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  • the presence of the caregiver and the still face

    Part of what Winnicott argues--along with others interested in what has come to be called attachment theory--is that babies come into an awareness of themselves only in the presence of another. But that other must be available to them with consistency and with presence. What happens when the other goes away--either physically or psychically--for extended periods of time?

    This is exactly what Ed Tronick set out to discover when he devised what is now known as "The Still Face Experiment" more than 40 years ago. In the initial experiment, he asked mothers to engage their babies in social interaction for three minutes, to turn away for a moment, and then to turn back with an expressionless, nonresponsive face.

    The effect on the babies was profound. Within seconds of encountering the non-responsive mother, babies first registered a kind of wary surprise, glancing uncomfortably at their mothers, then working hard to re-engage them with behaviors that they had developed in concert with their mothers over these first months of life: smiling, cooing, coughing artificially, reaching towards, and more. Then, when their mothers failed to warm to these bids, babies descended rapidly into distress, registering discomfort vocally, expressively on the face, gesturally, and posturally. These visible changes were accompaied by invisible ones, as blood pressures rose, respiration and heartrate altered, and hormone levels shifted.

    The experiment has been used by researchers to explore a wide variety of hypotheses about babies, learning, and relationships, but here, as we're thinking about attachment, relationship, and the development of the person, we can say that a consistent and responsive mirroring presence is so essential to a baby's wellbeing that without it--in the face of absence--the baby begins to come apart physically and psychologically. (If you like to see the experiment, please go here to view a clip that is narrated by Ed Tronick.)

    And the good news? That this effect can be repaired. Check in in a few weeks to see how. 

  • connection and the circle of security

    I've studied attachment theory with a variety of people, among them the folks at Circle of Security International (COSI). COSI has put together this video about being in relationship with your child--about being biggerstrongerwiser, and kind while offering both a secure base and a safe haven. Those eight bold words are pretty much all you need to know to parent a child--and finding a way to live them takes lots of support and practice. Head on over to their website through the link, or watch it right here:

     

    I'm hoping to pull together a group of parents who are interested in supporting one another in this practice. Email me or call me if you're interested. 

  • what does empathy look like?

    Brene Brown has created this video to explain the difference between sympathy and empathy. You may have seen it already, but if not, give it a look. Offering empathy is a skill we can all develop, and it feels good for everyone involved. 

    Developing empathy can feel hard because we can feel pressed to respond to the distress we see in front of us, pressured to make it go away. I wrote recently about acronyms to remember when we find ourselves in challenging situations. Here's another. In those moments when someone shares their pain with us, we can WAIT. Ask yourself before you say anything: Why Am I Talking? Consider if your words are necessary. Maybe they are. Maybe they're not. Maybe your quiet presence is enough to start. And if you need to say something, maybe you can start with something like: "I'm right here with you." Or "Thank you for telling me." Or "You can say whatever you need to here." 

    Give yourself a break. Your being right there with that person, not sure of what to say, but hearing their heartbreak--that's a wonderful gift to them, a balm for their wounds. 

  • postpartum depression in men

    International Fathers' Mental Health Day was launched in 2016 to explore the transition to fatherhood, and the difficult experiences that can accompany that transition. As many as 10% of fathers will experience depression or anxiety after the birth of a child, and the fact of the child's mother experiencing a postpartum mood disorder is a significant risk factor for men. So IFMHD, which is celebrated on the day after Father's Day--on June 19th this year--recognizes the importance of letting men know that they are not alone.

    Postpartum Support International has created this video, an interview with David Levine, a father who is a pediatrician and a survivor of postpartum anxiety and depression--it's great. Please give it a look.