The Relationship of Holding and Letting Go

Happy Child away from ParentsBy Abby Bordner

There are two great emotional needs our children have. Holding and letting go.

This may be obvious when considering the cycle of their lives. Yes, we birth them, hold them and, when they reach maturity, we let them go into the world.  But if you look closely, this holding and letting go is happening in moments, in each day and in phases of life with our children. Parents and children are in a constant state of reading cues, interpreting and connecting in relationship to form this attachment that is so critical for healthy development. (

Even in infancy, our babies will have moments of intense eye contact and then looking away. Toddlers crawl away from us then scurry back to be safe in our arms. Preschoolers go out into the world and then reconnect. And our older children engage in their lives and sometimes want to retreat into our arms for comfort. When our children are engaging in the world around them; with toys, friends, family members, a new environment they are expressing a need for autonomy within the relationship. If our children could express what they need in these moments it would be, “I need you to support my exploration”. Our children are relying on their relationship with parent to develop the curiosity, interest and confidence to explore. It is tempting as a parent to think your child doesn’t “need” you once they’ve separated, but actually they do.

Here are ways you can support your child in his/her autonomy from you:

  • Watch over me; notice what I’m doing and make sure I’m safe.
  • Help me, but don’t rescue me! Give me encouragement and support, don’t rush to do it for me or take me out of my exploration.
  • Enjoy with me; smile and mirror my excitement about learning in the world around me.
  • Delight in me; in fact when I turn around to see if you’re watching, your smile and eye contact meets a deep need in me to feel connected yet separate.

Notice your own response to your child’s exploration. Do you feel anxious, nervous, bored or lonely? Why might you feel this way? Perhaps your own childhood need for support in exploration wasn’t met. Perhaps it was dangerous for you to separate from the safety of your parent. It’s so important to be aware of your reactions to your child’s needs. Then you can shift your own impulsive reaction to a thoughtful supportive one. Tuning into yourself is an important step in being able to accurately tune into your child and meet their needs in a healthy way.

And, then we have our children coming toward us with a need for connection. You can picture it, right? Reaching their arms toward us, calling our names in distress, feeling frightened or needy and making a beeline for Mama or Daddy. This is when our child is saying, “Welcome me into your arms.” Children are looking for a safe haven that resets their emotions, creates safety and connection with you. This reconnection allows them to enter back into the rhythm of exploration again.

Here are ways you can support your child in their need for connection:

  • Accept my feelings; please don’t try to talk me out of it or tell me it’s silly to be feeling this way.
  • Create a connection so I can regulate my feelings; children of all ages need your help in “organizing their feelings”. This means help me get back to a state of calm. Be patient.
  • Comfort, protect and care for me. This helps me trust you and know that I can come to you when I need you.
  • Delight in me; be loving and smile at me so I know you’re supporting me.

Notice how you feel when your child needs you in this way. Do you feel bothered, uncomfortable, impatient? Again, your own response may be a reflection of your childhood. Notice your feelings and breathe. Bring awareness and then you’ll be able to shift your feelings toward your child and meet their needs.

This pattern of accepting, holding, releasing and supporting is a natural rhythm between parents and children. It supports their curiosity and their need for connection. Notice your usual responses to them. It may be different with each of your children. Work to respond in a healthy way so they feel secure, trusting and excited to be part of the world around them!

Comment below how you’ve seen your children in exploration and in need for connection today.

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Leave A Reply (3 comments so far)

  1. Rodney C. Davis
    3 years ago

    I’m sooooo loving this. Especially the quotes from the child’s voice. In my neck of woods, it’s heartbreaking to see the number of youths with attachment issues. When the popular parenting culture actually encourages a dissonant parental voice, your words are soothing. I’m going to get some of my clients just read out loud from your blog.

    THANK YOU! Something tells me I’m going to be needing a lot more of you very soon, Abby.. especially if you’re open to podcast interviews, a small mastermind group, and joint ventures.

    • Abby
      3 years ago

      Thanks for your comment, Rodney. I’m glad you like this post! I appreciate your support and hope this information helps your clients. Keep in touch! I love collaborating with other professionals.
      Take care.