When emotionally connected with parents, children act self-confident, have strong self-esteem and function at high levels socially, emotionally, mentally and physically. They are able to engage in reciprocal relationships, able to both give and receive love.
They are compassionate, express concern about the feelings and needs of others, have well-developed creativity and cooperate with other children and adults. Children who are emotionally bonded with parents are often seen as successful without people recognizing that their success is the result of a strong foundation of bonding with adult caregivers.
Bonding with parents and others, which usually starts at birth, allows a child to develop a sense of basic trust and safety. Securely bonded children have experienced a deep attunement with their parents that includes lots of physical contact, holding and nurturing touches and many pleasant reassuring messages to the child.
Children who are emotionally connected know their parents want them, and that they are loved for who they are. Secure bonding provides children with a solid social and emotional foundation so that they can begin to separate physically and emotionally between 9 and 36 months.
During this period, they learn to walk, feed themselves and become toilet trained. These acts of independence help them feel strong and secure enough to gradually move away from the dependency on their mothers. By age three, they are ready to spend more time with father. His role is to help the child safely explore his or her world, and move towards becoming emotionally autonomous human beings.
The stronger the bond between children and their parents, the easier it is for the children to separate. Insecurely bonded children struggle with emotional separateness. They often get caught in an internal conflict between wanting and needing more “baby time” and feeling pulled to explore the world.
Ideally, children should complete emotional separateness from their parents by about age three. Unfortunately, few children actually achieve this ideal, and they struggle with being independent, accountable and self-directed. This could create codependent behaviors in adulthood.
I believe the most effective way to consciously parent children is by continually asking ourselves why we are doing a certain thing. At the same time, we must assume and accept that many of our parenting motives and behaviors contain both distorted inter-generational beliefs and dysfunctional behavior patterns. These patterns can be corrected with intelligent parental training.
Consciously parenting children sounds rather simple. I know very well that it is not. It has taken me many years of self-reflection and personal work on myself to become self-conscious about parenting. Those years of reflection contain numerous self-inventories and assessments about family-of-origin issues. Our parenting course helps you determine how conscious you are about how you were parented, and show you where to work on yourself.
Consciously parenting children begins with understanding that they are born totally aware, and are acutely sensitive to the world around them. Their sensory systems respond energetically to everything they encounter, including experiences involving unconditional love and conflict.
Children are instinctively open to receive love energy, and close when they encounter conflict or other dis-harmonies. This is even true during their prenatal development.
Newborns are completely sensitive to emotions, to perceive reality, and completely conscious and able to remember experiences. They arrive with the capacity for experiencing their own wholeness and soak up all to which they are exposed.
The challenge as a conscious parent is to regard your children as “unfolding flowers” with innate potentials, and avoid impulses to unduly shape the process of their blooming. It is particularly challenging to not pass on distorted inter-generational beliefs and dysfunctional behavior patterns. We are here to learn from each other.
The biggest daily challenge in parenting children is discipline–giving consequences and setting limits. Most children challenge their parents by testing the limits over and over.
The second biggest challenge is enduring children’s upsets when faced with the consequences, physical and social limits that their parents give them. These and the natural limits they face everyday frustrate children, particularly toddlers. When they are having a love affair with the world, they want to see how far they can push their passion for exploring.
Parents really need help in making the mental and emotional shift from being a “giver” to being a “protector.” Once they understand this developmental shift, they can celebrate it, which helps them adjust their attitude and reactions about their new role.
At the same time the child is physically moving away from the parents, he or she is also going through a parallel psychological and emotional separation. Toddlers learn to use NO to their own advantage, also setting limits with their parents on how much they can direct and control their behavior.
The word “NO” itself usually would be heard as YES for kids brain to get interested for exploring. In this case my advice would be to explain why they should avoid certain actions instead of just saying no.
Toddlers find their areas of “personal power”: eating and food preferences, sleep patterns and toilet training. Without any warning, parents can suddenly find themselves in power struggles that they can’t win.
A word of parenting advice adapted from my country background, “Never get into an argument with skunks or a 2-year old.” This is the time when parents learn the first subtleties of “reverse psychology” and other carefully crafted behavior management tools.
The best way around power struggles is to give the child choices–not big ones, but small ones that allow the adults to retain larger control and the child to feel respected and honored. For example, at bedtime, “Do you want to wear your balloon or your Mickey Mouse jammies?” “Do you want to read the princess book or the book about the bunnies?” There isn’t any discussion about IF the child is going to bed.
The BIG Psychological Border in Toddlers
Toddlers are naturally self-centered and narcissistic. It is a phase that they must go through. In this period of development, they all show signs of entitlement, euphoria, grandiosity and omnipotence. These “bigger than life” behaviors help children develop a “Sense of Self”. The challenge is turning “rough diamond” toddlers into polished, shining humans by the time they are three years old. The tool that makes this behavioral transformation happen is limits and limit-setting.
Setting and enforcing behavioral limits gradually deflates toddlers’ natural narcissistic urges. It is important for parents to set these limits with compassion, understanding, and empathy, because they typically activate strong feelings of frustration, anger, guilt, and shame in children.
Our Goal as Parents
The goal for parents is to stay “dispassionate.” State what children are feeling, while continuing to move the child forward and through a power struggle situation. For example, a child finds the TV remote and begins playing with it. So the parent can either get into a struggle or use a different strategy. He might begin by picking up another attractive toy or object and offering it to the child as a substitute. If the child persists in keeping the remote, then the parent can offer to use the remote to turn on the TV to watch a show.
If the child still refuses to give up the remote and goes into “meltdown/tantrum” mode, then the adult must go into high “dispassion” mode. At this point, the parent has retrieved the remote and the child is wailing and flailing. Here the parent must reflect the child’s inner experience. “I see how angry you are. I know you wanted to play with the remote, that you like pushing the buttons. The remote isn’t a toy and is only for big people to use. I’m sorry I left it out; I should have put it away. It’s okay for you to be angry when you don’t get what you want. When you are finished being angry, let me know. I’d like to read you the story about the little girl and the birds.” By doing that the parent shows the child respect and acknowledges their own mistake. The parent sits and waits patiently for the child to get through the emotions, and shows he/she is ready to read to the child.
Children often have meltdowns or challenge parents when their feelings aren’t acknowledged. When parents are able to empathize with children, it dissolves the emotional charge. These intense moments can also be a time to teach children the name of an emotion and how to appropriately express it. Both the parent and the child can grow from these kinds of experiences.
How to Provide Children with Limits
Finding the fine line between “spoiling/indulging” and “dominating/shaming” is a very delicate dance. Walking this fine line doesn’t come naturally to most parents, because they likely were either indulged or dominated, maybe even both. And toddlers’ defiant responses to their parenting limits will absolutely stir parents own unresolved separation issues.
Parents often are horrified when they hear themselves saying the same shaming/humiliating/dominating things to their children that their parents said to them. This is often the first awareness of the “family patterns” phenomenon.
Toddlers need the assistance of attentive, sensitive, and understanding parents to help them learn how to regulate these emotions, which are an integral part of the separation stage. It is important for parents to help children re-regulate their emotions and repair any behavioral pattern left from the bonding stage. This is evident when toddlers suddenly revert to “baby mode” and want to be held and cuddled.
Toddlers are naturally ambivalent and oppositional in this stage of development, so parents must be both consistently loving and consistently firm to help them navigate this bumpy journey more easily. The most effective way to help toddlers regulate their emotions during this stage is for parents to keep their cool and not split or get triggered.
Having been through this stage with our children, I understand the challenge behind these words and offer it as advice. The presence of calm parents also helps toddlers create healthy internal models of their parents.
If toddlers fall down and get an “owie,” they trust they can return to the soothing comfort of an adult’s lap and calm down. Then they quickly slide off the lap and return to exploring their world. Wilting and fatigued toddlers are also able to instantly recharge during this emotional refueling stop and return only when another limit deflates their narcissistic urges.