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Human Relationships: Our Emotional Safe Haven

Safe Haven

When my mother began raising her family nearly 60 years ago, the conventional wisdom could be encapsulated by statements such as “Children are to be seen and not heard,” “Big boys don’t cry, ” and “If you hold a baby too much, you will spoil her.” So it should have come as no surprise to me when I was caring for my fist baby nearly 25 years ago that her advice was “You just need to let that baby cry…….it will help his lungs develop.” That counsel felt wrong in my soul and was contrary to everything that I had been taught in both my undergraduate and graduate training. Mother’s often know best, but in this case my mother was dead wrong!!! (I still love you, Mom!!!)

There was a time when the “sage advice” that my mother offered was unquestionably in line with the “best practices” in parenting; the underlying belief being that if parent’s responded to their children’s emotional outbursts that would lead to dangerous spoiling of one’s off-spring and would undermine the goal of fashioning independent and strong adults who were prepared to face the harsh realities of the world. Thanks, however, to the work of a brilliant British psychiatrist by the name of John Bowlby and a host of other “attachment based” researchers who followed, today we know that one of the primary tasks of parenthood runs contrary to that old conventional wisdom and requires that effective parents “attune to” or respond, tune in to, show empathy and understanding for their child’s ever changing emotional state and, thereby, a strong parent-child bond is formed. Countless research studies demonstrate that children who are fortunate enough to have formed a strong emotional connection to a primary care giver are more confident, secure and capable of facing that harsh world – completely contrary to the notion that responding to children’s emotionality would actually create weak and dependent adults. We now know that this strong bond creates for a child, what is known to attachment theorists and therapists, a “safe haven.” With this safe haven in place, a child can go out into the big, bad world and face whatever dangers might be lurking there with the assurance that at the end of the day, someone is at home awaiting their return – prepared to lick and bind up whatever wounds the day’s adventures may have inflicted.

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