How does our own connection and disconnection with the self play a role in our attachment with our children?
Dr. Dan Siegel is a very important resource for parents and his research influenced Compassionate Sleep Solutions from its inception. In this video Dr. Siegel spells it out so clearly and beautifully. What quality do WE need to cultivate as parents to ensure a secure attachment with our children?
The 3 – S’s
1. Seen – Our children need to be truly seen by us. This means we see and attune to their inner, emotional world, NOT only their behavior.
2. Sooth – How we comfort and soothe our children builds the neurocircuitry in their brain as the brain develops.
3. Safety – We not only protect our children but we are NOT the source of terror. This does not only include abuse. A self-regulated parent is a safe parent. If the parent is in a continual state of dysregulation and disintegration the child cannot anchor to a safe emotional harbor.
Good News! Since there is no such thing as perfect parenting, any rupture in any of the above can be repaired.
All of the above 3-S’s leads to #4 – Secure Attachment and Resilience.
Presence in our mind and in our parenting is the most important quality we, as parents, can cultivate to ensure secure attachment. To do this we must be self-regulated. This means we must do the inner work and make sense of our own childhood, our own attachment style and wounds of our past, and integrate them into the present.
Raising children offers the best (daily, sometimes hourly) opportunities to do the necessary work inside of ourselves. In a million moments we can reflect on our own past, feel what happened to us, our unfulfilled longings, how we adapted (or maladapted; ie. shame, guilt, anger) and create a coherent narrative of our own past and present. When we make sense of all of this, we can create secure functioning attachment within the self and become “receptively present and available” for our children.
It is not just our ability to be present, it is our ability to be emptied of our own neurotic narrative that allows us to become truly receptive to and available for our children. In my experience this can take decades. It doesn’t happen all at once. It happens over time in bits and pieces. Slowly and surely.
The Integrated Adult Is A Safe Harbor For The Child
Integration: Making sense of our own narrative.
It can be difficult to tell mothers and fathers that their self-regulation and self-soothing ability is a key part, quite possibly THE key, of reducing the tears of sleep learning. This request can inspire guilt and defensiveness. My parents, ALL of my parents, are already trying so hard. I admit, it sounds crazy to invite a parent who is holding a crying baby to dig down deep in the body and find a calm and grounded center of the self. However, it is an important request because our dysregulation can lead to more upsetting tears in our children.
It can help to remember…
It is not our fault, but it is our responsibility!
We don’t have to do this perfectly. It does take practice and fortunately we have about 18-years to rehearse this scene in the faces of our dysregulated, crying, desirous, upset children. But the truth remains, to do the 3 S’s we must be present. And to be truly present we must be self-regulated.
This video captures decades of Dan’s research and writings. I urge you to watch the entire talk.
At the time mark of 48:00 an audience member asks an important question. We learn that 35 – 40% of us are NOT truly present. I teach parents the value of becoming an “accurate mirror” for the child. We are responsible for reflecting the child’s emotional experience and being a safe container for them to process their emotional world.
Dan refers to this lack of presence in a parent as he describes the parent who is trying to see inside of the child but distorts what she sees. This is what I call an inaccurate mirror because it is a distorted view of the child’s experience. It has too much of the parent mixed in and the child can be left unseen and unfelt. The mother is too busy being captured by her own experience to be present for the child. He uses an example that I hear each and every day on the phone working with mothers who are so diligently and consciously focusing on their child’s needs. Good love, good sleep, good nutrition and good play are our general points of focus in support calls.
In his example the mother is feeding her hungry child. She is trying desperately to “See Inside” of her little one. However, the mother becomes consumed with her own anxieties of; I am not competent and I can’t feed her well. What is wrong with me? The mother is worried that the child is not getting enough. In this example the mother becomes preoccupied with her own terror and the child is just hungry. The mother freaks out and the mother’s own stuff spills out onto the child. There is no easy way to say this but the fact remains, our infants/toddlers are tuning forks to our inner world. When our child attunes to a parent’s inner world of terror or anxiety the child feels terrified and anxious.
This same example can be easily applied in sleep learning. The child is learning a new way of doing sleep. The child is just tired and frustrated because he hasn’t learned how to fall on his own yet. But the mother, who is desperately trying to offer support, becomes freaked out that her child is experiencing abandonment, neglect and trauma and loses her ability to be an accurate, soothing and supportive container of the child’s struggles. Her narrative spills out onto the child and the parent and child get into a dysregulated loop. Most often what we are seeing is an overtired dysregulated child. But our unresolved narrative says, OH SHIT! My child is in massive distress and anxiety. He thinks I am abandoning him. What if I am traumatizing him? I’ve read how important healthy attachment is, I can’t mess this up! When the parent is swept away in that narrative we are captured by our own insecurity. And yes, our child is in turn feeling insecure. Like health and safety, it is our responsibility to hold the secure container for the child, no matter how the child reacts to what is happening. Their happiness and contentedness isn’t the only indication we are getting this right as parents. It is also important that children get to experience all of their feelings, even the unfavorable ones, and come back into equilibrium and wholeness.
Delivering this bad news is my least favorite part of my work with mothers and fathers. However, when taken to heart it is the most transformative part of the parenting experience and it can make our job more peaceful and simple.