If put to the test, I prefer the world of ideas to the grittier, messier world of flesh and blood. I’m more comfortable dealing with matters of the mind, rather than acknowledging the exquisite vulnerability of the human body. So imagine my surprise at discovering myself quite at home within the confines of Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital.
It started as a promise to a friend. I was happy to accompany her to New York for a scheduled surgery. Seven weeks later we were still there, seemingly permanent residents of a community of healers and the healing. In this protective space, the sick regained their sense of well-being under the watchful guidance of those responsible for their care.
The atmosphere was similar in many ways to what developmental psychologists refer to as “holding environments” where the nurturing behaviors of parents provide children with the security they need to grow and develop.
Holding environments are characterized by reliably safe boundaries, and emotionally available adults who engage children in ways that let them know they are valued. Eye contact, loving touch, and simple acts of kindness convey a sense of connection that goes beyond any words that are spoken. Responsive to children’s needs, holding environments shape children’s behavior in ways that develop empathy and a sense of positive regard for themselves and others.
Here are some strategies for creating a “holding environment” for the child or children in your life:
- Take care of yourself so that you can be fully present to the children in your life – open minded and relaxed.
- Foster an attitude of unconditional positive regard toward children that provides you with the objectivity needed to help them correct undesirable behaviors while remaining firmly grounded in their attachment to you.
- Use enjoyable rituals and predictable routines to create an atmosphere of warmth and calm that is conducive to creativity and good problem solving.
For more information on holding environments, see Winnicott Today by Jan Abrams, 2012. Available at http://www.amazon.com