Attachment is the womb of maturation and one of the fruits of a deep and nourishing relationship is the bias created in a child to become their own person. What does this bias look like and how can we support it? If you have ever heard the words ‘me do’ then you have witnessed the simplest example of this energy in a child. When a child’s attachment needs are met their energy shifts towards exploring, being interested and curious, forming their own ideas, and even setting some goals. For a preschooler this may be expressed as “me do”. For my 3 year old it means she has to put on her own seatbelt in the car. For me, her ‘me-do’ means another 5 minutes that I have to account for when trying to get anywhere – but I can’t help but smile watching her wrestle her 5-point harness.
When you see a child with this type of energy you know that someone somewhere in their life is fulfilling their relational needs. The need for connection, warmth, safety, and belonging are intense in young children and achieving this level of attachment fulfilment is quite an accomplishment. Strong relationships serve to root children securely to the ground so they are well anchored as they reach forward. Strong attachment opens up the bias to become their own person and they start to move through their world with their own preferences, meanings, ideas, and initiatives in tow. When a young child tells you they want to ‘do it myself’, they are trying to stretch the boundaries of who they are. The life force to grow into a unique and independent person exists in every one of us but the key to unlocking it lies in these fulfilling relationships.
One of the number one values parents have for their children is independence and responsibility. This is not something we can teach to a child but we can facilitate it in unfolding. The path to ‘me-do’ and independence lies in first meeting their dependency needs. When they can take us for granted they can leap into new surroundings of their own making. They are free to discover new places knowing there is always a home to return to. We all need to feel anchored and relationships are the things that hold us in place. If we want our children to spring forth and discover what they really can they can do then we do not have to push but rather provide for their needs. When they are full of everything we have to offer they will look at us with much defiance and dignity and say, ‘no – I do it myself’. We need not take offence but rather see it as the fruit of our care taking.
The goal of parenting is to help our children become separate viable human beings. While the “me do’s” of today may seem small and insignificant, they are the building blocks for adolescence and adulthood tomorrow. In adolescence they will use this ‘me do’ bias to cross the bridge from childhood to adulthood. They will fill the void that emerges at this time, along with the diminishing attachments to parents, with the ‘me do’ energy of the preschooler. When you watch a young adult full of this energy it is absolutely delightful and one can’t help but wonder about the parents that stand behind this success. These are parents that met their child’s attachment needs for all of those years and gave them the room to become their own persons. Celebrate and make room for the “me-do’s” in your child today for they are the promises of ‘me’ tomorrow.
Copyright Deborah MacNamara, PhD, Kid’s Best Bet – Dr. Deborah MacNamara is a counsellor in private practice and on faculty at the Neufeld Institute. She works with parents, educators, child-care and mental health professionals in making sense of kids from the inside out. See www.macnamara.wpengine.com or www.neufeldinstitute.com for more information.