What do you attract?

The five year old was silent as the nurse walked into the exam room.  The boy’s head ratcheted sideways with every step while his eyes focused on a tray she carried.  I returned to my note and when I looked up the nurse had finished giving the shot.  The boy’s lips and eyes were tightly shut and a wince was fading from his face. His mother reached over and gave him a hug.  As his eyes and mouth opened she said: “I am so proud of you.” They both smiled.

Most parents wonder whom their child will look up to. Will it be an athlete, a scholar, a friend, a neighbor or a media star? What will happen if that person models negative behavior?  Never ending media bombardment makes it easy for parents to neglect and misjudge their own influence while focusing on the influence of others. 

One of the questions I ask a child when I perform a neurological evaluation is: “If you could spend more time with three people, who would they be?” The most common answers are mom and dad. In these words the near limitless power of parenthood is revealed.  A parent is a child’s most visible and influential role model.

It is easy to understand why a child loves and idolizes a parent who sacrifices everything for them. I have always been surprised, however, by the way young children with detached parents often continue to honor, follow and protect their parents. Children are born with a powerful and blinding desire to seek attachment and love. If medical, social, educational or environmental factors prevent this attachment shame and guilt often result.  It is this desire that empowers every parent with the hidden ability to influence a child’s actions and beliefs. Parents and children become magnets with powers of attraction and repulsion. Your words and actions determine the type and direction of force exerted. The absence of attachment drives a wedge between parent and child and with the passing of time this gap widens silently.

Children are born with a powerful desire to emulate parental behavior.  This desire magnetizes both you and your child. These invisible forces pull you together or push you apart. This force of attraction is strongest in the young child and without proper care this force can change from attachment to avoidance.  Love is repelled and lost.

The next time you consider using coercive parenting techniques towards your child remember you are your child’s ultimate role model.  Threats, anger, hostility and demeaning verbal discipline may stop a behavior briefly but such behaviors do not serve as a model for future healthy behaviors.  Always express your inner love with words and actions your child will never forget.