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playing-1436907A child’s ability to form healthy self-validation is a vital goal of child development. In fact, a child’s capacity for self-validation has everything to do with the development of emotional safety — the overarching developmental goal of childhood.

To use the word “validate” in the context of relationships, we’re referring to the process by which a person values that which she (or he) knows and feels is true and right for herself, and then acts in accordance with her inner knowing in support of her own self and her own needs.

As we raise our children to be intimate with what they feel, sense and know, and to honor and support themselves in their knowing, we are providing them with this fundamentally valuable tool for successfully navigating their internal and external experiences throughout their life.

This is the foundation for a child’s capacity to acquire the more complex self-regulation skills he (or she) needs to actualize his potential. It’s the very important task we have of validating his unconditional goodness, and what he feels, thinks, desires and knows — which then tells him he is “right” in the world, that his experiences are important and that his dreams are valuable.

It’s we — the parents — who largely determine how a child comes to validate him- or herself. Let’s keep this in mind as I describe “Sarah.”

Sarah is 4 years old, joyful, full of life and wicked smart. I was called in to observe her and consult with her preschool teachers and parents due to her “impulsive, inattentive, non-compliant, emotional, potentially dangerous” behaviors of refusing to sit in circle time and constantly banging into objects: outside with her tricycle, and inside where she would run into and purposefully, though playfully, try to topple both other children and adults. Sarah could also be irritable and angry, displaying explosive behaviors when caregivers attempted to redirect her and minimize her complaints.

Sarah had a typical complaint of wanting to do what she wanted to do when she wanted to do it. She argued that she could in fact listen while doing other things during circle time; however, the teachers wanted all the kids sitting “criss-cross apple sauce” on the floor, eyes on them. Because of her complaints, fidgeting and refusal to cooperate, Sarah was made to sit in a chair at a table removed from the group, and to color while the rest of the class conducted their weather discussions, reviewed the alphabet and learned the letter of the day.

Although this decision to exclude Sarah from circle time appears to wrongly shame her, one of her teachers demonstrated both compassion and insight to see that this form of physical structure — sitting on the chair at the table — with an activity to calm her mind and busy her hands — coloring — in fact enabled Sarah to participate fully in their discussions and add to it with more intelligent, creative contributions than most of the other students.

It took some prompting in this rigid classroom, but the staff learned to tweak their expectations and appropriately loosen their requirements of the children, who were then given the choice to sit for circle time or not. Sarah was no longer shamed for being different, and she experienced validation from her teachers that her way of participating in circle time was best for her.

Her teachers’ validation of her translated into her own self-validation for speaking up about what she knew to be true for herself.

In the play yard, we reviewed Sarah’s sensory needs that were mistakenly seen as aggressive in intention. The plowing into objects and people instead suggested she was seeking physical gross-motor input in that she displayed no anger at these times but seemed to have a lot of fun doing the plowing. It served her.

In addition to creating safe places for Sarah to get this physical input — like jumping onto heavy mats from a not-too-high step during scheduled and play intervals throughout the day — we got her mom’s written permission for teachers to give Sarah frequent, deep-pressure hugs and squeezes as a preventative measure to the more impulsive plowing behaviors. I also made a referral for a physical therapy consult. We asked Sarah to let us know when she was feeling out of sorts and to seek the big, bear hugs that immediately calmed her, as soon as her body began to tell her that she needed them.

Her caregivers at school and home began listening to her more — and began seeing her more clearly as a child who needed their support to speak up about her experiences and needs.

I also recommended a nutritional consult, and as a treatment team, we began incorporating the foods into her diet — and eliminating others — that would prove to seem to balance her nervous system so that some of the impulsivity diminished.

Additionally, we built in the time, place and space for her to enjoy more creative, stimulating activities to express herself, learn and teach us about herself: how she thinks, feels, senses and relates to herself, others and the world.

What worked for Sarah is that we were able to see her through various lenses of her holistic health and well-being. By using protocols within the sensory, biology-physical expression, creative self-expression, nutrition and attachment-relationship lenses, we successfully learned to honor what Sarah knew to be true for herself, and we provided her with more knowledge and supports that she needed to further know and support herself.

Sarah learned how to validate herself by internalizing 2 concepts:

  1. “I am someone who needs, seeks and gets big hugs and squeezes, special play activities and the best foods to make me feel calm, balanced and safe.” She knows that these are the right things for her. And because Sarah taught her caregivers that they need to listen to her and to fully see her and learn from her, Sarah was able to internalize an aspect of her identity as a person of value in the world.
  2. “I am valued. What I think, feel, want, experience and express matters to others. I am worthy of being heard and seen and respected.” She needed us to validate her so that she could further validate her own self and know that she is doing the right things to keep herself in balance and feel safe.

You can substitute just about any example of a child’s life situation here. The experiences and lessons will likely be the same: We want our child to know what it is that she (or he) knows, to honor what it is that she knows and, when old enough, to seek the supporting knowledge to inform her decisions further.

The thing is, we need to really see our child and listen to him (or her). We cannot try to make him fit into an old ideal of how he “should” behave, act or be. We must meet him “where he’s at” and start there. Our goal is that we use and teach skills sets containing “ways of thinking and doing” to support children in being themselves throughout the trajectory of their lives.

Children can and do fall through the cracks. If we had continued to ignore what Sarah was telling us, she may likely have developed increased shame, anger, rebellion and, over time, an attitude of “Forget you, you’re not listening to me. I’ll do what I want and feel good about it.”

She might have someday came to validate herself in other ways that create rage, division and resentment. She very well could have tied in with peers who not only validate these emotions but — worse — use them to fuel deeper discord, judgment, intolerance, hatred, retaliation and violence.

To some, Sarah’s classroom experiences may seem small. It may seem like the negative outcomes I postulated are a stretch to what actually happened in the classroom. I am telling you, this is so not a stretch. This is how it begins: We do not see our children, so we do not listen to our children and then we try to put them under our thumb. This is not holistic child care. This is not the way we promote secure attachment at home or at school.

In another scenario, Sarah may have other tendencies. Perhaps instead, she withdraws — becoming depressed and later numbing out with drugs, food and dysfunctional relationships. Are those fates any less happy for her? With another who validates her anger and aggression, at least she feels like she’s accepted and belongs somewhere. In all cases, she’s only simply seeking to keep herself safe.

Feeling balanced on the inside by people and circumstances who support her and provide balance “on the outside” do this. We do this. Our child’s emotional safety, her (or his) happiness and her success depend on us. The level of peace in the world depends on us.

I’ve seen the outcomes of ignoring kids’ true needs before, and so have you — in the variations of the same tragic stories that we hear about in the media so often we are becoming numb to them. Do you see that this is an epidemic?

Do you see that we can stop violence, and all that goes with it, in our children if we pay more attention to how we see them and relate to them? It is a simple concept — though a complex process that requires work and perhaps new paradigms for teaching teachers, supporting parents and addressing mental health.

We’ve got to fully wake up and act on how this dynamic works for the sake of helping our children grow up happily, confidently and peacefully. We have no one to blame if we do not target this now.

Editor’s note: Photo source

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Kids, Parents, Power Struggles: Ch 2

by Stephanie Petters on November 24, 2015

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We are on Chapter 2 of “Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles” which talks about Emotion Coaching, a very important connection tool for your child. This chapter makes you think about the long-term goal of your parenting and not being afraid of “building bad habits” and instead seeing the positive results of your connection. Something that was powerful in the chapter to me was the following questions, which helped you examine what you should do in that “discipline” moment.

  • Think about a significant adult in your life, someone who has helped you to understand yourself and to develop your strengths. What were his or her characteristics? — For me, this was my English teacher in high-school who encouraged and believed in me; who felt I would become something valuable as I became older. I also was greatly influenced by the social worker who saved me from being homeless and provided me with a second-chance at life. What was the significant adult in your life who made positive impacts?
  • Now tell me about an influential adult you disliked. Someone who to this day the mere thought of can make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. — For me I had too many to think of but the qualities they displayed was a taking away of innocence, anger, sarcasm, punitive behavior, rough, quick-tempered, and critical. What about you?

A few good questions to ask when you are about to discipline your child are:

  • Does this strategy connect with my child, empathize with his feelings, and build a relationship with him?
  • Or does it disconnect us, negating or even punishing him for his emotions?

I think those questions are the most valuable to ask in the moment. Might even be worthy as a reminder to put on your refrigerator. To leave you with information on how different emotion coaching is and the results,  here are some key endpoints at the end of the chapter.

  • Connect instead of disconnect.
  • Assist instead of taking over.
  • Listen rather than lecture.
  • Stop firmly rather than grabbing or jerking.
  • Help instead of abandon.
  • Explain instead of force.
  • State rather than shriek.
  • Smile more, frown less.
  • Think about your relationship in the long run.
  • Start with a single step.

As always, you can start your own discussion inside our online book club, GoodReads. Happy reading everyone!

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Thanksgiving for joy and peace in my parenting

November 24, 2015
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I am so thankful to Attachment Parenting International (API). I can only imagine how different my life would be without the peaceful communication skills and lifestyle I have learned and put into practice in my home the past 9 years. I remember myself at the beginning of this journey — the “need” for control in […]

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The simple attitude of gratitude

November 23, 2015
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As parents, one of the most profound messages we can convey to our kids is a deep sense of gratitude. Their world is one full of abundance of materialistic possessions and choices. Many homes have countless toys, ice cream flavors, clothes and TV shows to choose from. One may think that the many choices would […]

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This Children’s Day: It’s time to break Watson’s legacy in childrearing norms

November 20, 2015
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By Lysa Parker and Barbara Nicholson, API Cofounders and coauthors of Attached at the Heart Editor’s note: November 20 is Universal Children’s Day, created by the United Nations in 1954 to improve the well-being of children. As Attachment Parenting International (API) observes Children’s Day today, we want to remember the rights of children to a […]

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Getting through the Paris attacks with an old neighbor

November 18, 2015
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On November 13, 2015 — as I pushed through the realities of daily life with two young children — I coped with a lot of emotion: fear for my sister-in-law, who was in Paris on business…relief when she let us know she was unharmed…and sadness that something so horrible could happen. As I scrolled through […]

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Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles – Chapter 1

November 17, 2015
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Pg 12: “Emotion coaching doesn’t imply that you always say yes… it doesn’t mean you constantly negotiate… It doesn’t mean that you give him free reign on his emotions. You don’t. Emotions are never an excuse for hurtful or disrespectful behavior. It means that you will listen, trying your best to understand your child’s point […]

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I am a present father

November 16, 2015
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Attachment Parenting (AP) helps me every day to be a present father. I am the father of 2 little boys: Dante, almost 3, and Gael, a 6-month-old baby. Right after my first son was born, I discovered Attachment Parenting. It made so much sense to me that it inspired me to not only become an […]

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