The attachment system gets most activated when infants are in distress,” she explained. The baby cries to let you know something is wrong, and your attachment system kicks in to protect and comfort the baby which may mean feeding or changing a diaper.
Dr. Tina explained, “The most important thing we can do—the best predictor for how kids turn out—is that they have a secure attachment with at least one caregiver.” A secure attachment means the baby knows that its needs will be met by an attuned caregiver.
40% of us grew up with parents who didn’t respond to our emotional needs.
“Our history is not our destiny,” she said. And that’s a good thing, because 40% of us grew up with parents who didn’t respond to our emotional needs. They might say things like, “Go to your room if you need to cry,” or something equally dismissive. Or they may have responded sometimes and other times been consumed with their own needs. This results in an anxious-ambivalent attachment. This means we’re not sure we can count on other people, so we’re anxious about the attachment.
Worse than that is the “disorganized attachment pattern.” This happens when a caregiver is the source of your distress. We’re biologically wired to seek our caregivers in distress, but when our caregiver causes us pain, another mechanism kicks in and tells us to get away from them! “This causes disorganization in the brain,” Dr. Tina explained.
Even if we grew up with an insecure attachment, we can still provide our children with a secure attachment. We just need to reflect on how our parents didn’t always meet our needs and process them. Self-reflection is a never-ending process in parenting.
Practical Ways To Cultivate A Secure Attachment
Dr. Tina likes to use the “4 S’s” as a practical way to build a secure attachment. These are safe, seen, soothed, and secure.
Safe: We want to keep our kids safe and we don’t want to cause them harm. If we do cause them harm, we need to make a repair for that.
Seen: We need to look at why our child does things, not just their behaviour. “It’s really about having your child’s internal experience and the way you respond be a match,” Dr. Tina said. When our response isn’t a match, the child feels like they have to deal with this emotion on their own. This can cause them to rely on their peers for advice and understanding more than us.
Soothed: “This is nurturing, supporting, helping, comforting,” she explained. “But a lot of parents don’t know that when our children are raging and having big, big feelings it’s really stressful.” You can correct the behaviour later. Attempting to address during the tantrum, isn’t going to be productive.
Secure: “Secure attachment is really about having the brain be wired to know that if you have a need someone is going to show up for you,” she said. If we practice the first 3 S’s (Safe, Seen, Soothed) often enough, kids will eventually be able to help themselves and in time help other people feel secure.
But this can be emotionally draining. For us to be able to provide this kind of support to our children, we have to feel seen and secure too. A lot of the work I do with moms is to help them stay calm in their body, so they can attune with their children. We matter too.
Using Your Own Nervous System to Ground You
Since staying calm is a big part of being able to appropriately respond to your children, you can use your nervous system to calm your body—and even your mind—down. You can place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. This will help calm you, so you can stay in control. Another thing you can try is releasing a slow breath. When our exhale is longer than our inhale, it activates the parasympathetic branch of our nervous system. This helps to turn the temperature down on big emotions.
You can also try sitting on the floor in a relaxed position. If you’re standing with your arms crossed or your hands on your hips, it can actually amp up the tension in your body. Sitting in a relaxed position activates different neurological pathways. And from your child’s point of view, you’re not escalating the situation by towering over them.
If you want to be the safe harbor for your child when the world is stormy, we can’t be the storm.
The most important thing to remember is there is no one right way. Most things just don’t fit in the binary of “right or wrong.” “If you want to be the safe harbor for your child when the world is stormy or when they’re stormy, we can’t be the storm,” Dr. Tina said. But parenting is hard, so we need to make a repair if we find ourselves being the storm.
While there is no right or wrong way to do most things, it can be easier to figure out what to do if you know what’s important to you. But sometimes it can be hard to even know what that is when we have friends and parents giving us advice and constant media messages.
The Motherhood Roadmap will help you figure out your family values, so you know what to prioritize.