The Importance of Delight
Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
Do you have a child that wants you to watch them play video games or swing on the swing? Do they want you to watch them do their 100th cartwheel for the day, or watch them spin until they are too dizzy to stand? Do you find it exhausting sometimes?
Part of what they are doing is trying to recreate a moment when they did something particularly cute, or said something a certain way or made a certain face that brought you a moment of pure happiness and they basked in the glow of your joyful feeling over what they did. When my children were younger, whenever they added an adult word to their vocabulary and used it correctly, I always found it so endearing. Having a three-year old say, “Actually Mommy, I would prefer to wear a different dress today.” with their little wide, innocent eyes, it just made me giggle. We call that moment delight. In this post, I am going to talk about delight for most children and parents. In Friday’s post, I am going to continue the conversation by writing about the role and importance of delight for children with attachment issues.
The Importance of Delight for All Children
While you may think that delight is just a nice thing that happens every once in a while between parents and children, it is actually quite important in the scheme of things for parents to delight in children and for children to be delighted in. What we think of as a passing, silly, or endearing moment, (and this is especially true for younger children) actually helps to fire off thousands of neural transmissions per second in your child’s brain! Delight enhances healthy brain development. By delighting in young children, we help them to build neural passageways that encourage them to continue experiencing genuine joy (not the false kind that people think they get when doing drugs, for example).
Some parents worry that delighting in children too much will spoil them. Let’s be honest…children are not always delightful. I did not glow with excitement when my daughter went through the short period of time where she let me know she needed her diaper to be changed by showing me the poop on her finger that she got there by fishing it out of her diaper. I am not in any way encouraging you to force delight nor do I intend to imply that you must live in a constant state of delighting in your children. What I am encouraging is that you take the genuine moments of delight that you do actually have and really feel them. Beyond giving your child validation and all the mapping of their neural transmissions, you are also giving yourself a gift. When your child is being delighted in, genuinely, they know it, you can increase the positive feelings by laughing and looking them in the eye to tell them how delightful they are. When you do this, you are creating an endorphin rush (like the one that comes with exercise or new love) for you and your child. These are the feel good chemicals- the only ones, the natural ones- we want our children to get high from. Allowing these special moments of time to happen naturally enhances our parent-child relationships, builds our likelihood of connecting to the idea that being together equates to feeling happy, and, well, to break it down to it’s simplest parts, it just feels really good.
As parents, we can sometimes feel like our children don’t need us to do anything with or for them if they are doing fine on their own. In fact, they do need us to periodically delight in them. Finding times when we feel genuinely delighted in our children is important. When we do this, even though they may still ask you to watch them do the same thing over and over again, they become much more likely to accept this response: “I love watching you do things, but you deserve to have me watch you when I can give you my full attention. Let me (fill in the blank) and then I can give you three minutes to watch you do that.” When you set limits with your child in this loving way, we can also avoid the hassled, harried feeling of always putting them off. Additionally, as they grow, they learn that they do not have to demand moments of delight, they are built into this loving family you have created.
By building moments of delight with our children from a young age, we have more good thoughts to call on when they are being difficult- giving us more patience for their behaviors. We aren’t the only ones that get good memories to look back on. When we set a limit with our children that they do not like, they are also able to weigh it against all the shared memories of delightful encounters we had together and are less likely to engage in all that teen and pre-teen angst we hear so much about or to try to find their delight in unhealthy ways outside of the family.
What delightful thing has your child done recently? Please feel free to share your delight!
- What is Attachment Disorder? (help4yourfamily.com)
- End the Hassle! Tell Children What They Deserve (help4yourfamily.com)
- Laugh and Your Family Laughs With You (help4yourfamily.com)
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Kate Oliver, LCSW-C (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) has been a clinician working with traumatized and attachment-disturbed children for the last thirteen years. She is co-owner of A Healing Place, a successful private practice in Columbia, Maryland, since 2007.
Kate earned her BA from Goucher College in 1997 and her Master’s in Social Work from the University of Maryland in Baltimore in 2000. Kate first worked with the Sexual Trauma, Treatment, Advocacy and Recovery Center (STTAR Center) working with abused and neglected children in Columbia, Maryland. While working for the STTAR Center, Kate found that while some children responded to traditional child therapy practices, there were a significant number of children who showed little or no improvement in their overall emotional well-being. Kate sought out specialized training to learn more about attachment, the bond between parents and children, and found that by using attachment-based strategies built upon research by John Bowlby, and Mary Ainsworth, and models that foster parent/child attachment, even the most challenging children and their parents, saw major, life-changing shifts, not only for the children she was working with, but the parents as well.
After the STTAR Center, Kate accepted a position with Tamar’s Children, a program that took pregnant, incarcerated women from prison to a treatment facility that worked on teaching the women to bond with and attach to their babies, while also helping the women to heal their own broken attachments, and history of trauma and addiction. Kate was quickly promoted to Clinical Director of Tamar’s Children. The program was internationally recognized for having a successful, evidence-based practice using an attachment-based model. From working with some of the most severely disenfranchised parents, Kate received important information about how to help all parents maintain a happy, healthy relationship with their children with little or no additional financial investment for the parents.
In 2007, Kate co-founded A Healing Place, a mental health private group practice in Columbia, Maryland, where she focuses on working with families with children who have a history of trauma and/or attachment disturbances. A board certified supervisor, Kate has been an invited presenter to teach continuing education courses for other social workers and psychologists. In her courses, Kate teaches attachment-building techniques and presents about her sub-specialty, working with families headed by gay and lesbian parents.
Kate is a former board member for the organization COLAGE, a non-profit group that works toward community building for people with gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgender parents. She is currently a member of Attachment Disorders Maryland, a group that works to educate parents and professionals about working with children with attachment related issues.
Kate lives in Columbia, Maryland is the mother of two amazing daughters, the partner to a fantastic husband, and the daughter of one mother and two gay dads. She loves to read any book that crosses her path, write (of course), and she recently started dancing again, a passion she has had since her youth.
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