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.