child development

Dismissive-Avoidants as Parents

Darth Vader - Dismissive Dad

Darth Vader – Dismissive Dad

Avoidants tend to be unresponsive to partner needs and unconcerned with the negative effect their lack of supportive communication has on their partners. How much does this lack of caring extend to their care for children? If you are married with children, you may have observed moments of caring interaction with them, but not as often as perhaps might be appropriate; and studies have shown that the typical avoidant is a somewhat negligent, emotionally distant parent:

Edelstein et al. (2004) videotaped children’s and parents’ behavior when each of the children received an inoculation at an immunization clinic, and found that more avoidant parents (assessed with a self-report scale) were less responsive to their children, particularly if the children became highly distressed; that is, when the children were most upset and most in need of parental support, avoidant parents failed to provide effective care.[1]

The dynamics that make the Dismissive/Anxious-Preoccupied partnership so unsatisfying are repeated with children who try to get more attention from an avoidant parent. A child either learns not to expect emotional support (thus growing more avoidant themselves) or falls into the trap of requesting more and being brutally rebuffed by a parent who sees their needs as weaknesses to be despised:

As expected, avoidant individuals exhibited a neglectful, nonresponsive style of caregiving: They scored relatively low on proximity maintenance and sensitivity, reflecting their tendency to maintain distance from a needy partner (restricting accessibility, physical contact, and sensitivity), and tended to adopt a controlling, uncooperative stance resembling their domineering behavior in other kinds of social interactions….[2]

Over time, children with an avoidant parent will look to their other parent for support. If the other parent is a sensitive caregiver, the child will model future attachment styles on that parent; but if the other parent is, for example, anxious-preoccupied, the child will more likely end up with some variety of insecure attachment type. Between the Scylla of the coldhearted dismissive and the Charybdis of the clingy, preoccupied parent, the child will not have a healthy model to work with.

If your partner is avoidant and you have had or intend to have children, it is especially important that you provide a good model of caregiving: there when needed, and only when needed; calm, cheerful, responsive, but not hovering. Consider carefully (if it’s not too late) how you might encourage your avoidant to handle your children’s needs with more attention and care; and if you are considering bringing up children in the critical years from birth to age 2, whether it might be wise to wait until either your partner has learned to be more supportive or you have found a better partner. Because a steady parent’s love and attention is so important to the emotional health of children, if you find you can’t be the steady one to give your children a good model because you yourself are off-balance from your avoidant partner’s lack of support, do what you have to do to make the environment better. It’s not just your current suffering that you should worry about—your children may suffer a lifetime of attachment dysfunction as well.

Here’s a report from a mother who has just about had it with both her husband and her dad, who show the same dismissive pattern:

My son was crying last night as he talked about how he could not ever talk to his dad about anything. I very much relate and I have great compassion for him. I want to be stronger for HIM.

This morning I went to the gym and there was some show about weddings. The fathers were walking the daughter down the aisle, so proud. Then the other day I saw an ad about graduation…again, the fathers were so proud standing right next to their daughters.

It hurts very badly. I recall inviting my dad to my college graduation and he said he had to work. He doesn’t care that I was with an abusive man in my marriage. Instead he speaks so highly of him, how he is the father of his grandchildren (who he can’t stand and had nothing nice to say about)…

Once when we were visiting, my son (then 10) had a febrile seizure. I told my dad I was taking him to the doctor. My dad criticized me for overreacting. When my older son had a seizure at 5 years old from a high fever, my stepmom acted like I overreacted when I took him to the ER.[3]

And this adult survivor of dismissive parenting talks about how it felt:

My father is passive abusive. His emotional abuse is very covert. Mostly he just doesn’t care, doesn’t listen when I talk to him, doesn’t know anything about me, my life or my kids because he doesn’t care to know and he doesn’t listen to anyone who tries to tell him. To the general public, (and according to my siblings) my father is regarded as this ‘nice’ guy and he is never violent, never mean and never hurtful with his words, but the truth is that his relationship style is dismissive and disinterested all of which is very hurtful. I spent many years in childhood and in adulthood ‘begging’ (in all kinds of ways) my emotionally abusive father to notice me. The fact that he didn’t was and is very hurtful. There is a very loud message that is delivered to me when I am disregarded. The message is that I don’t matter, that I am not important, that I am not worth listening to and that I don’t have anything to contribute to his life. My father is emotionally unavailable, and that is very hurtful. Love is an action and love doesn’t damage self-esteem. Love doesn’t define a ‘loved one’ as insignificant.

After years of trying to tell my passive abusive father that his constant cutting me off whenever I tried to tell him about me, and that his lack of interest in my life was a problem for me ~ and due to the fact that there wasn’t any change on his part, I gave up; I finally realized that he wasn’t going to change.[4]

[Note: if you arrived here looking for insight into a dismissive spouse or lover, this post is now a chapter in the book I’ve just published on the topic: Avoidant: How to Love (or Leave) a Dismissive Partner. Right now available from Amazon Kindle for $3.99, and a trade paperback is also available.]

More on Attachment and Personality Types:

What Attachment Type Are You?
Type: Secure
Type: Anxious-Preoccupied
Type: Dismissive-Avoidant
Type: Fearful-Avoidant (aka Anxious-Avoidant)
Avoidant: Emotions Repressed Beneath Conscious Level
Serial Monogamy: the Fearful-Avoidant Do It Faster
Anxious-Preoccupied: Stuck on the Dismissive?
Anxious-Preoccupied / Dismissive-Avoidant Couples: the Silent Treatment
Anxious-Preoccupied: Clingy and Insecure Relationship Example
Domestic Violence: Ray and Janay Rice
Malignant Narcissists
Teaching Narcissists to Activate Empathy
Histrionic Personality: Seductive, Dramatic, Theatrical
Life Is Unfair! The Great Chain of Dysfunction Ends With You.
Love Songs of the Secure Attachment Type
On Addiction and the Urge to Rescue
“Bad Boyfriends” for Kindle, $2.99
Controlling Your Inner Critic
“Big Bang Theory” — Aspergers and Emotional/Social Intelligence
Porn Addiction and NoFAP
Introverts in Management

[1] Mikulincer, Mario. Attachment in Adulthood: Structure, Dynamics, and Change. Kindle edition, loc. 8408. The Guilford Press, 2007.
[2] Mikulincer, Mario. Attachment in Adulthood: Structure, Dynamics, and Change. Kindle edition, loc. 8418. The Guilford Press, 2007.
[4] “Emotionally Unavailable Father; The Message of Passive Abuse :: Emerging From Broken.” Accessed September 21, 2014.

“Crying It Out” – Parental Malpractice!

Attachment Parenting

Attachment Parenting

Having a caregiver that is responsive to a child’s needs and so attuned to subtle signals from the baby that he or she can meet the baby’s needs almost before the baby knows it’s distressed creates more secure, emotionally-able children, who as adults have confidence in partners that can last throughout life.

A caregiver who fails to respond or only intermittently responds to a child’s needs creates an insecure child, and such lack of trust in intimate partners can set the pattern for an adult who has trouble trusting or being intimate with others. In the book I describe the insecure types and how they got that way — often because of parents who were themselves insecure or unable to provide secure support because of mental or physical health or difficult circumstances.

Darcia Narvaez and Angela Braden writing in Psychology Today comment on the damaging advice to let children “cry it out” after bedtime or other times when it’s inconvenient, to train them to sleep through the night and not to expect assistance. Most everyone feels in their bones that ignoring a child’s cries is a bad idea, but this “scientific” behavioral modification approach was seriously recommended in the 1950s. It’s fortunate that this advice was widely ignored or an epidemic of insecure adults would have resulted!

Mainstream parenting media are asserting once again that the cry-it-out sleep paradigm is harmless to babies—this time in the form of a two-paragraph morsel as one of the “sleep myths” Parents magazine “sets straight” in “Rest Assured” (July 2014 issue). The myth is listed as “crying it out is bad for your baby” and goes on to conclude that au contraire, “whatever sleep training method feels most comfortable for you is just fine.” Never mind how the baby feels. “Just fine”? Yikes! Parents typically does an excellent job educating and supporting parents to raise healthy, happy kids. But alarm bells went off for us when we read this lapse.

Fortunately, most parents will feel decidedly uncomfortable leaving their baby to “cry-it-out,” since their natural response is to soothe and keep a baby calm. In fact, methods that leave the baby to cry are less effective in the home than is documented in sleep labs.

Unfortunately, over 2 million Parents readers have just been told that leaving babies to cry to the point of distress and beyond—to the point of potential neurological damage—has been proven safe and even that it’s proper childrearing. It does this by ending with the prolific, misconception that has justified this practice for decades: “[Your baby] needs to learn the important lifelong skills of self-soothing and falling asleep on his own.” Nothing could be further from the truth for a baby.

They go on to refer back to an earlier post warning against the practice of ignoring cries for comfort:

What does ‘crying it out’ actually do to the baby and to the dyad?

Neuronal interconnections are damaged. When the baby is greatly distressed,it creates conditions for damge to synapses, network construction which occur very rapidly in the infant brain. The hormone cortisol is released. In excess, it’s a neuron killer which many not be apparent immediately (Thomas et al. 2007). A full-term baby (40-42 weeks), with only 25% of its brain developed, is undergoing rapid brain growth. The brain grows on average three times as large by the end of the first year (and head size growth in the first year is a sign of intelligence, e.g., Gale et al., 2006). Who knows what neurons are not being connected or being wiped out during times of extreme stress? What deficits might show up years later from such regular distressful experience? (See my addendum below.)

Disordered stress reactivity can be established as a pattern for life not only in the brain with the stress response system (Bremmer et al, 1998), but also in the body through the vagus nerve, a nerve that affects functioning in multiple systems (e.g., digestion). For example, prolonged distress in early life, resulting in a poorly functioning vagus nerve, is related disorders as irritable bowel syndrome (Stam et al, 1997). See more about how early stress is toxic for lifelong health from the recent Harvard report, The Foundations of Lifelong Health are Built in Early Childhood).

Self-regulation is undermined. The baby is absolutely dependent on caregivers for learning how to self-regulate. Responsive care—meeting the baby’s needs before he gets distressed—tunes the body and brain up for calmness. When a baby gets scared and a parent holds and comforts him, the baby builds expectations for soothing, which get integrated into the ability to self comfort. Babies don’t self-comfort in isolation. If they are left to cry alone, they learn to shut down in face of extensive distress–stop growing, stop feeling, stop trusting (Henry & Wang, 1998).

Trust is undermined. As Erik Erikson pointed out, the first year of life is a sensitive period for establishing a sense of trust in the world, the world of caregiver and the world of self. When a baby’s needs are met without distress, the child learns that the world is a trustworthy place, that relationships are supportive, and that the self is a positive entity that can get its needs met. When a baby’s needs are dismissed or ignored, the child develops a sense of mistrust of relationships and the world. And self-confidence is undermined. The child may spend a lifetime trying to fill the inner emptiness.

Caregiver sensitivity may be harmed. A caregiver who learns to ignore baby crying, will likely learn to ignore the more subtle signaling of the child’s needs. Second-guessing intuitions to stop child distress, the adult who ignores baby needs practices and increasingly learns to “harden the heart.” The reciprocity between caregiver and baby is broken by the adult, but cannot be repaired by the young child. The baby is helpless.

Caregiver responsiveness to the needs of the baby is related to most if not all positive child outcomes. In our work caregiver responsiveness is related to intelligence, empathy, lack of aggression or depression, self-regulation, social competence. Because responsiveness is so powerful, we have to control for it in our studies of other parenting practices and child outcomes. The importance of caregiver responsivness is common knowledge in developmental psychology. Lack of responsiveness, which “crying it out” represents. can result in the opposite of the afrementioned positive outcomes.

The ‘cry it out’ approach seems to have arisen as a solution to the dissolution of extended family life in the 20th century. The vast wisdom of grandmothers was lost in the distance between households with children and those with the experience and expertise about how to raise them well. The wisdom of keeping babies happy was lost between generations.

But isn’t it normal for babies to cry?

No. A crying baby in our ancestral environment would have signaled predators to tasty morsels. So our evolved parenting practices alleviated baby distress and precluded crying except in emergencies. Babies are built to expect the equivalent of an “external womb” after birth. What is the external womb? —being held constantly, breastfed on demand, needs met quickly (I have numerous posts on these things). These practices are known to facilitate good brain and body development (discussed with references in other posts, some links below). When babies display discomfort, it signals that a need is not getting met, a need of their rapidly growing systems.

So if your baby is crying, it’s because you’ve missed some subtle cues that would have let you tend to their immediate discomfort before it got to that stage. It’s not always possible to be there every second for an infant, but ideally the caregiver is close enough to sense changes in the baby’s internal state and respond quickly. The sense of security this provides will allow the baby to feel comfortable with less and less contact, eventually allowing the healthy separation into a secure childhood. Ignoring your baby’s cries to more quickly train them to sleep through the night is simply not a good idea for the baby’s long-term development.

Attachment Parenting is a controversial movement that takes parental attention and close connection to perhaps an impractical extreme, but the emphasis on meeting the child’s needs by staying closely attuned to the child’s state is scientifically supported.

More on education and child development :

Student Loan Debt: Problems in Divorce
Early Child Development: The High Cost of Abuse and Neglect
Child Welfare Ideas: Every Child Gets a Government Guardian!
Tuitions Inflated, Product Degraded, Student Debts Unsustainable
Free Range Kids vs Paranoid Child Welfare Authorities
Brazilian For-Profit Universities Bring Quality With Quantity
The Affordable, Effective University: Indiana and Mitch Daniels
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
“Attachment Parenting” – Good Idea Taken Too Far?
Real Self-Esteem: Trophies for Everyone?
Public Schools in Poor Districts: For Control Not Education
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
Steven Pinker on Harvard and Meritocracy
Social Justice Warriors, Jihadists, and Neo-Nazis: Constructed Identities

Child Welfare Ideas: Every Child Gets a Government Guardian!

Children Owned by the State

Children Owned by the State

Reason points out an initiative in Scotland to appoint a government guardian for every child, written up in Spiked Online. This is in response to a concern I covered in a post a few days ago about children in our society being increasingly likely to be subject to abuse without anyone outside the abusers taking notice.

It’s an interesting idea: the government would appoint a single citizen (typically already part of the social services) to watch over each child as a check on the parents’ treatment of the child. There are some obvious privacy and practical concerns: does a family with five children have to deal with five different guardians? And does it give the guardian a right to investigate the family at will and interfere with the child’s upbringing by threatening to go to the authorities if the parents don’t behave as the guardian wishes?

On the whole, we are probably better served by the system as it is: outsiders may observe and report to authorities who will investigate if there is a concern. Reason goes on to detail some of the concerns about the Scottish plan:

This idea grows out of the conviction that [the author’s book and blog on “Free-Range Kids”] exists to extinguish: That all children are in danger at all times, and hence need constant oversight. Sometimes it’s the police arresting a dad for letting his kids play outside, sometimes it’s the police arresting a mom for letting her children walk to the pizza shop, and sometimes it’s even the local library reporting a mom who let her kids, 12 and 15, walk home without coats on a night the authorities deemed too cold.

True danger lies in the notion that the state should decide if you are parenting your kids correctly. The care of your own children is not up to you.

The law responds to a concern we all have, but not in a constructive way. It’s not clear that in this, government can have any greater role without creating worse harms. More likely to help is a cultural shift toward taking responsibility for children when you observe them being abused by their caregivers. And “abuse” shouldn’t be defined as letting children take reasonable risks in daily life, or we will have a generation of delicate flowers not strong enough for the real world.

Further coverage in The Guardian.

Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples OrganizationsDeath by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations

[From Death by HR: How Affirmative Action Cripples Organizations,  available now in Kindle and trade paperback.]

The first review is in: by Elmer T. Jones, author of The Employment Game. Here’s the condensed version; view the entire review here.

Corporate HR Scrambles to Halt Publication of “Death by HR”

Nobody gets a job through HR. The purpose of HR is to protect their parent organization against lawsuits for running afoul of the government’s diversity extortion bureaus. HR kills companies by blanketing industry with onerous gender and race labor compliance rules and forcing companies to hire useless HR staff to process the associated paperwork… a tour de force… carefully explains to CEOs how HR poisons their companies and what steps they may take to marginalize this threat… It is time to turn the tide against this madness, and Death by HR is an important research tool… All CEOs should read this book. If you are a mere worker drone but care about your company, you should forward an anonymous copy to him.


For more on governmental overreach, the modern feminist, and SJWs:

Divorced Men 8 Times as Likely to Commit Suicide as Divorced Women
Life Is Unfair! The Militant Red Pill Movement
Leftover Women: The Chinese Scene
“Divorce in America: Who Really Wants Out and Why”
View Marriage as a Private Contract?
Madmen, Red Pill, and Social Justice Wars
Unrealistic Expectations: Liberal Arts Woman and Amazon Men
Stable is Boring? “Psychology Today” Article on Bad Boyfriends
Ross Douthat on Unstable Families and Culture
Ev Psych: Parental Preferences in Partners
Purge: the Feminist Grievance Bubble
The Social Decay of Black Neighborhoods (And Yours!)
Modern Feminism: Victim-Based Special Pleading
Stereotype Inaccuracy: False Dichotomies
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
Red Pill Women — Female MRAs
Why Did Black Crime Syndicates Fail to Go Legit?
The “Fairy Tale” Myth: Both False and Destructive
Feminism’s Heritage: Freedom vs. Special Protections
Evolve or Die: Survival Value of the Feminine Imperative
“Why Are Great Husbands Being Abandoned?”
Divorce and Alimony: State-By-State Reform, Massachusetts Edition
Reading “50 Shades of Grey” Gives You Anorexia and an Abusive Partner!
Why We Are Attracted to Bad Partners (Who Resemble a Parent)
Gaming and Science Fiction: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
Culture Wars: Peace Through Limited Government

Early Child Development: The High Cost of Abuse and Neglect

Brain Plasticity-Cost By Age

Brain Plasticity-Cost By Age

We know the first years of development are critical: children abused or neglected in the first two years tend to be permanently affected, from having insecure attachment types (avoidant or anxious) to greater rates of psychosis and criminal behavior. This story from WBUR-Boston discusses the damage done and the higher cost of therapy as the age of intervention goes up. While they’ve pulled the cost estimate out of the air, there is no doubt it’s large:

But brain change gets harder as time passes, says Nelson of Children’s Hospital. It’s critical to intervene early before brain damage takes place, he says, to provide support for parents and caregivers, treatment and family therapy and, if need be, to remove children from abusive homes. Interventions done later in life will likely be less successful in rerouting the brain wiring than interventions done earlier, when the brain is more plastic, he says.

“If you have a plastic circuit then you might be able to overcome early adversity when placed in a better environment because the brain is still plastic enough to change,” he says.

The cost of delaying is huge — not only in human terms, but also financially. According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, “the total lifetime cost of child maltreatment is $124 billion each year.”

In western countries, child welfare authorities attempt intervention when physical abuse is reported. This is a poor substitute for extended family and village life which, in times past, served as a backup to parents in rescuing children from poor parenting. The rootless and urban now live more anonymously, and children are more likely suffer from bad parenting without anyone noticing anything amiss until the hell-child is released into society, which in some neighborhoods means joining a gang of other children similarly impaired. If “everyone” (government agencies) is responsible, no one is responsible

Outside of Big Brother baby monitoring telescreens in every home, what can be done? We know it helps to have two parents, which improves attention levels and makes it more likely one is secure and good at parenting. We know intact families are better than broken ones, and we know parents who were badly brought up themselves are less likely to be good parents to their children. On top of that, parents who care for their children are more likely to wait for economic circumstances which allow them to be raised with adequate resources, while less responsible people don’t look ahead and have children despite their lack of ability to support them.

I don’t have an answer for this. It’s not imaginable that “society” can monitor parenting at this level without becoming 1984-level intrusive. It’s not likely a social movement will return stable nuclear families, Mormon-like, to the norm. It’s impossibly expensive to apply therapy and intervention to every child affected when it becomes obvious there is a problem, in school years or after.

But this question should be one of the big ones that we look at. Societies with high proportions of dysfunctional citizens are eventually displaced by a more organized group. The Romans probably wondered why they could not hold back the barbarian hordes despite their high level of sophistication and wealth….

More on education and child development :

Student Loan Debt: Problems in Divorce
Early Child Development: The High Cost of Abuse and Neglect
Child Welfare Ideas: Every Child Gets a Government Guardian!
Tuitions Inflated, Product Degraded, Student Debts Unsustainable
Free Range Kids vs Paranoid Child Welfare Authorities
“Crying It Out” – Parental Malpractice!
Brazilian For-Profit Universities Bring Quality With Quantity
The Affordable, Effective University: Indiana and Mitch Daniels
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
“Attachment Parenting” – Good Idea Taken Too Far?
Real Self-Esteem: Trophies for Everyone?
Public Schools in Poor Districts: For Control Not Education
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
Steven Pinker on Harvard and Meritocracy
Social Justice Warriors, Jihadists, and Neo-Nazis: Constructed Identities