The word exposure is a noun that means “the state of being exposed.” Exposed is an adjective and, for our purpose, can be substituted by the word “vulnerable.” So, we are speaking about our ability as parents to manage our children’s vulnerability, or their state of being exposed to uncertainty. Let’s be clear, if we protect them from or allow them to avoid all uncertainty our children will most “certainly” develop an unhealthy dependency on us and will not develop their self-reliance, confidence and autonomy.
Our children’s job is to make choices that work for them and create a sense of well-being. Our job, as their parents, is to manage their environment in such a way as to keep them safe and help them to determine whether their choices are, in fact, adaptive. To the extent that we skillfully manage their exposure to the environment effectively, we will see them learn and grow in their confidence and self-management.
We learn how to skillfully manage our children’s environment by using two basic principles: The Attachment Principle and the ABC Principle. The Attachment Principle suggests that we must establish a healthy set of behaviors that not only creates an emotional and physical bond with our children, but we also must encourage their secure attachment to us through our appropriate responsiveness to their needs. For more on attachment please refer to The State of Our Families Part II: The Attachment Principle.
The ABC Principle is simply the natural law regarding the relationship between Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence. As parents, we are able to regulate many of the Antecedents (requirements that are placed on our children) and many of the Consequences (the outcomes of their Behaviors). I say many of the antecedents and consequences because some of them are natural and some are logical, and because we are not perfect in our choices and our consistency. Nevertheless, the job of controlling antecedents and consequences is ours and the job of making choices concerning behavior is theirs. To manage our children’s exposure well, we must respect and honor the natural principles surrounding secure attachment and their ability to make adaptive choices in behavior.
An example involving these two principles and exposure management with children is provided in the scenario that follows. Dan and Jennifer Smith have a wonderful little three year-old boy who has developed a very secure attachment to both of his parents. This, of course, didn’t happen by accident. They worked steadfastly at being very responsive to Danny’s needs, especially his security and safety needs. As a result, Danny feels pretty safe exploring his environment. He loves to ride his little bike with training wheels on his circle drive, in his front yard. Danny’s parents are very clear with him on the conditions for this privilege. “You may ride your bike in the front as long as you ride safely with your helmet on and you stay out of the street (Antecedent). The Consequence will either be natural or logical and parents are in control of both in this case. The Smiths will never intentionally allow Danny to experience the natural consequence of riding his bike in the street at three years of age. Instead, they will implement the logical consequence of removing the privilege of riding his bike in the front when his bike actually touches the street. The removal of this particular privilege of Danny’s is not meant to be emotionally punitive. Rather, it is simply the logical consequence of his “Behavior” (riding his bike into the street). The Smiths control the A and the C and Danny controls the B.
Parents create optimal conditions for attachment and the safe laboratory for their children to explore. By playing by natural rules we feel much more confident in the positive results of our children’s exposure to their environment.
I encourage you to participate in learning and teaching by discussing these ideas. Please post your comments and feel free to provide examples of how exposure management has helped you and your children grow into a healthy family.