Category: Attachment

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When the Expectation is for Parents to Hover

00Attachment, Attention, Child Development, Featured news, Identity, Parenting December, 16

Source: Dennis Skley on Flickr, Creative Commons

In September 2015, the Supreme Court of British Columbia, Canada, ruled that a mother, known only as ‘B.R.’, could no longer leave her eight-year old son home alone for two hours after school. As reported in a Vancouver Sun article by Brian Morton, this court decision implies that children under the age of ten cannot be left unsupervised under any circumstance.

The implications of this case reach far beyond B.R.’s personal story, and may have serious consequences, raising questions around babysitting, and even whether parents can leave children alone in the house to fetch something from the backyard or to have a conversation with the neighbours.

The ruling is seen by some as reflecting a shift toward helicopter parenting, where parents “hover”, rarely leaving children alone or allowing them to make their own decisions. This consistent interference may in fact hinder a child’s development.

Kathleen Vinson, a professor at Suffolk University, views parental hovering as preventing children from gaining a sense of independence and privacy, which in turn can impede a child’s ability to mature into a healthy, responsible adult later in life. In her research, Vinson found that:

“…the impact of having helicopter parents may have resulted in children’s under-involvement in decision-making; reduced ability to cope; and lack of experience with self-advocacy, self-reliance, or managing personal time.”

Vinson’s research highlights a helplessness and lack of control that many of these children feel. As they move through adolescence to enter university and an increasingly competitive job market, these young adults may find it difficult to juggle the stress brought on by sudden autonomy.

Similar views are expressed by Lenore Skenazy, author of the blog Free Range Kids.With tongue-in-cheek, this self-proclaimed “world’s worst mom” speaks out against tactics such as GPS-tracking one’s children. She supports the idea that it is normal for both parents and children to make mistakes. According to Skenazy, these experiences are an opportunity for a child to develop and mature:

Childhood is not a crime. Down time is not dangerous. In fact, it’s the fertile soil where creativity takes root. Do you wish you’d grown up with your mom tracking your every move? If not, don’t do it to your own kid.” 

But parents often believe they are doing the right thing. Over-attentiveness may come from a place of genuine concern, and the consequences of leaving one’s children unattended.

A Parents Magazine article explains that for many, even the smallest failure or accident can seem disastrous, especially if parental involvement could have prevented it.

And parental involvement is a crucial aspect of a child’s mental health and development. In their textbook, Home and School Relations, University of North Dakota professors Glenn Olsen and Mary Lou Fuller examine the impact of parental participation in children’s education. The authors found that children whose parents showed more interest and involvement in their growth tended to excel academically across multiple domains, including classroom performance and standardized testing—a trend that continued well into higher education.

Still, problems arise when parent involvement extends too far, leaving young adults helpless in trying to find their footing, impeding normal development and failing to foster independence.

For such competencies are necessary to cope with the trials and tribulations of adult life.

–Andrei Nestor, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

–Chief Editor: Robert T. MullerThe Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Russian Adoption Laws Leave Children Warehoused and Unwanted

00Attachment, Child Development, Ethics and Morality, Featured news, Health, Law and Crime, Parenting June, 16

Source: John Manuel Sommerfeld on Flickr

It is a life of deafening silence, colourless walls, and empty corridors, a life of intense longing and disappointment. For over 600,000 children living in Russian orphanages waiting to be adopted, it is the only life they know.

In 2013, Russia passed a law to ban the adoption of orphaned children by American citizens, in part because of tense political relations between the two countries. In 2014, Russia also banned the adoption of orphans into any country that acknowledges same-sex marriage in order to “protect children’s psyche from the undesirable effects of exposure to unconventional sexual relationships.”

With these measures in place, finding homes for orphans outside the country has become very difficult.

Meanwhile, adoption within the borders of Russia faces its own set of barriers. Cultural prejudice against adoption perpetuates feelings of rejection among orphaned children and contributes to fears amongst potential adoptive parents that orphans have inherited undesirable traits and tendencies from their biological parents.

As one adoptive parent, Vera Dobrinskaya, stated in a BBC interview, many orphanage staff members discourage adoption when meeting with prospective parents. She quoted a nurse as saying to her, “Their parents abandoned them, and you want to take care of them?”

Unlike orphans in other countries, 95% of Russian orphans have at least one living parent. Often, they are taken forcibly into state custody because of family illness, disability, or poverty.

While institutions manage to provide for children’s basic physical needs, most Russian orphanages fail to take mental health into consideration. Research has shown that mass institutionalization and the absence of regular adoption practices harm children’s health and development.

To make matters worse, the interaction of staff members and children in these facilities is minimal and conducted in a formal manner, with little warmth or emotion. Daily activities like waking up, showering, dressing, and feeding are carried out in a militaristic way.

As the BBC explains, the problem of Russian orphanages is mainly in their self-identification as warehouses for unwanted children.

Georgette Mulheir, an advocate in the movement to end child abuse, explains why mental health neglect is a problem for these children in a recent TED Talk. While visiting a Russian orphanage, Mulheir reported seeing rooms lined with rows of barred beds, with children quietly gazing up at the ceiling. Newborns also lay in silence, often wearing soiled diapers but not crying, unfamiliar with the help that comes from attentive caregiving. And the head nurse proudly told Mulheir, “You see, our children are very well-behaved.”

Lacking proper stimulation and without secure attachment, many children develop odd and often self-injurious behaviours, such as rocking back and forth or banging their heads into walls. Just as healthy attachment between children and caregivers provides a sense of security for psychological, emotional, and physical development, lacking appropriate caregiving can seriously damage mental health.

As Stephen Bavolek, in the field of child abuse suggests, some of the problems these children can expect as they grow up include poor impulse control, impaired foresight, and a lack of trust in and affection for others.

Several months after the Russian adoption bans were implemented, the United Nations held a meeting to develop alternate childcare programs. Local governments within Russia were instructed to begin transferring children from orphanages to foster families.

This process, however, has encountered resistance from the institutional staff. As child rights protection activist, Maria Ostrovskaya, explains, “Institutions reject sending children into families, as state funding brings jobs and paychecks.”

The situation remains unresolved while many thousands of children wait for politicians to decide their fate. The stakes are high, as many of the children grow up with a risk of being sold into slavery, committing crimes, entering prostitution, or taking their own lives.

– Sara Benceković, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. MullerThe Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

Sensory Sensitivity Can Strain Parent-Child Relations

Sensory Sensitivity Can Strain Parent-Child Relations

00Attachment, Child Development, Featured news, Parenting, Relationships, Stress, Trauma November, 15

Source: Camp ASCCA/Flickr

“For a child that has sensory hypersensitivity, every touch is painful. A hug is perceived as a painful gesture.”

So says Yael Ohri, a preschool teacher who specializes in identifying and alerting parents to potential issues their children may have with sensory sensitivity.

Sensory sensitivity is an important concern for some children and their parents. Low sensory thresholds characterize sensory hypersensitivity, in which any touch or experience can overwhelm the child, while sensory hyposensitivity occurs when a child is “under-sensitive” to stimuli.

Ohri was trained by clinical-developmental psychologist Rami Katz at Tel Aviv University, who trains professionals who work with children, in the Neuro-Developmental & Functional Approach (NDFA). Developed by Katz, NDFA aims to address early developmental issues by targeting the underlying source of the problem, rather than the external manifestations like the behavioural and learning difficulties resulting from sensory sensitivity.

Sensory hypersensitivity comes in various forms as it may be experienced through any of the five senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, or taste. Ohri states that “a child’s skin may be so sensitive that she might complain that the tag in the back of the shirt, or the stitching in the socks is bothersome. Every little thing is experienced so intensely in a way that a child with normal sensitivity would not feel at all.”

Also of concern, over- or under- sensitivity in children can negatively affect the formation of attachment between parent and child.

As Ohri explains, “imagine a new mother who gives her baby a bath, and throughout the duration of the bath, the baby does not stop screaming, it can be very frustrating. The mom may blame herself and say, ‘I’m such a terrible mother, I can’t even bathe my baby,’ or worse, she may get angry with her baby for acting up and proclaim, ‘my baby hates me,’ causing an attachment issue right off the bat.”

To help young children struggling with average intensity stimuli, occupational therapists may stimulate the child’s skin with different brushes that allow the body to moderate the sensory input.

This, as well as other techniques, is designed to help sensory sensitivity. Still, Ohri believes that a critical element of treatment is simple awareness.

“It is essential that parents understand their child’s hyper- or hypo- sensitivity, and that it’s not something that the child is doing to them on purpose.” By raising early awareness, the issue is addressed when it is still relatively easy to treat. Ohri views it as much worse when the issue is not targeted early, leading to fights and stress in the family, as well as parents labelling the child as having a personality problem.

A sensory hyper-sensitive child may be labelled as irritable or whiny. Similarly, a hypo-sensitive child, who tends to be rougher, does so “not because he’s doing it on purpose, but instead, because he needs to hold and feel you and in order to do that, he does so more strongly. This kind of child is often labelled as violent.”

The problem is that this type of labelling can result in a self-fulfilling prophecy where the child ends up thinking of himself as difficult or rude, identity characteristics that become difficult to break free of later on.

Ohri argues that awareness helps. “Once parents become aware that the child has a sensory sensitivity, and begin asking themselves the right questions about the child’s day-to-day behaviours, they learn to alter their interaction with their child in order to avoid conflicts.”

Does simply being aware solve the problem altogether? No, but it’s a start.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that the child stops being sensitive, but it helps moderate the difficulties and makes the child’s environment more understanding. This applies to both the child and the family. As both sides become more aware, living with sensory sensitivity becomes more tolerable. Mothers are amazing, if they are made aware, they find the solution.”

But what about parents who struggle with their own mental health? Parents dealing with personal trauma may find it harder to perceive signals coming from their child and may interpret them inaccurately.

According to developmental psychologist, Sarah Landy, at the Hincks-Dellcrest Centre in Toronto, parents who don’t have their personal needs met due to past trauma, find it difficult to emotionally connect with their children and respond sensitively to their needs. “When parents are unavailable due to trauma,” says Ohri, “awareness alone won’t do the trick, since the parents might not be able to get there on their own.”

So, parents who work toward resolving their own struggles with mental health will likely become better attuned to their children’s cues and respond to them more sensitively.

Sensory hyper- and hypo-sensitivity can be resolved relatively easily when targeted early, but can become a more complex issue when ignored or treated incorrectly, or when parents are not emotionally available to notice the problem.

Through the difficulties, Ohri emphasizes, “awareness is key.”

– Noam Bin-Noon, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

Book Review: “Drop the Worry Ball”

Book Review: “Drop the Worry Ball”

00Anxiety, Attachment, Featured news, Parenting, Perfectionism, Resilience July, 15

Source: Stephan Hochhaus/Flickr

Parents are inundated with conflicting advice on how to raise their children. Pediatrician William Sears’ attachment parenting couldn’t be more different from the approach taken by “tiger mother” Amy Chua.  The range of “how-to” styles can leave parents scratching their heads about what’s best.

Research tends to support an authoritative parenting style, a balance of clear guidelines and expectations paired with warmth and attentiveness.  But in this age of perfected parenting, we are seeingan increase in anxiety and depression in children. Some think that caregivers are overparenting, and that this over-attentiveness may be causing problems.

In his latest book Drop the Worry Ball (2012, Wiley),clinical psychologist Alex Russell says that children no longer grow up; nowadays we raise them, placing all responsibility on the parents.  This results in caretaking that is too protective, too involved.  At the extreme, this becomes helicopter parenting.  Parents “hover” nearby, hyper-aware of the risks and needs of their child before the child is able to evaluate a situation or make decisions on their own.

Russell’s observation of the two outcomes of over-parenting:  too little or too much anxiety in children, parallel research of Ellen Sandester, professor at Queen Maud University College of Early Childhood Education in Norway.  Sandester argues that it is through risk that children expose themselves to fearful situations, and the thrill experienced from coping with anxiety helps develop the child’s evaluation of their ability to cope with future challenges.  When children are prevented from engaging in these non-catastrophic risks, they become either hypo-anxious or hyper-anxious.  With the first, there is too little realistic perception of consequences, so the child seeks greater thrill or tries out more dangerous situations.  With hyper-anxiety, the lack of experience leads the child to become phobic of novel situations.

Similar, but not identical to Sandester, Russell argues that we are seeing two kinds of children develop as a result of over-parenting.  First, there are those who become disengaged or avoidant of stress and anxiety and don’t want to take on the adult world. And second, there is the hyper-anxious child, the pleaser and perfectionist.  The imbalance of anxiety is created by anxious parents who hold the worry for their children –essentially shielding them from normal developmental experiences.  Similar to Sandester’s analysis, these children are deprived of the opportunity to cope with healthy, necessary levels of stress and anxiety.

That anxious parents could produce anxious children is not surprising, but that over-attentive parenting leads to hypo-anxious, disengaged children seems counterintuitive.  A lot of media attention has been given to the increasing numbers of children who are disengaged.  Russell argues however, that the same parenting style can create this avoidance of anxiety.  The parents make the adult world appear stressful and unmanageable, so why grow up?

Russell acknowledges that there is no quick fix, and that all parents make mistakes.  He recommends a mindful approach to parenting.  That is, a shift back to listening and reflecting on what the child says and does, instead of giving advice or actively taking over.

Parents need to appreciate that the child has the ability to cope with everyday risks, and need to give the child the space he or she needs to solve problems.

This book is a worthwhile read for parents.  Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that raising kids is about being “good-enough,” not perfect.

After all, children do grow up, and seem to do this best with a little space to explore and learn from mistakes.

– By Heather Carter-Simmons, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

“Love Hormone” Oxytocin Linked to Domestic Violence

“Love Hormone” Oxytocin Linked to Domestic Violence

00Anger, Attachment, Domestic Violence, Emotion Regulation, Featured news, Oxytocin, Relationships July, 15

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For years the scientific study of relationships has centered on the hormone oxytocin. Made in our brains and traveling through our blood, oxytocin is said to be the physiological glue that brings humans together. It makes us trust and become attached to one another.

During childbirth, oxytocin is released in large amounts to help facilitate uterine contractions, to encourage milk production during lactation, and to enhance maternal-child bonding. The hormone can also offer relief for chronic pain sufferers and is released during sexual intimacy, connecting us emotionally to our partners.

Oxytocin is known for its ability to strengthen social bonds. But as hormones are complex, surprising new research points to a potentially dangerous side of oxytocin: High levels may be associated with relationship violence.

Because of oxytocin’s associations to social behaviour, researchers have studied the use of oxytocin to treat interpersonal symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and personality disorders. In 2003, Eric Hollander, psychiatry professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, showed abnormal oxytocin levels in people with ASD. When he administered oxytocin to them, it improved speech comprehension and recognition of emotions, important factors for establishing relationships.

Paul Zak, economist at Claremont Graduate University, says that oxytocin is responsible for behaviours like empathy, cooperation, and trust. In one study, he tempted participants with money, and found that those who inhaled oxytocin, compared to a control group, were more willing to give their money to a stranger. That is, those in the experimental group were more trusting.

Since oxytocin is naturally released during intimate moments, Zak prescribes eight hugs a day to make us happier and warmer people. But as with all medical science, oxytocin is complicated. And its catchy nicknames may be misleading.

Recent research by psychologist Nathan DeWall at the University of Kentucky and his colleagues demonstrated that oxytocin may be a factor in abusive relationships, if the abusive individual is already an aggressive person.

DeWall initially measured the underlying aggressive tendencies of male and female undergraduates. Participants were randomly split into two groups and unknowingly inhaled oxytocin or a placebo spray.

DeWall then created stressful situations that are known to elicit aggression. He asked the subjects to give a public speech to an unsupportive audience, and later experience the uncomfortable pain of an ice-cold bandage placed on their forehead.

Individuals then rated how likely they would be to engage in specific violent acts toward their current or most recent romantic partner; for example, to “throw something at [their] partner that could hurt.”

Oxytocin increased inclinations toward intimate partner violence (IPV), but only in participants who were prone to physical aggression.

Similarly, a study by Jennifer Bartz, a psychiatry professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, shows that oxytocin hinders trust and cooperation in persons with borderline personality disorder, which is characterized by pervasive instability in moods, behaviours, and interpersonal relationships.

Notably, DeWall’s experiment took place in a laboratory setting, and it’s an open question as to whether this finding is generalizable to actual violent behaviour in domestic relationships.

DeWall explains that oxytocin is linked to maintaining relationships by keeping the ones we love close. For those with aggressive tendencies, preserving a relationship can mean controlling or dominating the partner with physical and emotional abuse.

In his book The Other Side of Normal, Harvard psychiatrist, Jordan Smoller explains that prior trauma in relationships gives a “negative colouring” to trust and intimacy. Oxytocin is still released when unhealthy relationships form; it just becomes associated with relationship trauma and contributes to unhealthy attachments.

Oxytocin is imperative for human connection, but it seems that past experience and interpersonal predispositions complicate oxytocin’s social-bonding capabilities.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, approximately 960,000 domestic violence incidents occur every year. While only in its preliminary stages, DeWall’s research helps us better understand the complicated minds of offenders, and offers hope for preventing domestic violence.

– Shira Yufe, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

Child Criminals, Feature2

Children Who Kill Are Often Victims Too

00Adolescence, Attachment, Caregiving, Child Development, Empathy, Ethics and Morality, Featured news, Law and Crime, Parenting, Psychiatry, Punishment, Self-Control, Therapy, Trauma March, 15

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In 1993, in Merseyside, England, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were charged with the abduction and murder of 2-year-old James Bulger.  Bulger had been abducted from a shopping mall, repeatedly assaulted, and his body left to be run over by a train.  Both Venables and Thompson were 10 years old at the time.

The public and the media called for justice, seeking harsh punishment and life imprisonment for the murder of a child.  The boys were labeled as inherently evil and unrepentant for their crimes.

When there are crimes against children, it is common for the public to view the victims as innocent and the perpetrators as depraved monsters.  But what do we do when the accused are also children?

Instances of children (12 years of age and younger) who have killed other children are extremely rare.  In a study conducted by University of New Hampshire professors David Finkelhor and Richard Ormrod for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), murders of children committed by those aged 11 and under accounted for less than 2 percent of all child murders in the US. Cases also tend to differ significantly, so conclusions can be difficult to make.  But there are some similarities that have emerged, telling us about the minds of child murderers.

Children who murder have often been severely abused or neglected and have experienced a tumultuous home life.  Psychologist Terry M. Levy, a proponent of corrective attachment therapy at the Evergreen Psychotherapy Centre, notes that children who have severe attachment problems (which often result from unreliable and ineffective caregiving) and a history of abuse may develop very aggressive behaviours.  They can also have trouble controlling emotions, which can lead to impulsive, violent outbursts directed at themselves or others.

Other similarities among child murderers include having a family member with a criminal record, suffering from a traumatic loss, a history of disruptive behaviour, witnessing or experiencing violence, and being rejected or abandoned by a parent.  Problems in the home can be particularly influential.  If a child witnesses or experiences violence, they are likely to repeat violence in other situations.

What a child understands at the time of the crime is of great importance to the justice system.  The minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) is the age at which children are deemed capable of committing a crime.  The MACR differs between jurisdictions, but allows any person at or above the set chronological age to be criminally charged, and receive criminal penalties, which can include life imprisonment.

Many courts consider criminal responsibility in terms of understanding.  So they may consider someone criminally responsible if, at the time of the crime, they understood the act was wrong, understood the difference between right and wrong or understood that their behaviour was a crime.  But this approach has been criticized as being too simplistic.  Criminal responsibility requires the understanding of various other factors, many of which children cannot appreciate.

Children may know that certain behaviours are ‘wrong’, but only as a result of what adults have taught them, and not because they fully understand the moral argument behind it.  Morality and the finality of death are abstract concepts, and according to theorists such as Swiss psychologist-philosopher Jean Piaget (whose theory of child development has seen much empirical support), most children under 12 are only able to reason and solve problems using ideas that can be represented concretely.  It is not until puberty that the ability to reason with abstract concepts (like thinking about hypothetical situations) develops.

Prepubescent children are also not fully emotionally developed, and less able to use self-control and appreciate the consequences of their actions.  This, in combination with the fact that many child murderers are impulsive, aggressive, and unable to deal with their emotions, suggests that when children kill, they are treating their victim as a target, as an outlet for violence.  Most victims are either much younger than or close to the same age as the perpetrators, which may suggest they were chosen because they could be overpowered easily.

Research to date suggests that child murderers don’t fully understand the severity or implications of their crimes.  And psychiatric assessments have shown intense psychological disturbance, making true appreciation of the crime even less likely.  Yet many children have been found criminally responsible and sentenced in adult courts.

Jon Venables, Robert Thompson, and Mary Bell received therapeutic intervention while incarcerated, and have since been released.  As far as the public knows, only Venables has reoffended.  However, Eric Smith (convicted of killing 4-year-old Derrick Robie) remains behind bars today, even though he was imprisoned at 13.

Critics of judicial leniency for children accused of murder often cite the refrain ”adult crime; adult time,” choosing to focus on the severity of the crime rather than the age and competency of the offender.  Make no mistake; the murders of these children were brutal, depraved acts that caused intense suffering for the victims, their families, and communities.

But in our zeal, in our outrage, do we dehumanize these children?  Children who—like their victims—can be victims too.

– Contributing Writer: Jennifer Parlee, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

Photo Credit:torbakhopper/Flikr

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Why Does Anyone Love Men Who Won’t Love Back?

10Anxiety, Attachment, Bias, Featured news, Health, Media, Relationships, Sex February, 15

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You’ve seen the character a thousand times—the mysteriously sexy male protagonist. The lone wolf.

He saunters into women’s lives, gives them a wink, and they trip over themselves to gain his affections. Little do they know, he is incapable of such basic inclinations as love, having in fact buried his emotions years ago in the corners of his cold heart. Naturally, he becomes even more desirable, and the women who were tripping over themselves before, are now desperately crawling after him. This cannot last forever, and the lone wolf must leave. And so he does, leaving a trail of broken hearts in his wake.

The plot has appeared in many Hollywood movies, from classic westerns to gangster films to the James Bond series. Even romantic comedies have jumped on the bandwagon, with jaded, rejecting players who finally meet “the one” and struggle to learn how to love.

50 Shades of Grey, the film based on the novel about a fictional BDSM relationship, just hit theaters. Anastasia, the female protagonist, is portrayed as a normal, healthy young woman, while Christian Grey is the king of lone wolves—though presumably all lone wolves are the de facto kings of their prides.

Christian Grey has all the typical trappings of the tall, dark, and mysterious stranger. He refuses any type of romantic relationship, claiming to not be a “flowers and romance kind of guy.” He forbids Anastasia from touching him or even making eye contact during sex. Though we may shake our heads and claim we would never endorse such a relationship, the book series has sold over 100 million copies worldwide.

A quick perusal of most fan-generated lists of the sexiest fictional male characters reveals our obsession with solitary, rejecting men—James Bond, Indiana Jones, George Clooney in pretty much anything, Batman, Edward Cullen (whose heart is literally dead)—and the list goes on.

We love characters who can’t love us back. Though there are slight differences, the Christian Greys and James Bonds of the world are strikingly reminiscent of the dismissive-avoidant attachment style.

Briefly: The dismissive-avoidant style is characterized by discomfort with intimacy or feelings of vulnerability. Being emotional or dependent, for such people, is equated with weakness. Hollywood has ensured that we find this type of character irresistible. It’s hard to find a movie that doesn’t frame the solitary male as desirable. By the same token, it’s rare to find a “clingy” (or anxiously-attached) character portrayed in a positive light.

Of course fiction is fiction, but pop culture permeates our norms. It’s hard to ignore the influence on our vocabulary and perceptions of self and other. Who doesn’t secretly want to be as cool as James Bond? As nonchalant as Don Draper? Or, for that matter, as flippant as the avoidant Mary Crawley of “Downton Abbey”? Nobody wants to be the clingy ex-girlfriend or the nagging mother-in-law.

So why do dismissive-avoidant types get all the screen time, portrayed as the coolest-of-the-cool while the anxiously attached are stereotyped as clingy and annoying? Is being stoic and rejecting really better than seeking too much affection?

It’s important to draw a distinction between what actual dismissive-avoidant individuals are like and Hollywood’s portrayal of them. It’s not that being dismissing-avoidance gives you physical agility, a six-figure salary, or an arsenal of quippy pick-up lines. More likely, you would have frustrating intimate relationships, a higher likelihood of mental health difficulties, and an underlying anxiety kept at bay by defensiveness. Films often portray such individuals without the negative aspects we would more clearly see in real life.

So why continue to portray dismissive-avoidance in such glowing terms?

It sells.

Imagine if, in the first James Bond film, Agent 007 had settled down with Honey Ryder in a gated community with two kids and a dog. There would hardly be a chance for a 25-film franchise. To keep milking the character, he must never be tied down. The character rarely changes. And the producers hit “reset” when they start creating the next film.

Although 50 Shades of Grey is far from the main culprit, it is symptomatic of our masochistic submission to dismissive-avoidant characters.

But I suppose there are worse ways to spend an evening out.

Guest Writer: Aviva Philipp-Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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When You’re Gone: Deployment Effects On Parenting

00Anger, Attachment, Empathy, Featured news, Happiness, Marriage, Parenting, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Stress January, 15

Deployment

“It’s hard, but I think it must be harder for my husband, being away for so long. He missed a lot of firsts when the girls were babies. Thankfully, between deployments he got to see with one, the things he missed with the other.”

Blair Johnson, mother of two, Mackenzie age 5, and Macey age 2, has experienced firsthand the hardships of having a spouse away on deployment, as her husband Nathan, an American marine, has spent half of their marriage overseas and in training.

Deployment, the movement of troops overseas for military action, is a reality for many families in the U.S. and Canada. The American military is deployed in more than 150 countries around the world, with the majority of troops in combat zones.

Deployed soldiers often face great emotional strain as they are forced to separate from their spouses and children. The separation, distance, and heartache make parenting in these families an enormous challenge. Children, who tend to be most sensitive to changes within the family, may react strongly.

“For me, it has been harder with my older daughter during Nathan’s most recent deployment. Since she is such a Daddy’s girl, she acted out a lot in trying to deal with her father being away. She would give me a hard time, almost like she thought I could control whether or not her Dad was home.”

Amy Drummet, a researcher at the University of Missouri explains that military families experience stress at three main junctions: relocation, separation, and reunion. As Blair recalls, separations bring on feelings of parental inadequacy and guilt. “It’s the feeling that I can’t give my girls everything they need when it’s just me; they miss their Dad and I can’t do anything to bring him home.”

To complicate matters, the return home can be just as problematic. “The last time he came back was different than the previous ones. It took a lot longer for everything to return to normal. Jumping back into the role of a full-time father was harder for him.”

One in every five soldiers returning home from Iraq or Afghanistan may suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This prevalence makes it difficult for the returning parent to carry on normal parenting responsibilities. “When Nathan returned, he was very jumpy, angry, and agitated with every loud sound he heard. He would constantly reach for his gun even though he didn’t even have it once he returned home. He had to learn to let go of the defense mode he was used to.”

Coming home presents many obstacles the family must overcome in order to settle back into a normal and familiar way of living. Apart from the joy of having one’s partner return home, there is plenty of work that must be done to adapt to previous family roles.

“The girls hold a lot of anger towards me after he is home and it is heart breaking; they don’t want anything to do with me for the most part. Since I am the main disciplinarian the majority of the time, they see him as the good guy. They want to spend every moment with him when he is around, because they just miss him so much when he’s gone.”

“I have been blessed to have parents with whom we can stay during his deployments. For us, it helped a bit in filling the void of Daddy being gone. We take advantage of the time we can spend together, so all the family can be a part in their lives,” says Blair.

Military children are especially vulnerable during a deployment due to separation from their parent, a perceived sense of danger, and an increased sense of uncertainty. “I asked Mackenzie what she thought Daddy was doing when he is deployed and she said, ‘he is working…and fighting the bad guys.’”

Despite the difficulties, Blair insists that there are good aspects to deployment, “You have to make a choice to either let it affect you in a bad way or a good one. You can use that time to grow closer instead of growing distant. It is all a matter of choice. I believe something good can come from any situation, no matter how terrible it is. It makes you a stronger person and it helps you realize just how much you can handle.”

Deployment drastically affects family life. While it requires all family members to readjust, children, who are more prone to being agitated by their changing circumstances, may find it harder to cope. As parents battle their own issues and uncertainties, they may unintentionally miss signs that their children need them.

So deployment may have an effect on the attachment with not only the deployed parent, but also with the parent who stays behind. The confusion and uncertainty experienced by children should be treated with love and understanding, while maintaining their normal routine.

“Parents have their bad days, but it’s important to cry, let it all out, and then move on. Happiness is an everyday choice, and choosing it doesn’t mean you miss your spouse any less.”

– Contributing Writer: Noam Bin Noon, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

 – Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

 Copyright Robert T. Muller

 Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dvids/3522556401/

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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To Share or Not to Share (the Family Bed)

00Alcohol, Anxiety, Appetite, Attachment, Child Development, Empathy, Featured news, Health, Parenting, Sleep, Smoking October, 14

Some of the most common questions posed to parents of newborns, particularly by other parents, relate to sleeping patterns. Choices around sleep can be personal and sometimes controversial.

In western cultures, it is normal to put infants in different rooms. But in much of the rest of the world, the baby either sleeps with parents (bed-sharing) or in close proximity to the parent (co-sleeping).

These differing traditions often present a dilemma to parents in western societies who hear opposing points of view when seeking advice.

James McKenna, professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame considers that despite the dominant view (no bed-sharing), parents increasingly are opting for co-sleeping or bed-sharing. In fact, half of U.S. parents with infants bed-share with their children during at least part of the night.

This is especially true for breastfeeding mothers as co-sleeping can make night-time feeding easier to manage. It is thought by many that co-sleeping while breastfeeding results in the mother being more in-tune with the infant’s immediate hunger needs and as a result, the infant quickly learns that their needs can be satisfied. This contributes to the development of secure attachment

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, mothers should sleep in close proximity to their baby not only to help facilitate breastfeeding but also to improve the survival rate of the developing infant. 

McKenna also indicates that from an anthropological viewpoint the proximity and sensory touch associated with bed-sharing induces positive behavioural and physiological changes in the infant. Studies have found long-term benefits of bed-sharing or co-sleeping. For example, children who bed-shared were found to have less anxiety and a higher level of comfort in social situations later on.

Traditional western medical views on bed-sharing tend to be rather negative. Based on the Joint Statement on Safe Sleep: Preventing Sudden Infant Deaths in Canada, the main reason cited is the threat of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

The Joint statement defines SIDS as, “the sudden death of an infant less than one year of age, which remains unexplained after a thorough case investigation, including the performance of a complete autopsy, an examination of the death scene, and a review of the clinical history.”

Because it is difficult to distinguish specific causes of death that occurred during sleep, in many SIDS cases the cause may be cited as “unintentional suffocation due to overlaying,” which may be used to discourage bed-sharing.

Yet in many of the studies where infant deaths are discussed, parental smoking, alcohol consumption and unsafe sleeping practices are often major factors, as opposed to bed-sharing per se. Understanding preventative measures and safe sleeping practices can help reduce the incidence of SIDS.

Further, some research has found a strong link between breastfeeding and lowered risk of SIDS. Fern Hauck of the University of Virginia reviewed 18 studies that looked at the relationship between these two variables and found that babies exclusively breastfed had a 70% lower risk of SIDS, and the risk is lowered further the longer breastfeeding continues. Researchers attribute this lowered risk to infants being able to awaken more easily, reducing the risk of sudden death.

Daniel Flanders, pediatrician at North York General Hospital in Toronto, states that as a physician he follows the guidelines for the prevention of SIDS, but feels that strong recommendations against bed-sharing undermine parental choice on how to raise one’s child. He notes that in non-westernized communities bed-sharing is often a major part of the cultural practice of child rearing, and therefore his approach is to present the most relevant and up-to-date information available so the parent can make an informed decision.

There are several measures one can take to reduce the risks associated with bed-sharing. One of the most important things for the baby’s safe sleep is ensuring that the surface the infant sleeps on is firm, smooth and flat. Sheets should be tucked and never loose, whether the child sleeps with the parents, in a sidecar or in the crib.

If parents choose to bed-share there should be ample space for all, with both parents agreeing to the arrangement. The bed should not be shared with multiple children, especially if one or more are slightly older. Also, if the bed is raised off the floor there should be a mesh guardrail around the bed to prevent the baby from falling over. If the bed is against the wall, parents should ensure that there is no gap between the bed and the wall at all times.

Although bed-sharing is often discouraged by many in the medical community due to its association with an increased risk of SIDS, this does not mean that the practice is without benefit. Done safely, bed-sharing and co-sleeping offer unique opportunities for the development of closeness between parent and child.

Parents must choose the arrangement that works best for them and their families. For more information: Safe Sleeping Practices for Infants

– Contributing Writer: Saqina Abedi, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today