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Intuitive parenting program. Teaching parents to create the conditions for unlocking a child’s potential on the basis of attachment theory

Natalia Tsareva, accredited psychologist/psychotherapist (SRO), internationally licensed specialist in generative trance (IAGC), full member of the Professional Psychotherapy League, head of the Mind ecology training center. Russia, Vologda.
Sergey Meliksetyan, psychologist, Practitioner of Generative Change IAGC, head of the training center Federal Leader Group. Russia, Moscow.

The paper discusses the concept of a parenting program to teach the principles and skills for creating a secure environment for the development and discovery of a child’s potential, based on John Bowlby’s attachment theory. It discusses the importance of parents formed parenting attitudes, the development of parenting skills that contribute to secure attachment, and the types of parental attachment as possible factors in shaping a child’s attachment style. There is an overview of the attachment theory parenting training approach in its practical aspect. And psychotherapy of healthy people is discussed as well.

The goal of creating the Intuitive Parenting program was to implement a paradigm shift in parenting from choosing a method of influencing the child to an approach focused primarily on the inner well-being of the parent, which includes resource management skills and developed intrapersonal intelligence skills.

In creating the program, we examined attitudes about parenthood and parenting that are prevalent among parents and those who are just contemplating taking on this role. Surveys in the form of online questionnaires of 70 adults from 28 to 55 years showed that in matters of child-rearing parents rely on their own ideas and views, the opinion of contemporary popular experts, at the same time often denying the experience of the previous generation of parenting. An analysis of adults’ attitudes and awareness of parenting issues, including the theory of attachment, our own experience in counseling adults about child-parent relationships, and the experience of our colleagues working with children, has led us to develop the idea of a parenting program based on attachment theory, and at the same time practical in terms of mastering skills. Here are some of the conclusions that led us to create this program.
Modern information over-saturation with expert knowledge, advice, methods, techniques create an illusion among parents that if they knew the correct method of education, picked up the right words, the child would immediately «get fixed». For practicing psychologists, it is rather common to hear from parents who ask for advice: do something with my child; what should I do or say to make him/her listen to me; what kind of sanctions should be applied to make the child behave in a certain way. The object of the educational process appears to be the child with whom, in the parents’ understanding, «something is wrong». The goals of the program include making the participants aware of the importance of attachment in the development of a child, and the role of the parent, who is responsible for creating, restoring, and strengthening the attachment. It is the attachment that is the secret ingredient of the child-parent relationship, which makes it possible to solve most of the parenting problems. The child is not «broken,» there is nothing wrong with it. The broken bond is the thing which creates problems.

Parents’ attitude to the experience of previous generations has two meanings, pointed in different directions: 1) There is no point in learning how to parent. We were raised a certain way, and now we will raise our children the same way. 2) I want to raise my children differently from the way I was raised. Both the first and second attitudes of contemporary parents have their own pitfalls, for in both cases parents may not be aware of their close relationships building patterns and attachment trauma they inherited from their early childhood, which cannot but affect the way they build this bond with their children. [3] Erich Fromm wrote [4] that we take as normal the state of psyche of our parents and relatives or the psyche of the social group in which we live and the experience of other relationships is difficult for us to imagine when a person, did not have it earlier in childhood or in later life. In the first case, we may encounter an opinion: we were not cuddled in childhood and my children do not need it. In the second case of parents’ dysfunctional childhood experiences, such as stories of dysfunctional families where there was violence, addictions, adults often make a promise
to themselves not to be like their parents. It’s like a passenger coming to the train station ticket office and asking: give me a ticket to take me out of here. It’s not clear exactly where to arrive. What kind of parent to be instead of the model learned in your family? Sometimes the necessary skills to love, to build a supportive bond, simply do not exist in the person’s experience. How do you learn what you haven’t been taught as a child?

Another fairly common attitude about parenthood is that children should be with their mother up to a certain age, and then the father gets involved in their upbringing. In her article [1] N.N. Avdeeva expresses the opinion that «some feminist theorists have interpreted attachment theory as supporting the traditional notion of a woman whose main purpose is to nurture children and take care of them. Such an assertion is incorrect because attachment theory does not determine that the person caring for the child must necessarily be a mother, or is limited to the female gender. Central to the attachment theory’s definition of successful and healthy development is the satisfaction of infants’ need for a responsive, caring relationship with one or more adults.» In creating the Intuitive Parenting program, we set out to show another perspective as well – how a father can play his important role from the earliest days of a child’s life. That’s why a good half of our program participants are fathers and fathers-to-be. Program coaches also represent their paternal and maternal experiences, but not as ideal role models, but as a variety of perspectives on parenthood, all united by the common goal of creating a secure, safe foundation for child development.

The main question that we set out to answer in our training program is how a parent can provide reliable connection to a child. I would like to give an example of several such programs, such as SAFE or the program Reliability for Parents, created and implemented in Europe by K. Brisch [3]. In Russia, the program «SAFE — basic education for parents» is run by Popova I.Y. [11]. Courses and programs on attachment theory are taught by local qualified representatives from the Gordon Newfeld Institute. We are sure that there are many other worthy programs not mentioned here. At the same time, it seemed important to us to combine our experience in psychological counseling, new methods of practical psychology, and our rich experience in skills training to contribute to the cause of helping parents.
A marketing analysis of the relevance of the topic was conducted, and theories and approaches to parenting were studied. This made it possible to create the program «Intuitive Parenting» based on J. Bowlby’s attachment theory, combining both the necessary theoretical knowledge and training in natural parenting skills. The Close Relationship Experience Test [6] was used to diagnose adult attachment style, and levels of assessment of learning effectiveness were used as well. [7]

The first module, «Loving is Not Enough,» addresses the following themes and questions: 1) parents become aware of their current attitudes and beliefs about parenting and their parenting role; 2) learning the basics of attachment theory and Gordon Newfeld’s theory of attachment formation [5, 10]; 3) learning skills that allow parents to meet the needs of their child at each stage; 4) introducing the concepts of secure and insecure attachment, based on research by M. Ainsworth, and a diagnosis of attachment insecurities using an adapted close relationship experiences questionnaire ECR-R by K. Brennan and R.C. Fraley ECR-R
The second module, «The Courage and Mastery to Love,» focuses on the study and practical mastery of skills in the topics of: 1) reasons for the formation of insecure types of attachment as adaptive behaviors and the peculiarity of the formation of maladaptive patterns; 2) recognition by current and prospective parents of the possible impact of their current attachment style on the relationship in their couple and relationship with their child; 3) learning skills to enable parents to find ways to fill their own needs at all stages of attachment formation.

Approaches and tools underlying the theoretical and practical blocks of the program include: attachment theory, author’s adaptation of Gordon Newfeld’s approach [5], neurolinguistic psychotherapy, Eriksonian therapy, Self-relations Psychotherapy by Steven Gilligan (PhD USA) [14] or the generative approach to change in therapy, coaching, consulting (IAGC) [12, 13].
In this regard, the main emphasis is placed not so much on parenting techniques, words, actions, but rather on the state in which a parent is in before applying any parenting methods: resourceful or lacking resource / stressed. By resourceful state we mean a parent’s subjective sense of inner well-being, which can be characterized by a positive self-image, developed skills of emotional intelligence, allowing first and foremost to know and be aware of oneself, to manage one’s complex emotions. It is the inner well-being and psychological maturity of the parent that allows us to create a strong bond with the child, which, in turn, will provide the child with the formation of beliefs about the security of existence, conditions for development and unfolding of his or her potential.

The state of inner well-being or resource state in the theory of the generative approach to change [12] describes the COACH model, which includes the following components: Centered — being centered in the body, attention to the body’s center of gravity; Open – openness to information, people, opportunities; Awareness — awareness, clear and curious attention free of judgement; Connected – connectedness of mind and body, as an internal wholeness and model of connection of self to self, connectedness to people, external systems, as a model of trans-personal idea of «I am not alone,» «I am part of more,» «I am supported»; Holding – holding or anchoring state as a container for any experience lacking resources, in order to be present with complex emotions without becoming them.

The first and important part of the resource state is centering or centered state. Centered state practices have already found wide application in coaching [9], emotional intelligence development, and are central to the generative approach and relationship therapy as a way to quickly achieve stability of attention, calm alertness, open-mindedness, connection to life energy, connection to the creative unconscious, a «refuge» or container for anxious experiences. [13] Regular centering practices allow you to react less often with irritation or anxiety to external or internal triggers. For parents, the management of negative emotions is especially relevant.

Developed intrapersonal intelligence can be described as an integration of G. Newfeld’s views, model of emotional intelligence Salovey, Mayer, Caruso and S. Gilligen’s relationship therapy, as 1) understanding yourself, your values and true goals, needs, emotions, attitudes, personal history through attention, observation and reflection, a sincere interest to knowing yourself and your development; 2) the ability to adapt creatively to the complexities of life, showing flexibility in thinking and behavioral strategies, letting go of what makes sense, experiencing failure without destruction and self-destruction 3) differentiation and integration as the ability of a mature personality to realize themselves in all the diversity of light and shadow sides, complex emotions, and to restore a warm human connection with every part of themselves, implementing the process of acceptance, trying on conflicting aspirations, reaching a new level of differentiated wholeness of personality. [13]

Love skills, as Erich Fromm defined them, are discipline, concentration, patience, utmost interest, faith. It is our deep conviction that every parent must feel the meaning and benefit of these skills first and foremost in relation to themselves, helping themselves by filling possible gaps in learning the skills of love in their own family history. Thus, the skills that program participants learn allow them to manage their own condition with the help of centering practices, to develop the skills of a fulfilled life, so that, gaining new personal experiences, they can bring them into creating, restoring, and strengthening attachment not only with their children, but also with their spouses, partners, and parents.

We see the mission of the Intuitive Parenting Program as helping parents to feel okay, and then, with their knowledge of attachment theory, they can intuitively create a secure and supportive bond with their children themselves, when there is no need to look for the «right» parenting methods, any techniques and magic words. Their deep human, parental, archetypal wisdom will make everything instinctively right and best for the child.

Forms of training used in the program: mini-lectures, discussions, reflection of personal experience, experimentation, role-playing, testing. According to our observation and many years of experience in teaching practices of mastering resource states, including the program «Intuitive parenthood» which we have been implementing for two years, active forms of training in large groups of 15 to 40 people result in good engagement of the participants, exchange of experience, reflection not only on their personal experience, but also on that of others, development of empathy and compassion, receiving support and motivation for change from group participants.

Post-training work outside the classroom is conducted in the format of supporting parents with centering practices recorded in video and audio formats. Practices make it possible to develop the habit of centered state, devoting no more than 15-20 minutes a day, which is valuable for those who live in a busy, full-time schedule. The authors of the Intuitive Parenting program are currently developing an online system of practices that training participants can use regularly for self-support.
Support beyond the classroom is also provided in the form of individual psychological counseling for parents. Without a doubt, the training reveals to some participants the relevance of healing personal attachment traumas. Although the main goal of the program is awareness and independent work with attachment patterns formed at an early age, the need for individual work with a psychologist is natural. Experienced professionals are used for individual counseling.

Interestingly, according to feedback from program participants, the result has three time ranges: at the end of the program in the form of feedback or sharing at the training; after the end of the program — a written feedback form for participants; and after a period of time following the training – from one month to six months. It is important to note that the program yields significant results for participants of different categories: parents of children from birth to adulthood; parents of already adult children; those who for various reasons cannot, do not intend or only plan to become parents. The results of the program show positive changes in relationships with children, with a partner in a couple, with parents, that is, in all significant relationships that are based on attachment.

The result of restoring and strengthening attachment in families is illustrated by the stories told by the participants themselves. A father devoted his undivided attention and support, physical and psychological, to his four-year-old son as he taught him to ride a bicycle. He shared that previously he would nag and criticize his son for not grasping the process as quickly. Instead of that this time he was just there, holding, encouraging, giving his son much more support than he asked for. And as a result, the son rode faster than the father expected him to, saying, «Dad, now I can do it myself.» The father was pleasantly amazed at the result, trying a new way to keep in touch with the child based on the idea gained in the training: communication first, instructions later. [5]

The following story illustrates the importance of a parent’s resource state for establishing and maintaining a reliable connection with a child as the basis for a sense of security towards the world. The mother of daughters, two and five years old, started working, where a busy schedule with clients was awaiting her. The stress of work accompanied her home, where household chores were awaiting her as well. And her children would not leave their mother alone even for a moment when she came home from work, insisting on her attention. After practicing centering, the mother said that for the first time in a long time she came home, met and hugged her children in a calm and peaceful state, and noticed with surprise that she was already cooking dinner, while her daughters were quietly playing nearby, not demanding attention from her with screams and tears. The mechanism of «transmitting» a parental state can also be explained through the phenomenon of «mirror neurons.» [8] Nevertheless, whatever concept we use to explain the connection between our state and the possibility of building a secure attachment with a child, the result can be felt directly in our experience.
We can give examples of the results of going through the program not only in the context of parenting: relationships with parents improve; divorcing spouses with a child are able to establish a relationship so that they can go through this stressful process as peacefully as possible; participants who were not in a relationship at the time of going through the program, understanding the specifics of their attachment type, create relationships with a more conscious approach to their needs, the needs of their partner and their attachment patterns. This confirms our hypothesis that the topic of parenthood is not only and not so much about parenting as it is about how we can improve the most meaningful connections in our lives: with ourselves and with others.

In our opinion, it is important to continue research into the attachment theory approach and to popularize the topic in the form of psychological education for prospective and current parents.
In conclusion, it would be pertinent to quote Dagmar Neubronner in her guidebook to attachment theory [10]: «I am convinced that you, like all of us, want your child or children to blossom in all the beauty, strength, and grandeur that is inherent in them. We all want nothing more passionately than to see our children reach their full potential and grow up to be independent, reliable, clear-headed, free, interested, happy and creative people». And this will only truly be possible with our help, with parents consciously building a good connection with themselves first, healing their traumas, living a fulfilling life, and developing a state of inner well-being within themselves.

1. Avdeeva N.N. Attachment theory: current research and perspectives. Electronic journal «Modern Foreign Psychology» 2017. Vol. 6. no. 2. С. 7-14.
2. Bowlby John. Making and breaking of emotional connections. The Practical Psychologist’s Handbook. — Canon+, 2021 — 272 p.
3. Brisch K.H. Therapy of attachment disorders: from theory to practice. Moscow: Cogito-Center, 2014. —
4. Erich Fromm. The Art of Loving. — AST, 2014. — 221 p.
5. Gordon Newfeld, Gabor Mate Don’t let your children go — Resource Publishers, 2004. — 510 p.
6. Kazantseva T.V. Adaptation of the modified methodology «Close Relationship Experience» by K. Brennan, R.K. Fraley. — Proceedings of the Herzen State Pedagogical University, 2008.
7. Kirkpatrick D.L., Kirkpatrick D.D. Four steps to successful training: a practical guide to evaluating training effectiveness.
8. Marco Iacoboni: Reflecting in people: why we understand each other. — United Press, 2011. — 366 p.
9. Mark Walsh. Centering. Why mindfulness alone isn’t enough. London. British Library. 2017. — 116 p.
10. Neubronner D. Understanding Children. A guide to Gordon Newfeld’s attachment theory / D. Neubronner — Resource Publishing, 2018. — 140 p.
11. Popova I.Y. Features of adults with different types of attachment, Psychological Gazette, 12.06.2019. https://psy.su/feed/7498/
12. Robert Dilts, Judith Delozier. NLP-2: Generation Next. — SPb: Peter, 2012. — 320 p.
13. Steven Gilligan. Generalizing Trans. Psychotherapy Institute Publishers. 2014. — 320 p.
14. The Courage to Love: Principles and Practices of Self-relations Psychotherapy. Stephen Gilligan PhD.

Internet Scientific Practical Journal
Fundamental edition of congress proceedings
of All-Russian Professional Psychotherapeutic League
and Self-regulating National Organization
«The Union of Psychotherapists and Psychologists»

21.06. 2022

pages 151-154

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