To Build Attachment and Foster Self-Regulation with Child, Heed Nonverbal Cues

Article excerpt

SAN FRANCISCO -- Teach parents to be good "nonverbal detectives" to promote attachment with their child and to help the child "self-regulate" behavior. Marti Glenn, Ph.D., said at the 11th International Congress of the Association for Pre- and Perinatal Psychology and Health.

Learning to recognize what actions an individual child gravitates toward to feel soothed and calmed is as important as reading the child's verbal and nonverbal cues of stress. Eye contact, facial expression, tone of voice, gesture, posture, touch, the timing of communications, and intensity of response tell a lot about the state of mind of people of all ages, from preverbal toddlers to adults.

"You can teach a family this in a few moments. These help build attachment and self-regulation," said Dr. Glenn, a psychotherapist and a founder of the Santa Barbara (Calif.) Graduate Institute.

She often works with children who have behavioral problems (or "dysregulated behavior") in play therapy with the parents in the room, directing much of her guidance to the parents, who primarily interact with the child.

First and foremost, parents need to monitor their own nonverbal communications. About 80% of human communication is nonverbal. "If you have a dysregulated parent, you're going to have a doubly dysregulated child," she said.

Take a good history of the child and the pregnancy, and when possible ask he parents for a narrative of their own early life memories, to help them learn to self-regulate.

Help them recognize and perhaps reframe their expectations for the child.

One girl, for example, was 8 years old biologically but emotionally much of the time she was at a 2-year-old level.

Although a teacher may say that this 8-year-old should be able to do homework by herself, parents can reframe their expectations because of her developmental level; they might sit with the child while she does her homework.

If children missed out on any of the principles of attachment as infants, they may need to go back and make psychological repairs. Therapists can help parents create an environment in which a child of any age can receive and explore the stages of attachment. …