In studying infant-caretaker interactions, behavioral researchers have classified attachment styles into three main categories:
What about discipline? How can parents effectively handle unacceptable and even perilous behaviors that children sometimes demonstrate? For example, when parents forbid a toddler to run out in the street, play with knives, or turn the knob on the stove, Mom and Dad shout or they physically remove the child from imminent disaster. The child feels shame. But wait. Aren’t we supposed to keep children from feeling shame?
When I was a child growing up in a Catholic family, I was very confused about the relationship between emotions and spirituality. I knew that attending mass every Sunday was meant to be spiritual, but going to confession on Saturday afternoon was another matter. Recounting my wrongdoings to the priest through the latticed window in the dimly lit confessional and being given five Hail Mary prayers to recite as penance didn’t sit well with me.
The answer to both questions is no. Behavioral research now shows that the ego not only is real but is also responsible for two very important jobs. It keeps us alive and gives us a sense of self. Just as we physically grow up, our egos have to grow up as well. When the growing doesn’t happen, the ego unable to cope with life’s contingencies, resorts to detrimental behaviors and emotional mayhem. On the other hand, scientific data solidly indicates that as the ego emotionally matures, spirituality emerges as its natural companion.
Each of us has our own story as to the amount of nurturing we received very early in life…from parental separation and/or abuse to consistent loving emotional interactions. The fledging ego, like a plant in the seedling stage that is the fortunate recipient of the right nutrients grows into healthy expression. But when the seedling is either denied what is needed for its growth or is actually assaulted in its vulnerable plight, the internalization of nurturing experiences does not occur and the child does not know the repair of shame. Such a child feels separate and disconnected. However, given the right conditions, the ego can and will grow. Here are four behaviors parents can employ in promoting secure bonding with their infants.