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The Impact of Your Childhood on your Child

Your own sense of security as a child and how you think can have enormous effects on your child’s sense of security with you. One interesting exercise is to ask, “What type of baby were you?”

As documented in numerous research studies, we know there is a great similarity between the type of baby we raise and the type of baby we were (unless some major changes occurred within us during our adulthood to change our view of relationships). Parents who were raised in an openly communicative and sensitive manner in their own families are more likely to have secure babies. Parents who were raised to dismiss their feelings and not to value attachments tend to have babies who are avoidant. Parents who were raised in an environment where there was a lot of negative emotion, particularly anger, are more likely to have babies who are clingy and dependent, and many of these parents continue to feel anger toward their own parents.

The following questions will help you see whether you fit into any of these three categories. A majority of “yes” answers in any group identifies your category.

Secure Child Memory

  1. Were you the type of baby and young child who sought out a parent immediately when you needed some comfort?
  2. Do you remember being happy?
  3. Do you remember getting a lot of positive attention and caring?
  4. Do you remember finding it easy to connect with others, including parents and friends?

Insecure/Avoidant Child Memory

  1. Were you the type of baby and young child who did not go to a parent when you felt sad, angry, or hurt?
  2. Were you the type of baby and young child who grew up feeling like a loner?
  3. Did you not have very many people you could turn to, or did you just not turn to others? Were you basically self-reliant or too reliant on yourself, sometimes despite your best efforts to be more connected with others?
  4. Do you remember making efforts at closeness with a parent and feeling rebuffed or just not getting the type of response you, had hoped for?
  5. Do you not remember much about your childhood, as hard as you might try?
  6. Do you remember not being liked very much by your peers, either because you were aggressive at times or because you were a loner?
  7. Do you feel that much of this discussion about feelings is “mumbo-jumbo” or “psychobabble”? Is this what your parents might say or have said about such self-assessment?

Insecure/Dependent Child Memory

  1. Do you recall being very close to one parent (or more) to the point of what we call “symbiosis” or oneness with that parent?
  2. Do you remember being an easily distressed sort of baby or young child?
  3. Do you remember being overprotected or catered to a lot?
  4. Do you recall that you were a bit younger than your age (you might still feel that way) — not necessarily in terms of appearance, but more that people treated you as younger and didn’t give you enough of a chance at responsibility?
  5. Did you constantly need people around you, maybe for approval?
  6. Did you constantly try to please others to the exclusion of even being aware of what your own emotional needs were?
  7. Did you “take care” of younger siblings or a parent so that it seemed as if you were the parent or the roles were reversed?

Whether we were secure, avoidant, or dependent as children (recall that insecure/disorganized children typically show one of the other insecure patterns as a “core”), as adults we are free to adopt new ways of creating relationships with our own children.

Your Own Family History
People bring all kinds of personal history into parenting — that’s not a problem. The problem arises when we don’t resolve those issues ourselves. Our own parents are often our only models of how to relate to children, so they usually have a powerful influence on us, no matter whether we want to emulate them or be completely different. As adults, we need to recognize the heritage we have brought with us from the family in which we ourselves were raised and to replicate what was good and eliminate what was not.

Social scientists Carol George, Nancy Kaplan, and Mary Main at the University of California, Berkeley, developed a state-of-the-art interview to assess parents’ family-of-origin experiences (called the Adult Attachment Interview). The interview is very detailed and enables the interviewer to obtain information about the parent’s experiences during childhood. It also does something quite tricky — it can help us understand beyond the childhood experiences of parents by going beyond the surface of what they report. In other words, we gain information on both what they say happened as well as some things they might not consciously remember.

Taken from Raising a Secure Child (Perigee Books; $15.95) by Zeynep Biringen. Copyright © 2004 Zeynep Biringen

About the Author:
Zeynep Biringen, Ph.D., is the foremost researcher on emotional availability in parent-child relationships. An associate professor at Colorado State University and a licensed child psychologist, she also maintains a private practice and consults for the courts and mental health professionals.

The following is an excerpt from the book Raising a Secure Child: Creating an Emotional Connection Between You and Your Child by Zeynep Biringen, Ph.D.
Published by Perigee; July 2004; $15.95US/$24.00CAN; 0-399-52994-2
Copyright © 2004 Zeynep Biringen

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