“The attachment cycle is really as simple as it is profound. When it goes the way it’s supposed to go, most parents simply do their job of parenting-and the child thrives. Over and over again, there is a pattern of need, arousal, gratification, and trust. Like drops of water on a tender baby plant, this constant cycle eventually makes a sturdy plant with beautiful flowers.”- Parenting the Hurt Child
The hurt child who has come from a hard place has experienced breaks in attachment. These breaks manifest in those behaviors that make us cringe. The meltdowns. Inflexibility. Frustration. Anger. Breaks in attachment also occur in children: born prematurely, who have parents who are deployed, in daycare as an infant, had a serious illness requiring multiple surgeries or lengthy hospital stays or severely inconsistent parenting.
The attachment cycle helps a child regulate. When he is hungry, he is fed. When he is cold, parents wrap him in a blanket. When he is overheated, parents peel layers. Parents regulate for the child until he begins to regulate himself. Children who have suffered breaks in attachment do NOT have the capacity to self-regulate. Because they cannot regulate-when it’s cold, they wear shorts. When it’s hot, they wear sweat pants. When they are thirsty, they don’t drink. When they are hungry, they do not heat. They meltdown. They cannot seem to change gears like everyone else. They are stuck in a revolving door of anger.
And then there are Mondays which give those behaviors an exponent. We need scientific notation to record the zeros following the base of ten. So, how do we help these little (and big guys) begin to self regulate?
How do we help them begin to self regulate? Last Monday, I recommended giving kids a heads up about what is next. A whiteboard calendar with activities listed in different colors helps. This week, I suggest you give your child choices. Choices are power and that is what they crave. Power. Anyone who has felt out of control at any time craves power.
I’m not talking about free choice all the time. Start with small choices.
- Do you want this for breakfast or this?
- Would you like to wear this or this?
- Would you like to do this or this?
Then, let them live with the consequences of the powerful choices they make by not commenting on the results with “I told you so”. I know. Tough. Bite your tongue if you have to. I do.
When it’s cold and your son decided to wear a sweatshirt instead of a coat for running errands with you (and he is old enough to know better) don’t harp, “I told you! I knew you would be cold.” Let him experience the power of choice good or bad. Let him own it. Let him feel it out. He may start asking the temperature (like my youngest son). And wonder of wonders, he may ask, “do you think I need a coat today?” My son throws his coat in my backseat now while we are running errands. He cannot stand to wear it unless he is really cold because of sensory issues. “It is too puffy!” I let him decide when to put it on. If he goes on for too long about feeling cold, I point to his coat in the backseat and tell him he is welcome to put it on, but I don’t want to hear about it anymore.
Giving kids choices makes them feel powerful instead of powerless and it trains them to begin to self regulate and makes Monday (and every day) a bit more manageable.