Parents play an integral part in establishing healthy attachment and developing balanced intimacy for our children. According to Walker, Busby, Lovett and Carol, Experts on human intimacy, balanced intimacy is comprised of three dimensions. The first dimension is the Physical Dimension that includes the physiological process that influence satisfaction, pleasure, and health. The second is the Emotional Dimension which includes love, attachment, and unity. And, the third dimension is Spiritual which includes a deep sense of relational meaning, purpose, and progression. The development of healthy intimacy is natural and formed over time in different stages from the time we are infants and touch everything to the time we become adults and experience higher levels of intimacy.
Curiously, while we are comfortable allowing our children to explore their environment, try new things, fall and scrape their knees, we tend to be less comfortable with the idea of our children having similar curiosity about their body, intimacy and feelings as they learn to direct their maturing bodies and feelings in the proper path. We sometimes try to protect our children from absolutely every thought, feeling, and potential mistake and in doing so, we hinder their ability to grow and become self-sufficient in their development. Because of our own discomfort regarding intimacy, we often fail to establish the needed lifelong openness with our children around the topic of intimacy and we make an already challenging situation much harder. Imagine how much more difficult it would be for our babies to learn to walk if they did not have their parents nearby to give them that helping hand as they start to teeter or to pick them up after they fall and scrape their knees. When we avoid open communication about intimacy with our children, we are essentially making them learn to walk on their own. Here are three guidelines to help you and your children develop healthy attachment through ongoing communication and learning experience with human intimacy:
1: Create a warm and supportive emotional climate with your children. If we are generally supportive and loving parents who also have reasonable but high expectations for our children, then our parenting style will enable us to help that much more with their sense of self and the development of intimacy. Assess yourself by answering these questions: Do I generally support and love my child while also maintaining reasonable expectations for them? Do my children seem to feel controlled and dominated, afraid that whatever they say will result in a punishment? Or Do they feel like I am a trusted, safe person they can talk and joke with about anything and at the same time know that I have appropriate expectations for their behavior?
2: Be a proactive parent. Consistent, proactive communication is much more effective than sheltering children against every possible encounter with intimacy. Proactive parenting is the anticipation of problems that children might face and the ability to act before the behavior has become a serious problem. In contrast, reactive parenting would be our reaction to a child’s’ behavior – for example a reaction to finding out that your child has been viewing and reacting to inappropriate pictures.
3: Open communication is more effective than having “the talk”. While many parents have “the talk” with their children at one point or another, we need to have many, many, many talks about intimacy – one big talk is not enough. We need to swing open the door by openly discussing intimacy so that our children feel comfortable asking us the questions that they will have. Instead of covering up the television screen as I remember my parents doing (and recently caught myself doing) – use this as an opportunity to talk about the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of healthy intimacy. Providing a safe and comfortable environment in which to have these talks eliminates shame and can also ease the discomfort that may exist with these discussions. Talking in the car, while doing yard work, or playing toss can take the emphasis off the topic and allow open communication to occur.