Proactive Parenting: Helping Kids Develop a Healthy Mind Series – Part 1

The Importance of Showing Up for Your Kids

Introduction

 If you are a parent, an expecting parent, or a caregiver of children, you have a very big role. This role is invaluable in the life of a child, and it has the capacity to shape the way a child’s mind develops. As a mental health counselor who works therapeutically with kids, I have learned that as I work alongside the child, I am also working alongside the parent. Therefore, I am very passionate about the topic of proactive parenting as it strongly impacts the family unit. 

As I begin this series, it is important to lay down groundwork that will set the foundation for the remainder of our time together on this topic. Most of this information comes from Dan Siegel’s (2) book, “Showing Up for Your Kids,” which I highly recommend for anyone in the caregiver role. In order to prepare you for proactive parenting methodologies, we must first understand the main principles within interpersonal neurobiology and attachment work as they relate to the developing mind of a child.

Understanding Attachment and Interpersonal Neurobiology

Understanding attachment and interpersonal neurobiology highlights how parenting has a large influence upon children. From the work of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, their research concluded, “The science is irrefutable: children need nurturance, protection, and guidance from their early caregivers in order to develop the necessary brain process for optimal living” (1, p. 10).  Alongside attachment research, interpersonal neurobiology “looks at how our mind, including our feelings and thoughts, our attention and awareness – and our brain and the whole body are deeply interwoven within our relationships with one another and the world around us to shape who we are” (2). Our brains are wired for and develop optimally within healthy relationships, notably the relationships we build with our primary caregivers! And as caregivers, we have the beautiful opportunity to create relational connections with our children to shape the inner neural connections of their brains (2, p. 30). 

Kinds of Attachment: Brief Summary

The way we interact and show up for our kids has a dramatic impact on their development. It influences the way they see the world, engage in relationships, and grow in emotional maturity. According to Siegel (2), “When a child forms a secure attachment with their primary caregiver, these predictable and therefore reliable experiences reduce their levels of stress and allow them to develop confidence and ultimately self-reliance” (2, p. 30). The child does not have to guess if their caregiver will offer emotional and physical safety, allow them to be seen, help them soothe and feel secure. The child knows they have a home base where they can always return. 

This does not mean that the parent is perfect nor does it indicate that their interactions with their child will come without failure. We are human and mistakes are bound to happen in parenthood. However, parents who form secure attachments with their children are focused on the repair when a relational rupture occurs. Perfection is not the goal.  The parent’s actual goals are to offer consistent presence, to “show up” relationally no matter what is happening in the connection and to repair the bond after a conflict. 

According to McDaniel (1), “children without secure attachment grow up to be adults with an entire nervous system built differently than those with secure styles” (p. 34). These kinds of insecure attachment can be categorized as: avoidant-insecure attachment, anxious-insecure attachment, or disorganized attachment. Those who develop an avoidant-insecure attachment with their caregiver learn to shut down their feelings at a very young age (1, p. 37). A child with anxious-attachment  may experience their parents as unpredictable in their responses and may possibly feel ashamed for their “emotional needs” (1, p. 40). A child with disorganized attachment may experience their caregiver, whose role is to be a source of safety, as dangerous and even harmful due to various types of physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal abuse. This can lead to a “fragmented sense of self; difficulty regulating emotions, trouble in close relationships…and problems thinking clearly under stress” (2, p. 82).  In terms of attachment, the way a child experiences a primary caregiver in their early years of life has tremendous impact! 

Conclusion

Through the lens of attachment work and interpersonal neurobiology, one can certainly see how important healthy relational attachment is on the developing brain. No matter which kind of attachment your child has formed with you (or you formed with your own parents), there is always hope for growth and healing for children (even adult children) and parents. This is why I desire to provide this information to you. Now that we have an understanding of the importance of proactive parenting and how it affects attachment, as well as the ways our brains develop, I look forward to sharing with you in the next few blog posts about ways a caregiver can effectively care for a child so the child will “enjoy the very best outcomes, even in the face of significant adversity” (2, p. 6). 

 

References

MCDANIEL, KELLY (2021). Mother hunger: A path for daughters to reclaim lost maternal love. HAY HOUSE INC. 

Siegel, D. J., & Bryson, T. P. (2021). The power of showing up: How parental presence shapes who our kids become and how their brains get wired. Ballantine Books. 



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