Trauma and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
If your child has been traumatized, please read this article I wrote for the Anxiety Relief Project for information about some things you can do:
When Your Child Has Been Traumatized: Ten Tips to Soothe Your Child’s Anxiety
Attachment- Ways to Strengthen Your Relationship With Your Child
Would you like to have a closer, more positive relationship with your child? The attachment relationship between children and their parents has a large influence on how children see themselves and the world, and on their psychological functioning and behavior. Whether you have a good relationship or whether there is distance or conflict between the two of you, it is helpful to regularly strengthen the relationship with your child and nurture it to keep it healthy and strong. Here are some things you can do to build the bond. You may already be doing a number of these things, but you may also find that some areas that could use growth or improvement.
Be consistently physically and emotionally available.
A healthy, secure bond is built on the child knowing they can count on the parent to be consistently available to meet their physical and emotional needs. If you feel you are sometimes too busy, see if you can rearrange some things in your schedule so you can be available for your child more consistently. Some parents find that their emotions toward their child become “shut off” or very negative when a child does certain things that are triggering, such as crying or lying. If this is the case for you, you may want to address these concerns through psychotherapy so they are not a barrier to a healthy relationship with your child.
Listen to what your child communicates through their words, behavior, and play.
Children are constantly communicating, even when their communications are unclear or don’t make sense. Being heard and understood is a basic human need; when this need is met, it strengthens the relationship, and when it is not met, children often engage in bad behavior as a sign of their distress and desire to be heard. They also communicate through their play themes. Sometimes play is a direct reenactment of their experiences and other times it is symbolic. Listen carefully to not only what they say, but what they do, and let them know you care about what they have to say.
Accurately interpret your child’s cues.
Some children have not learned to directly signal what they need. Instead they whine, become angry, or beat around the bush in various ways. In a healthy parent-child relationship, children are able to directly indicate what they need. If your child gives indirect signals, it is more difficult to know what she needs. Take the lead by accurately interpreting what she is trying to communicate to you and teaching her more appropriate ways to indicate what she needs. The more you do this without anger or punishment, the more accurately and directly your child will be able to signal to you what she needs.
Keep an attitude of empathy, sensitivity, genuine curiosity, and connection.
Acknowledge your child’s emotions. Help her label them, and affirm that they are valid. You can do this even if you do not agree with the reason she is upset. Ask questions from a place of genuine curiosity and compassion for the child’s inner world. Receive whatever information your child shares with compassion and acceptance, and make genuine connection your goal.
Smile at your child, delight in them, and use their name with a positive tone.
Your facial expression communications to your child how he should feel about himself and about you. When parents frown a lot at their child, or have an expressionless face, it can create problems with the attachment bond. Conversely, seeing their parents smile at them creates feelings of joy and safety and bonding. Show your child you are delighted with him by your expression and your actions, and also by using his name with a positive tone. If your child needs frequent correction, try to use his name in a positive way five times for every one time of correction.
Use healthy, loving touch.
Healthy, loving touch releases hormones associated with pleasant feelings and bonding. It communicates your love and approval for your child, and helps her feel safe and connected to you. Make time for cuddling, give plenty of hugs, and reach out to gently touch your child’s arm or hair to show you care. For children who are uncomfortable with touch, high-fives and gentle fist bumps are a good place to start.
Let your child know you are holding them in mind.
You know you are thinking of your children when they are not with you, but do they know this? You may assume they do when they might not. Let them know you hold them in mind when you are apart. You can do this by casually mentioning something you saw when you were out and how it reminded you of your child. Or let her know you decided to make a food she likes because you thought she could use a little cheering up. Or you picked up a small item for him at your conference because you were thinking of him and thought he would like it. These things let your children know they are always in your mind.
Play with Your Child Regularly
Take time to play with your child. Games, pretend play, art projects, sports, whatever activities your child prefers, are all beneficial. Let him take the lead and direct the activity. Having fun together is important. Even if it feels awkward at first, it will become more natural with practice, and your child will appreciate that you made the effort.
Develop special rituals in your family
Rituals bring people together. They can bring fun to the mundane and meaning out of pain. Rituals foster a sense of togetherness and belonging, and the people sharing the ritual can become bonded through its shared understandings. Try developing rituals in your family. Some easy places to start are with activities you already do together, or want to do together, such as meals times, or times that are difficult, such as when a parent leaves for a business trip. Ask your children for ideas.
As you implement these things with your child in your daily life, you can expect your relationship to become healthier and more positive. Be patient and consistent, and seek professional help, if needed.