Contributed by Melanie Miller, M.Ed.
Certified Positive Discipline Lead Trainer, Parent Educator and School Counselor
Many of us know that when it comes to buying a house it’s all about location, location, location. But have you ever heard that when it comes to parenting, it’s all about connection, connection, connection? Dr. Ned Hallowell, in his book, Childhood Roots to Adult Happiness; Five steps to help kids create and sustain lifelong joy, describes connection as; “closeness to mother and/or father, perceived caring by mother and/or father, satisfaction with relationship with mother and/or father, and feeling understood, loved, wanted and paid attention to by family members”. Edward M. Hallowell, MD, The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness (New York: Random House, 2002) 82.
Ahhh, as I sink into those words I feel a sense of calm, a sense that all is well. And when our children feel that sense of connection, I’m guessing they feel similar feelings and have similar thoughts. Picture the toddler reading a book with mom, snuggled up on her lap where all is safe, calm and good. Or, imagine the excited first grader sharing the experience of riding a bike, without training wheels, as her parent listens and shares in the child’s excitement.
Once a child is born they begin a lifetime of connecting with their world. Crying, imitating sounds, gurgles and coos, smiles and laughter are all the beginning stages of how a child connects. They learn that when they cry, mom shows up, when they are hungry, they are fed. Their brains are beginning the wiring process for a lifetime of connection. An infant’s first year of life lays the blueprint for how they will connect with others. Davis, Penny G., MA, The Impact of Abuse and Neglect on Attachment, Brain Development, Learning and Behavior
A groundbreaking study with adolescents is giving us the research needed to show the importance of connection. The study is called the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and is “one of the most important, comprehensive and reliable studies of American youth ever undertaken”. Holloway 81.
This study found two factors that most protected children from negative outcomes. Feeling connection at home was first. Second, was feeling connection at school. Children who feel connection at home and school were protected from emotional distress and suicidal thoughts or attempts. Connection protected against violent behavior as well as cigarette, alcohol, or marijuana use; and it protected against early sexual activity. Other factors helped significantly, but none were as powerful as the feelings of connection at home and at school. Hallowell, 2002.
Maybe we can all do better. We can hang up the cell phone, turn off the e-mail, shut down the x-box and start connecting. We could take a walk to the park, shoot some hoops, play with legos, paint pictures, go on a bike ride, play a board game. We invest a lot into our house, and place a lot of importance on location so that someday our efforts will pay off. Let’s do the same for our children: provide them with a childhood of connection so that they might have a lifetime of happiness.
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