Tigers, Teddybears and Why It’s Important To Connect…

My own hope is that once we have a better cultural understanding of attachment, we will realise it is not just about children. It is about us: it is about what it means to be human, to live, to lose and to love. – Dr Suzanne Zeedyk

I had the privilege of hearing Dr Suzanne Zeedyk speak this week. Over the past few years within Scotland, there has been a growing momentum and building excitement and awareness surrounding the early years movement. More and more policy-makers and change-makers are discovering and learning about the importance of a child’s earliest experiences and how this can impact not only on the child’s future, but on society as a whole.

Scotland has one of the worst health records in Europe and the Western World and combined with that, horrific violent crime statistics, and rising cases of mental health problems. Such desperate times give our government and our policy-makers massive challenges to face and solutions to find.

Yet, some of our most significant change-makers and the most influential voices in Scotland now argue that the solution lies with our youngest children and the experiences they have from conception until the age of three.

There is a wealth of evidence indicating that the earliest years of life are crucial to a child’s development and future life chances. It is increasingly evident that inequalities in health, education and employment opportunities are passed from one generation to another. In Scotland, the Early Years Framework and the connected initiatives aim to break these negative cycles through early and effective intervention.

At the heart of this lies attachment.

British Psychiatrist John Bowlby is known as the ‘Father of Attachment Theory‘. He became interested in the effect of a child’s early experience on their later mental health – which in it’s day was against all medical and psychiatric thinking. However, his research and knowledge of evolutionary theory built what we now recognise as ‘attachment theory’ – where the basis is ‘How can help myself to feel as safe as possible in my world?’

Phrases like ‘separation anxiety’, ‘stranger anxiety’, and ‘secure or insecure attachment’ are all phrases that have come to be known within our world – particularly if you work with children in any way. However, these terms and phrases can often seem very removed from our experiences. The jargon can baffle and be difficult to understand. Yet, listening to Suzanne explain it, large amounts of what I had previously read about started to fall into place and it became more understandable.

Suzanne spoke about sabre-tooth tigers and teddybears – which upon hearing these terms, sounds ridiculous – yet, it is so relevant in explaining the basics of attachment. The fear of the sabre-tooth tiger moments in our lives, the threat and the anxiety that frightening situations bring, whether it is simply that the parent has left the room or the first day at nursery – these situations bring out our primal instincts of self-preservation. How the child is comforted through these experiences is the key point of attachment theory. Repeated and reliable experiences of comfort following a ‘sabre-tooth tiger’ moment allows children to build up emotional resilience and helps them cope better with such situations in the future. It builds up an ‘internal teddy bear’ – the reassurance and comfort that a teddy bear brings which helps when the scary moments come again in the future.

What struck me the most was how this is not just about our youngest children. This is about us. Attachment in individuals was described by Dr Harry Burns as ‘being able to handle themselves in stressful situations’. How many people do you know who have difficulty in doing this? How many people do you know who struggle or do not react well in situations where they are not in control?

Attachment is about connection. Attachment is about feeling linked to our world and to the people who surround us. These connections are essential. How we manage these connections impacts on our lives – how we deal with closeness and distance, separation and reuniting, sharing joy, sadness, empathising and showing understanding. Without these connections, whether as a young child or as an adult, we suffer. As a baby, physiologically we can suffer as these connections are essential for brain development. However, as adults we suffer without these connections. We suffer stress, anxiety, fear and most significantly, loneliness. When we look around our society, we see so many broken people, products of their upbringing and their experiences. How much of this damage that we see could be traced back to their earliest childhood experiences?

“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.

Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.

Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.” – Brene Brown

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12 thoughts on “Tigers, Teddybears and Why It’s Important To Connect…

  1. Suzanne Zeedyk says:

    Lynsey: Thank you thank you thank you for helping me to spread this message. I have now brought your blog to the attention of a host of people. Your talking about your understanding of attachment is even more powerful than my own, because you are saying how this information helps you to think. You are encouraging all of us to be a change-maker. So many people want to be that. Thank you. I hope that you are about to get other requests to talk about this — because you have written so eloquently about it. More soon from me. Suzanne

  2. Suzanne Zeedyk says:

    You already are, Lynsey. I have forwarded your blog to all sorts of people. Including those who will be at the big Collaborative meeting next week, in Glasgow.

    You have no idea how powerful what you have said is, because you have spoken from an inspired place.

    I will do all I can to get your blog known, and thus to help you to help spread the word.

    You have no idea how supported I have felt by your blog. I read it sitting in a crowded caf last night, and burst into tears.

    I had just posted my own new blog that afternoon, about infant death and SIDS. Between the release of our two separate blogs, I hope there may be a burst of energy at the Collaborative meeting. http://suzannezeedyk.com/blog/sleeping-with-a-newborn-baby/

    I am so glad to know you.

    Suzanne

    From: agirlcalledlynsey Reply-To: agirlcalledlynsey Date: Saturday, 25 May 2013 13:36 To: Suzanne Zeedyk Subject: [New comment] Tigers, Teddybears and Why It’s Important To Connect…

    WordPress.com agirlcalledlynsey commented: “Thank you so much for your reply, Suzanne 🙂 it’s a subject I’ve developed a real passion for and would love to help spread the word.”

  3. Katherine says:

    Great post, found when Parents Across Scotland tweeted it (I RT’d it). I remember doing a bit about attachment when I was studying for my psychology degree but years later as a mum it’s this teddies and tigers analogy that makes it click! Thank you.

  4. Elise Guthrie Stirling says:

    Lynsey (and Suzanne!!) I love hearing your views!! I’m doing my final dissertation on what teachers and practitioners in Scotland can do to support attachment and emotional wellbeing in the early years, and was wondering if I could do an email interview with you? It doesn’t have to be in real time, and it’s your views and experiences I’m looking for. It would be great to find someone else who’s as passionate about this as me!

    If you could possibly email me on mrsstirling83@gmail.com then I can give you the details, and hopefully I can get your views on it! 🙂

    Thanks for your blog and hope to hear from you soon!

    Elise

  5. Liza says:

    Thanks for writing! As an adoptive parent and a teacher, I have thought a lot about attachment theory in regards to parenting, but never in regards to teaching. I really appreciate the expansion of the idea!

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