Hi Katie and Julie!
My husband and I just finished Because They Waited, plus the African Countries seminar, for training as we prepare to adopt from Ethiopia. I wanted to say THANK YOU so much for all the excellent information. I have read a lot of parenting books and a lot of online parenting info, but your seminars were some of the most helpful, applicable content we’ve ever encountered.
We have two biological sons, ages 5 and 2, and as we went through Because They Waited, we really felt like a lot of it pertained to our older son. He has always been a challenge, and we’ve experienced him as “strong-willed” ever since he was tiny. But since hearing from you about attachment, we are wondering whether he is actually showing signs of attachment strain (which is awful to think about, as he has been in our hopefully-“optimal” care all his life!).
A basic profile: He is smart as a whip — started reading and doing basic math before age 4. He is a collector with varied and sometimes comical passions … he has collected coins, rocks, newspapers, stamps, and plastic lids among other things. He loves to joke, loves playing and watching sports, and loves doing anything with his daddy. He is wonderful, sweet and very loving when things are going well.
However, here are some of his characteristics that cause us concern:
— He was never a “cuddly” baby or child — still very much resists being “confined”
— HIGH need for control of his environment. Always invents a third choice when given two. Can be frustratingly defiant.
— Aggressive and often competitive with his younger brother. Lacks empathy, patience or impulse control when it comes to having his way at home.
— Has not valued or sought friendships with peers outside of our family. He’s not withdrawn, but just doesn’t seem to really know how to engage with kids his own age. Prefers the company/stability of grownups.
— Self-regulates pretty well at preschool, but lets it all hang out at home. He is prone to anger and tantrums with hitting, kicking and screaming when he doesn’t get his way or perceives an injustice.
We have gone around and around searching for the magical method of discipline that will work for him. We’ve used time-out, consequences, behavior modification, and spanking. But after Because They Waited, we’re wondering whether we’ve been going about parenting this child ALL WRONG! We’ve thought of his challenges as springing from rebellion, but thinking of his behavior as springing from a lack of TRUST pretty much breaks my heart.
So, my questions are: Can biological children raised in (not-perfect, but) good and loving homes suffer from attachment strain? Can you speak to whether there’s a difference between a child with attachment strain and a “strong-willed” but securely attached child? And do you have any action steps you’d suggest for our specific situation? (we’ve started to apply time-in and general pull-close parenting, and it seems to be making a difference already.)
Thank you so much — we’ve really appreciated your excellent teaching!
–A Thinking Mom
Thank you for sharing your experiences with Because They Waited. I am so impressed with your willingness to be open to other ways of parenting and with the obvious thought and effort you are putting in to doing your best job as a mom. These are the kind of stories that keep Julie and I going and the reason why Heart of the Matter Seminars exists!
Before I answer your questions, let me first say that I can only address your questions in a general manner since I don’t know you or your family. I do think you’ve asked some excellent questions, though, and would be glad to try to answer them as best as I can:
First of all, yes, attachment strain can be present in biological children who have always lived with their parents. It does NOT mean that they are unattached, but circumstances may mean that they are struggling with trust. For example, parents who are “wimpy” do not provide what the child needs to believe that they are trustworthy. Or, a child who has had many, many ear infections early in life may have had so many Cycles of Unmet Need (episodes of pain and discomfort) that they struggle with trust. Children who have not had emotionally sensitive enough and attuned enough parenting may also struggle with trust.
I believe some children are more sensitive than others. In fact, one thing that stuck out to me was that your son sounds very bright and possibly even gifted. These children are more aware and attuned to what is going on around them. They often have a more keen sense of injustice and ability to reason that can really intensify the impact of parenting that is not attuning to their emotional needs. They often struggle with peer relationships and prefer adult company because their brains just work on a different plane than the typical child their age.
In terms of your question about whether there is a difference between attachment strain and a securely attached “strong willed” child….Yes and no… It depends on how you define strong willed. I think that oftentimes in our society “strong willed” has become a nice way of saying “controlling” and in that sense, I would say that it’s the same thing…. a lack of trust. On the other hand, I define my daughter (and myself, if truth be known!) as “strong willed” in the sense of strong opinions, focus and determination but able to allow others to call the shots sometimes–particularly a person in authority.
You asked about specifics on what to do… It sounds like you are already on the right track! Lots of pull close parenting and Time In, but beyond that, I would suggest really honing your skills at managing his need to control. This is tricky at times–especially with a smart kid!!! I am not trying to sell you something for the sake of selling you something, but I really do think that our course “Discipline: Managing Your Child’s Bid for Power” would be very, very useful based on what you are describing. Power struggles and bids for power all really stem from a lack of trust or an attempt to control and like I said, there are a lot of nuances there that it’s important to think through and understand how to address–both proactively and reactively.
Hope this helps answer some of your questions. Let me know how it goes!