What’s your attachment style? How do you help your child process their emotions? Does your childhood past seep into your parenting present?
In The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read, Philippa Perry offers guidance for strengthening your bonds with your child and raising an emotionally secure individual. She shares several practical actions you can take to move in this direction.
Read more for seven Philippa Perry parenting practices that can bring about positive changes in your family.
7 Philippa Perry Parenting Practices
Philippa Perry shares ways you can decipher where emotions belong, consider your own attachment style, respond to your baby’s cries, name your child’s emotions, change your behavior and apologize, address negative self-talk, and avoid accusatory statements. Let’s dive into the details of each of these Philippa Perry parenting practices.
Practice #1: Decipher Where Emotions Belong
Perry states that your past doesn’t have to rule your relationship with your child—if you examine and reflect on your childhood and allow yourself to feel the accompanying emotions, you can avoid passing the same issues down the family line.
Every time you feel an unpleasant emotion resulting from your child’s behavior, take it as a cue to think about any other possible sources for that feeling. Pause instead of expressing the emotion, step away from the situation, and take some time to reflect. Ask yourself if the emotion fits the present situation or if it’s related to something that happened to you in the past. What’s preventing you from understanding and empathizing with your child’s perspective? This will help you avoid acting on the negative feelings and emotionally harming your child in the process.
For example, after snapping at your child to stop talking about dinosaurs, you feel bad, so you think about where your annoyance stems from. Upon reflecting, you remember that when you were the same age, your parents rarely took the time to listen to what you were interested in—they always brushed you off or shushed you so they could continue talking about their interests. Instead of snapping the next time, you engage your child in a conversation about dinosaurs so he knows you’re interested in what he cares about.
Practice #2: Consider Your Own Attachment Style
Perry states that the ideal is to create a secure attachment with your baby. To do this, think about what your attachment style might be. Do you form close, secure attachments with people, or do you struggle with this? If your experience is the latter, you may need to be more mindful about forming your relationship with your baby to create a secure attachment with them.
Practice #3: Respond to Your Baby’s Cries
Second, Perry states that the best way to create a secure attachment is by consistently responding to your baby’s cries. Babies can express themselves only by crying out. They can’t soothe themselves, nor do they have object permanence (our ability to discern that something exists when we can’t see it). So, they can’t reason with themselves and know that you’re still close to them if you’re not within their sight. When no one responds to them, they feel alone and scared.
Responding to babies’ cries is how you show them that they’re safe—they learn how to soothe themselves when you’re consistently comforting them and showing them that you’re there for them. If, in contrast, you frequently let your baby cry for long periods without going to them, Perry argues that they’ll eventually stop crying because they’re suppressing the feelings that make them cry—not because they’ve learned to calm down in a healthy way.
Practice #4: Name Your Child’s Emotions
Perry says to practice naming your child’s emotions when they’re upset to show that you understand them and to show them how to do it for themselves. As you do this, remember to consider their age and how it affects their ability to express themselves.
Your child may react in a way that seems irrational to you, but their feelings are as valid as anyone else’s. For example, say your child falls and hits their knee. They have a small scrape, but you can tell they aren’t seriously hurt. Still, they begin to cry inconsolably. You might feel tempted to tell them not to cry or that their scrape is no big deal because it hurts you to see them so upset. However, this likely won’t comfort them since to them, the injury feels like a real danger. They might stop crying to please you, but they won’t feel understood.
Instead, acknowledge their feelings by saying something such as “You hurt your knee and I see that made you feel scared.” This shows them that you’re in tune with their feelings, they’re allowed to feel that way, and you’re there to support them. Over time, they’ll learn to name their emotions themselves.
Practice #5: Change Your Behavior and Apologize
To make amends for mistakes, Perry says to start by apologizing to your child and explaining what you did wrong, why you did what you did, and what you’d do differently. Then, change your behavior—figure out what prompted your unfair reaction or the misunderstanding, and act differently the next time a similar situation arises.
Practice #6: Address Negative Self-Talk
To set your child up to have a positive self-relationship, you must address the negative ways you treat and speak to yourself. Perry states that the first step is to recognize your patterns of negative self-talk. These patterns often go unnoticed because they’re embedded in your self-image, so it’s important to consciously identify them. Start by writing down every negative thought you have about yourself for a day.
Once you’ve identified a negative thought, don’t try to reason with it—engaging with it will take up too much of your energy and be unproductive. Instead, acknowledge the thought and pretend it’s an uncomfortable comment made by a person whose opinion you disagree with. Remind yourself that they can share their opinion, but you don’t have to listen.
Then, prove the thought wrong by doing something it claims you can’t do. By doing the thing that feels impossible, you build your confidence and create evidence to look back on when you begin to question yourself again. For instance, returning to our previous example, you might start working on the book you’ve always wanted to write despite the negative thoughts that tell you you’re not smart enough to be an author.
Practice #7: Avoid Accusatory Statements
According to Perry, when bringing up an issue, it’s best to avoid accusatory statements about what the other person did wrong. Using accusatory language can make them feel as if you’re creating a narrative and you’re unwilling to hear their point of view.
Instead, use first-person pronouns and focus on how the situation makes you feel. For example, instead of saying, “You never help with the laundry, and that’s why the house is a mess,” say, “I’d appreciate it if you helped more with the laundry because it’s hard for me to keep everything tidy myself.”