Is there a problem?How to know that you should seek advice

  
A few weeks ago I published a post about falling into a trap of following developmental charts and how they can provoke unnecessary anxiety or rivalry. The post focused on external pressures which may prompt parents to seek advice or get worried without any clear reason from the child’s side.

I keep thinking about this matter and recall real stories when parents had a dilemma whether to seek and advice or not. They were realising that their child develops a bit slower then other children in certain area and each family was taking different position on this fact.

It is very complex and delicate matter and it surely engages a lot of emotions, some of them might be not that visible at first.

There is no advice which would apply to all of these families. Each parent and each family needs to do their homework and try to understand their particular case, then act to their children’s best interest. Sometimes parents don’t realise how anxious they are and this anxiety determines their action. And it can go both ways: they might become overwhelmed by it and won’t seek any advice or further diagnosis – being too afraid that something wrong is going on. Or just opposite – they might be running from specialist to specialist, searching for an answer which in fact lays just in front of their eyes. I witnessed the situation in which parents were preoccupied with their daughter being much smaller than other children. They were performing complicated tests looking for some hidden abnormalities (including very expensive genetic analysis). All turned out to be fine and the daughter lives a happy life, despite being very petite (exactly like her grandmother used to be).  
Let’s imagine we have a dilemma whether to seek advice or not. We have the knowledge available to us – from books, magazines and online publications. We observe our children with our caring and loving eyes. We do seek evidences that all is going well. Then we spot some signal that might worry us – child’s motor or sensory development doesn’t seem to be as fast as other children. How can we know whether it is just the child’s nature and her own path of development or there is something we should have a closer look at?

What can help manage our own emotions to allow us to make the right decision?

  1. Make sure you use the right source of knowledge – child development studies are very advanced nowadays and we have access to knowledge which helps us to understand our children’s developmental issues. If looking at the growth or development charts or statistics of any kind: read them properly: take all range of results into account (see my post) rather than only average result which is inadequate in assessing our children’s’ progress. 
  2. Avoid posting real worries on large forums for parents – as you get all sorts of contradicting information which will only make us more confused. 
  3. Observe your child – learn to know and accept her/his own phase of development. Think about environment you provide for our child to grow. What skills development are you supporting the most? Don’t judge, just look at your lifestyle as your children’s world and try to understand how it impacts on them.
  4. Sit with your emotions – what is it that you feel about the possible issue? Are you worried? Are you avoiding this feeling by pushing all bad thoughts away and not even considering any further actions? Are you criticising yourselves for being too cautious? What is really going on within and for yourself?
  5. Decide who you can trust, a friend, a partner, an experienced relative? Who can you talk to about this, who will give you honest advice, not only about the issue, but who can also help you manage your anxiety. 
  6. Be aware of external influences. We have a knowledge which might be helpful but might be intimidating at the same time. We have a social network which can be precious but can put unnecessary pressure on us – fuelling rivalry or anxieties. We have a family which wants best for us an our child but can also pass on expectations which we are not comfortable with. It’s important to know these possible influences and learn to protect against them.

photo: http://www.child-development-guide.com

Bonding with your child – The Attachment Theory

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The use of theory

Child psychology and development studies contribute, and in many ways shape the way we bring up or children today. However, we cannot see scientific theory separately from the social context in which it was written. Knowledge can have a beneficial influence on parenting, if it is located in its cultural context, and used with attention to an individuals’ specific circumstances and considered with thought to its critique.

Taking those warnings on board, it is helpful to look at some basic concepts of child development, which can serve as a point of reference in prioritising our learning as parents.

Bowlby’s Theory of Attachment

Attachment theory, first discussed by John Bowlby become one of the best known theories in child psychology. It is widely accepted that an infants secure attachment to others, is one of the most important ‘lessons’ which parents can give to their children, and which influences how we relate to others throughout the life.

We all need a trusted base from which we can build healthy relationships with others.

Attachment is described as a unique emotional bond, between carer and child, which enables an exchange of comfort, care and pleasure. The secure attachment is characterised by four signs, which are exemplified below by the babies’ behaviour toward their primary carer:

  • Proximity Maintenance – a baby expresses a desire to stay close to the carer, reaching to him/her and preferring the carer above others
  • Secure Base – an attachment figure is a base from which child can explore the world and always comes back to carer, to assure his/her assistance in those free explorations
  • Safe Haven – a carer always offers a comfort in the face of thread – baby facing distress turns to the attachment figure for the solace

  • Separation Distress – a baby experiences anxiety in the absence of an attachment figure.

Attachment can be fully observed between 12 and 18 month of child’s life. This ability to bond with important others in a trusted way stays with us for life and becomes a crucial skill in developing supportive social network and intimate relationships.

Three other non-secure ‘styles’ of attachment are not discussed here, but can be explored from other sources

Critique

Bowlby’s theory was criticised from two main perspectives.

Feminists critiqued Bowlby’s theory saying it idolises motherhood and traditional families (as Bowlby underlined the importance of having the single first attachment figure). This was also discussed in the political context when the theory served the government in UK to persuade women to come back to their domestic roles, after working on some ‘male’ positions during the World War II.

Prof Sir Michael Rutter, called ‘the father of child psychology’, backed the feminists’ view, with his studies and stressed that it is desirable to have multiple meaningful relationships. He also criticised Bowlby for generalised and simplified position, which didn’t distinguish between consequences of not being able to develop attachment and developing one that is later lost. Rutter differentiated those two situations, claiming that it is always better to have a history of attachment, even if the attachment figure has been lost.

Application

There is one important message deriving from the attachment theory:

As a mother/father or a main carer, to facilitate your child in developing a secure attachment, respond appropriately, promptly and consistently to the child’s needs.

This is how the child will be able to feel safe enough to explore the world, knowing that she or he can always return to you as to the safe haven.
Coming back to the beginning of the post: the former theories of parenting (prominent before Bowlby’s) were recommending exactly the opposite. Parental guides were advising for example not to pick up babies between feeds, because ‘they will become fussy and needy’. This is where the science luckily stepped in and ‘proved’ the damaging effects of those strategies.

Questions

To bring the application of the attachment theory further, lets ask ourselves some questions regarding the way we bond with our children:

    1. Who else, except you, does your child have a chance to develop meaningful relationship with?

    2. What is your experience of attachment? What is your style of bonding with others?

    3. What do you need (to learn/to get support at) to be able to provide safe and trusted environment for your child?