Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Dear Readers,

Shavuos is a Yom Tov dedicated to learning, and while we most often associate that with the men, this week I wanted to acknowledge the women who create an environment conducive to their husbands and sons being able to learn.

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Women are the mainstay of the home and a child’s well-being. That doesn’t mean fathers aren’t important – of course, they are. And in some homes, they are the mainstay.

In my practice, I often see a direct connection between a person’s early childhood experience and the way in which he or she functions as part of a marital unit. That is why I ask all of you, mothers and fathers, to be loving and responsive to a baby’s needs. Years ago, mothers would be told that sons had to learn to “tough it out” and that daughters needed more attention. Today, we know that is not true. Today, we also know the importance of the psychological functioning of both parents.

Noted psychologist, Dr. Richard Leedes, wrote about problematic behavior in people’s marital lives. He demonstrated that the development of psychological closeness with an adult partner is remarkably similar to the attachment process of infants. “In adults as well as children, attachments appear to be relationships critical to continuing security and so to the maintenance of emotional stability.”

Dr. Leedes states that children who grow up believing that their home is a “safe haven” and a “secure base” grow up to be healthier marital partners. Hazan and Shaver (1994) have demonstrated that differences in infant attachment styles predict adult romantic attachment styles. Dr. Leedes then notes different types of infant parenting and how they affect adults in their romantic lives. He presents the idea of a lovemap (coined by Money, 1986) and how its development involves a biological-driven bonding process, which may be facilitated by the release of the hormone oxytocin (Leedes, 1999).

Dr. Leedes presents three different types of attachment processes in infancy: Secure, anxious/ambivalent and anxious/avoidant. Clearly the infant who has the secure attachment with his/her caregiver develops into the healthiest adult. The second and third type of attachment to the caregiver lends itself to adults who have problems in their marital lives.

In my parenting workshops I stress the importance of creating a secure environment for a child from infancy through adolescence. And today, I ask you to be loving and consistently affectionate – emotionally and physically – with your children (i.e., give your children a lot of praise, give your children a lot of hugs and kisses) throughout their lives.

Validating your child’s feelings is the first key to building a healthy relationship with them. It helps ensure that he grows up to be a confident adult. It also helps him develop an identity as a person. Self-confidence and a proper sense of his own identity are the tools that enable him to make healthy decisions which reflect his own needs throughout adulthood. Disregarding a child’s feeling and opinions sends the message that he is unimportant. This leads to tremendous self-esteem issues as an adult, a lack of self-confidence and loss of the ability to make healthy decisions.

In conclusion, physical contact is essential in making children feel cared about. Whether it is a caring touch, an arm around the shoulder or a hug, don’t be cheap on warm physical affection. This affection can be protection for your children in the future. People were created with a need for this type of warmth. If they get it in a loving way from you, they will not need to seek it in inappropriate places. However, if the child dislikes physical contact then don’t push yourself on that child!

I hope that all parents will try to be generous with their warmth, love, affection and praise as well as responsive to their children’s needs at all ages. In this way we can secure the emotional health of our future. Hatzlocha in raising your children.

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Dr. Yael Respler is a psychotherapist in private practice who provides marital, dating and family counseling. Dr. Respler also deals with problems relating to marital intimacy. Letters may be emailed to deardryael@aol.com. To schedule an appointment, please call 917-751-4887. Dr. Orit Respler-Herman, a child psychologist, co-authors this column and is now in private practice providing complete pychological evaluations as well as child and adolescent therapy. She can be reached at 917-679-1612. Previous columns can be viewed at www.jewishpress.com and archives of Dr. Respler’s radio shows can be found at www.dryaelrespler.com.