Every Child
11/2/15 at 10:05 AM 0 Comments

Attaching Through Love, Hugs, and Play

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The following was written by Deborah Gray, Child and Family Therapist, National Speaker and Author, and originally appeared in Lifelines, Bethany Christian Services' quarterly magazine.

What are your favorite moments of parenting?

Kicking the soccer ball together?

Reading books together? A snuggle at bedtime?

These are all part of the enjoyment of having a secure attachment with your child.

They are the day-to-day expressions of love. Our children cuddle. They save their special surprises for us, show delight at being with us, and feel safe and valued by us. You, their parents, are kind, strong, and sensitive. You set and enforce limits in a reasonable manner. Frustration is low—enjoyment high. Parenting images like this are parenting at its best.

Gazing at each other, playing together, skin-to-skin contact, feeding times, and meeting needs in a sensitive way are ways to “bond.” Over the course of months, as parents and children repeat these activities many times, they become exclusively bonded to each other. We refer to these exclusive and intimate bonds as “attachments.” When your children believe that you will keep them safe, meet their needs, and that you are sensitive to their needs, the type of attachment that forms between you and your child is known as a secure attachment.

Attachment Helps to Re-Wire for Stability
Did you know that when you play or spend time with your baby, child, or teen you are actually helping his or her brain develop? Parents who are tuned in to their children are helping them form the brain wiring for emotional intelligence—understanding themselves and the thoughts and feelings of others. As children interact with and respond to their parents, they are “wiring” the ability to respond in a caring way to others. They learn to calm down and think of others. These emotional skills will help them deal with stress
throughout their lives.

Parents who are able to slow down enough to really engage with their children are not just “hanging out” with their children. They are engaging in a brain-tobrain connection with their children. Using their parent’s steady brain patterns, children wire up their own brains to be calmer and more socially responsive.

Stress is very common among children who enter adoptive or foster families. They have high cortisol levels, which indicate stress. The high cortisol tends to shape the brain to be one that will respond to a high stress world: impulsive, reactive, vigilant, easily frustrated, less organized, and with short memory—
especially auditory memory (memory from listening).

The good news is that there is evidence that parents who patiently form close, secure attachments are actually helping their children to reduce cortisol. Sleep improves, which indicates reduced cortisol. There is a recovery period in which executive skills rebound. (People use the term “executive function” because it refers to the upper level command centers of the mind). Low stress and secure attachments befriend the brains of children whose lives started with stress, abuse, or neglect.

Wired for Connection
Creating executive functioning can be playful, dynamic—and just plain fun. Many children who have experienced highly stressful early years prefer exciting, vivid, physical play. Parents who play with their children this way will build close connections, emotional intelligence, and executive functioning at the same time.

An imaginative game has high excitement, children look at their parent to see expressions, they laugh
together, they plan “enough” to keep the play on-track, and they inhibit “enough” so that they are drawn back
into the play when distracted.

Play includes the development of a back-and-forth way of playing that keeps both parent and child happy—
and assists in attachment at the same time. Children who have their parents’ full attention during play are able to connect to their parents. Effortlessly, children are developing brain patterns that further encourage connection. Through the better connection, parents are able to join with their children as they come up with games and routines that are pleasing for both.

Parents who are joyful are attractive to their children. Because we are made to “catch” moods from each other, children are likely to “catch” our positive moods. Attentive and stable parents help children to both get excited and to calm. Well-balanced parents actually “lend” their calm feelings to their children until they can calm by themselves.

Wired for Fun
I think that all of us remember people who gave us that feeling of being truly “seen.” These people were not
too busy for us. Instead, they had the moment-to-moment ability to be “present” in an emotional sense. We felt significant to them.

We can be these steady, joyful parents to our children. Especially for our children with tough starts, we want to teach both calming and attending. Isn’t it interesting that the route to that is through our own behaviors? We turn off phones, delete busy work, and open ourselves to play with and enjoy our children.

We can do ourselves and our children a favor by spending a daily half-hour, and hopefully more, playing with,
talking and listening to our children. This should be time that we are not multitasking. Our minds are opened
up to our children during that time. It means turning off our “to-do” list to be parents who concentrate on
the best in life—our families.

CP Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of The Christian Post. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author(s).