The Treasure Box

May 9, 2012

When I was a child I had a scrap-book. In it I kept various souvenirs and mementoes. I thought this would be a nice thing to do with my own child, so I bought a scrap-book, then felt guilty ever after for not having got round to putting anything in it, and since my child hasn’t shown much interest, it has fallen by the wayside.

Then, someone told me about the treasure box. Rather like a scrap-book, but without any pesky sticking, and able to contain items of a shape and size other than very thin and flat, the treasure box is a place you can keep, well, anything you like.

First pair of shoes.

Favourite cot toy from babyhood.

Once favourite book now grown out of and cast aside.

Tickets from first train, plane, bus or boat ride, or any rides you like.

Random photos that people have given us and I was never quite sure what to do with.

Selected congratulations cards from when child was born.

Mementoes of special family events; an invitation to Grandad’s 70th birthday party, the birth of a cousin, a wedding….

Selected things my child has made that he was particularly pleased with and likely to remember.

Entry tickets from days out.

A pebble or shell from a day out at the beach.

Achievements; badges and certificates.

Select photos of milestone events – first started to walk, first mastered scooter/bike, first sleepover at Granny’s, first camping trip…….Nowadays we tend to store all our photos electronically, so opportunities to look through photos together, whilst still perfectly possible, just don’t present themselves as readily, so it’s nice to print some select ones out, for the treasure box or for the walls.

If you move house or redecorate you could keep scraps of the old curtains, wallpaper or carpet. It might sound a bit odd but think about your early childhood memories. Think of the home where you grew up. Think of the sights, smells and sounds that you experienced and still remember. Can you remember the colour of the curtains in your bedroom or the pattern on the wallpaper? What could you see from your bedroom window? What sounds did you fall asleep to? What else can you remember that sticks in your mind?  All these things, subconsciously at first, make us feel secure and attached.

But the treasure box is not just about attachment and security. It’s about celebrating your child’s life, their unique identity, and helping them build a positive sense of self.  It helps develop a sense of passing time and focusses on the many positive aspects of your child’s experiences. Plus, getting the treasure box out and spending some special time together looking through it and talking about it can be a wonderful connecting experience, and a very positive experience for your child.

What’s more, it’s something a child will really value in years to come. Every adult I’ve talked to about the treasure box says how much they’d love to have something like that from their childhood.

So decorate an old box today. Together.

Connection is the key.

May 2, 2012

Connection is about maintaining that close, loving, attuned relationship in which a child will feel secure and loved, and will thrive. This alone gives us something to constantly strive for. But there are also practical day-to-day benefits. Connection is the key to preventing and reducing unwanted behaviours, and to gaining cooperation. If my child is disconnected, this is when unwanted behaviour is likely to occur. We need to reconnect. This is why punitive responses to behaviour don’t work. They only widen that feeling of disconnection.

But what does connection mean exactly?

Lawrence Cohen, as usual, does a great job of describing this concept in “Playful Parenting”. He starts by describing that deep connection between babies and their parent, sometimes referred to as eye-love (we all remember those long periods of eye contact with our babies) then goes on;

“If all goes well, the eye-love between infants and parents is replaced by a less blissful, but still solid, connection. You and your child are able to talk or play or hang out easily together, enjoying each other, relatively in tune. These moments can be quiet times, like just before falling asleep, or active playtimes. The next level is a more casual connection, an unspoken bond that may be noticed only when it’s gone, replaced by conflict or distance. At the extreme are the most alienated types of disconnection. Disconnection can be a nightmare of painful isolation, withdrawal, and lashing out…….even normal, healthy children have moments when they lose that thread of connection. They retreat into towers of isolation when they feel lonely, afraid, or overwhelmed.”

How do I know when my child’s disconnected? It’s hard to describe exactly as it’s sometimes a subtle change like avoidance of eye contact, feigned lack of interest in my offers of closeness, an extra jumper or a snack. But often it’s obvious; loud, out of control, slightly crazy behaviour, and at worst, lashing out, either physically, verbally, or just by doing things calculated to enrage.

The more I observe these behaviours, the more likely I am to be able to predict when they might happen, and so take steps to prevent it happening in the first place. So, often I’ll make a point of reconnecting before any difficult behaviour starts, like at school pick up time, or any other time we may have been separated, not just by school, but maybe because he’s just been busy playing outside with his friends all morning.

Sometimes we just need a ‘quick connect’, like a quick high-five, or a joke and a giggle together, or a special something that only the two of us know about. Anything that involves giggling and/or eye contact nearly always works.  Giving a quick passing hug or a kiss usually doesn’t – he needs to be engaged with it, accepting of it.

Sometimes we need to have a longer period of one to one time together, usually playing, especially rough and tumble play that involves lots of physical contact, but also imaginary play that will often bring out things that might be troubling him.

Sometimes, I’ll need to insist on reconnection – in other words, I don’t accept rejection. Children need to know we’re always there for them and that we love them no matter what. Whilst there might be times when they really do need to be alone for a while, and I actually find these are rare, shouts of ‘Go away’ are often a test to see if we really will go, or if we love them enough to stay even when they’re behaving horribly towards us.

Many little things throughout the day can cause that connection to be strained or broken – failing to empathise with something he got upset about, a few harsh words or a betrayal of annoyance and impatience, a disagreement about whether he’s allowed to do or have such and such. Having a handful of ways to reconnect and incorporating these into our day-to-day interactions can help stop things getting out of hand.

One connection technique I sometimes use with my child is challenging him to look constantly into my eyes while we both count to ten. It’s become a bit of a game, and usually gets a bit of a giggle, as well as some eye contact. I’ve always thought the success of it was somewhat varied until the other day. He did something that really annoyed me (I won’t bore you with the details of what it was, it was a silly thing really in hindsight) and I made my annoyance very clear. He said sorry, then put both arms round me and said “Mummy, we need to connect, let’s look into each other’s eyes.”

So we looked into each other’s eyes and counted to ten.