Written by Jai Anderson, MSW. Jai is a Parent Educator at Thrive.
Your cell phone is four months old but the next generation phone just came out and now your “new” phone feels old. Remember when blogging was the new thing? I couldn’t wrap my head around this strange verb, “to blog.” We live in a world where we’re constantly inundated with the next innovation that promises to enhance our life. This pressure to always have newer and better can influence our parenting. We love our children and want to provide the best for them, but sometimes we can feel worn down and frazzled with more demands on our time and money. The good news is that much of good parenting is still old-school. It turns out that what kids need most comes down to a few basics that may not seem like much in this high-tech world, but are powerful foundations for a lifetime.
What if every morning when you first see your sleepy-headed child you greet them with genuine joy and a cozy hug? What if you really listened to your child tell you about their school day for ten solid minutes? These seemingly small acts of being attentive to our child and showing them sincere love, beginning with holding our baby and responding to their cries, actually amount to the most significant thing we can give them – a secure attachment. Research shows that a consistent relationship with caring adults is associated with the things we wish for our child, like better grades, healthier behavior, more positive peer interactions and an increased ability to cope with stress later in life.
In the first two years of a child’s life their brain cells are making connections at a rate of up to two million per minute! This dramatic growth in a child’s brain begins in the part of the brain that processes and stores emotional experience, with language developing later. This means that all of the thousands of seemingly insignificant interactions with our young children make a big impact and lay the groundwork, in the form of neural pathways, for how our kids learn to experience the world.
Understanding our children’s physical, emotional and cognitive development can be very helpful. I remember looking down at my little girl who was at that moment turning the color of a tomato, her little eyes squished, and crying in a way that got my heart beating fast. As a new mom I felt like screaming back, baffled that she was so upset despite my best efforts to calm her. When I learned that crying peaks at six weeks, I had more understanding and patience. Becoming familiar with normal child development helps us better know what to expect from our children and to understand their behavior as a way of communicating their needs.
Life is bound to bring us some rough times. Resiliency is created when families pull together during challenging times. One of the most worthwhile gifts we can give our children is to model how to solve problems. This means providing a safe environment to talk about problems and to really listen to one another. We can also help our children put words to what they are feeling.
Like the airplane oxygen mask we are instructed to affix to our own face first, it is important that parents find ways to relax and deal with stress. Consider exercising or working on a hobby. Spending time with other parents can help us feel less alone, provide opportunities to talk about our struggles and even get some ideas on resources that might be of support. In times of crisis, dialing “211” on your phone will connect you with folks who can help you get through it.
So take heart: rather than the next tech-toy or expensive summer camp, what your child needs most is for you to head outside for some fresh air, get together with friends for dinner, and understand that she isn’t throwing that tantrum to drive you nuts but to communicate her needs. Ultimately, our kids need to trust that we are their safe haven, supporting them as they go out on adventures and come back in for some old-fashioned love and comfort.