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Redefining What Works in Parenting

October 4, 2016

Many years ago, I was asked to guest blog on the topic “How do I know when a parenting method just doesn’t work and I should give it up?”  I didn’t end up accepting the invitation but it sure did get my wheels spinning.

Does Connection-Based Parenting Work?

During the course of my career, I’ve watched a shift from punitive, behavior-based parenting strategies to connection, empathy, and regulation-based strategies.  This is great- except that we are still talking about strategies.

Our left-brain (logical, linguistic) leaning culture reallllllly wants us to have a checklist.  Strategies.  Techniques.  To have someone say “If you do this this this and then this, everything will be fine.”

Where’s My Checklist???redefining-what-works

When I was pregnant, I knew just enough about attachment to know it was important.  I had done research in graduate school on Reactive Attachment Disorder and I understood the cycle of attachment (baby has need, baby expresses need, parent meets need, baby soothed), so gosh darn it, my baby was going to be attached to me.  {Demanding attachment doesn’t really work, but I digress….} I remember flipping through Dr. Sears’ “The Baby Book” and literally wondering where he had hidden the checklist.  I was the queen of “Just tell me what to do.”  I wanted a list of 10 things a parent does to make sure their child is securely attached.

I didn’t find it.  I did find enough people on the internet to tell me that secure attachment involved co-sleeping, breastfeeding, and baby-wearing.  Great.  Check, check, and check.

What has taken me years of parenting, being a partner, being a therapist, and being a client to learn is that there is no checklist.

Because attachment is about BEING not DOING.

OK so rewind back to the original question.  This potential blog topic keeps popping up.  In my office, in parent groups.  Parents might ask “How do I know when connection-based parenting just isn’t going to work and I should throw in the towel.” Or maybe even “I tried that connection thing.  TBRI?  Yup, tried that.  It’s great and all…but it didn’t work for my kid.”

Here’s the thing.

Connection CAN’T NOT work.

We have to reconsider, reevaluate, and redefine what we mean by WORK.

Can I give you a set of techniques- a checklist of sorts- that will stop your child’s challenging behaviors?


And anyone who tells you they can is LYINIG.

Are there ways to take the concepts of safety, connection, and regulation and operationalize them in a way that many parents will be able to implement into their home?


One of the things I love about Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI)® is that they have pretty brilliantly done exactly that.

But when we operationalize connection, we take some pretty big risks.  The first one is that we take connection right out of connection.  What if I really did parent my newborn with a checklist?  Baby sling.  Breastfeeding.  Cosleeping.  I went through the motions.  I did what they told me to do.  Am I guaranteed a secure attachment with my baby?


Because it’s not about DOING.  Especially with a newborn, a right-brained (nonverbal) tiny being.  Newborns don’t know about the checklist.  They don’t even understand my words.  Their nervous system responds to my tone of voice.  My facial expression.  My OWN nervous system regulation.

The same is true for our bigger kiddos.

How do you know connection-based parenting is working?  Because connection can’t not work.

Children who are connected, regulated, and feel safe behave well.  Because humans who are connected, regulated and feel safe behave well.

There comes a point where we, as parents, can’t control if a child feels connected, regulated, and safe.  But we are absolutely responsible for creating an environment that invites connection, supports regulation, and provides safety.  If we do all those things and our child’s behaviors haven’t changed, does that mean that connection-based parenting doesn’t work?

Absolutely not. Connection can’t not work.



Catch me in November as I experience the amazing honor of providing the Friday Keynote at the Adoption Knowledge Affiliates conference in Austin, TX!

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Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a child and family therapist in Austin, Texas specializing in adoption, trauma, and attachment counseling. She is the founder of the Central Texas Attachment & Trauma Center.


One Comment leave one →
  1. October 4, 2016 9:45 am

    Such a great article! Thanks, Robyn.

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