Building a more sensitive relationship with your child: Keeping their thoughts & feelings in mind

Written by Roseann Martorana – Educational Psychologist, consultant & VIG practitioner

Montreal, Canada

Do you ever feel like you and your child are stuck in a ‘NO’ cycle?

If you’re a parent today, you’re being pulled in so many directions at once. You may be working, you have responsibilities at home, and you have the care of your children to think about, including helping with homework and extra-curricular activities, all the while remembering to look after their social and emotional needs!

So, sometimes, when we lack the time and the energy to really stop and listen to our children, we develop negative patterns of communication with them. We forget to pay close attention to what they are trying to tell us through their words but also their behaviour, and their body language.  We miss their attempts to connect with us.

Recognise this parent?

You might notice this when you’re trying to get dinner ready and they’re at your feet, needing to tell you something that seems so urgent, and you respond without looking and a few ‘uh huh’s’, or when you’re chatting to another adult in person or on the phone and your child really wants to play a game or show you something and you shush them or make the right noises and faces of encouragement without being fully present. All of us with kids can think of many of our own examples, daily!

If we believe that all behaviour is an attempt to communicate, perhaps the difficult behaviours we experience with our children can be solved, at least in part, through adjustments in how we communicate with them…by improving our interactions and our relationships.

So how can we go from a ‘No’ cycle to ‘YES’ cycle?

For decades, research on infants and attachment has confirmed that ‘the human mind is interactive’ (Benjamin, 1990. Psychoanalytic Psychology) and we see it ourselves in the way our newborn babies stare at us and seek our continued attention.   In fact, not only are we born with the capacity and desire to form relationships, but in order to support healthy overall development, a trusting and secure relationship with a parent or carer is crucial (Bowlby. 1988).

In order to get back on the path towards a ‘YES’ cycle, it is so important, as parents, to acknowledge that our children have an internal world with feelings, thoughts and desires that may be different to ours (Allen & Fonagy, 2006) , and that finding common ground is possible. With this knowledge, we can start to build a more positive and sensitive relationship with our children that respects their developing world view.

One powerful way to rebuild our relationships with our children, and others, is to use video to help us notice moments of positive connection and build on them. By becoming more intentional in our interactions, we can begin to move towards a cycle of increasingly positive interactions.

How Video Interaction Guidance (VIG) can help.

Video Interaction Guidance (VIG) is a relationship based intervention that uses video feedback to give individuals a chance to reflect on their interactions with people who are important to them, drawing attention to elements that are successful, based on the principles of attuned interaction, and supporting them to make changes where desired (Kennedy, Landor & Todd, Eds. 2011). VIG is based on the values and beliefs of respect and empowerment.

Starting with the principles of attuned interaction

The principles for attuned interaction and guidance, on which healthy and sensitive relationships are based, were developed by Biemans (1990). In order to have a cycle of communication with your child that promotes trust, open dialogue and enjoyment, there are a few necessary conditions. If you want to repair a damaged relationship with your child, these can be seen as steps that must build on each other, from the bottom up. You can try them out while playing or chatting with your child.

(Kennedy, H, Landor, M. & Todd, L. (Eds), 2011)

(Kennedy, H, Landor, M. & Todd, L. (Eds), 2011)

Be Attentive

Being attentive involves looking at your child in a friendly way, enjoying watching them (being present), and giving them time and space to communicate with you, while wondering out loud what they are doing, thinking or feeling. Notice when you do this and how your child responds.

Encourage Initiatives

You can notice the times when you encourage your child to make a ‘move’ in communicating with you. You might notice yourself waiting and listening attentively, showing warmth in your tone, being playful or friendly and naming what you see or think or what you’re doing (to invite them to join in).

Receive Initiatives

How do you respond to their attempts to interact?  Noticing the times when you show that you’ve heard or noticed them with your words, your body language or your friendly/playful manner. You might notice yourself looking at them, repeating them or smiling at them encouragingly.

Attuned Interactions

Builds on your attentiveness and encouragement of your child’s interactions with you, by focusing on how you develop the dialogue and noticing when you take turns, check that you understand your child, wait your turn, and have equal turns. In these times, you are cooperating.

Guide & Deepen

Once the trust is established and the respect is mutual, children are more likely to accept guidance. Your communication and the relationship will, in turn, be enhanced.

Having attuned interactions and positive patterns of communication with your children is very important in managing conflict (potential or actual) (Kennedy, Landor & Todd, Eds. 2011). It’s important to know, like with any skill, ‘you get what you give’. Patients and positive trusting relationships take time, practice and energy to strengthen.

For more information about what Video Interaction Guidance (VIG) is and how it works, visit:

*Roseann is a VIG guider currently working in Montreal, accredited by the Association of Video Interaction Guidance (AVIG) UK. If you are interested in learning more about how VIG could help you, get in touch at



Allen, G.J. & Fonagy, P. (2006) Handbook of Mentalization-Based Treatment. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.

Benjamin, J. (1990) An Outline of Intersubjectivity: The Development of Recognition. Psychoanalytic Psychology 7, 33-46

Biemans, H. (1990) Video Home Training: Theory Method and Organisation of SPIN. In J. Kool (ed.) International Seminar for Innovative Institutions. Ryswijk: Ministry of Welfare, Health and Culture.

Bowlby, J. (1988) A Secure Base: Parent-Child Attachment and Healthy Human Development. London: Routledge.

Kennedy, H,  Landor, M. & Todd, L. (Eds). (2011) Video Interaction Guidance: A Relationship-Based Intervention to Promote Attunement, Empathy and Wellbeing. London: Jessica Kingsley.

Reducing a baby's stress when they start daycare

Written by Cindy Hovington, Ph.D. Founder of

Montreal, Canada


Starting daycare can be a stressful time, for both babies and parents alike. Some babies will adapt quickly, while others will cry every morning for many weeks. Does starting daycare have any impact on a child's brain? It can. This is especially true in children younger than 36 months (3 years of age). This is why research recommends that the best time for a child to begin daycare or preschool is 3 years of age. Elevated cortisol levels in children that occur frequently can alter the brain's architecture. However, the reality is that most parents must place their children in daycare much earlier than at 3 years of age. For this reason, I have included 3 important tips to help make your child's daycare integration a smooth one.  

First, a little science on stress and the brain.

Researchers measure stress in children by collecting samples of saliva since the stress hormone named cortisol (a glucocorticoid hormone) is found in saliva. When it comes to stress in children, we can't rely on behaviour alone since some children will internalize stress.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BONDING: Building a strong attachment with your child BEFORE they start daycare can help reduce their stress when they begin. You can bond by doing skin-to-skin, holding them or giving baby massages.

Levels of cortisol naturally fluctuate throughout a 24-hour day. Cortisol levels are highest in the morning when we wake up and are the lowest in the evening (the spike helps you wake up and the decrease allows you to fall asleep). This is the rhythm our body develops as of childhood. If a child is introduced to high levels of stress throughout the day, it will influence the fluctuation of their natural cortisol levels. This is what can be damaging in the long run. Internal or external stresses will cause a child's brain to activate the HPA axis (Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenocortical), which is involved in regulating stress and emotions. When there is a stressful event, the HPA increases levels of cortisol. The HPA axis is closely linked to the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain involved in learning and memory. Chronic and severe (due to emotional neglect, abuse, witnessing violence) levels of stress can actually alter the hippocampus, thus causing memory issues. 

In daycare settings, studies have repeatedly shown that cortisol levels are higher in children who spend the day in daycare compared to being at home. Not only because they are separated from their parents for such long periods of time (if possible try to reduce the number of hours a child under 3 spends at daycare), but because being in peer groups at such a young age is actually very demanding on them due to frequent emotional arousal in their environment (other kids yelling, lots of movement and noise etc). The key to reducing stress in daycare is the bond your child will create with their caregiver. The stronger this attachment or bond is with their caregiver, the more it will help your child reduce their levels of stress.


3 tips that will help your child during their transition into daycare and lower their stress levels. 

1. Implement a very slow integration.

Researchers split the "start" of daycare into "adaptation phase" and "separation phase". The adaptation phase is when an infant starts daycare with the presence of their parent. Bringing on a new environment and a new caregiver causes elevated levels of stress for the infant. They learned that 1) the stronger the bond between mother and child (i.e. the more secure they are with their mother) before the start of daycare, the lower the levels of cortisol when they begin daycare and 2) the longer the mother stayed in the adaptation phase for integration into daycare, the better the attachment become with their mother (Ahnert et al. 2004).  

2. Choose a high-quality daycare. 

  • Low child/caregiver ratio. According to research, the best child to caregiver ratio is 4:1 (For every adult there are 4 children). Also, the number of children in a group should be no more than 8. The more children there are the higher the noise level and this can be overstimulating for children. Also, a higher the chord to caregiver ratio means that the child will have a greater difficulty building an attachment to them. If possible, try to select a daycare that minimizes the number of children in a group (Geoffrey et al. 2006).

  • Low staff turnover. Your child should develop a strong bond (secure attachment) with their caregiver. When a child is younger than 3, it is important for them not to have multiple caregivers as this means they might have difficulty creating an attachment with them. If your daycare has a high staff turnover or multiple caregivers for your child, this may increase their stress. High quality home daycares can be great since your child will one caregiver for many years.

  • A sensitive and caring caregiver. Research has shown that if a child establishes a secure attachment to their caregiver (other than their parent), then this caregiver can help the child effectively diminish stress levels in a time of stress. In order for this to happen, caregivers must provide sensitive, responsive caregiving.

3. Increase bonding time with your child.    

If your child begins to exhibit different behaviour either at home (more crying during the time their are with you, wanting to be in your arms more often, changed eating habits, changed sleeping habits etc) or at daycare, then they might be feeling more stressed. Spend more time with them when you are at home. Increase cuddling time with them. Try doing some baby massages if they are young and increase skin to skin time through this activity (which in turn helps build a stronger attachment). Contrary to popular belief, holding your baby and spending time with your child is not "babying" your child. The stronger the attachment your child has with you the more comfortable they will feel when you are not around. (Stay tuned for an article on attachment, make sure you subscribe to our newsletter not to miss it!).  

Will your child start daycare soon? Take a breath. Everything will be ok. Adaptation to daycare takes time. Some research suggests as long as 6 months. Provide lots of emotional support for your child and your guidance will help them through this change.