Connection in Parenting: Back to Basics

I find myself educating parents about connection more than any other concept in parenting. Connection seems easy to understand but it’s not; that’s because there’s a lot of consistent inner work a parent must practice in order to be able to connect with their child in the difficult moments of parenting.

The ultimate goal of conscious parenting is to raise children who feel worthy of love simply for being themselves. A child who grows up feeling safe physically, emotionally and mentally, develops a strong sense of Self feeling worthy of unconditional love and acceptance in the world. This child will become an adult who sees their unlimited potential; who is kind and generous, resilient and innovative in the face of adversity.

Humans are wired for connection. It is a primordial mammalian need, as important for survival as shelter, food and water. When a child feels threatened (i.e. perceives the environment as threatening) physically or emotionally, their behavior becomes chaotic, irrational or aggressive. Culture has taught us to call this “bad behavior” but such a label disconnects the parent from the child even more.

Let’s review and learn the 4 pillars of practicing connection, as I teach it in my Conscious Parent Accelerator Program:

1. Brain Basics:

  • a very complex system, but to simplify things, it has 3 main parts to it:
    • reptilian: the oldest, encoded with automatic behaviors to keep up safe in the face of danger; it regulates breathing, digestion etc.
    • limbic system: it manages emotions and memory, connection with others, attunement and attachment to primary caretakers; it constantly assesses the environment, like a radar, for safety and secure attachment;
    • prefrontal cortex: the youngest and largest part of the brain; it houses executive functions such as cognition, abstract thinking, reason, logic, impulse control or self-regulation.

2. Limbic System Is King (“Emotions first, Thinking second”):

  • when a child feels threatened, ashamed, afraid, sad, angry, lonely, disappointed, scared, overwhelmed, jealous, confused, helpless, powerless, humiliated or embarrassed, the child can’t think! The mind of the child is disconnected or dis-integrated;
  • parents who lecture, instruct or “teach a lesson” in the middle of an emotional episode, only add to the distress and the disconnection of child’s nervous system; child will not follow instructions or “behave” because he/she is simply not able to;
  • parents must orient their focus/energy towards Connection (instead of correction); this means: parent will calmly and lovingly contain the child’s emotions with warm eye contact, welcoming body language, and listening.

3. Tools for Connection: A Parent’s Responsibility (*also, see recommended resources below)

  • I wrote extensively about these tools on my blog:
    • Special Time
    • Listening without Interrupting
    • Play to Connect/Playful Parenting
    • Setting Limits/Safe Containing
    • Listening Partnerships

4. Mindsight: Growing Eyes to See Inside Your Mind

  • this term was coined by Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, and proponent/researcher of InterPersonalNeuroBiology (IPNB) as an interdisciplinary approach to human well-being;
  • most parents do NOT have Mindsight; this means they lack the skill and practice of “questioning” their own thoughts and behaviors; they live on auto-pilot; they do not pause in between trigger and reaction; self-awareness is almost absent;
  • Dr. Seigel writes: ‘Mindsight is a kind of focused attention that helps us be aware of our mental processes without being swept away by them, it enables us to get ourselves off the autopilot of ingrained behaviors and habitual responses, and it moves us beyond the reactive emotional loops we get trapped in’.
  • when we cultivate mindsight, we learn to make sense of our own life stories, and integrate painful past experiences, instead of remaining frozen in one or more unconscious self-defense mechanisms;
  • Connection and Repair in the parent-child relationship are inseparable and interdependent; a parent without mindsight cannot repair the moments of broken connection, which in time will compound into the estrangement of the child from the parent.

RECAP:
Connection is not easy.
Connection does not come naturally to most parents.
Connection can be learned.
Connection with you is your child’s life-line in this world, well into their young adult years.

Recommended Resources:

  • as a Hand In Hand Parenting by Connection certified instructor: I highly recommend that you read the blog and follow Hand in Hand Parenting on social media for amazing content on connection;
  • my book, Conscious Parenting of Your Toddler: Strategies to Turn Discipline into Growth and Connection (on Amazon);
  • Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation, book by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. (on Amazon);
  • Aha!Parenting, blog by Dr. Laura Markham

From moms, about me, this week:  

“My son and I couldn’t have managed this horrible bullying situation at school..it’s been going on for  a month!! Now I have 3 pages of notes with things to do with him, just from this call. Thank you, Mihaela!”

“Mihaela has the power to quickly and clearly see the steps to follow, the path to take to redirect and strengthen the relationship with my daughter. Her compassionate look makes a big difference when it comes to us, mothers. Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

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