Get Connected: the Old Fashioned Way
Rebecca Simpson and Dr Sia Rees are much-loved Counselling Psychologists within our Highbury LAD Centre team. They share their insight and wisdom with invited parents, once a term, at evening talks that have really grown in popularity over the last year.
For the first time here, as it is relevant to so many of us, we thought it would be great to share a summary of the most recent talk as a blog. In Sia's words...
"There are so many talks at the moment about technology and how it is shaping us and our lives, and they are relevant. This one purposefully takes a different tack: it is rather an old-fashioned talk, referencing older psych studies that go back to the basics of how humans connect; how we make each other feel safe and secure, how we relate to the world, and how we feel about ourselves and about others."
Sia shared three core 'old-fashioned' messages, each based on an old psychology study, and each with a clear set of ideas to help us, as parents, improve on how connected we are with our kids.
1) Focused engagement is the foundation of connecting.
How often do we mean to pay attention to our children, but we just can't? We drive so much more than before. We shop so much more than before. We work! We have to. Life is expensive. And we want more than we used to. We've become more health conscious than before. We do all sorts of exercise to keep us active and slim. These behaviours are not about us being selfish. Not at all. We love our families and we especially love our children. That's why we've also become a lot more focused on healthy eating in our families. We spend many hours cooking well-balanced, well-thought out meals with ingredients that are carefully shopped for. It's so important, but tell me this - while you are are shopping, and while you are cooking and juicing - how much attention do you pay to your child?
Of course it's not only your fault. How much attention do they pay to you? When they are at school all day, and at sport or extracurricular activities all afternoon, and with friends on play dates, or church camps or school outings on the weekends? And here's the real clincher - I haven't even mentioned technology! How much attention do you pay to your child when you are checking news feeds on Facebook, or sending a quick email from your phone that you forgot to send before at work? Technology keeps both you and kids busy: nowadays they can minecraft so that you can juice!
I don't mean to be condescending in asking these questions, but rather I hope to encourage thought. Because the more I think about it - the sadder I get. Kids are taking emotional strain because they have lost connection with their parents.
Edward Tronick conducted an insightful experiment called the 'Still Face Experiment'. It's simple but it's so remarkable. Google it. When a child is presented with an unresponsive parent (a 'still face') for just 3 minutes, the distress the child goes through is quite dramatic- to the point that she actually regresses. Now tell me this: what do you think you are doing when you are on your phone in front of your child?
Be careful of becoming vacant to your children. As it is - life has become so much busier and so much more pressurized - we have such little time with our children. It is our responsibility to use that time wisely, and truly connect. Yes, our kids are becoming vacant to us too - but where are they learning this from? And who is going to teach them otherwise?
What can we do about it?
Make time. Quality time. TV off-time, technology free time, phone free zones in the house. One on one time. Do date night with your kids. Explore their world. Get onto their level. Be interested. Know what they're watching, or even reading. Play the games they play. Get back to basics. Connect with them. Watch them with your full attention; listen to them with the intention of hearing. Connect. They won't share with you if they don't connect with you.
2) Touch is a basic that we have lost touch with.
We are creating a society of children who do not understand physical touch. And that's a big problem, because how will they know what touches are bad touches - when they know nothing about touch? They touch with emoticons. They show emotion with emoticons. Instead of laughing out loud, your child will say LOL when something is funny! There are hug emoticons to replace hugs! Why would we do that? Hugs are good things! Our children are forming entire relationships over a screen, and losing the basic skills of eye-contact and of how to interact with real live humans. It's not just about them losing touch with human touch, it's about the real basics of how important that touch is!
Harry Harlow understood the important of touch as long ago as the 1950s, and we've forgotten too quickly what his results showed. His video is upsetting, but you can find it on YouTube. He did an experiment with Rhesus Monkeys that showed that a baby monkey would rather starve than not have the comfort and experience of touch - touch is more important to us than food!
Here's some neuropsych to blow your mind: There's a specific super hormone that humans can produce that encourages mothers to bond with babies, creates a feeling of relaxation, encourages greater empathy and willingness to trust others, enhances psychological stability, inhibits the production of the stress hormone, Cortisol (which is associated with hypertension, cancer and just about every other bad illness out there), decreases fear and acts as a natural pain killer. Wouldn't that be amazing! Guess what, we all have it and it's dead easy to produce! It's called Oxytocin and you can get your fix simply from hugging someone or even shaking their hand.
The simple act of bodily contact will cause your brain to release low levels of Oxytocin - and what I really love about this hormone is that when you touch someone not only does it produce Oxytocin in the person you're touching, but in yourself too. You benefit every time you touch someone, as do they! It's a win-win hormone.
Our children need to be touched. We need to have contact with them and so, we need to get rid of things that are in the way. In addition to trying to give your children more quality time, get hands on with them. Have cuddle time with them at bedtime. Put your hands over their hands at prayer time. It doesn't matter if that means they get to bed ten minutes later than they're meant to! If they go to bed with Cortisol in their systems from the stresses of their day they'll take much longer to fall asleep anyway! An extra ten minutes in which you cuddle and produce Oxytocin means that they are calm and relaxed and will sleep better! When you're trying to bond with them, hold their hand, or if they're older and aren't into that, squeeze a shoulder, fist pump, play thumb wars or even Twister - whatever it takes to touch them.
When you're trying to soothe them, hold them! Stroke their arms - be near. Even when (especially when) you're disciplining and are upset with them... sit close when you're talking to them. Try to touch them. It'll make them feel closer to you even if they're cross with you, AND it'll make you feel closer to them (which may help you reign in your anger). Always hug after a fight!
3) Laughter is the best medicine.
Hunter Doherty, better known as Patch Adams, runs the Gesundheit Institute. He is a qualified doctor who has a special interest in the role of laughter in physical and mental health. It has been found that laughter improves blood circulation, alleviates pain, lowers blood pressure which stabilizes heart rate, inhibits the production of stress hormone cortisol and increases white blood cell activity- both of which increase immunity. Patch Adams found that ten minutes of laughter was associated with two hours of pain-relief!
Make sure you laugh with your children. Don't take everything too seriously. Even though life can be serious and stressful, we need to take a step back and just enjoy each other.
So have these old-fashioned studies become redundant? Or maybe not? You decide.
And if you decide you want to connect with your kids more,
try to ENGAGE, TOUCH and LAUGH with them every day. See for yourself what a
difference it will make!