Last week, I took my two older kids to a birthday party at a laser tag place. My oldest, who is usually super friendly and bubbly, was terrified. It was rough because she was SO excited about this party and was looking forward to it all week! I can see why she was so scared. The place was noisy and flashy, and other than the birthday girl, and her brother, she didn’t recognize anyone else.
The birthday girl’s mom had not arrived at the party yet, and her dad, whom we had never met, was the one running the show. He was very busy so I didn’t get a chance to meet him before my daughter burst into tears. It was kind of alarming since she had been so excited to come. She told me it was very different than what she had expected. I waited with her for a little while. I didn’t want her to miss out on this because I knew she would seriously regret it. As much as she was upset now, I knew she would be even more upset if she passed. Especially if her brother still went, and came back with a happy report.
I knew I needed to find the adult in charge and make myself known to them. I went up to the birthday girl’s dad and asked if he was indeed her dad. I shook his hand and pointed out my kids. I tried to connect with him over the noise and convey to him the fact that my daughter was kind of upset, but he was too busy. My daughter calmed down enough for me to leave her there which was a relief. I knew she was going to have so much fun!
When I came back to pick her up, I was so relieved to find out that she had indeed had a blast! Then she told me the story of how it happened. She was super nervous at first. It was such a new experience. During the first round of laser tag, she was still pretty apprehensive. But then, during the second round, a guest’s mom was there and told my daughter she would help her and they would play together. She got over her fear, and learned to play laser tag.
In the book “Hold on to your kids”, by Gordon Neufeld, I learned exactly what had happened in this situation, one reason my daughter had been so scared, and why the mom at the party was so important.
Our children need to receive their orientation about the world from trusted adults. Ideally those adults are their parents, but sometimes, many times, that is not possible. They are often gone all day at school. We are gone all day at work. But, kids need a trusted adult to mentor them because the alternative is peer orientation which is like the blind leading the blind. I won’t go into detail about that here, you’ll have to read the book. So how can we keep our kids oriented to a trusted adult.
1: When you have to separate, transfer their orientation to an adult you trust. This is why I knew I needed to meet the birthday girl’s dad. If her mom had been there, the trust has already been established, so my daughter would have had an easier time transitioning. I do this a lot with my toddlers when they need to go to nursery at church. I talk to the teachers and smile at them. I might touch their shoulder and show my child that I trust this person and that I know they will take good care of them. I introduce my child to the adult and let them get to know them.
This would work with any situation where you need to drop off your child. Meet their teachers. Talk with them. Let your child see that there is an adult they can trust and look to for direction, protection, and guidance.
2: When you need to separate for a long time, like going away for a trip, call them each day, FaceTime would be even better. Send them notes. My husband and I are going on a trip, and we are going to leave their sitter with videos of us talking to them and telling them stories about them. Do the kinds of things that let them know that even though you’re apart, you still care, and you’re still thinking about them. Dr. Dan Seigel has said that our children need to feel seen, soothed, safe, and secure. These feelings create integration and resilience. They engender empathy, and attachment.
3: when you come back together, Dr. Neufeld says to “collect” them. Make sure they know you notice they are back/you are back. Embrace if you can. Then talk with the intent to get them to make eye contact, to smile, and to nod. You can ask them if they learned anything new, or made a new friend. You can ask them if they enjoyed themselves. You could tell them a joke! Something that gets them to look at you in the eye, smile and nod. We do this even after our kids have spent some time watching tv! We have noticed that when we collect them, they are reinstated into the family, and are more willing to take part, and feel good. When we forget to collect them after they have been watching tv or after coming in from playing with friends, they are more crabby and entitled. It can escalate from there, and next thing we know, someone is fighting or shouting. When we remember to collect them, they know we see them, we hear them, we love them, we want them.
4. Make collecting them a regular part of your family culture. When I was studying psychology as part of my health degree, I took a class or two about lifespan psychology and learned about attachment theory, and childhood temperaments. Children who have a secure attachment to their parents are sad to see them go, and they are happy to see them return, but in between they are able to cope. Fostering a secure attachment is established by giving our children a reason to feel secure. They know they are secure when they trust us, and when they know we trust them. I am very slow to jump on my kids when it looks like they are doing something difficult. When we go to the park, I let them run around, even from the time they begin to walk, and allow them to do something that stretches them. I encourage them to work on jobs around the house, and I’ve learned not to jump in and correct them when they aren’t doing it exactly how I would do it. These things express confidence in them, that I know they are capable of doing hard things. When they need support of consolation, I freely give it. Then, when they return to me, I make sure they know I see them and I care about them.
For more information about the importance of having a secure attachment, and orienting our children to trustworthy adults, and why that is important, I recommend reading Gordon Neufeld’s book, and checking out his resources here at https://neufeldinstitute.org/#
Even though I don’t mention all of these books in the episode (in fact, just one), all of these have influenced my beliefs around how to help my children have a secure attachment to me and their dad. They have taught me the importance of being the type of parent that mentors my kids and guides them toward adulthood, or to help me understand better who they are so I don’t feel compelled to make them be something they are not. I know there are even more books than this that would do the same thing, but these area the ones I’ve read so far!
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