This week The Lego Foundation posted a tweet reminding us of the importance of playing with our children; suggesting that by doing so the bond between parent and child will become stronger.
The concept of a bond existing between a child and their parent or carer, known as an “attachment” is widely regarded as being developed by the seminal work of John Bowlby. In the 1930’s John Bowlby worked as a psychiatrist, treating many emotionally disturbed children. His experience led him to consider the importance of a child’s relationship with their mother in terms of their social, emotional and cognitive development. His findings led him to develop the behavioural theory of attachment, “a lasting psychological connectedness between human beings”. The mother cares for the infant, providing safety and security, whilst the child has a universal need to seek close proximity with their mother when they feel threatened or are under stress.
It is this theory of attachment which helps us to understand the parent-child relationship, how it emerges and how it influences the way in which a child develops. However, the “connectedness” described by Bowlby does not involve simply telling our children that we care or that we love them; even affection is not sufficient. We need to spend physical time with our child, be attentive and be present. Being present in the fullest sense, means dedicating time and space to someone, but it also requires that time to be focused; value needs to be attached to it.
Bowlby’s theory suggests that biology gives us as parents a head start; however, although our children already have a predisposition to seeking us out when they need reassurance, like any relationship, it requires work. The bond needs to be strengthened and reinforced as a child develops.
Almost all of us have used or heard the phrase “quality time” in some sense during our lives. The word “quality” infers something measurable, something which can be compared to a norm. In the context of our children, I believe we should avoid talking in terms of “quality” as each relationship and each child is unique. Instead, we need to focus on the building blocks of our relationship, ensuring we have solid foundations. I have listed below some of the elements I believe we need to focus on.
- building trust with our children, fulfilling promises and expectations;
- respecting the choices our children choose to make, whilst setting boundaries within which these decisions can be made;
- showing empathy for the way in which our children are feeling;
- becoming aware of any interactions which cause particular angst and attempting to change the way we address these situations; and
- being available to our children, physically and emotionally.
Finally, we need to LISTEN to what our children have to say and to share. If you miss these opportunities to hear about what your child has discovered, you learn nothing. And yet, if this pattern of behaviour is repeated, your child will learn that you are not interested in listening and will stop talking.
Just as I would avoid the word “quality” in discussions of spending time with our children, I also believe we should move away from focusing on the duration of time dedicated to our offspring. Guilt ridden and time pressured efforts to spend time with our children can easily have the opposite effect of what we intend. It is “how” we spend that time which is important.
We need to resist cultural pressure to “parent” our children in an intensive way. Building a relationship should be about seizing moments of “connectedness”, remembering that even small pieces hold value and create memories to reinforce the bond.
- “Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids” by Dr Laura Markham (creator of Aha! Parenting)
- “Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play when no one has time” by Brigid Schulte