This free, 55 minute download of, An introduction to Connection Parenting, by Pam Leo, is given to all parents who want to learn more about how to create a stronger connection with their children. After listening to what Pam shares, if you can, and if wish to, please donate whatever you can, to her new nonprofit initiative, The Book Fairy Pantry Project.
Please go to BookFairyPantryProject.com to learn about the project and make a donation if it inspires you to help make sure ALL parents have books to read to their children, so all children can learn to read. Thank you.
You can also subscribe to the BFPP’s newsletter to catch up with Pam on her travels presenting lectures on Books, Babies and Bonding, as well as read her work on Connection Parenting, poetry on BFPP, and more at: kindredmedia.org/author/pam-leo/
CONNECTION PARENTING: THE INTERVIEW
CARMINE LEO: Hello everybody and welcome. We are sitting here today with Pam Leo, who is a parenting educator and is the creator of a body of ideas called Connection Parenting. I would like to start, Pam, with the first question here. How did the ideas around Connection Parenting come to be
PAM LEO: When I had my first child, I began to realize how little I knew about being a parent and I just wanted to learn everything that I could about how to nurture this child so that she could grow up and have the best life possible. A question kept running through my mind, I wondered, why is we are all born a tiny innocent little being and some people grow up to be a Gandhi and other people grow up to be a Hitler? What happens from infancy to adulthood that makes that difference?
So I just began an independent study and started reading, reading everything I could find in child development, psychology, all of the self help books, which led to reading books about psychology, how did parents parent in other cultures, which led to reading books on anthropology and how did we evolve as a species and its been an ongoing process. So it started with my own child. I then became a family childcare provider so that I could be at home with my own children. I had a second child and I just continued to read everything that I could find that would give me more information about that and the more I read and the more I spent time with children, it was kind of like having a living laboratory because I would read at night and on the weekend and then I got to be with these children day after day and could really see for the things I was reading, did that show up to be true or not true?
It just began to evolve that I started sharing the information I was gathering with my daycare parents, with other childcare providers, and I began to realize that with every book that I read that everyone had a piece of the puzzle. I just started putting these puzzle pieces together. In 1989, I put together a series called, “Meeting the Needs of Children”, which addressed meeting children’s emotional needs. The more I taught the class, the more I learned from other parents and that’s been an ongoing process for 16 years now, and I am embarrassed to say, that I was teaching that class for a long time – about meeting the needs of children – without teaching parents why we need to meet the emotional needs of children. It was when I read Joseph Chilton Pearce’s book, Magical Child, that I really made the connection about connection, about how vitality important that parent-child bond is and that the reason we meet their emotional needs is that it is through meeting their emotional needs that we strengthen that bond.
CARMINE LEO: You know, I am curious, what do you see as the core ideas in Connection Parenting?
PAM LEO: The core idea is that we can parent children through connection instead of coercion. The model of parenting that most of us grew up with was either authoritarian parenting, which is based on the child’s fear of the parent or losing the parent’s love, or it was permissive parenting, which is based on the parent’s fear of losing the child’s love. Connection Parenting is not based on fear. It is based on love. It is based on that connection that we have with the child being our most effective tool in parenting that child. When parents come to my workshops, what they most frequently tell me that they have come there for is to get new parenting tools. The most important parenting tool that we have is our bond with that child.
That my experience of being with them is that when their needs are met and nothing is hurting them, they are delightful to be with. When they are not being delightful to be with, their behavior is telling us something. Children, even if they have language, don’t always have the language to tell us what hurts or what they need and so they act it out with their behavior. They communicate through their behavior, thus, acting out behavior in an attempt to get those needs met, to communicate to us what they need so that we can help them get that need met. That if we can see behavior as a form of communication to us, then we can respond to the need being communicated instead of just react to the behavior. That’s the basic premise.
CARMINE LEO: So what’s the first class (also related to book chapters) about?
PAM LEO: The first session is “Our Parenting Inheritance.” In that session, we look at where did we learn to be parents? Most of us did not get to take Parenting 101. What I’ve learned from all of these years of working with parents is that parents either unconsciously parent their children exactly the way they were parented or they often consciously tried to parent exactly the opposite from the way that they were parented. But that either way, we are influenced by how we were parented.
So, in that class, we look at, we actually take an inventory of the things that we learned from our parents that we want to keep and we want to pass onto our children and things that we had models of and that we learned that we, now with the information that we have, would like to do in a different way. So in that first class, parents actually set up their parenting goals. What do they want for their children? What do they not want to have happen for their children? Then we look at their experience and what parenting strengths they have based on that experience and what parenting challenges they will have based on that experience. That becomes their road map, if you will, to use the rest of the course to meet their goals of parenting their children.
CARMINE LEO: So that sets up the good, the bad, and the ugly, so to speak?
PAM LEO: Well, it just lets us be, instead of it being unconscious, it brings it up into our consciousness, which things we are doing that we really want to be doing and which things we are doing because that’s what our model was. One of the things that we know is that we are all like tape recorders. It’s as if the day we were born, someone hit record and every word we ever heard was permanently recorded and then when we become adults, those recordings play when we are interacting with our children. So to just not have our tapes playing unconsciously, to consciously and intentionally be with our children in a way that supports them in getting their needs met.
CARMINE LEO: Okay, so what’s the second class then?
PAM LEO: The second class is called, “Giving Children the Same Respect that we Expect.”
CARMINE LEO: Ah, there’s a tough trick, huh.
PAM LEO: Well, based on the fact that children learn by their models, everything children learn, in fact 95% of everything children learn, they learn by what is modeled for them and one of the most common complaints I hear from adults is that children these days don’t treat anyone or anything with respect. How can they learn respect unless they see respect modeled and they experience respect? Because anytime an adult is disrespectful to a child, what they’re modeling for them is how to be disrespectful.
So, we just look, in that class, we look at all of the ways that children are not treated with respect? How they are in many ways treated as second class citizens and how we can treat them with respect. So the guideline that I give is for parents to ask themselves, would I say that to my good friend? Would I use those words? Would I use that tone of voice? If the answer is no, then we are modeling disrespect and we are treating the child with disrespect.
If we’re going to maintain a strong connection with a child, respect has to be the foundation of that connection. If we want to teach them to treat other people the way they would want to be treated, then we have to model treating them that way. So we cover some of the examples because most of the disrespect that children receive is not even intentional from adults, it’s just our recordings running of the disrespect that we received. So we look at simple things, like how we teach children manners, that adults will often prompt them and say, “What do you say? What’s the magic word?” which is embarrassing to children.
We can teach those things to children simply by modeling them. Simply by saying that to children and saying it to each other, rather than prompting them. It’s hard for parents to believe that modeling will effectively teach that. We feel embarrassed if our children don’t say thank you to other people because we feel like they’re going to think we didn’t teach them to have manners. We can just thank the person ourselves so that we get an opportunity to model that again for children and be respectful to them about how they learn those things.
Another example is how we teach children to share. The way most people teach children to share is they force them to share. That’s not being respectful of children to tell them what they can or cannot do with their own things. One of the things that is important to know about children is that they are completely literal. So if they don’t see us sharing toys, even though we may share many other things with them, they don’t get it that they need to share their toys. So we get our own toy box and have our own toys that we can share with children and share with children who are guests in our home so that we have the opportunity to model that. Because we also model not sharing, you know, we tell children, “This is mine. You may not use it.”
CARMINE LEO: “Keep away from my stereo. Don’t touch that.” Yeah…
PAM LEO: So when we model not sharing, children understand, oh, ownership means I get to control this. I get to say who can use it and who cannot use it and so then when they try to do that with their own things, they meet with the resistance of being told that they have to share their things. We can teach them to share by modeling and also by respecting their right to decide about their things and not forcing them to share.
CARMINE LEO: That’s pretty impressive. That sounds like a hard thing to do, especially if we ourselves were not respected growing up.
PAM LEO: Absolutely. We also talk about not talking about children in front of them as if they were not there. Children experience that all of the time and we would never do that to each other as adults. We would not talk about our good friend while the other friend was standing there as if they were not there. You know, that starts when they’re infants and they can’t speak for themselves, and it’s appropriate to do that, but then we forget to stop doing that and to include them in the conversation and be respectful in that way.
CARMINE LEO: Yeah.
PAM LEO: Because when we are disrespectful to children, when we use coercion to get them to do the things we want them to do, we are modeling using coercion.
CARMINE LEO: Yes.
PAM LEO: It’s one of the huge issues with bullying right now. Bullying in the schools has become a major issue and one of the things that I feel is being overlooked is that where children are learning that is how they are treated. Many parents have been taught to count at their children. To say, “1, 2, 3…” and the child knows, whatever they’ve been told, there’s going to be some consequence if the parent reaches 3 and they have not done what the parent has told, that translates into a child saying to another child, “Do what I say to do or I’m going to hurt you in some way.”
CARMINE LEO: Yes.
PAM LEO: So if we want to stop bullying, we have to stop bullying children.
CARMINE LEO: So what’s the class after respect?
PAM LEO: “Healing the Feeling Child”. Healing the feeling child is about teaching parents the way that children and all people heal from the emotional hurts that happen to us, as much as we try to protect children from harm, we cannot protect them from the daily emotional hurts that are part of living, disappointment, frustration, loss, anger, all of those emotions that parents find so challenging to respond to with their children and how to be with children in a way that allows them to process those emotions and heal those emotional hurts and move forward. When we get stuck in emotional hurts, it’s very hard for children to move forward in their behavior.
Doing this with children strengthens that connection and that bond. One of the strongest ways that we can connect with children is through empathy to let them know that we hear what they’re feeling, they understand what they’re feeling, that what they’re feeling is okay with us and that we’re willing to listen to that and to learn that it’s not our job as parents to stop children from crying. We cannot heal their emotional hurts for them, but we can support them in healing their emotional hurts, by being a safe container to hear those hurts, rather than thwarting their healing by shutting down that process.
CARMINE LEO: So what I am hearing here, is a completely different attitude and view. What does one do about tantrums?
PAM LEO: Tantrums. We don’t do anything about tantrums…
CARMINE LEO: Uh-oh.
PAM LEO: Except create a safe place for them to empty out. All a tantrum is, is spillover. A tantrum is never about the incident or the hurt that we did see. When children don’t feel safe enough to release their hurts, they store them up inside. It’s as if they have a little cup inside where any hurt that happens and they don’t release that hurt when it happens by crying or raging or whatever they need to do to release those painful feelings, they store them inside, but children have a limited capacity to store those hurts. When that cup gets filled, one more little hurt will happen, which is the last straw of the last straw, that spills the cup over and it just all comes pouring out.
CARMINE LEO: There’s a trigger there. Okay.
PAM LEO: It’s a trigger. What children need from us when that is happening to them is just to keep them safe. Don’t let them hurt themselves or anyone else and just let it empty out, empty out, empty out. When the tantrum is over, I am sure most parents have had the experience of what I call the rainbow after the storm, that the child is happy and content and relaxed and loving, as if it had never happened. My experience of children is that when nothing is hurting them, that is how they are. So the bright side to tantrums even though there is not much we can do to prevent them, is that it’s a process they need to go through to empty out and get back to that loving, clear space.
CARMINE LEO: Although I don’t remember myself, I imagine it must be pretty frustrating to be a little kid. You can’t turn the door knob, you can’t tie your shoe. You can’t reach the counter. All of these things that just don’t work well. I can imagine that building up over time.
PAM LEO: It does and very often children are in positions where they don’t have any control over their life. They don’t get a choice, rather they go to childcare or to school or if mom or dad have to go to work, so it’s very easy for little hurts and frustrations to build up. It also depends a lot on the temperament of the child. Some children are far more sensitive than others and so they get a lot more hurt. So their cup fills up a lot more quickly and they just need to heal it by emptying it out.
CARMINE LEO: So, tell us a little about class number four.
PAM LEO: Class number four is called, “The Gift of High Self Esteem.” I always tell parents that I see that class as both the most exciting and also one of the scariest classes because children do not come into the world with any level of self esteem. If they don’t come in with it, then it has to come from their environment and their early environment is their parents, it is their family. They build their sense of self esteem out of the messages they get from that environment.
They know if they are welcome and wanted, or if they feel that they’re a bother. However we interact with children from day one, from when they’re born by how we meet their needs, by how we hold them, by how we talk to them, they begin to build a picture of who they are. One of the writings that was most influential to me in putting together that session was in John Holt’s book, instead of education, he compares human beings to bonsai trees.
CARMINE LEO: Ahh.
PAM LEO: He says the same seedling that you bonsai by clipping the roots and wiring the branches and depriving it of the things that it needs becomes a twisted dwarfed miniature of what was in that seedling. That if that seedling were undamaged and given all of the things it needs, the potential within that seedling would be that it would grow to be tall and straight and he says the same things can happen to human beings. That when we are damaged and not given the things that we need that we end up being dwarfed miniatures of the potential that we were born with. So it really lets us know how much opportunity we have to provide children with the things that they need, especially their bond with another human being, to realize as much as their human potential as possible.
So we look at how do we do that? How do we give children those messages that will allow them to have that and we make a distinction between self esteem and self worth. Self esteem is really much more about how we think others view us. Are we capable? Are we competent? Do we have something valuable to contribute? Where children get a sense of that is from being able to do things, from becoming competent.
There was a time in our culture when children, having many children was considered an asset to a family if they had many children because then there would be enough people so the work that needed to get done so the family could survive would be there for the family. That’s no longer true in our culture. Children are not considered assets, they are considered liabilities because they effect the parent’s ability to be in the workforce and parents don’t need their children’s contribution anymore. Most parents could get along just fine without their children’s contribution. So what once naturally existed because children helped in the garden and helped in the barn, and brought in the wood, now has to be intentionally provided for children. We have to find ways to make their contributions valuable. What happens for children is similar to a Catch-22 that adults have and that we can’t get a job if we don’t have any experience, but we can’t get any experience if no one will give us a job.
Children don’t know how to do things because we don’t let them and we don’t let them, because they don’t know how to do things. So we have to have a willingness to give up perfect and allow children to help us. Now, the jobs that most of us have now, children can’t come along and help us, but most of the things that we do around the home, children can be some part of. From very early on, children want to do things for themselves and for others. A very young baby that’s being fed with a spoon, will say, “Me do it.” They’ll reach for the spoon. They want to do it themselves.
So we just find ways to let children help us with everything we do because the two things that children want most, they want to be with us, and they want to do what we do. So the way that we build high self esteem in children is to give them as many opportunities to become capable and competent as we can. One of the things that parents realize that children don’t have the jobs and responsibilities that they used to, so they try to replace that with chores. Most people have a pretty negative association with the chores they had to do when they grew up. The reason that children have a negative association with chores is that it’s usually something they are expected to go off and do by themselves. Because they want to be with us and do what we do, we need to include children in our work instead of sending them off to do work by themselves.
The most magical word I know of with children is “let’s”, you know, “Let’s bring in the wood,” or “Let’s brush our teeth,” or “Let’s do the dishes.” As long as they can do it with us, then they are usually happy to do it. Doing that with us does increase our connection. So then self worth is really more about how we view ourselves, what we believe we deserve. It’s not as much about how other people see us and where our sense of self worth comes from is how we’re treated. How much time people spend with us. Children watch us all the time and they see what we do and they see what we love. If we play golf, or if we knit, or if we watch television. They see that’s what we love because that’s where we spend our time.
So if we don’t spend our time with them, then what they conclude is they’re not a high priority. So they need that time with us. Now that so many parents are working so much, the term quality time has really become a part of our culture, but it’s used in a way that somehow quality time can make up for the lack of quantity of time that we spend with children. It can’t. Children need that connection with us every single day. They need it as much as they need food. So we can’t say to a child, well, we don’t have time to eat today, but we will eat all day on Saturday. It just doesn’t work that way.
CARMINE LEO: Right.
PAM LEO: They need that connection every day. So we talk about setting up special time to be one on one with a child every single day and keep that connection going and then having other special dates so that we keep the connection. Because if you’re the first child, once the other children are born, you never have that one on one time with your parents again and if you were not the first child, you never have it unless parents set up their life intentionally to include that kind of time. So one of the really important aspects of connection parenting is that it is proactive rather than reactive. What we focus on, rather than how to discipline children when their sense of disconnection results in uncooperative and unacceptable behavior, is how do we maintain the connection to keep it strong enough so that they don’t have to resort to those behaviors to get their needs met.
CARMINE LEO: So Pam, tell us about the next class.
PAM LEO: Um, after self esteem is “Communication that Builds Relationship.” In that workshop, we look at how we communicate with children. One of the ways that adults communicate with children often is by telling them what we don’t want them to do. Children hear “don’t” many many times a day and one of the disconnecting things about “don’t” is that it always feels like a criticism. So after doing all of the work, we’ve talked about building up their self esteem and their self worth, it’s not really helpful to then tear it down again by the way that we communicate with them. So we look at how do we communicate with children to let them know what we do want them to do. And “don’t” is a very very challenging habit to break.
Most parents come back the next week, and say, “If I can’t say don’t, I can’t talk”, because we are so accustomed to telling children what we don’t want them to do. It takes a while to think about what do I want them to do? So I ask parents, you know, what are some typical “don’t”s that you would say in a course of a day? “Don’t hit your brother. Don’t eat the cat food. Don’t jump on the bed.” We have to go through that process of thinking about what we do want them to do. Whatever we focus on is what they’re going to hearing.
So if we end up repeating ourselves again and again, what they are recording, because they are recording just like we were, is all of the things we don’t want them to do. Another communication idea that we work with is how we talk to them about what they do. It’s long been told to parents that children need praise. Most of us grew up hearing, “Good girl” and “Good boy” whenever we did something that pleased our parents and the research shows that praising children doesn’t accomplish for them what we’re really trying to accomplish when we do that. What it accomplishes is having children grow up thinking they need to please other people.
CARMINE LEO: Ah.
PAM LEO: And when children grow up feeling they need to please other people all of the time, when they become adolescents, then what their friends think becomes more important to them then what they think. So our goal is really to have children feel pleased with themselves and we accomplish that much more readily by appreciation, by appreciating them, by description, describing what they’ve done that’s an accomplishment and that’s a really difficult one to change, because we have so many recordings of saying “Good girl” and “Good boy”, it is in a way like learning a new language. Learning a way to communicate with children that allows them to feel pleased. So instead of saying “Good boy”, when they make it to the potty on time, learning to say, “You did it!” So then the focus is they’re pleased with themselves that they accomplished something, not that we’re pleased with them for doing what we wanted to.
CARMINE LEO: Yes.
PAM LEO: We learn about how literal children are with language. You know, very many parents follow everything that they say to a child by “Okay, okay, okay.” Children hear that literally, as if we are offering a choice. Is this okay with you? Usually we are not when we do that. Just eliminating that confusing statement of asking chidren if it’s okay. We learn about giving transition phrases. About saying, “It’s time to clean up” or “As soon as we put our coat on, we can go outside.” Those kinds of phrases elicit cooperation from children rather than resistance because they aren’t coercive. We’re including ourselves in that process. Most of all, the changes in communication are are the changes from coercion to connection.
Rather than saying, “We are not going outside until you pick up your toys.” You know, that’s through coercion. You’re using a threat to get children to do what we want and threats under mind our bond and our connection with children. We don’t create a strong bond through coercion. We just teach children how to use that on other people. When we develop a strong connection with them, they’re invested in keeping that connection. They have something to lose if they aren’t thinking about our needs as well and what it takes for all of us to get what we need, so it continues to be about building the connection about how we spend time with them, through how we talk with them. Every single step of the way, we focus on increasing that connection.
The goals that the parents set out in the first class, we get out at every class and they get to look at them and see how would doing it this way serve you in your goal of creating a stronger connection with your child, so that it’s very individual to each family.
CARMINE LEO: Wow, that just seems like such an enormous set of tasks.
PAM LEO: Well, it is, but parenting is work. I’ve learned that it takes the same amount of time and attention to meet children’s needs as it does to deal with the behaviors that result from their unmet needs.
CARMINE LEO: Yeah.
PAM LEO: We are either going to do it when they’re younger and build that connection, or we’re going to end up doing it in response to the behaviors that will result because of the lack of connection. Either way, we are going to do the work.
CARMINE LEO: So what comes after communication?
PAM LEO: “Discipline through Decoding Behavior”.
CARMINE LEO: The D-word.
PAM LEO: The D-word. I knew that when I was putting together the series that most parents would probably not attend a parenting series that didn’t address discipline. It’s really, I call it proactive discipline, because it’s about meeting needs. It’s not about controlling children’s behavior. Because, again, my experience is that when their needs are met, we don’t need to control their behavior. They don’t need to use their behavior to communicate their unmet needs to us.
So that class is really where everything finally starts to come together. I ask parents to make a list of all of the behaviors that children do that really push their buttons. We learn how to decode those behaviors. In the process of trying to move from coercion parenting, which is the model most of us have to connection parenting, our buttons are going to get pushed. It is inevitable. I figured out a way to get back on track when our buttons get pushed, because I experience this as well and I teach it. I call it the 3 Rs of connection parenting. The 3 Rs are rewind, repair, and replay. So as soon as we realize that we’ve done something that’s created a disconnect, we have to go back and acknowledge that. So an example would be, “The way that I said that to you wasn’t very kind” or “It wasn’t very respectful.” I apologize for that. Will you forgive me?
So that’s the repair. The replay is to do it the way we consciously and intentionally would like to do that. We may find ourselves doing that many times while we’re in that process of moving from coercion to connection. The double benefit of doing that is that we’re modeling that for children. They can see that sometimes they are going to speak or behave in a way that’s hurtful and that they can rewind and they can go back and say, that wasn’t very kind of me and I’m sorry. Then they can do it a different way. We can replay the scene in the conscious intentional way that we would like to do that.
One of the ways that we know that we’ve created a disconnect with a child is, well, actually there are three ways and they will manifest either one of them or all three of them. That is, they won’t look at us, they won’t make eye contact, they won’t talk to us, and they won’t accept our touch. If a child is doing any of those three things, we know that we’ve said or done something hurtful that has created a disconnect. If we’re not being respectful to children and meeting their needs, we’re hurting them. They let us know that by their behavior. So if we’ve created a disconnect with a child, we’ve lost all of our power. It’s just like when you unplug a lamp, there is no more power there.
CARMINE LEO: Oh yeah.
PAM LEO: So in order to get back into the relationship and in order to reconnect, that’s when we go back and rewind and repair it and replay it and do it over again. The more often we do that, the more it will become as second nature to us as the way our recordings have it.
CARMINE LEO: So what comes after behavior?
PAM LEO: Actually, the series was a 6 week session for a long time and the feedback that I was getting from parents is, “This is too hard. I can’t do this. This is raising the bar too high.” I thought, well why can’t we do it? What I realized is that parenting never used to be and was never intended to be a one or two person job. It does take a village to raise a child or at least an extended family.
One of the most damaging things that has happened for families today has been the disappearance of the extended family. That parents are trying to do it themselves. That two working parents or a single working parent is trying to meet all of the emotional needs of all of their children and it’s not possible to do for one or two people. We need more people than that because children’s needs are best met by parents whose needs are met. In order for parents to get their own needs met, they need a support system. They can’t work all of the time and be with their children 24/7 and never get an opportunity to refill their own cup. So in the class, we work on how do we increase our support network? How do we find support for our children?
The example that I love to use is that when we travel by plane and the flight attendant is demonstrating the oxygen equipment, they always say, “If you are traveling with a young child, put on your own oxygen mask first.” That so illustrates how we cannot fill children’s cups, their love cups, if our own needs are screaming at us so loudly that we cannot hear what children need. So we need to create family of choice. If we don’t have biological family who is around and part of our life, then we need to bring other people and we need to create relationships with other people so that our children can have relationships with other people and to have bonds with other people in their life so that everyone can get what they need.
One of the most serious things that’s happening for children in the way that we live today is that they’re spending so many hours with people that they don’t have a bond with.
CARMINE LEO: Yeah.
PAM LEO: Very often, people in my classes will say that their friends say, “Why are you taking a parenting class?” You know, “Why do we need a parenting class? Our parents didn’t ever do parenting classes.” What’s happened is that the bond that children need used to occur naturally by how we lived, even less than 100 years ago, babies were born at home, they were breastfed. They spent their early years at home with their family and the bond just occurred naturally. No one had to think about the bond and we don’t live that way anymore.
Today, most babies are born in the hospital. Most babies are not breastfed and many many babies and young children spend a large part of their day with unrelated others that they do not have a bond with. So, today, we do have to pay attention to the bond. We do have to pay attention to protecting the parent-child bond and to making sure that children get opportunities to bond with the others who care for them. Others caring for our children is not a new thing. Parents have always worked. The difference is that the people who cared for their children while they worked were people that they had a bond with. It was the people in their village. It was the people in their extended family. Childcare has become the extended family by default. If parents have to work and there is no family member to care for their child, they have to turn to professional childcare.
Parents are really pulled in two different directions. They have to work in order to provide for their children’s physical needs just so that they can survive and they need to be with their children to meet their psychological and emotional needs so that they can thrive. So connection parenting is a way for parents to do both. It’s a challenge to do both. It’s certainly easier to create that bond with children if at least one of the parents can be home with them or if parents can divide that up, but it is possible if we’re conscious of it, if we’re conscious that bond needs to be kept strong all of the time, no matter what circumstance we are in, we can find creative ways to go have lunch with the child at daycare or to do special dates with them and make sure that we are connecting with them everyday, that we do special time everyday, so that we can make that shift from parenting through coercion and forcing children to do the things that we want them to do to doing it through connection.
Because coercion only works until they’re as big as we are. You know, sending them to time out is not going to work when they’re a teenager. So by the time they’re teenagers, we need to have something much stronger in place than coercion and the bond and the connection that we have with them is what is stronger than that and we need to start building that as early as we can. A lot of the parents who come to my workshops didn’t have this information on strong bonding when their children were young and so they worry about, do I still have time? Can I still build a strong bond with my child? My experience has been that it’s never too late to strengthen our bond with our child. It’s much easier if we start at the beginning. It can be a lot more work if they’re older and we’ve not been aware of the bond and how to keep the bond strong, but as soon as we have the information, we can start building that because the bond exists from birth. Rather it get stronger or weaker depends on how it is nurtured. So parents can begin right where they are with this consciousness now that bond is a high priority and start being with children in a way that nurtures that connection.
CARMINE LEO: So what would be a couple of examples of things that parents can do with their children now that could help to strengthen and build that bond and connection?
PAM LEO: One of the primary things is having connection time everyday. To have special time each day, even ten minutes, minimum of ten minutes, where they totally focus on the child and you know, if it’s a very young child, a really effective way of doing it is to call the time they spend together by the child’s name. So it might be “Bobby time” or “Mary time” and the child knows that when it’s that time, they are going to have that parent’s undivided attention and really connect with them to have eye contact, to have physical contact, to play, to do something fun. The strongest way that we connect with children is by playing with them. So to incorporate that and just make that part of our everyday life that we’re going to have that time with them.
CARMINE LEO: So this is just one child, one parent, no other siblings or anybody else?
PAM LEO: Right. And that can be challenging to do when you have several young children and the other parent is away working, so then we have to look for resource. That’s where resource comes in. Some parents accomplish it by spending time with one while the younger one is napping, or spending time with the younger one when the other one is school or preschool, but looking for those opportunities where we get to spend that one on one special time with them. That’s one of the really important things that we can do.
The other is to have a weekly date and a date can be anything. It can be an hour, it can be an afternoon where the parent takes the child away from the rest of the family and just does something special with that one child and depending on what parents do have for resources, they may not be able to have a date with all of their children. You know, if they have four children, that’s four dates a week. So they may rotate it. But making sure that children know that the parent’s relationship with them is a high priority to them by spending time with them.
CARMINE LEO: Well, that sounds like a couple of great ideas and even in today’s complicated world, I am sure that pretty much any parent could figure out a way to pull those two off.
PAM LEO: They can and even if it’s not ten minutes, even if it’s five minutes.
CARMINE LEO: Yeah.
PAM LEO: It’s more about the consistency than the length of time. Some parents do it at bedtime by reading stories or the bedtime ritual. That is quality time, but it is a higher quality time when it includes eye contact and physical touch and so when I said that quality time cannot substitute for quantity of time, that is true and there is a difference in quality of time. If we sit and watch a video together, that will be a certain level of quality. We are together. We are sharing an experience, but that quality of time will be very different than the quality of time where we actively play with the child, you know, to play hide and go seek or chase, or wrestling, where there is a lot of connection, because in the same way that children have the cup that I talked about where they store their hurts, they also have their love cup and that’s the emotional fuel that they run on everyday.
CARMINE LEO: So there are two cups?
PAM LEO: Two cups. The one we want to keep empty and the one we want to keep full. The love cup is the one we want to keep full and we fill that cup through connecting with them and through playing with them and that is going to look different at every age and stage that a child is in. How we spend that ten minutes with a one-year-old is going to look different than how we spend it with a four-year-old or a ten-year-old or a fifteen-year-old.
CARMINE LEO: So it sounds like this is really a function of attention. In the example you gave, if we’re watching a video with our child, we may be with our child, but the attention is on the video.
PAM LEO: Right.
CARMINE LEO: If we’re with them and we’re playing with them, then the attention is actually on the child. That speaks to what you were saying earlier that children need that attention and that’s the core of the connection.
PAM LEO: I once heard, every child needs someone who thinks the sun rises and sets on them.
CARMINE LEO: Ahh.
PAM LEO: They need that loving connection with an adult who is devoted to them and that’s what they experience when we do that special time with them each day. That I am special, that someone cares about me, I matter.
CARMINE LEO: So, you know, you’ve described these seven weeks. If there was one thing that you had to tell people about the seven week workshop, what might that be?
PAM LEO: That it is a real change from the kind of parenting most of us see around us and the kind of parenting that most of us experienced. When people first heard about it, they tend to confuse it with permissive parenting and it’s not about permissive parenting at all. It’s really about building a foundation of love and that when people love and care about each other, we naturally want what’s good for each other and that there doesn’t have to be. You know, children are always going to be enthusiastic and they’re going to have lack of experience and they’re going to be children, but some of the behaviors that many parents are struggling with are not what I see as natural children behaviors. They are behaviors that result from hurts that children are carrying and the needs that they have that are not being met.
CARMINE LEO: You know, if you go to a bookstore and you walk down and you look at the parenting section, there are hundreds and hundreds of books on the shelves. I mean, you look at these titles and they all look like they have something to say. How is a parent to tell the difference between what is useful and valuable and what is not?
PAM LEO: That’s actually a question that I hear a lot in my classes is that parents will come and say, well, I read this book and it told me to do this, but then I read this book and it told me to do the exact opposite, and I don’t know what to do. I don’t know which one is right. And what I tell them is to just ask themselves the question, “If I do what this advice is telling me to do, will this strengthen my connection with my child, or will it weaken my connection with the child?” and any advice that would create disconnect, that would be coercion, that would weaken our bond is counterproductive advice because our strength of effectiveness with our children lies in that connection.
CARMINE LEO: So this wouldn’t simply work with a particular action, this would be a view that you could hold of an entire parenting philosophy if you were exploring.
PAM LEO: Absolutely. When parents question, what should I do in this situation? That’s the question that we can ask ourselves. Because when we develop a strong bond, two things happen. One is our parenting instincts are stronger if we have a strong bond and our children’s desire to stay in connection with us is stronger and that’s where the strength of the bond comes from. It increases our parenting instincts, so we are more likely to know what to do in a given situation because of our connection with that child. What we would do in a given situation with this child might be different than what we do in a situation with that child because of who they are and how they function in the world. So we need to have that bond with them so that we can respond to them in a way that will best serve them.
CARMINE LEO: I know in relationships, a lot of people work with counselors and therapists and there are all of these books about relationship. When people talk about relationships that really really work, at the core of it is this feeling of being known. It sounds like you’re talking about that with children, too.
PAM LEO: Absolutely. Children do need to be known. They need to know that someone sees them, that someone notices them, that someone cares about them. And we can only know them by spending time with them, by sharing experiences with them. But one of the really hard parts of parenting for parents today is both parents working, is the schedule that so many parents are trying to keep up so that if they’re away from their children all day, by the time they come back together at night, they’re already tired. Everybody is hungry. Everybody’s emotional cup is empty from the stress of being apart all day and having just those few precious hours in the evening to meet everybody’s need, for the parent’s need to do the things of life, just the laundry and packing lunches and baths and stories, and trying to eek out a few minutes for themselves.
How do we do life in a way, now knowing how essential this bond is? How do we do that? It will be different for every family. There is no one way to do it. There is no prescribed, well, if you’re doing connection parenting, then you do this every day. An example of that would be we often hear that the family should sit down to at least one, you know, to dinner together every night. Well, depending on the schedule that family lives or works, it might work that they have breakfast all together everyday so that they get that meal together everyday because they’re all someplace else at dinner time. So parents don’t need to think that I’m not doing it right because we’re not all having dinner together. The point is that the family comes together for a meal.
So that’s just kind of an example of how we can be creative in meeting the needs that children have to have a sense of family and a sense of belonging and to have their one on one time. So one day, one on one time might be in the morning because everyone else left early. Another day, it might be in the afternoon because you have a little window between picking up someone and dropping someone else off. So it will mean being creative everyday of how we’re going to find the time to make that connection everyday.
CARMINE LEO: I would like to switch tracks just a little bit here. I understand that you’re a founding member of the Alliance for Transforming the Lives of Children. Tell us about that group and what the mission is there.
PAM LEO: The Alliance for Transforming the Lives of Children is a group of parents and professionals and policy makers who are all keenly aware of the importance of the parent-child bond and equally aware that it is not in the consciousness of our culture and their goal and their mission is to support parents in having the information to have a strong bond with their children. To disseminate this information as widely as possible and to then support parents in applying the information. The new pilot project of the Alliance for Transforming the Lives of Children is the ATLC Warmline, which is a parent mentoring phone line where parents can call in with their parenting concerns and be connected with a parent mentor who can listen to them and help them with the challenges that they’re facing. Another way that we disseminate information is through the website, which is www.atlc.org, and parents can go there. Ten thousand hours I think were spent collecting the research and the information on what do children need to thrive? That information has been assembled into a document called, “The Blueprint”, which gives parents the information on what would be the optimal conditions for children to thrive as human beings.
CARMINE LEO: What are some of the points in that blueprint?
PAM LEO: The blueprint outlines really conception through early childhood of what are optimal conditions for children. What are optimal conditions in the womb? What are optimal birth conditions? What are optimal conditions for children in the first year of life? It talks about breastfeeding, about carrying babies, about keeping them in human contact, about consistency of caregiver and really up through the early years of how children are educated serve as a guideline for parents of what’s the best direction we can go in to give our children the best that we can give them. My experience of parents is that all parents want life to be better for their children than it was for them. I have never met a parent who didn’t and when parents have the information and the resources and the support to do that, then the whole family benefits.
CARMINE LEO: So what’s next for Pam Leo and for connection parenting?
PAM LEO: The book, Connection Parenting, parenting through connection instead of coercion, through love instead of fear, and the book will be published by Wyatt-Mackenzie Publishing and is expected to be out in November of 2005.
CARMINE LEO: And if people want to learn more about connection parenting, how can they get in touch with you?
PAM LEO: They can go to my website, which is www.connectionparenting.com and on my website, lists the classes that I teach. It lists all of the puzzle pieces as I call them, all of the books that I recommend, the books that I’ve gained from. The websites that I find valuable, articles that I have written for our local parenting paper, “Parent and Family”, my biography, and links to the resources page. Local resources that are in Maine, where I am, and national resources where parents can connect with the specific resources that they’re looking for.
CARMINE LEO: Well, great, thanks. I just want to say I really appreciate the time that you’ve taken today to do this with us. This is an enormously interesting body of work and I cannot wait to hear more.