Why It's So Important to Soothe a Child's Heart
I have had quite a few parents email questions about parenting and I thought I would elaborate on a principle I feel is useful for every parent.
Think of your child as if their world was a battle field. You are the commander in your watchtower, sending them out to explore the area. As they begin their exploration, their fear is relatively low, due to their knowledge that you are not far from them. If at any point the environment becomes too frightening, retreat would be easy. However, the further and further they wander, the less stability they feel. Luckily for the soldier, the commander told him, "if at any point you feel unsafe, turn around and look up, and you will see me guiding you along." As the soldier continues to explore, he becomes lost, but then remembers what he is to do. He looks and sees his steady commander, feels at peace, and moves ahead.
In my opinion and in my collective reasoning from hundreds of research pages read, being their to soothe your child is one of paramount aspects of parenting. Let me explain in more detail.
As the "soldier"(infant) travels into their new world, the commander was doing much more than telling him where to go or how to get to a certain place. Instead, the commander was soothing his racing heart, which allowed him to explore and learn. What he did as well, was help him feel connected. The research is very cool in reference to what this peace is all about. The peace they talk about is actually a soothing of the heart, facilitated by the caregiver's heart rate and attention.
Children grow and develop best when their environment is safe. Babies in the womb, infants, and children experience their world not so much through their minds (like we do), but through their hearts. A present parent is essential when the baby's heart intensifies, because the baby will look to the parent in order to be soothed. After being soothed over and over they will learn how to do it themselves, creating non-tantrum behavior, and will then be able to empathically soothe other people.
For those of you who have experience with children, you will easily remember times when your child began crawling or walking, would get away from you, turn around, and then look to see your approval. The look you give them is what I'm talking about. As you give them assurance, what you have actually done is lower their heart rates, keeping their mind from racing and becoming scared, and giving them confidence to continue to explore. The exploration is the nutrition of development. This is also why becoming and being a calm parent is essential for teaching and modeling for your child to be the same.
Much of adult anxiety as well as tendencies to withdraw away from relationships are due to an absent caregiver early in life. In other words, the caregiver either left the watchtower, neglecting the child, or was highly inconsistent in paying attention to their child's exploration. Some parent's are watching, but not doing anything. We are all guilty of this and struggle in some ways in our consistency. Cell phones, TV, employment, and many others are possible distractions when our children need us most.
Worry less about the behaviors you see, and focus more on the heart you don't. Their behaviors will change as you help them to soothe.
Allow children to explore, be their when they seek your comfort, comfort them, put down your phones, and give them the nourishment they need to feel secure in this scary world.