Relationship-based Treatment of Children and Their Parents

An Integrative Guide to Neurobiology, Attachment, Regulation, and Discipline
by Elizabeth Sylvester and Kat Scherer

Across psychological theories, the relationship between child and parent is acknowledged as a powerful and enduring influence in a child’s emotional life. Here we review and discuss the robust research and accrued theoretical wisdom of our clinical community regarding the parent-child relationship. Children’s abiding developmental need for a heartfelt, secure relationship with their parents was seen and described by our foundational thinkers, and is still considered and examined by current scientists.

Our clinical approach presented here is based on this science, old and new, including (1) neurobiology, (2) attachment theory, (3) emotional regulation, and (4) relationship-based discipline. In addition to an overview of these areas, we introduce several unique and crucial threads that are woven throughout this book, including the 7 Essential Attachment Needs, which every intervention in this book seeks to satisfy; identifying parental disruptions and family stress that create obstacles throughout the process; the value of beginning with parents when working therapeutically on behalf of children; and the importance of providing care that is immediately effective.

The heart and work of parenting is where each of these topics comes together in a practical way. Our approach is to help parents meet children’s needs with a balance of warm heart and firm work. We view the heart as the compassionate, connected, attuned, playful aspect of parenting. We view the work as the clarity-providing, limit-setting, steady aspect of parenting. To consistently accomplish the elements of both heart and work, we must help parents dedicate themselves to developing their relational skills and abilities, along with self-awareness, self-regulation, and boundaries. Neither heart nor work function at their best in isolation; it is their balanced integration that is key for effective parenting.

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