some reflections on belonging & connection

March 23, 2012


Expectations of children is one of the biggest areas of discussion, or should I say contention, in the parenting education groups that I facilitate.

When a mum complains about her two-year old wanting to sit on her lap at dinner time, after spending all day in childcare, I ask “what are your child’s needs?” She’s so busy pushing him away because he should be in his high chair, she can’t see his behaviour as a need to connect with her. When a mum says she walks away from her tantrumming toddler in the supermarket and threatens to leave him there, and I ask “what have you just threatened to do?” she can’t always relate to the fear that scenario creates.

Some parents don’t understand a child’s need for belonging first and foremost. And it seems to be the greatest source of conflict between parents and young children. Our society places such an emphasis on independence that young children are given a timeline for developmental tasks. We are so achievement orientated and intellectual, we lose sight of the ball because we’re focused on the goal posts.

Parents worry about the precedent it sets if they feed their three year old, or help their six year old get dressed for school on those days when she just can’t manage it herself, or the nine-year old that snuggles into bed with the parents in the middle of the night after a nightmare. I ask “do you think you’ll still be feeding him when he’s ten years old?”

I never have a tussle with parents over values. Diversity is wonderful. I’m simply available to parents to give them the current research on what is believed to benefit children’s development, as we know it at the moment. And the research says that if you have high expectations for children, as a parent or teacher or anyone else working with children, then you need to have a high level of warmth as well. Unfortunately, what I see is a whole lot of parents with high or unrealistic expectations for their children and scorn and indignation when the kids, little tiny kids, aren’t meeting the mark.

Underlying all of this angst appears to be the view that children are intrinsically lazy, manipulative, and out to make your life hell. Dr Bryan Post calls it fear based parenting. If I don’t have my child toilet trained by the age of two, how will it reflect on me? What’s wrong with my child?

“Parenting is a process not an outcome, the process dictates the outcome”. – Dr Bryan Post

Sometimes I still need to feed my six year old his breakfast, or help him get dressed. Some days it is all too much for him. It’s not that he can’t do it himself, he just needs some extra love and support. If he can’t get that love and support from his parent, where else is he going to get it?

Some parents say that when their walls of strict adherence to independence are broken down, it is such a relief for them to be able to tend to their young child’s need for love and care and nurture and belonging. They learn to approach parenting from a heart level rather than a head level.

I love having parents in my groups who have many children with a wide age range, from young adults down to toddlers. People who have been parenting for over twenty years. They always barrack for process. They have had the experience of being uptight about their older children and by the time the sixth or eighth child comes along, they have learnt to follow their child’s lead. They’ll let you know what they need.

“You don’t need an instruction manual when you become a parent, your children are your instruction manual”.  – Dr Kent Hoffman

I have had the very good fortune to be able to recruit a parent from one of my parent groups last year, who moved from fear based parenting to love based parenting within a matter of weeks. She now helps me to facilitate my parent groups. Four months down the track her children are glowing, and she is the best advocate for positive parenting. She can talk to other parents about how miserable she was with her parenting and how she was seeking a diagnosis for the children because the four-hour long tantrums just had to be signs of autism, attention deficit disorder, and oppositional defiance disorder.

We had a lovely discussion yesterday in the group, where my co-facilitator talked about how beautiful her children are now that she is parenting them more positively – not yelling, having realistic expectations of them, creating moments of connection wherever possible. I said “they always have been beautiful”, and she replied “I just couldn’t see it before”. Parental state of mind is everything. What the parent thinks of the child, the child will integrate into his self (Dr Dan Hughes).

“Infants come to know, and be known by, mother’s mind, as well as to know their own minds.” – Dr Beatrice Beebe

Almost all of the parents coming to my groups are motivated by their need to fix their children. By the end of the course, they know it is themselves and how they are responding to their children that needs to change. Not everyone makes the transition, it’s really tough stuff to change one’s previous conditioning.

Dr Louise Porter, an Australian psychologist, and author of Children Are People Too uses the following tree diagram to explain to parents what children’s needs are.

When I talk about children’s needs, parents become confused. What are children’s needs? Like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but in the form of a tree, once children’s survival needs are sorted out, they need to feel that they belong. Parents can create belonging through connection, acceptance, and empathy. Children go out to explore, and they come back to the parent for comfort and nurture. The safer they feel, the more confident they are about doing things for themselves – autonomy. 

“Meeting the need extinguishes the need”. – Brian Cade

Fill your children up with hugs, descriptive praise, and connection. Some practitioners use the imagery of a ‘love cup’ to describe what fills children up and what depletes them. Some children have love cups the size of German beer steins and some have those little espresso cups. I remind parents to enjoy that difference too. My 6 year-old, who is a stein, is also the most loving and affectionate child, who will catch the kisses that you blow at him and put them in his pocket for later. From utterly frustrating to totally adorable, sometimes within minutes. What’s not to love?

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” -Nelson Mandela



Related Articles

Walking With



, , , , ,

About hakea

groupworker, parent educator, therapist, mother of three boys.

View all posts by hakea


Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

20 Comments on “some reflections on belonging & connection”

  1. Team Oyeniyi Says:

    GREAT article. Loved every minute of it.


  2. Elena Says:

    This just makes me think of those mornings when I’ve just spent the last 8+ hours co-sleeping with my almost-three-year-old, then nursed her for 30 minutes+ (not including how much she nursed in bed all night long), and then she gets incredibly upset that I won’t nurse her anymore, but instead I suggest that she might have some breakfast or just cuddle with me or go play with toys or SOMETHING because I’m feeling completely drained at that point. What should a parent do when they feel like they don’t have any more to give? I can see the Mama who comes home from work, and without being conscious of the fact that the child hasn’t had access to their mother all day, the mother has had plenty of people have access to her all day of one sort or another, and she’s just burnt out? At what point does it just become a failure of the nuclear family/mommy in a box/I’m the only adult you have access to and I’m exhausted syndrome?


    • hakea Says:

      Hi Elena

      I hear you. I remember the days when I had a child attached to me every moment I was home, I couldn’t shower without an audience. Work was my respite. I wondered how stay-at-home caregivers stayed sane.

      I did have to leave the work that was so close to my heart – therapeutic casework with children in foster care. Because their needs were so high, my own kids were missing out on all of me. Working in the community is still emotionally and physically demanding but I don’t come home completely drained anymore.

      “I don’t believe in anything nuclear, including families.” Dr Kent Hoffman.

      All caregivers definitely need to find ways to nourish themselves. I’ve trained my kids to hang on until I’ve had a cup of tea when I come home from work. I put myself into ‘family headspace’ and then I can give them my full attention. I get up before the kids and meditate or go out into the garden to breathe. I’m up at 5:30am. My kids are older than 3, but I used to meditate with my shadow-boy sitting next to me and he was happy to be quiet as long as he could snuggle. I have a few TV shows that are just for me, pure entertainment. I take ten minutes throughout the evening to lay on my bed and read or journal. That’s my thing, each person will have their own thoughts on what works for them.

      As a family we have lots of moments of connection throughout the day. Lisa Boisvert ( talks about the anchors and bookends of the day. What are the anchors that ground your family and create connection (meals, activities, time spent with)? The bookends are the start and finish of the day. Lisa expresses it so beautifully. I attend to the anchors and the bookends and my kids are content to play and be at the other times.

      Some of the mothers I work with hate their children. Some fear them. It links back to past experiences and their own childhoods – replaying themes of abandonment and rejection. Children’s emotions are too big to integrate when your ‘self’ is not healed or whole. It reflects in caregiver state of mind and newborn babies detect it but they can’t rationalise it and they perceive it as being due to their own inadequacies (Beatrice Beebe, Peter Fonagy, Miriam Steele, Mary Dozier). There’s a whole lot of miscuing going on and it can lead to child psychopathology.

      I also observe difficulties with parents transitioning to the role of being a parent, especially if they have been really focused on building a career. I was able to match the neediness much (but not all) of the time by reminding myself that it was my ‘job’ to be there for my kids and I often called it ‘subrogation of self’. My husband’s catch phrase was “they’re only little once”. A mum in one of my groups said “whenever I get down about being a parent, I remember those parents who have lost their children”. Everyone will have their own way of talking themselves through it. It certainly is interesting when I am working with a mixed group of parents – those who are lamenting the loss of their children for child protection reasons, and those parents who are complaining about their kids.

      Almost all of the parents I see (except the older parents with lots of kids) create conflict with their children over rigidly held beliefs about what young children SHOULD be able to do, according to some urban myth. In all my studies I’ve never seen this rigid timeline that a lot of parents adhere to, there are rough guides. And there is Freud and Erikson (I ‘heart’ these fellas).

      I’m not responding to your comment specifically but in general from my experience working with lots of folks and kids.

      Be well.


  3. Karyn @ kloppenmum Says:

    I think the whole focus on independence too early is hugely detrimental too. It’s that understanding that we are emotional beings far more than we are rational beings, which is so often missed in modern western society.
    I also think that the pressures on modern women are huge and so hard to consciously put our children first when we are simply exhausted and emotionally drained – yet, as you point out, the difference it can make to a parent-child relationship in the short and long term is immense.


    • hakea Says:

      Hi Karyn

      I like that – emotional beings vs rational beings.

      All of the youth workers in my workplace agree. Build relationship with your kids when they are little because it’s the only thing that’s going to get you through adolescence.

      Almost all of the parents, male and female, that I work with talk about the isolation they feel in wanting to be a more positive parent. They say they receive a lot of judgement from family and friends. Such a shame that they can’t get the support they need and want.

      There’s a very lovely and very long post by Leonie Dawson about the pressure that women put themselves under. It’s definitely worth a read.


      • Karyn @ kloppenmum Says:

        Our 10 year-old arrives off the bus each week at the six year-old’s swimming class and sits on my knee (he can’t fit, but he does) and kisses me then snuggles and chats for five minutes or so. Parents are astounded that he’ll do that in public, quiet unselfconsciously. He is beginning the whole adolescence thing of separation, but I love that he still feels that strength of connection underneath it all.
        It took massive work to process all of my stuff, but we are really seeing the benefits now. Phew. Now teenagers to look forward to!

  4. InsideJourneys (@InsideJourneys) Says:

    Lots to think about here, Narelle. Fabulous post.
    Having a child is a major responsibility but it shouldn’t be a chore.


    • hakea Says:

      Hi Marcia

      Major responsibility.

      A single dad I worked with recently called his parenting “a work in progress”. That kinda allows for forgiveness and kindness.


      • InsideJourneys (@InsideJourneys) Says:

        It sure does, Narelle.
        And each child is so different from his sibling that the skills and tricks learnt from the first child might not work with the second. So yes, forgiveness and kindness must enter the equation. Again, lots to think about here, Narelle. Fascinating topic. We are such social beings that belonging/connecting follow us through life.

  5. eof737 Says:

    Terrific post and insights and I agree with you that our kids have needs that are deeper than the superficial things we imagine… As a mom of twins, I know that my kids have specific and individualized needs… parenting is never a one size fits all; ditto childhood. Glad to see you blogging again! 🙂


    • hakea Says:

      Thanks Eliz.

      Parents are really vulnerable too. Most of the parents I work with say that they only get criticism from family and friends, rarely do they get support and encouragement.


  6. Hazel M. Wheeler Says:

    I’ve been turning this post over in my head the past few days, like some fascinating stone, always with new veins of color I’d never noticed until that moment….

    First, I’m so glad that someone with your perspective is working with parents. It is necessary.

    What resonated most with me was your descriptions of the parents that come to ‘fix’ their kids. Very recently, I discovered myself to be in that same trap for a short while, only quite by accident. I don’t know about the parents in your group, but I know I was a ‘fixer-upper’ child, my mother’s favorite self-improvement project. (I know, very mental.) Consequently, I’ve come to realize that it might be easier for me to fall into that way of thinking because I had never viscerally experienced being a kid who was unconditionally accepted or considered Just Fine, As Is. This isn’t to say Poor Me, but instead to throw out to you the idea that some of these parents might have experienced the same from their parents. Always being “worked on”.

    We may not know how to be ‘okay’ with our kids at times because our primary caregivers were not ‘okay’ with us.

    Identifying this dynamic has given me freedom to forgive myself for it and given me more awareness so that I’ll be better able to stop before going down that road in my own parenting.

    This paragraph, too, in your comments, spoke to me as well…
    “Some of the mothers I work with hate their children. Some fear them. It links back to past experiences and their own childhoods – replaying themes of abandonment and rejection. Children’s emotions are too big to integrate when your ‘self’ is not healed or whole. It reflects in caregiver state of mind and newborn babies detect it but they can’t rationalise it and they perceive it as being due to their own inadequacies (Beatrice Beebe, Peter Fonagy, Miriam Steele, Mary Dozier). There’s a whole lot of miscuing going on and it can lead to child psychopathology.”

    Can you suggest any (online) resources or books which discuss the topic of parenting challenges for parents who were abused as children or suffered mentally ill parents? I’ve done years of process work and feel that my son and I have a loving, strong relationship, but I’d really appreciate more on the subject. Thanks…


    • hakea Says:

      Hi Hazel

      Thank you for your comment, insight, and honesty. I feel honoured that you chose to say all of that here.

      I’ve done so much parenting work this term, I can’t remember where I’ve said and written things. So please forgive me, if you’ve already read the following on this blog…

      Thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of interactions with our parents, lays down procedural memory. This is the type of memory where you go into autopilot on some tasks, like driving. Have you ever driven somewhere and got to your destination but don’t really remember the trip? Your procedural memory was doing the driving. Parenting comes from our procedural memory too. Our child exhibits a behaviour and we respond just as our parents did, unless we consciously put a circuit breaker in place.

      I talk to parents about mindfulness in their parenting (breathing and presence). Mindfulness is used in a lot of conventional mental health treatment these days. It’s just breathing and tuning in to what is happening now – easily said, difficult to do at times. I also give them a little catch-phrase “Stop, Think, Do” which is used in programmes for children with ADHD.

      In my experience, one of the most healing parenting programmes is Circle of Security. It gently deals with your stuff whilst showing you how to be a better parent, it invokes a lot of reflection. A book is currently being written. You can do an 8 week parenting course. And you can access many of their documents from

      From your blog, I see you are a teacher so I would recommend reading John Bowlby, Mary Salter Ainsworth, Donald Winnicott, Melanie Klein, Wilfred Bion. There’s a lot of stuff written about attachment theory and psychodynamics out there but I recommend going directly to the source of the wisdom and knowledge. One of the classic articles about attachment is by Robert Karen, “Becoming Attached” which you can access here

      There is also a magnificent little book called “Dibs in search of self” by Virginia Axline – I think everyone living and working with kids should read this gem. It’s about play therapy with a tricky little boy but the wider lessons are profound.

      For processing abuse, there was a really good book called Soul Survivors by J Patrick Gannon – it’s quite old now but it’s very well written. There are not many books out there that I find speak to the heart of the matter, I’ll think about it some more and email you with further possibilities.

      I have started a positive parenting series over on my playgroup blog but this may be too basic for you.

      Be gentle and kind to yourself. Reflective capacity is what practitioners like me try to help parents develop, and you’ve got bucket loads of it.


      • Hazel M. Wheeler Says:

        Thanks very much for your suggestions and feedback. I’ll be looking at those authors and titles in the days to come.

        Keep on with your good writing and work. I’ll keep popping in!

      • hakea Says:

        Thanks Hazel.

        I finished up yesterday with the group of parents who are in the child protection system at the moment. One participant said she now understands why she is the way she is. She didn’t understand before why she reacted and responded the way she did, and now she knows that it was the way she was raised which formed who she was. Over the past four weeks of the group she has mended relationships and now believes that they are in the best shape that they can be in. She said that her relationships with parents, step parents, siblings, and extended family are now based on understanding and forgiveness. That comes from a heart-felt and thus a powerful place. I’m looking forward to seeing this young woman grow even more.

        Over the years I have come to believe that the struggle has to be honoured so all of the guilt, shame, fear, and hate that consumes people can be unshackled and released. And that can only come from processing the past, as difficult as that is.

  7. michaelwatsonvt Says:

    This is such a rich topic. What fun to post on a similar line, then see your post! You do such a marvelous job of speaking to parenting, with all its complexities. More than that, you bring the child’s experience to life in a way that few writers I have read, do. Thanks!



  1. Parents: How to Tell if it’s REALLY Naughty Behaviour | kloppenmum - April 2, 2012

    […] my post Attention Seeking is a Big Fat Lie, I discussed this, but after reading hakea’s post  (  I realised that I hadn’t actually outlined some of the things children do when they are […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: