Coming up to Christmas time, there’s lots of focus on ; presents. But what about presence? ; The presence of a parent looking into the ; eyes of her child. The presence of a ; baby seeing the world for the first time. The presence of a child as he engages ; in learning something new. Presence ; brings wonder and magic in each moment. ; When we are in presence with our child, there are no thoughts about what ; we should be doing, no regrets about the past or daydreaming about the ; future. All we know is the joy and ; wonder that comes from looking at our child and seeing him as if for the first ; time.
We cannot fail to recognise those moments of presence as an ; adult. We may become aware when our baby ; or child is in that state. But how can ; we nourish their ability to live in presence?
The more a parent is present, the more they can “mirror” ; that in their baby or child. When the ; essence of a child is seen, he knows who he is. ; When the parent rarely or ever connects to the essence of herself, she ; is unlikely to mirror that for the child.
Studies show that babies become very distressed when they ; are with someone who does not mirror them, or who is preoccupied or ; distant. This can happen in the case of ; post-natal depression or in studies where parents are told to avoid eye contact ; with their babies. The babies in these ; studies frantically try to make eye contact, eventually giving up and avoiding ; eye contact themselves.
Unresolved stress reduces the ability for presence. We know that for ourselves – when caught up ; in a tense state, we rarely find ourselves noticing the beauty of the trees ; gently swaying in the breeze, or the gaze of our child. When a parent is ; stressed, she becomes preoccupied, less sensitive, and more quickly ; frustrated. Babies and children are ; exquisitely sensitive, and easily feel confused, frightened or ; overwhelmed. Parental stress is one of ; the myriad sources for a baby or child to experience stress.
As stress accumulates in the body of a baby or child, he ; feels more and more uncomfortable. To ; avoid the sensation of discomfort, he has two strategies, both of which take ; him away from connection with himself and others. He can either turn excessively inward, in a ; kind of numbing, or spacing out. You can ; see this when a baby is sucking on something with a blank stare on his face, or ; when a child sits gazing into space and will not answer a question. Alternatively, a child may turn excessively ; outward. This can be observed when a ; toddler frantically moves from one activity to another, avoiding eye contact, ; or when a child runs around constantly, bumping into things and falling ; over. Accumulated stress also affects ; the ability to sleep, concentrate, learn and contribute.
The more stress and tension in a baby or child’s body, the ; less presence he has available.
However, if a parent is aware of the power of being present ; with feelings – both her own and those of her baby or child, the child will not ; need to avoid his uncomfortable feelings. ;The parent’s presence makes his feelings ; safe. The child learns that feelings are ; friends, rather than sensations to be feared.
How wonderful to learn then, that babies and children can ; heal from stress and return to their natural state of presence! ; Babies do this through crying in the arms and ; presence of their parent, after all their needs are met. Toddlers and children do this by laughing, ; crying or raging in the loving presence of their parents. The expression of feelings releases stress ; hormones and muscular tension.
When a baby finishes a cycle of crying in arms, he returns ; to his natural state of presence. This ; is witnessed by a calm, serene presence that fills the room, blissful gazing, ; and a calm, relaxed and vital body. When ; a child finishes a tantrum in the supportive presence of an adult, he returns ; to wanting to cooperate with, and help, others. ; He smiles, he wants closeness and cuddles, and his body is calm and free ; from tension.
In essence, a being’s presence determines their availability ; for connection. When we are in presence, ; we want to be close with our children and to contribute to them. When they are present, they love intimacy, ; and want to help us and give to us.
What a true gift, then, to find that we can give our presence ; to our children. Being a clear mirror to ; their states of presence, and also the whole range of their feelings, we help ; them remain connected to their true essence. ; What a present that is!
Books by Aletha Solter, Ph.D. ; The Aware Baby, Tears and ; Tantrums, Helping Young Children Flourish, and Raising Drug-Free Kids.