Connection-Based Parenting, A Brief Overview
Connection-based parenting integrates fundamental principles and powerful tools from a range of parenting approaches that all share an emphasis on the central importance of the parent-child relationship. Research has clearly shown that strong parent-child relationships support children’s healthy development and predict positive outcomes across multiple domains.
To support time-poor parents, here is a brief overview of some of the core principles drawn from a range of approaches under what I describe as the connection-based parenting umbrella.
1. Strengthening and supporting parents
The everyday challenges of parenting can trigger strong emotions fuelled by our past hurts. Connection-based parenting acknowledges that parents need to have supports in place to not only learn particular strategies but to also have the emotional resources and skills available to effectively implement them. For many, parent coaching represents the first step in this journey.
2. Parents as a regulating resource
Children’s brains are still developing. Their prefrontal cortex (the home of thinking before acting, emotion regulation, body control, decision-making, empathy, focus and more) is still very much under construction.
Research has shown that the pathway to learning self-regulation is through repeated experiences of co-regulation with a warm, supportive, regulated adult. Parents hold the key to helping their child’s nervous-system return to a safe and connected state so they can access their prefrontal cortex again and function at their best.
3. Addressing the needs, emotions, and lagging skills underlying off-track behaviour
A child’s off-track behaviour is understood as a signal of unmet needs, underlying emotions, or lagging skills. A child’s stage of development and other contextual factors both internal (e.g., hunger, tiredness) and external (e.g., family stress, adjusting to change) also need to be considered. Understanding these complexities allows parents to prepare or set up situations that help prevent off-track behaviour and promote their child’s success.
Rather than prioritising short-term behavioural compliance, connection-based approaches help parents support their children in the moment in ways that avoid internalised shame, the erosion of trust, or perceptions that the parent’s love is conditional. Through the use of connection, parents are able to help reduce the threat system fight/flight activation fuelling children’s off-track behaviour.
4. Setting clear limits with empathy and warmth
Connection-based parenting acknowledges that children need both warmth and boundaries in order to thrive. Attunement, empathy, and validation help children feel seen, understood, valued, and loved. Limits offer children a sense of safety and containment. While they may not admit it, they feel comforted knowing their parents are confident leaders prioritising their care.
Setting clear, realistic, and age-appropriate limits with empathy and warmth allows both the child and parent’s needs to be prioritised. This approach also opens the door for parents to support their children in processing their disappointments and frustrations.
5. Making space for and teaching about emotions
Connection-based parenting believes in children’s innate ability to work through and process emotions. Our job as parents is to respect and support this process through our listening, unconditional acceptance, and loving presence.
When we make space for our child to offload upset feelings and demonstrate that we are not shaken by them, we teach them that emotions come and go. We model that we don’t need to fear, suppress, or avoid emotions (which only intensifies them or creates other problems).
Helping our children learn to label their emotions with words can also be helpful in supporting regulation and building emotional literacy.
6. Addressing our child’s need for connection and autonomy
As parents juggle the multiple demands of modern life, it can be hard to meet children’s need for connection. Plus, there are so many situations where adults need to make decisions and children can be left feeling frustrated and powerless.
Connection-based parenting utilises child-led play and power-reversal games to help parents address children’s need for connection in a way that is fun for both parents and children. These moments of pure connection and shared joy offer the foundation for strong and enduring parent-child relationships.