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Attachments 14

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Attachments 14

(We are now working on understanding and cultivating a secure attachment style.  You can follow along with me on page 131.  As we talk about parenting tonight, if you don’t have any children or your children are grown, don’t make the mistake of being inattentive.  Pay close attention and try to figure out how your parents’ parenting style has brought you to where you are!)

Pathways to the Secure Attachment Style

“Sensitive parenting lays the stepping stones on the pathway leading to secure attachment…  Sensitive parenting is characterized by four main goals.

·        Regulation to help children learn to self-soothe and calm down when they’re upset.  This is foundational to regulating emotions and allowing the children to develop an ability to focus attention outside themselves and onto other people and things.

·        Relationship warmth to help children experience relationships as safe, warm, and interesting.  Warmth instills the notion that relationships are where one turns when upset and in need of comfort.  (Many of us have learned very well that relationships are not the place to turn for comfort.)

·        Self-awareness to help children learn how to express in words their internal experiences such as thoughts, feelings, intentions, and physical sensations.  Self-awareness helps improve the regulation skills and becomes the basis of empathy.  (This is contrary to American culture.  Stewart and Bennett, in their lankmark book, American Cultural Patterns:  A Cross-Cultural Perspective write, “As Americans approach a moment of action, many of their thoughts, emotions, and fantasies must be carefully masked before they are expressed because they would be considered unseemly.  Emotion and social feelings thus become undercurrents in American human affairs, seldom attended to and often disruptive.”[1])

(The fourth goal of sensitive parenting is:)

·        Developmental focus to help children meet the various developmental challenges of their lives:  how to live within limits, how to become self-motivated, how to deal with separation, how to get along with peers, how to respect authority, how to develop spirituality, how to live morally, and so on.  Basically, how to become good people within themselves and society.”[2]

“Pretty easy to say all that, isn’t it?  But of course it’s not all that easy to do.  Sensitive parents have a lot on their plates.  And around the edges of that plate is written in bold letters:  I am trying to construct an emotional foundation on which my children can experience healthy relationships for the rest of their lives.

To make things even more complicated, a sensitive mother to a three-month-old infant is a lot different than the sensitive mother to a fifteen-year-old high-schooler.  Each developmental stage requires a new face of sensitivity—new skills, new levels of patience, new elements of life’s mosaic responses to stress.”[3]

If you are interested, I cover the various developmental stages of life in a sermon series entitled:  “The Transitions Of Life.”

(Okay, we move on to:)

Finding the Zone:  How Children Grow

“God has set down some universal principles for how elements of His creation grow and mature.  One particularly important principle is what developmental psychologists call the zone of proximal development.  Sounds impressive, doesn’t it?  And it is—although we prefer to think of it simply as ‘the zone.’  This principle says that anything that grows and matures does best when provided with the right mixture of two critical ingredients:  support and challenge.”[4]

       Good coaches know how to apply the right combination of support and challenge to each team member.

       Sensitive parents are good coaches.  They have to know how to challenge their children and support them in just the right combination.  This is also one of those areas where balance is important.  If we are too supportive with our children, they are not going to develop the guts or toughness to face the difficulties of life.  If we are too challenging with our children, they are not going to develop the confidence necessary to believe in themselves.

(All right, one of the areas of coaching that parents must move in is:)

Emotion Coaching

Parents also must teach their children how to handle negative emotions, among them, sadness, anger, frustration, anxiety, jealousy.  Although we’ve found many parents who believe handling these strong feelings comes naturally to children, the fact is, it doesn’t.  Just like reading, writing, arithmetic, and baseball, coping with with strong emotions is a learned skill, one that requires parents and other connected adults to become good coaches.  But how do you do that?

       John Gottman, the eminent marriage and family researcher, and his colleagues have studied families’ emotional lives and identified four different parenting patterns, each pattern reflecting a philosophy of emotional life.

·        Dismissive pattern.  This parenting style ignores the children’s feelings and views them as unimportant and, at best, a necessary nuisance.  When their children display negative feelings, like anger or sadness, these parents ignore the feelings and brush them away.  Usually the parents’ goal is to not draw attention to the negative feelings, believing that acknowledging them will reinforce the negativity.  In this family, everyone is expected to always be happy; sadness is not tolerated.  This approach doesn’t offer the right mix of challenge or support, which keeps kids from entering the zone.

·        Disapproving pattern.  This style of parenting disapproves of negative feelings.  These parents use various coercive methods to stamp out negative emotions in their children.  They’ll put down the kids or use sarcasm and contempt to criticize them.  They may even punish the kids for expressing negative feelings.  This style also keeps kids from ‘zone-dom.’  Disapproving parents may think they’re challenging their children to deal with their emotions, but their ‘help’ is too negative and derogatory to be a challenge.  And they typically offer far too little assistance in problem solving to be supportive.

·        Laissez-faire pattern.  Unlike the previous patterns, this style can accept and empathize with children’s negative feelings.  But these parents have difficulty helping their children figure out what to do to solve the stress-creating problem.  These parents also have difficulty setting firm limits with their children.  They offer lots of support but not enough challenge.

·        Emotion-coaching pattern.  This pattern helps children learn necessary skills to deal with negative emotion.  It assumes that your children’s negative feelings are an opportunity for you, the parent, to build a bridge of intimacy and to deepen your connection with your kids.  It also includes these important characteristics:

1.     Awareness of your children’s negative feelings, even when they’re at a low level of intensity.  (This will take some attention to your children and a measure of discernment.)

2.     Understanding and validating your children’s feelings then communicating to them that you see why they feel the way they do (empathy).  (Once again, Stewart and Bennett, in their lankmark book, American Cultural Patterns:  A Cross-Cultural Perspective give us the difference between sympathy and empathy.  They write, “sympathy is effective when people share common values.  The difficulty appears when the ‘other’ is significantly different from one’s self…”[5]  I hope that you can see that your values are often not like your children’s values and you may not feel the way they do.  The task before us requires empathy.  Stewart and Bennett write, “Empathy relies on the ability to temporarily set aside one’s own perception of the world and assume an alternative perspective.  Self-interest and purposes are held in check as one attempts to place oneself in the immediate situation and field (but not in the shoes) of another.  Empathy assumes that the self is different from others; therefore, the shared qualities of subjective individualism upon which Americans build their interface of sympathy is not available.”[6]

In other words, you can put yourself in your children’s situation, but not in their shoes, because you are different from them.  Sympathy often takes place in a face-to-face interaction, because there is the assumption of a common experience.  Empathy often takes place in a side-by-side interaction, exchanging side glances and looking jointly at something in front, because you are establishing a common perception.

3.     Guilding your children in developing their own self-awareness by helping them find words to label feelings and thoughts.  (This is difficult for many of us, because we were never taught to do this…making it difficult for us to teach something that we have never learned.)

4.     Working with your children to find solutions to their problems, asking, ‘What can be done to make the situation better?’ or ‘What might be a better way to look at this situation so it doesn’t make you feel so bad.

5.     Setting limits on behavior.  This is critical.  Children must be taught that feeling intensely does not grant them the license to act out.  (Many adults have never learned this!  Because you feel bad does not give you the right to display those feelings in any way that you choose.  You don’t have the right to abuse me, because you feel badly.  You can’t curse me out, because you had a bad day at work.  And, you can’t curse me out, because you are on your period.)  Rather, it’s an opportunity to examine their feelings and the situation prompting them, and then to govern their feelings and command the situation, just as Scripture indicates:  ‘Be angry and do not sin’ (Ephesians 4:26 nkjv).  God understands our pain and suffering, but He still requires us to live obediently.”[7]

Example:  One of my grandchildren said, “Granddad, I’m scared about moving away from here!”  Now, we could deal with this statement in a number of ways.

·        We could dismiss the child’s feelings, “Well, there’s nothing to be scared about.  I’ll still be around and you can and visit me.”  The information is true, but it fails to deal with the child’s anxiety.

·        We could disapprove of the child’s feelings.  We could belittle the child’s feelings, “Well, my God, you just need to grow up!  There’s no sense in being scared about a little move.  You’ll get over it.”

·        Or, we could use the laissez-faire pattern.  “Come on over here and sit on my lap and let’s just cry about it.”  Or,

·        We could do some emotional coaching by saying, “You know I can relate to that feeling, because I’m scared too.  I have never lived here in this house without you.  So, let’s walk through this together and see how we can deal with our fears.  Perhaps knowing that we can visit each other and call each other will help us to overcome these fears?”

“We believe Gottman’s emotion-coaching style to be one of the best techniques sensitive parents can use to help their children deal with negative emotions.  It offers the perfect combination of support and challenge while encouraging listening, validation, and empathy, and it helps children discover ways to cope with the negative feelings without acting out.

This parenting approach also creates fertile soil for the secure self to root, grow, and mature.  It helps children develop the secure relationship rules we’ve previously mentioned, a healty sense of attachment combined with a trust in others….

This approach also carries some important spiritual ramifications.  When we see our children’s negative emotions are opportunities for building intimacy, we also see that our emotions are steppingstones to greater intimacy with God.  Ask yourself, when you get upset, do you feel God will meet you where you are, in the anger, in the sadness, in your fear?  Or do you believe He requires you to calm down before coming to Him?  Scripture teaches that God allows pain in our lives so that we seek Him and experience His goodness through His ability to be with us in our pain.  Our emotion, our pain, and our sufferings pave the royal road to intimacy with God.  (Pain can be the pathway to intimacy with God!)

Emotional coaching is a model that teaches our children that God is not turned off or repulsed by our thoughts and feelings.  Rather, He wants us to come to Him.  He’s not intimidated by the anguished cries of our soul.  And as a loving father would be, He is there for us—helping to deliver us with open arms.  When we respond lovingly, supportively, and confidently to our children’s emotion, we not only teach them how to better handle their feelings, we teach them that God is a God of comfort as they begin to see the Father in us.”[8]

(All right, let’s end this session of teaching by looking at:)

The Legacy of the Secure Self

“When we present this parenting model at conferences, we’re frequently asked, ‘Doesn’t this just teach our children they can get away with having a bad attitude?  If all you focus on is emotion, how do kids learn discipline—how to behave and follow rules?’

       These are good questions, and we are finding the answers through ongoing research and through our experience.  Gottman studied the effects of emotion coaching on preschoolers and followed them into middle childhood.  He found that kids who received emotion coaching from their parents were

·        doing better academically:  They make better grades and enjoyed learning more.

·        physically healthier:  They got fewer colds and made fewer trips to the doctor.

·        better equipped socially:  They make and kept friends more eaily.

·        more emotionally stable:  They displayed fewer negative emotions and more positive ones.

·        better behaved:  The had fewer problems with authorities and fewer fights with other children.” [9]

Homework:    Attachments (pages 138-144).

God’s word for you tonight is:

Matthew 11:28-30 (NASB-U), “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. [29] Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. [30] For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

This is Jesus doing emotion-coaching of us, i.e. His children!

·        He invites us to come to Him, regardless of our weary feelings.

·        By this invitation, He let’s us know that He accepts our feelings.

·        He also invites us to learn from Him.

·        In this invitations, He tells us of His nature and His concern that we find rest for our souls.

·        He also shares that His yoke is easy and His burden light!

So, Jesus invites us to come to Him, no matter what we are feeling!!!

(Now is the Day of Salvation!  Come to Jesus, Now!)


Call to Discipleship


[1] Edward C. Stewart and Milton J. Bennett, American Cultural Patterns:  A Cross Cultural Perspective, Intercultural Press, Inc., Yarmouth, Maine, 1972 (Revised 1991), p. 150.

[2] Tim Clinton & Gary Sibcy, Attachments, Integrity Publishers, Brentwood, Tennessee, 2002, pp. 131-132.

[3] Tim Clinton & Gary Sibcy, Attachments, Integrity Publishers, Brentwood, Tennessee, 2002, p. 132.

[4] Tim Clinton & Gary Sibcy, Attachments, Integrity Publishers, Brentwood, Tennessee, 2002, p. 133.

[5] Edward C. Stewart and Milton J. Bennett, American Cultural Patterns:  A Cross Cultural Perspective, Intercultural Press, Inc., Yarmouth, Maine, 1972 (Revised 1991), p. 152.

[6] Edward C. Stewart and Milton J. Bennett, American Cultural Patterns:  A Cross Cultural Perspective, Intercultural Press, Inc., Yarmouth, Maine, 1972 (Revised 1991), p. 152.

[7] Tim Clinton & Gary Sibcy, Attachments, Integrity Publishers, Brentwood, Tennessee, 2002, pp. 134-135.

[8] Tim Clinton & Gary Sibcy, Attachments, Integrity Publishers, Brentwood, Tennessee, 2002, pp. 137-138.

[9] Tim Clinton & Gary Sibcy, Attachments, Integrity Publishers, Brentwood, Tennessee, 2002, p. 138.

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