When parents come to me for advice, they’re often looking for me to solve a specific problem. Maybe it’s defiant behavior, or talking back, or avoiding homework.
Whatever it is, parents are a little surprised when I tell them I don’t want to focus on the behavior.
They want to know how to get their kid to listen, but I don’t teach them communication techniques.
They are worn out from their kids fighting, but I don’t tell them to try to get the kids to like each other more.
They want a foolproof reward system that will motivate their kids to do chores and homework, but I tell them to throw this idea out the window.
They want effective ways to handle a child who talks back or feels entitled, but I don’t try to teach the child a lesson nor prescribe specific consequences if they don’t follow through.
What I teach is more powerful and effective than any reward chart, time out, punishment, or discipline tactic.
I focus on attachment. Namely, the bond between parent and child.
This is a critical piece of the parenting puzzle. In fact, I’d go as far saying it’s the most important.
Strengthening the attachment is much more effective than focusing on discipline, or rewards, or anything else. No matter how good your tactics are, they can never make up for a weak attachment.
Here’s what I mean:
Inevitably, my suggestion to look at the attachment instead of the presenting problem makes parents very uneasy. Firstly, there’s a natural tendency to feel criticized when someone tries to qualify one’s relationship with their children. Any insinuation of a weak attachment feels like a direct assault on one’s person.
And this is because we have a deep belief that if something is amiss in our parenting relationship, we’ve failed our children. And nothing hurts more than that; we love our kids dearly!
So, I disavow the notion that they’re “bad parents” if the attachment is not where it should be. We’re all human, we’re all works in progress, and real failure is simply knowing there’s a problem but not wanting to fix it.
If we can agree on that, we’ve made significant progress already.
If you’re ready to look at the current state of attachment with your child—and not judge yourself for it, let’s go on to the next step:
Attachment is simply the bond you have with your child. And attachment in children works in much the same way as it does in adults. According to the model developed by Gordon Neufeld, there are actually 6 Stages of Attachment which I delve into in my program Parenting Without Bargains, Battles or Bribes.
For now, I want to focus on the 6th stage: “Being known.”
Being known is about a child feeling safe enough to see you as his most trusted confidante. A child who feels understood and appreciated naturally feels he is “known,” and this kind of safety makes him WANT to cooperate with you.
It’s not unlike your feelings when you were falling in love. You felt so adored for who you were that you’d go out of your way to do nice things for your beloved—even if they didn’t ask. Human beings want to please people who like and enjoy us.
The other reason why attachment works so much better than discipline tactics is because strengthening your connection (the attachment) has much more staying power than short-sighted discipline tactics like the ones I laid out at the beginning of this email.
Discipline tactics like behavioral charts and communication techniques often don’t work because the novelty soon wears off.
What you need is a parenting “playbook” you can use from birth all the way through adulthood—one that is both fun and fulfilling for both of you.
When you strip everything away, the most precious thing you have with your child is the bond. Luckily, if you do nothing but focus on strengthening that bond, you create an unbreakable connection with your child that will develop and mature right along with him.
If your kid won’t listen and it takes over an hour to get out the door, focus first on the bond.
If she only listens when you lose it, focus first on the bond.
If your kid knows the rules but wilfully violates them anyway, focus first on the bond.
If your child snatches things away from his sibling, focus first on the bond.
In each of these instances, your child may be trying to create closeness with you but is just going about it the wrong way. When they get a reaction out of you—even a negative one—they are getting attention. But it’s not the kind that does your bond any good.
You may also be thinking, “But I spend a lot of quality time with my child. Why are they still trying to get my attention in these negative ways?”
The time you spend physically with your child, whether you’re reading them a book or taking them to the playground IS one of the ways to attach with your child, but it’s not the ONLY way.
There are 5 other stages, including the one I mentioned in this email, and there are specific things you can do to strengthen these bonds. They don’t always require that you do things together with your child. That means that even if you’re spending a lot of time playing with your kids, or are with them all day, there are still aspects of your relationship that could be improved.
The good news is that it’s easy to heal all the stages of attachment. It’s rewarding, too.
Don’t worry, once you get the attachment piece right, you can take certain steps to tactically and specifically address any other issues—if they’re still lingering after you strengthen the bond.
Many times, when parents take my advice and work on their attachment, they report later that the behavior which triggered their initial call to me has disappeared.
In Parenting Without Bargains, Battles or Bribes, I’ll walk you through all 6 Stages of Attachment and teach you specific ways to wake up the attachment you have with your child.
You’ll learn to create a closer bond simply through the things you’re already doing—through mindful presence, small shifts in the way you relate, and a longview into the parenting vision you’d like to develop.
Remember, when we’re not attached to someone, we’re not automatically inclined to cooperate with them. We may be compelled out of obligation, or we’ll do what they want because we want something in return. But we’re not doing it because we want to please them.
My guess is that you don’t want your child to be a robot who follows through on your orders out of fear or duty. And you don’t want them to become manipulative, controlling people who always want to know what’s in it for them.
You want your child to behave out of a natural willingness to please you—because they like you and honor your relationship
That’s why healing the attachment works at the core—not through coercion or rewards—but through an innate desire on the part of the child to continue enjoying an affectionate, close, and respectful relationship with you.
And while the first 3-5 years of life are most important for attachment, it’s never too late. In my program, you’ll watch me coach parents of both toddlers and teens through the many sticky situations you’ll likely come up against with your own kid.
You’ll see your own stories in theirs and walk away with a proven plan you can put to work right away—including a “love flooding” exercise that will deeply strengthen and sweeten the bond with your child:Strengthen Your Attachment
You’re craving a loving, unbreakable bond with your child. So is he. Let’s get you both there.
P.S. Is there a “story” you’re telling yourself about why your child isn’t behaving? If you are, you may be creating more conflict and bad feelings than is necessary.
Instead, magic happens when you take a step back and try to understand why your child might be justified in being difficult—and why YOU may be overly sensitive to certain behaviors.
When you become more away, your child learns he’s in the presence of a parent who can help him understand himself better:Your New Parenting Story