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Showing posts with label attachment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label attachment. Show all posts

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Carnegie Heroes

If you ever want to give your faith in humanity a boost, take a look at the hero profiles on the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission's website. What is the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission you ask? From their website:

The two-fold mission of the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission: To recognize persons who perform acts of heroism in civilian life in the United States and Canada, and to provide financial assistance for those disabled and the dependents of those killed helping others.

Reading these profiles is truly inspiring, and you may begin to notice some themes running through these stories of ordinary citizens who performed extraordinary acts of courage - usually on behalf of strangers. Many of these heroes credit their family relationships with giving them the core belief that every life is worth saving. The influence of parents is clear in profile after profile. The youngest medal recipients of 2011, three teenage Florida boys who saved a woman from drowning, explicitly credit their parents. "I grew up with my dad helping people," one of the young heroes told reporters. This is the influence of family connection and strong attachment.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Does This Taste Funny to You?

Not long ago I wrote about the giddy pleasures of the tall-tale form in the wildly exaggerated physical courage of Pecos Bill. Today I want to say just a few words more about the trusty shield of cream pie to the face.

According to research cited in the New York Times, laughter produces endorphins. The physical act of laughing, like any vigorous exercise, triggers the release of this "feel-good" chemical in the brain. It just plain feels good to laugh. We relax, we find new friendships through humor, we lower our guard. In fact, the growing international movement known as "laughter yoga" is taking this powerful tool into schools, workplaces, leadership seminars, and community organizations all over the world as a way of combating stress and raising productivity. There doesn't even have to be a joke - it's not an intellectual process where we find something funny, and then we laugh. Just laughing (fake, forced laughing sustained for a few minutes) will lead to genuine laughter. You know you've succumbed to giggling fits, laughing for no reason until tears run down your face. Rather than a silly thing to do, it's actually a powerful tool for promoting well-being.

Now consider what happens with fear and stress. The chemicals released by the brain under the influence of fear and stress are adrenaline and cortisol. These are the life-saving fight-or-flight hormones that prepare us to snatch children from the path of oncoming cars or withstand pain during emergencies. All our defenses are on high-alert, and when running away from a tiger, that's a good thing. But chronic exposure, especially to cortisol, from daily stress and anxiety can have serious adverse effects on the body and on cognitive function.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Courage to Survive

This video of concentration camp survivor, Alie Herz-Sommer, is a marvelous example of human courage!   She is interviewed by Anthony Robbins on the eve of her 108th birthday. 

We particularly noted:
1. the role that parent-child attachment played in her ability to withstand this ordeal,
2. her attitude of gratitude ("everything is a present"),
3. her life-saving optimism.

All things we can teach and model for our children, or that they teach us, that help develop our courage and resilience in life! Enjoy!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Playing the Lion Game

Around the time of my son E.’s first birthday he took charge of managing his separation anxiety, conquering fear, and developing a capacity for courage.  How exactly did he do that, you ask?  Well, we’d been reading lots of books together about animals, and making the requisite oink-oink here, baa-baa there, and moo-moo everywhere to help him learn to communicate in sounds and words.  I noticed that he jumped every time I made the rather dramatic ROAR! for the lion.  He loved my lion, and he feared my lion at the same time. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Little did I know that all the hours of playing Peek-a-Boo with my children actually produced necessary neuronal growth in their brains so they can feel secure in this world!  Peek-a-Boo teaches our child that we are a secure object.  I thought we were just having fun!?  That’s the cool thing about putting psychology research into practice, it can be fun.  Research now shows that many time-honored traditions in parenting help create the trust and courage in kids necessary to conquer many of life’s challenges. 

Around eight months of age, children develop the cognitive capability called object permanence.  Developmental psychologist Jean Piaget coined the term object permanence, that refers to the cognitive understanding that even when a secure object is out of sight, it doesn’t cease to exist. Even if we can’t see, hear, or touch someone or something, we can access the memory of its existence in our mind.  Imagine how much psychological comfort this cognitive capacity we all develop brings, given healthy and normal development.  Have you ever felt lonely and imagined calling someone you love and what they might say to comfort you?  Have you ever run a race and imagined the people who support you waiting with smiling faces at the finish line—especially when you feel like stopping?  Has it ever brought comfort and solace to remember the funny and loving memories of a relative who has died?  Object permanence can be protective and inspire courage in moments when we feel alone, distressed, or stressed. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

C'mere! C'mere! Go 'way! Go 'way!

Let’s take a look at what happens when infants may not have the opportunity to attach in healthy ways, due to parental death, neglect, abuse, addiction, or infant illness, isolation, or cognitive disability, for example.  Less tragically, but no less significantly, a constant rotation of caregivers will also fail to support the attachment process in ways that are sustaining and mutually beneficial between caregiver and child.

I want to remind everyone that even in cases of parental abandonment for one reason or another, other loving caregivers can securely fill the primary attachment relationship role and ensure a child’s survival and well-being! 

Attachment is not destiny; our brain and our being are flexible and resilient.  We continually develop throughout our lifespan!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

What's a Good Enough Parent?

When my first child was born, a nurse handed me a form to complete which had two empty spaces, one for "Mother's Name" and the other for "Father's Name."  I completed the form with my own mother and father's names filled into the blanks.  The nurse reviewed the form and promptly asked me "Who are these folks?  Sweetheart, YOU are the mother. This form needs YOUR name."   Everything went a little woozy as I was overcome by the seismic internal shift from daughter to mother.  All I knew was that I wanted to be good enough to warrant this immense responsibility and privilege to now be the guide, not the follower, on this next adventure in life.  I hoped I would have the kind of internal strength and courage to weather all the changes to come.  As I've written about previously, my first tasks would involve ensuring secure attachment and cultivating attunement between myself and my children. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Spectrum of Attachment: Beth's Story

Understanding attachment as the first step to ensuring our children develop the capacity for emotional, physical, intellectual, spiritual, and moral courage has naturally got me thinking not only about my own experiences bonding with my babies, but also about other caregiver-infant pairs I know.  Take my dear friend Beth, for example, mother of four, marathon runner, and trained social worker.  She says, “Bonding with each of my children was vastly different.”  “Really?” I ask.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Never can say "Good-Bye"?

I remember feeling instantly protective of my son E. when he was born.  We were a symbiotic unit during those early days.  I was reticent to hand him over and he was reticent to be put down.  I will, however, be forever grateful for every time his father offered me a much-needed reprieve and walked those endless blocks in the middle of the night to help E. fall asleep. 

During the first three months of his life, like most other mother-infant (or primary caregiver-infant) pairs, we were tuning ourselves into each other’s verbal and non-verbal cues and especially our feelings.  Best known in attachment theory literature as attunement.  E.’s signals of distress, crying, grimacing, stiffening of his muscles, clenching his fists, or arching of his back, were often associated with tiredness, hunger, and especially with E., proximity-seeking.  By six or nine months an infant’s primary attachment(s) are well-established and secure—as was ours. 

During the course of our first three years together, we began the first of our most important courage challenges:  to learn how to say goodbye whilst ensuring psychoneurobiological homeostasis (which is fancy talk for "not melting down during every little separation!")

Monday, April 4, 2011

Bedtime Stories

Lisa’s post about snuggling raises for me an image of the time-honored tradition of bedtime stories. We have the parent and child (or children) snuggled together with a book; consider how many things are going on in the scene:
1. Bonding and attachment, as Lisa has explained;
2. The beginnings of literacy, a child looking at words while the parent reads;
3. The transmission of culture (values, traditions, story themes, information) through the storybook being read;
4. An opening of the imagination and a call to empathize with another person or other people, i.e. the characters in the story;
5. Development of focus, attention, concentration and listening skills.
6.  You might also notice that the child is on her mother's left side, a preference across cultures (and regardless of right-handedness or left-handedness) and even across species.  You can read more about  the significance of this for right-brain development in Lisa's post about how we hold our babes.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

I HEART Snuggling!

Something you need to know about me:  I’m a big fan of snuggling! Anything to put-off getting out of bed and delay the morning rush-to-school routine, especially on rainy mornings. Snuggling is one of the most important ways I have bonded with my children. And a secure parent-child bond you now know is highly correlated with being well-adjusted and being less likely to engage in risky behaviors.  Even more importantly, securely attached kids are more likely to possess emotional and social courage

Of course as my kids have grown, snuggling can now be as rare and special as spotting a shooting star across the night sky.  Hugging my now 5' 10" thirteen-year old is sometimes as awkward as hugging a wall.  And my fifth grade daughter announced to me after her first day of school, as I tucked her into bed: “Mom, you need to know that as a fifth grader I will not be snuggling with you much anymore.  Fifth graders just don’t do that.”

Which got me thinking: How do we continue to nurture the parent-child bond, and thus the courage necessary to love another human being, when snuggling ends? 

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Way We Hold Our Babies

It turns out that as important as the skin-to-skin contact we have with our babies in their early years, is the way we hold them.  Unrelated to handedness and widespread across cultures, mothers cradle their babies on the left side.  Even chimps and gorillas favor the left arm hold.  Why, you ask?  Apparently, a few researchers have found that the left-cradling tendency promotes right hemisphere-to-right hemisphere communication between mother and child (Manning et al., 1997; Harris, Almergi, & Kirsch 2000).

The right hemisphere is not only deeply connected with the autonomic nervous system, but is also specialized in perception, the recall of spatial patterns of touch in nonverbal memory, and facilitates affective information necessary for normal brain maturation.  What’s important to know about the right hemisphere is that as the dominant emotional processing center, it controls vital functions that enable human beings to maintain a homeostatic state to support both survival and help cope with stressors. Right hemispheric dominance in terms of facial recognition, emotional information processing, and limbic system homeostasis suggests that both emotional and social intelligence—intrinsic to the development of courage—are dependent on right hemisphere stimulation and maturation through secure attachment

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Quiet Alertness

Lisa’s list of the 7 Baby Bs may be poignant for adoptive parents to read – it certainly was for me. There is so much I don’t know about my daughter’s first 8 years, let alone her first eight hours, eight days, eight weeks or eight months. Were these 7 Baby B’s part of her life? What if they weren’t? What do I do? Is it too late? If these foundations of attachment are not solid will my daughter develop courage? My own emotional courage as a parent is put to the test in moments such as this.

Upon reflection, however, I remembered an observation I had made some time ago. My mother and sister and I were visiting old colonial towns in Mexico. It was Holy Week, and many families were out and about, watching the religious processions and enjoying their holiday. After a few days it dawned on me that I never saw any children either in strollers or prams, and then it also occurred to me that I never saw any children having fits or hysterics or being scolded, and I seldom saw babies crying. Everywhere I looked, babies and toddlers were being held and carried, either by parents or aunts or uncles or grandparents or older siblings. Now, to be sure, these almost medieval towns were unsuitable for such wheeled transport, and no doubt the cost was also prohibitive for many families, too. But I think, as well, that they just wanted to hold and carry their babies, and I saw a lot of “quiet alertness” in those children.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bonding with Baby

"When a child walks in the room, your child or anybody else’s child, do your eyes light up? That’s what they’re looking for." Toni Morrison

Not long after my husband and I brought our newborn son home from the hospital, I was breastfeeding on the couch watching an “Oprah Winfrey Show” segment on the Nobel Prize-winning poetic genius Toni Morrison.  She mentioned the importance of loving connections between parents and children by uttering this quote and parenting challenge. 

Jonathan Fitch, FreeDigitalPhotos.net
It was easy for me to gaze upon my newborn boy with loving, lit up eyes in those early days and months.  I was, at the time, blissfully unaware of the complicated hormonal soup we were all swimming in together. Instinctively responsive as I was to my son's face shape, button nose, and round captivating eyes, I was unaware of how our intense mutual gazes were actually causing endorphin levels to rise in us both.  Endorphin release produces feelings of joy, love, and euphoria associated with ensuring healthy development.  My son's eyes rewarded me biochemically and my visual and nurturing motor responses quickly conditioned to his proximity seeking cues (particularly at around eight weeks when visual acuity improves and a critical period of visual cortex development occurs).  By three months, my son's gazes and smiles showed me his interest in play, his cries and disengagement of attention his disinterest. 

Bonding with my baby seemed intuitive, if not an overwhelming responsibility to do the whole thing “right.”   I was not only led by the zeitgeist at the time “attachment parenting,” but sometimes succumbed to the guilt-inducing messages of some of its followers.  I stressed about the family bed, how long to breastfeed, and the impact of my frustration with the fact that my son didn’t sleep through the night until he was three!  Still, I'm grateful I trusted my gut, imitated what I knew to be true about a healthy mother-infant bond, and followed the attachment parenting advice that fit.  It wasn't easy, but nothing as worthwhile and important as bonding ever is. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Chemical Soup Called LOVE

Whether or not your first days as a parent were spent breastfeeding on the couch watching Oprah, like me or not,  psychologists now understand that the bonding between a parent and child (or caregiver and child) occurs in a myriad of ways.  The important thing is that bonding happens!  Without developing the ability to care about ourselves and each other…we rarely possess the kind of heroic heart we need to thrive in life.   

Good news from psychoneurobiology research:  the underlying processes associated with bonding now reassures parents that skin-to-skin contact is also one of the primary triggers for oxytocin’s release. Oxytocin being the stock for the chemical soup that is parental love.  Simply holding our child triggers a release of love-inducing chemicals (opiods, for example—those pleasure-giving, rewarding neurochemicals that calm us, relieve pain, and generally reward life-sustaining behaviors).

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Let's Start at the Beginning...Childbirth

What does our child’s birth have to do with courage?  Birth triggers similar neurological mechanisms and the release of many of the same neurochemicals associated with courage.  If you don’t think it takes courage to give birth, to adopt a child, or unconditionally love another human being then stop reading right now!

Let’s start at the beginning.  I didn’t have the “perfect birth” with either of my kids.  READ: quick, soothing music, no emergency interventions and/or numbing chemical infusions, surrounded by family/friends/a birthing coach/midwife/massage therapist all focused on giving me exactly what I needed when I needed it, maybe even at home!  The kind of birth I’d read about in some of the baby and childbirth books I'd found.  The kind of birth other expectant moms and I proudly and excitedly whispered to each other about having in our childbirth education class or whilst we stretched our swollen limbs together in prenatal yoga class. Or the “natural births” other moms bragged to me about at baby showers or in grocery store lineups where I was, yet again, buying the weirdest combinations of food to stave off my pregnancy cravings and nausea whilst ensuring a hefty weight gain. Well, maybe they weren't bragging, but as a slightly competitive person myself (note the understatement) I definitely heard the brag.  Honestly, I even skipped over the Cesearean sections in all the baby books.  I figured: not going to happen to me, don't need to read it!  Boy, was I humbled and deeply grateful that an OB/GYN I trusted happened to be on-call.

That all said, when my kids ask about the day they were born, I fluff up my fur (a.k.a. my crazy curly hair) with pride, wrap them inside my protective lion mama arms, and whisper how I fell in love with them on the day they were born.  I tell them how brave they were (in their own specific ways) and how their cries could be heard far and wide awakening the world to their arrival.  How their dad and I wept with joy when we first saw them and heard their cry.  But most of all, how grateful we are to know them, to witness them grow every day, and to be their parents. Turns out it's the most “natural thing” in the world to love your child!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sharing Family Stories

There is a big difference between my family and my husband’s family.  My family relies on humor as the glue to hold us all together—the funnier the story at the dinner table, the better digested the meal.  We all eventually begin talking over one another, finishing each other’s sentences, eager to have the last word.  We all want to get the biggest laugh, to be part of the family narrative.  The focus in my husband’s family lies more on family loyalty—the nutritional content of the meal, the garden where the ingredients grow, and how it all looks.  My kids value greatly what they learn whilst hanging out on the limbs of each branch of our family tree.  But guess at whose table my kids are learning to become master story-tellers? 

(Not Lisa's real ancestors, they look like they had way more fun than these folks, but you get the point!)

It’s not as if my children don’t appreciate all they learn at my mother-in-law’s table, or most memorably in her kitchen and garden.  It’s just I think I’ve taught them to look more for the funny in life, and less at the ingredients needed for the perfect pie.  Comedy, it has often been said, is = tragedy + time.  So, in my extended family (where we've faced divorce, addiction, death, and other losses and have needed some courage!) we’ve learned to savor the moments together and focus on the funny.  So, it was with great delight that I noticed a warming shift at my in-law’s table during our recent visit:  my kids and their cousins were rising in their ranks, breaking the ice, and becoming leaders in the family discussions by telling their funny stories!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Why Attachment is so Important in Learning Courage

As a mom to newborn E. (my now 13 year-old son), I was ripe with the maternal love hormones prolactin and oxytocin.  It's one of the reasons new parents seem a bit dopey.  Biochemicals like oxytocin, prolactin, and vasopressin, in particular, make maternal and paternal bonding possible.  We are all, it turns out, wired for connection.  In those early days with E. it didn’t really matter to me that there were specific centers of my brain, and highly elaborate neural mechanisms activated to ensure my maternal love, recognition of my baby, and the kind of protectiveness that promotes secure attachment.  I was either blissfully oblivious or too darn tired to notice.  Read on for some "good news!"

Friday, February 25, 2011

Healthy Attachment Between Parent and Child

Copyright Renata Osinska, Dreamstime.com
How I coach parents to nurture courage in their kids has a lot to do with attachment—which I understand to be the first step in nurturing courage development.   Attachment being defined as psychological connectedness between human beings.   A healthy attachment between parent and child provides for a child’s basic needs like food, water, shelter—our child’s survival being our most basic responsibility.  The infant's sole purpose is to survive with the help of a secure attachment with someone (ideally a parent) able to provide the kind of security, safety, and strength needed for protection. The secure someone (ideally an adult who is stronger and wiser) also has a complementary attachment behavior system (or internal working model of attachment) that activates in response to the infant/child and seeks to protect, particularly when a threat is present. 

A healthy parent/caregiver-child attachment teaches a child the basics of human relationship and love, the willingness to try new things and develop intellectually, take risks, open their hearts and trust themselves and others, to develop a moral code, and ultimately to have courage in life.  Researchers Popper & Amit (2009) have also found that secure attachment, along with low trait anxiety and openness to experience, is correlated with leadership development. Without secure attachment between a parent/caregiver and child in infancy and early childhood, a child is at risk for severe psychological, cognitive, social, and physiological consequences. 

CAUTION: if you are a reader like me, a bit of a perfectionist and somewhat anxious about doing this whole parenting thing right...DON'T WORRY!  Being a secure attachment for your child just means loving them, connecting with them through satisfying their primary senses (touch, taste, smell, sight, hearing), being reliable (at least most of the time), and not leaving them in a crib for the first six months of their lives to fend for themselves!  Attachment theory and parenting tends to freak people like me out, but I just remember that there is no question I love my kids, am doing my best, and that there's lots of room for making mistakes, recovering, and moving on together in the direction of love.  Our children truly deserve our best, so they can become their best.  Research shows we are doing a good job: the vast majority of infants and toddlers have secure attachments with their parents, and half of those without a secure attachment relationship at home have a secure attachment with an early childhood teacher/daycare provider. 

While writing this post on a snowbound day with my kids, I asked my 13 year-old son, the product of all my training and real-life practice in attachment theory and attachment parenting, what he remembers of his earliest years.  His response: “Nothing.  Not a thing.  Well…I do remember that day when we had to wait together in the playhouse for a really long time together until that hailstorm stopped.  You stayed with me and didn’t leave.  Yeah, that’s about all I remember.” 

How do I know it's okay that my son doesn’t remember those countless sleepless nights and hours logged wearing and breastfeeding him—basically responding consistently, lovingly to what felt like his every early childhood need? Well, he’s still alive, for one.  He recognizes that even during hailstorms I’ll be there for him.  He seems to be secure enough in our relationship to tell me the truth!  Most importantly, he's a confident, happy, caring, independent kid who has a pretty solid record of doing the right thing—even when I’m not looking.  He also seems to be confident that I won’t flip out that he doesn’t remember any of it! 

For a brief overview of attachment theory, one of the most well-researched, evidence-based, and influential theories in developmental psychology READ ON!