|The Attachment Parenting movement was largely inaugurated in America with the
publication of Dr. William Sears’ The Baby Book in 1993. English psychiatrist,
John Bowlby and American anthropologist, Mary Ainsworth did the initial
attachment research on the biological, physical and psychological development of
children upon which the book and the movement were based. Considerable
controversy emerged in the wake of the publication of this book, centered primarily
on the burden it seemed to place solely upon mothers for the optimal growth and
healthy development of children. Since that time, however, a great deal of
research has been performed and published on the neurological development that
the cultivation of secure attachment potentially produces not only in children, but
also in their parents! Which includes both mothers and fathers. What this
essentially means is that the work we do in order to learn how to foster and
cultivate secure attachment in our children pays big benefits for our own neural
organization as well. Our children can be our greatest healers/teachers.
So, what is it that primarily contributes to the cultivation of secure attachment in
our children. I’ve already identified one element in the First Primary Parenting
Practice – the cultivation by either one or both parents of Mindsight in our children.
A second element in the cultivation of secure attachment is something
interpersonal neurobiologists call “contingent” or “collaborative" communication.
It’s a fancy way of simply saying that both mothers and fathers have to pay close
attention to their kids and respond to them in effective ways. And what are the
things that end up making our responses most effective?
Collaborative communication essentially has three basic elements. One I’ve
already mentioned: we have to be paying sufficient attention so as to be able to
receive whatever messages our kids are sending. Words only make up roughly 30
percent of the communications that adults exchange. In children, body language,
voice tone, word sequence, prosody, emotional affect and silence all contribute a
much higher percentage of the communication exchange. Thus it requires that
with children, adults generally need to be paying even closer attention than with
adults. So paying attention is the first basic element.
Next, we have to be able to accurately receive and be able to make meaning of the
messages our kids are sending us. It obviously does little good if our children are
telling us that they’re tired and cranky and we respond to them as if they might be
hungry. This is a somewhat obvious example, but subtle examples abound. It is
by paying close attention to and learning what the different messages our kids
send us actually mean, that we come to know them intimately as unique
Finally, the third element required for the cultivation of secure attachment and
bonding with our children is this: we must respond in a timely and effective
manner. Timely and effective – this is critical! This is the action that works to
close the communication loop. It is also the one that most strongly works to grow
neural connections in the brain. It’s how we learn best – by being responded to in
timely and effective ways. If there is one great failing in American communication
culture, this is the single-most element responsible. Millions of the messages we
send and receive and process every day fail to be responded to in a timely and
effective manner. I call this the Great Neurological Despair – the failure to be
responded to in ways that work to grow optimal neural connectivity.
So, those are the three elements required for communication with our kids to be
collaborative. There’s one more factor that social neuroscience research has
identified as critical to the cultivation of secure attachment in our children. It is yet
another aspect that I am identifying as The Third Primary Parenting Practice, and
you can read all about it here.