We can often look at building healthy attachments with our children as a daunting task. In the midst of the grind of daily meltdowns, behavioral situations, and constantly being pushed away and rejected, it’s kinda like staring down Mount Everest. We wonder….will we ever have a healthy relationship with our kid?
But what if attachment-building wasn’t all that difficult? What if healthy attachments formed through the little things that we often don’t think are that big of a deal?
I’ve been thinking about this lately as I work to continually form a healthy attachment with some of my children that may be more on the difficult side of things when it comes to solid connection and understanding. Here are some practical ideas I’ve come up with…
- Choose the hills to die on carefully. This is number 1 for a reason. If you follow us on Instagram or Facebook, you saw our post on this last weekend. Choosing the hills to die on (and not die on) may be one of the top tools to successfully navigate big emotions and change potential extreme behaviors into peace quickly. But this is a powerful tool in building attachment too.
Quick story: a few nights ago I asked Kristin if she wanted to watch a movie later on after dinner was over with. It was a gloomy night in Indiana and we both just felt tired and ready to hunker down. She said yes so I began brainstorming movie titles we would both enjoy. Soon after, my second youngest son (who can be be prickly to interact with) came trotting in and announced that “Me and mom are going to watch Harry Potter.” No offense to Harry Potter (great story, great movies) but I didn’t want to watch Harry Potter. They were in movie 3 and I was not up-to-speed on the storyline (can you still be a human being and not be “up-to-speed” on Harry Potter? Asking for a friend!). I could feel the defensiveness rising up inside of me. But I stopped myself from saying what I wanted to say and instead brought him the remote, and even shared the popcorn I had made. I decided that this was not a hill to die on. And, it worked. The connection that night was solid. He actually talked to me and it was cordial.
- Listen (even if it’s hard to). Some of you would tell me that this is like nails down a chalk board in your relationships with your child. I get it. And I get why. Some of you have children who talk nonstop. It can be hard to listen…and listen…and listen…and keep listening. But what if this were a valuable attachment-building block? What if this were a crucial outlet that our children need to in order to trust us as their caregiver? I think they are. None of us want to engage in a conversation with someone who isn’t listening. This past summer I was driving home early from a family vacation in Wisconsin with one of my younger sons who I don’t have a lot in common with. I knew what the 3+ hour drive would consist of. Endless talking about video games, and anime, and lots of things I did not understand. But I knew this could also be a valuable time to connect. Hard as it was, I coached myself to keep an open mind and heart as we drove together. I still did not get 98% of the stories but what I did get was a kid who felt listened to and that made for a very peaceful drive home and a peaceful night together. Sometimes its day by day just like that. As hard as it is, coach yourself to spend time intentionally listening to your child. No, you don’t have to totally understand what they are talking about. It’s not really about that. It’s about providing the space, and holding the space, for them to be heard.
- Validate big feelings. We as adults do not want to feel invisible, especially when we are experiencing some big feelings ourselves. Same with our children. And keep in mind that our children often feel voiceless and unseen because they don’t have the resources that we do. Not always the case, but often. That’s where we come in as caregivers. We can provide that resource simply by validating those big feelings they are experiencing. “Hey, I can see you are upset. Why is that? Oh, [insert name] made fun of you? Gosh, that would hurt my feelings too!” Powerful powerful powerful avenue to form attachment and build trust.
This list could go on and on but my goal is to keep it simple. The journey is already overwhelming as it is. Sometimes simple, and even mundane, can become huge avenues for healthy attachments to form. When you least expect it, those tiny efforts pay off. Don’t forget dear caregiver, you are doing good good work with your child even when it doesn’t feel like it.