Connection Matters

Diane McGregor, Kitchener, ON

Many parenting books and websites focus on the importance of the parent child attachment and emphasize the role of connection in our parenting. We intuitively know that our relationships with our babies, children, teens—and adult children—are important but, why? Why does connection matter?

Connection is closely tied to our understanding of attachment. Parent child attachment is the enduring emotional relationship we have with our children. It is what creates feelings of love, warmth, joy, affection, tenderness. It is what drives us to protect and nurture those we love.  It is why we miss the ones we love when we are separated from them and why we long for and turn to them when we are in distress.  Our emotional attachments are part of our very biology; we feel these emotions in our bodies just as we would feel a pin pricking our skin. Indeed, the loss of someone we love can create agonizing physical and emotional pain.mother and son enjoying a moment of parent child attachment

Our bodies can also flood with intensely positive emotions through any number of moments in our parenting—when our new baby reaches out and grabs our finger; when our new soccer player gets his first goal and runs straight to us to share his joy; when our seemingly distant teen seeks comfort from us. There are so many of these moments in our parenting. I think they are what keep us going—I know they are what keep me going.

If attachment is the bodily-felt emotional experience of relationships, then connection is the how of attachment: how we behave in our relationships. Connection is our point-of-contact with those we are in relationship with—our child, partner, friend, family member, co-worker, neighbour, our own parents. Connection is the skills we bring to our relationships—our ability to tune into what matters to the other person, understand and respond to their needs and interests and express our own needs and interests, in return.

In parenting, we often think that the critical skills of parenting are how we set limits, whether we are firm and follow through with what we say, how we teach manners or social skills, how we feed, clothe and protect our children. While these are certainly very important and necessary aspects of parenting, what matters the most is how we do our relationships with our children. When we recognize the importance of connection, when we intentionally build and practice these skills, all the other parts of parenting flow so much better.

Connection is at the HEART of our parenting. Parenting is not just about loving our kids. Our relationships are hard work and take knowledge, skill, and persistence. Connection is the most important skill we can bring to our parenting because it forms the foundation for every interaction we have with our children—now and throughout their entire lives.graphic depicting connection inside a heart. Parent child attachment

Is this a scary thought? It is for many of us, particularly in those moments when we feel disconnected or frustrated or …. well, in any of those moments when we feel we are not being the parent we want to be. Certainly, we all have those moments. The interesting thing about relationships though, is that when we reach out and connect, both of us are positively affected—in parenting, this means that when we practice the skills of connection, we feel better as parents and we help our kids to feel better. The neurological and emotional processes activated by connection:

  • create feelings of closeness, warmth and pleasure,
  • motivate positive behaviour,
  • soothe big emotions, and
  • connect us to the “smart” part of our brain so that we can problem solve and regulate our behaviour more effectively

These are things that happen in our brains and our bodies—and they happen for both of us, our child and ourselves. Bruce Perry, a neurodevelopmental psychiatrist, talks about these moments as a “somatosensory bath”. It is when our bodies are bathed in the array of wonderful hormones, sensations, sounds and feelings that warm, loving connections create. The effect is both soothing and inspiring.

So, how do we make these moments of connection happen? Particularly during those times when we feel disconnected or tired or busy or angry or ashamed or …….? When our emotions are as big as our child’s emotions? It’s not easy.

Our first step is to manage our own emotions.

  • Breathe
  • Relax your shoulders or jaw—whatever part of your body holds your tension and emotions
  • Sip some water
  • Become aware of your facial expression and soften your face if it is expressing an intense emotion
  • Become aware of your voice tone, body posture, gestures etc, and soften or relax your voice and body

There is an amazing thing that happens during parent-child connection: it is called synchrony. It is when our brains start to reflect the emotional state of the other. As we calm, relax and soothe our bodies, facial expressions, and tone of voice, our child’s brain will notice and begin to mimic what we are doing. We know how easy it is to “catch” the mood of another, especially negative moods. Well, this is exactly what is going on—as we calm and relax, our kids “catch it” and start to calm and relax. Truly!

The second step is to tune into what we think is going on with our kids.

This means practicing empathy. Empathy is our ability to notice, understand and respond to the feelings, thoughts and experiences of our children (and others). It is our ability to fully imagine ourselves in our child’s world, to feel with them. It is our ability to notice, understand and show we care about their feelings and experiences. Brene Brown, a researcher at the University of Huston, states that empathy fuels connection. When we feel genuinely heard and understood, we feel connected. Even when our children are behaving in a way that they are not supposed to or that upsets us, we can still tune into what is going on with them. And try to understand the situation from their point of view.

The third step is to offer a simple gesture of love or affection—a hug, a warm smile, sitting near to your father and son sitting enjoying parent child attachmentchild….whatever gesture that your child will welcome. Sometimes, it may just be that we sit close and wait with quiet patience.

Once we have connected with our child, tuned into their feelings, communicated our understanding of what they might be feeling, and offered support or comfort, we are both in a place where we can start to solve the problem. We are both connected to the smart parts of our brains and ready to look for possible solutions. Connection, after all, motivates positive behaviour.

We call this the CBC rule of parenting: Connect Before Correct. When we connect first, before correcting or directing their behaviour, the outcome can be very different. The following video demonstrates this point. In the first “scenario” the mother reacts to the child’s behaviour, immediately moves to correction—and the situation breaks down rapidly. However, when the mother “rewinds” and tries to connect first, she gets a very different result.

Watch…..and let us know what you think!

 

Diane McGregor is the Project Manager for Parenting Now and the Editor of parentingnow.ca. She is the parent of one grown up daughter and will soon become a grandmother. She has worked with children and parents for many years and enjoys all conversations about parenting. You can find Diane on our Experienced Parents page or you can connect directly with her at parentingnow@kwcounselling.com.

 



The Power of Connection Video


Comments

3 Responses to “Connection Matters”

  1. Teresa Teresa says:

    absolutely love the video clip – so powerful!! Connection is so important even and especially when we want to “correct” the behavior first.

  2. Kristen Kristen says:

    This article is very thought-provoking. It brings to mind many people I’ve made connections with throughout my life and how missing someone can be both heartwarming and painful.

  3. Amber Amber says:

    I’m very big on connecting first with my daughter. Its the only way I’ve ever done things. I dont like to use bossy attitude or language towards my daughter. And I dont understand why some parents choose or react that way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Open Up