The four steps of respectful parenting | Experts | Mamas & Papas



Every day thousands of boys and girls are born into the world who fill their parents and relatives with happiness and enthusiasm. It is just at that moment when life begins … or maybe not, because as it says right French psychiatrist Boris Cyrulnik: “We came to this world before we were born.” How right! What we live and experience in the womb has a lot to say about the personality and future of the fetus that is in full growth and development. But let’s go back to the neonate. This primate cub who has just come out into the outside world has a myriad of needs that must be taken care of by his parents. A newborn cannot satisfy them by himself and, therefore, his parents are the ones called to do it for him.

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Despite the fact that one of the most powerful and deeply rooted social and family mandates is the one that says that parents must act as superheroes in all areas where we develop (at work, in housework, with our children, with children). friends, etc.), the truth is that research has shown that our children do not need parents who go with the layer of Superman nor that they throw spider webs, but rather they need imperfect parents who are aware of their limitations and mistakes and can repair the damage they do to their children.

Given that since we are born we need our reference figures to meet our needs in a good enough way, in this article I would like to briefly develop what are the four essential steps to respond to the needs of our children. Let’s see them in a brief way:

  • Availability: when we talk about availability we mean being physically with our children. Every time we are working we are not available for our children and some other adult will be taking care of them.
  • Accessibility: we know that being available for our children is not enough, since we can be sitting in front of them, but looking at the mobile, reading the newspaper or thinking about the fight we just had with our partner. Therefore, physical availability must be followed by the possibility of being accessible to our children.
  • Attunement: once we are available and accessible, we are already in optimal conditions to be able to connect and empathize with the needs of our children. In this third phase we can tune in and understand that our son is crying because he is sad, that he is very angry because his sister does not want to share his toy with him, or that he is very tired and needs to sleep. We are the adults responsible for connecting with their needs and meeting them.
  • Responsiveness: we say that a father is responsive when, once he has tuned in and empathized with the need of his child, he gives a contingent response to his need. When we parents understand what our children really need and we cover it for them, we are being responsive or giving a contingent response. If my son is afraid and I give him a glass of water, I will not be responsive. We will only be responsive when we can meet your real need and provide you with an element that returns you to balance.

If the adult figures of reference (mothers, fathers, teachers, therapists and any other person who has contact with minors) empathize with the physiological or affective deficit that our children have (thirst, fear, jealousy or fatigue) we will be in a position to be responsive (give water, calm his fear, legitimize the jealousy he feels towards his sister or allow him to rest). If we have been responsive, it is that we have successfully gone through the four phases that we have just briefly described. Therefore, each of the four phases are necessary to carry out a respectful upbringing with our children, but they are not enough by themselves to achieve the goal of being, as I said. Donald Winnicott: “Good Enough Parents.

And as a conclusion to this article, just remember that parents only go through these four phases properly if we have the skills to do so. Just as we cannot make a basket without wickers, we cannot be responsive to those most in need, our children, if we do not have the necessary skills, or what is the same, we cannot connect emotionally or be responsive to our children if our parents (our children’s grandparents) were not sensitive, respectful and responsive to us. As Sigmund Freud said more than a century ago: “One in this life does only what he can.” It is not what we want to do but what we can do.

Rafa Guerrero is a psychologist and doctor of Education. Director of Darwin Psychologists. Author of the books Emotional Education and Attachment (2018) and Los 4 cerebros de Arantxa (2021).

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