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Delight (Positive Delusions)

There is a great deal of agreement among attachment theorists about the importance of positive feelings of interest/excitement and joy/enjoyment to facilitate attachment security in children.

Translated into everyday language, parenting a child with a sense of delight provides a kind of beacon, attracting the child to the light. Young children experience the world and themselves through their parent’s eyes.  When we delight in our children, they will see themselves as delightful.  A child who lives with a parent who is habitually depressed or angry will come to see themselves reflected in that light. When we pay attention to our children, they see themselves as lovable and worthy. How we pay attention influences the perception of themselves. Constant criticism, negative attention, harshness, judgment, and evaluation create an experience of un-worthiness and shame.

We, as parents, talk a lot about building self-esteem in our children, and we are often baffled by our unsuccessful efforts. Most effective communication happens at a non-verbal level. Actions truly speak louder than words. When we are living with a child who cannot regulate his emotions, we are in a position to help regulate. Every upset is an opportunity. How we influence our child’s dysregulated state is by first matching their “affect” (not their emotional state) which communicates that we are with them.  (“Affect” refers to the expression of emotional feelings displayed to others through facial expressions, hand gestures, voice tone, or body language.)  So if a child is angry, you would match the intensity of the expression rather than the actual anger. Helping regulate a child can only be accomplished by an emotionally regulated adult. When they are joined in this way, children are more able to feel validated and less defensive. They can receive comfort and reassurance. The act of joining a child when they are in a dysregulation state strengthens the relationship and calms their nervouse system.  You are creating a safe haven and a source of comfort they can reach for.

Children who have experienced early trauma often reject a comforting hand. Building and strengthening the connection with such a child requires patience, acceptance, and repetition.

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