How can parents use the principles of Integrative Attachment Family Therapy (IAFT) to strengthen their connection with their child?

That is what I’ll be exploring with the co-author of the new book, Integrative Attachment Family Therapy: A Clinical Guide to Heal and Strengthen the Parent-Child Relationship through Play, Co-regulation, and Meaning-Making, Dafna Lender, LCSW.

This episode offers a unique perspective on parenting, emphasizing the importance of play, co-regulation, and meaningful interactions in cultivating a resilient and thriving parent-child relationship.

Baby laying on his mothers chest while holding her face and smiling

Dafna (00:00):

Checking in with what are you saying to yourself about yourself, which is, I hate my child, I’m a horrible parent. I want to give up things that are really negative. They’re usually not conscious. You have to bring them to consciousness. And then you have to sign a message of self-compassion, even if it’s like, I’m okay or I’m good enough, or I have what it takes for the moment.

Dr. Sarah (00:25):

Is it possible to rethink the way we look at parenting, to focus more on our relationships with our children and less on their behaviors? And if we do that, what are the intended and unintended outcomes?


These questions are just what I will be talking about with this week’s guest, Dafna Lender, Dafna is a clinical social worker who has spent over 25 years working on attachment with families, and she’s the co-author of the new book, Integrative Attachment Family Therapy: A Clinical Guide to Heal and Strengthen the Parent-Child Relationship through Play, Co-regulation, and Meaning-Making. So get ready to unravel the layers of attachment and gain valuable insights into creating secure and nurturing connections. Whether you are a therapist, a parent, or simply curious about the intricacies of human relationships, Dafna’s wealth of knowledge will help you grasp what you can do to establish healthier, more meaningful connections.


Hi, I’m Dr. Sarah Bren, a clinical psychologist and mom of two. In this podcast, I’ve taken all of my clinical experience, current research on brain science and child psychology, and the insights I’ve gained on my own parenting journey and distilled everything down into easy to understand and actionable parenting insights. So you can tune out the noise and tune into your own authentic parenting voice with confidence and calm. This is Securely Attached.


Hello everyone. So today we have Dafna Lender here. She is a licensed clinical social worker, and I am so glad that you’re here today to talk to us all about Integrative Attachment Family Therapy, and the work that you do.

Dafna (02:23):

Awesome. I’m so happy to be with you.

Dr. Sarah (02:27):

Yeah. So tell me, for people who aren’t familiar, can you tell us a little bit about the work that you do and how you got into Integrative Attachment Family Therapy?

Dafna (02:39):

Sure thing. Okay. So I am a social worker by training and I worked with children in who were adopted out of the foster care system. And I worked for a really long time with foster kids who had attachment issues and adoptive kids. I moved into working with biologic families that didn’t have this huge rupture of foster care and adoption and found out that the exact same philosophy works with all kids, all parents, and the idea is that the attachment relationship, the relationship between the parent and child is the most important and most powerful vector to work through. And so it gets really personal when you’re a parent and your kid is misbehaving, and it doesn’t matter if it was a kid who was adopted from an orphanage or your own child because the same thing happens. Your whole sense of self is blown up when you’re a parent and your kid is not cooperating and it’s chronic or they’re having a huge hard time in school and you feel like you can’t help them, you don’t understand them.


The world just gets to feel like you’re being bombarded and you’re falling into a hole and you just feel desperate. And it’s very similar to what people, parents who adopted kids who were really traumatized. There’s a lot of similarities and took me a while to register that. How impactful, how much, just things like having a child. Well, certainly we know a child who had medical trauma, like being premature and having spent time in the ICU, I think that’s pretty intuitive, but just having a child who has a different temperament than you having a child with huge sensory issues and that nobody really, you just don’t understand them, that goes from a biologic difference to a real relational chasm between you. And that becomes them and that becomes an issue. And I don’t think it nearly is much. It’s not talked about enough how much these sensory issues or ADHD can make you feel like you have a very strained relationship with your child to the point where you don’t feel like good about yourself as a parent.


And so I’m interested in people and therapists putting an emphasis on working with a parent and child together in the room and not just working with a child or doing parent guidance. I want people to work together. And that’s what IAFT in integrative attachment family therapy really brings is the structure of doing therapy with any parent and child where they’re coming in with complaints that go beyond just, I need some behavior management techniques because my child has ADHD. And that’s really the first step is just to try to apply the things that are in the books about working with ADHD or sensory issues, something that can be treated with parent guidance for maybe eight or 12 sessions or something. But beyond that, what this method is looking at is how can I help? How can the parent learn to read their child and respond to their nonverbal signals and cues about what they’re needing and what they’re trying to express?


And that’s done through several different modalities. One is play, but very structured play. Very interactive play. So not things like playing card games or Legos, but actually playing things like hide and seek and peekaboo. There’s also the need to have the parent really understand the physiology of the child. So there’s a lot of parent only work in my model, so there’s probably a ratio of maybe 60% working with the parents. And then the other part is working with the parent and child together. So the parents have to come to terms with the fact that they’re the ones who are going to be changing. And I think that that’s very similar to what you espouse to.

Dr. Sarah (07:16):

Yes, definitely. And I think it’s so important to treat the relational aspect between the parent and the child, but really quick, I just want to back up for a moment, and for people who haven’t heard about your Integrative Attachment Family Therapy approach before, I was thinking it could be helpful to reiterate and simplify it for parents. So what I am understanding is the basic idea is that instead of viewing the child as the problem IAFT addresses what you see. And frankly, I agree with you that the root of the issue, which is misalignments in the parent-child relationship, and you work towards repairing that rather than simply only focusing on the child’s behaviors in isolation.

Dafna (08:04):


Dr. Sarah (08:06):

Okay. So then what would be one thing that you do in your work to help parents become more aligned with their kids?

Dafna (08:15):

Teaching parents and facilitating dialogues that are healthy between a parent and a child, which simply means that you don’t try to cajole the child or reassure them or try to convince them that it’s not what they’re saying is not true or given them reasons why you did what you did, but very conscious structured acceptance and empathy and curiosity for their situation and what they’re feeling. And that’s the goal for these conversations.

Dr. Sarah (08:47):

So I’m curious, when you start working with a family, when you’re working with parents and then explaining to them, do you kind of articulate to them in advance what they could expect and why it does what it does? Are you doing it all in vivo in the moment? Do you coach them as it’s happening? Do you give them the plans in advance?

Dafna (09:13):

Okay, so I have what I call my manifesto, which is essentially giving them the philosophy and the rationale of it’s just what you can expect from family therapy, from an attachment perspective. And it’s two pages. It’s pretty concise, but it has the three underlying tenets of attachment therapy. The first one is that your own attachment history affects how you parent your child. So I’m going to be working with your own attachment history and that’s going to take time for us to work together. The second thing is your child is doing the best they can. They’re not doing anything because they’re manipulative or controlling or sneaky or lazy. And our job is to understand what is underneath. And then the third thing is that we are going to be, we’re not going to be working on problem solving, which is really hard for parents. They want solutions.


We’re not doing that. We’re working on building opportunities for the child to feel understood. And so that’s going to be, it’s a shift to go from how am I going to solve this behavior problem to how am I going to understand my child? So I just talked to them through about what they can expect. They can expect that I’m going to be meeting with them more alone, more often than with them and their child. I’m going to be helping them to really go deep and I’m going to be needing to interrupt them in sessions. If they were talking about something and their kid is expressing something, they’re going to want to say something back to give their rationale of why they do what they do, why they did what they did, and I’m going to help them to say something accepting and empathic, and that’s going to be hard that we are going to, I ask for permission to interrupt the parent. So it’s all initially laid out.

Dr. Sarah (11:17):

In working this through. When you see a session, I mean a treatment all the way to the end, what are some of the outcomes that you see if this work?

Dafna (11:26):

Okay. I think one thing is the parent is more regulated and they stop to check in with themselves and say, what am I saying to myself about myself right now in the moment when my kid is having a tantrum in the story yelling at me or not cooperating? So there’s that moment of pause so they don’t react with just that knee jerk. That’s one of the things that’s the biggest achievements. I think another one is that people are really, parents are like, oh my God, my kid has an inner life and an inner world and I know them better and it makes me feel good to know them. I know what they’re thinking, and from their point of view, it makes sense why they behave the way they do to them. That’s how they see the world, and it just feels good, even though if the problems aren’t solved, the behavior problems aren’t solved if parents feel like they understand their children more. So it gives you more parents, I think, feel like they can feel more successful as parents.

Dr. Sarah (12:24):

So it’s almost like instead of focusing on just shifting the behaviors, when you look at shifting the interaction between the parent and the child, while we still might see dysregulated behaviors, there’s just an overall sense of less distress among the family members, which I would imagine ultimately might lead to a reduction in behavioral dysregulation too.

Dafna (12:52):

Of course. Yeah, of course, a hundred percent. I don’t know how much, what percentage of the behaviors get better at just as a result of that, but I don’t want to over exaggerate it. Maybe it’s like 35 or 40%. That’s a lot.

Dr. Sarah (13:13):

I think that if a parent knew that they could see a reduction in 30 to 40% of the challenging behaviors their children have, it might feel worth it to try to try a strategy. I think behavioral management, it might reduce the behaviors more initially, but I also feel like there’s a half-life to that.

Dafna (13:36):

Yeah, yeah, exactly. The other thing that they’re going to have as a result is they’re just going to have more fun with their child and they’re going to feel that they are more fun as parents.

Dr. Sarah (13:50):

Sounds like a higher quality of life is what one of the outcomes is. I guess the question is, is it really our goal to change behaviors or is it our goal to feel happier and more connected to our kids in spite of dysregulated behaviors?

Dafna (14:09):

A hundred percent. If that’s not, that’s exactly it. So we could just put that as a title for the end of the podcast and then yes, the goal is to be happier and more connected with your child despite the challenges.

Dr. Sarah (14:33):

Yeah, I feel like, yeah, I mean, I could get on a soapbox about behavioral management, and to be fair, I use behavioral management strategies with parents. It’s not like it’s, we don’t touch that. It’s just if that’s the only place you go to, if that’s immediately where you start and it’s the only area you focus on, I feel like sometimes you’re missing the forest through the trees. You don’t get to zoom out and say, well, why am I wanting to change these behaviors? What’s my goal? Is it actually because I believe in really changing the behaviors? We’ll have more family harmony? Well then sure, that makes, that’s a good reason to focus on the behaviors. But if you can identify that actually that path may not lead to that, there are other paths there, then I think it just opens up the possibility of like, okay, well how else do we get there? What else could that look like? And I do think it’s hard for parents to let go of the control of, well, we’re supposed to change these behaviors. That’s what we’re supposed to do.

Dafna (15:31):

So hard. Yeah.

Dr. Sarah (15:35):

What’s your sense, I’ve got lots of thoughts on why it’s so hard for us to let go of that. I think we’ve been indoctrinated to think that that’s our responsibility, but how do you understand that perception in parents that is so common and so understandable?

Dafna (15:52):

Yeah, I think one thing is feeling if you just stop and look at what’s going on with your child with acceptance, there’s this panic that you’re losing control our whole life, especially so postmodern life, it’s so stressful. We have so many things that we’re so many balls in the air and your child is just one more thing that you need to manage and control, and it’s very driven. They have to go to soccer and they have to be successful at that and be a successful teammate. Then you have to do, they have to be good at math and they have to get their tutor and they have whatever other things that are these goals, and it’s almost impossible if it’s throws a wrench into the system because we have so many expectations. So this sense of just feeling like I don’t want to lose control and I’m panicked, and that seems like that’s one of the most, that’s the initial thing is just like, don’t mess me up, don’t mess with me. I can barely handle my life. That’s the first thing. I think after that, it’s like our attachment, our own attachment, the expectations that were set for us, what we think our parents would want for their grandchildren. There’s a real legacy there.

Dr. Sarah (17:53):

Yeah, no, it is, and I think it is good that there are ways that we, it’s not like one or the other. It’s not like we don’t support behavior management. We don’t give children ways to manage their behaviors. It’s that’s the outcome. It’s a different path to that outcome in a lot of ways. We’re not working on problem solving in the moment, but we’re working on opportunities for a child to feel understood and that’s therapeutic and so impactful on the ultimate goal.

Dafna (18:30):

That’s right.

Dr. Sarah (18:32):

I’m curious too, so working on opportunities to help a child feel understood, how do you do this with parents? What are some strategies that people could try to help their kids feel understood?

Dafna (18:46):

Okay, so the first thing that one needs to do as a parent is train yourself. That reaction you have when you get something coming up from your stomach and it’s like it comes from your gut goes up to your throat and you’re just like, that needs your, it’s a reaction of wanting to just either yell or control or something. That is something that people as parents need to become aware of in their body. And so that is a training. You can’t get away from looking at that mechanism and having a moment to training yourself to calm and that reaction and let that wave pass, even if it means two or three minutes of the past and your child is misbehaving and checking in with what are you saying to yourself about yourself, which is, I hate my child. I’m a horrible parent. I want to give up things that are really negative.


They’re usually not conscious. You have to bring them to consciousness and then you have to find a message of self-compassion, even if it’s like, I’m okay, or this is I’m good enough, or I have what it takes for the moment, whatever it is, that’s what you have to do first. So that’s the very first thing. I work with parents. The next thing is I teach them pace, which is playful, accepting, curious, and empathic. It’s an attitude that comes from addict developmental psychotherapy. Dan Hughes taught me, and when you hear a kid saying something like, nobody likes me, I don’t have any friends, nobody wanted to play with me on the playground, of course you’re going to have that reaction. You do that exercise of calming yourself for a moment could take 30 seconds. And then if you remember pace, so you say something accepting, oh, thanks for telling me.


Wow, it’s really good for me to know what’s on your mind. And then something empathic. Oh, okay. If you were on the playground and nobody played with you, that would feel really lonely or sad. And then curiosity, you could ask a curiosity. A true curiosity question is not like saying, well, didn’t you have a play date with your friend Kristen, just Sunday? So isn’t she your friend? That’s not curiosity. You have to say something more. I want to know what it’s like to be in your shoes. So what was it like for you when you were on the playground and you were watching the other kids play so that you can hear them out? And that’s the step that I would, it’s a technique that we do in therapy, and then I give them homework assignment to do that at home. And that’s why those parent sessions are really important to really fine tune that skill when they got that, a whole world of connection opens up. The child is able to solve their own problems a lot easier. They give the parent a hug, you can hear a sigh of relief. They almost say thank you with their body, and then they go off and they’re lighter. That’s what kids need.

Dr. Sarah (22:11):

Yeah, and I’m so glad you gave that example of a child having a sad feeling because I think we talk about, okay, we have reactive moments as parents, oftentimes it’s when our kids are doing something that is aggressive or destructive or rude or they’re angry. And a lot of times parents don’t realize that they may also be having a harder time not reacting and using this, I like this acronym of pace when a child’s even feeling sad because like you said, you reference, oh, we have to notice that feeling that comes and we have to pause and not act on it immediately. But that might in that moment might not be an urge to yell at our kid because they’re feeling sad. But to rescue them from that sadness nonetheless and try to convince them out of it to move them away from this negative feeling that’s also reactive and a place of parenting that comes probably from our own fears or just comfort around these negative emotions.


And so I love that you gave that example because I know we’ve been talking about triggering behaviors that our kids engage in, and I think a lot of parents don’t realize that, oh, actually my kid’s sadness or loneliness may also trigger me, but it doesn’t. I’m not registering that as me being triggered because I’m not mad, but I could still, there’s this beautiful opportunity to have this empathic seeing of our children in this moment and being curious and not necessarily and staying with them in that sadness rather than trying to be like, let’s get out of this sadness as fast as we can.

Dafna (24:00):

Yeah, exactly. No, sadness is incredibly triggering for adult for us as adults, and we do everything we can to try to get away from that as adults, to not remember that we felt sad, lonely, rejected, jealous when we were kids. It’s a sense of helplessness. We try to get away from that and we want our kids not to throw that in our face. It’s like, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, you’re not like that. That’s not true. That’s basically what parents are saying, no, you are good. You’re a great friend. Everybody likes you. You remember you had a play date this last week, or why didn’t you just try going up and ask them if you can play? Did you do that?

Dr. Sarah (24:44):

Which comes from such a good place, but it’s like sometimes these, it’s like what is the bigger goal? Is the bigger goal to make our child stop feeling sad in this moment? Or is this bigger goal to help our child feel like we can join with them and connect with them no matter what feeling they’re having? And we could tolerate the feeling, which means that feeling must be pretty safe, even if it’s painful.

Dafna (25:13):

Exactly. For parents who are, I had one parent who was extremely logical and it just didn’t make sense to him to say, oh, that would be really hard if you were lonely on the playground. He was like, I know she has friends and it’s not true. And I said, okay, here’s what I would offer to you by being, first of all, is it working? Deny that she’s her feeling over and over again. And he admitted it, it was not working, and I said, if you realize that by validating and accepting the negative feeling it works to reduce that feeling, it gets smaller. So that’s your goal. And he’s like, yeah. I was like, okay, then you understand it’s a paradox. And he was like, oh, that’s really the psychology. Wow, I didn’t realize that that’s how it worked. I said, yes, that is how. So I had to explain it to him in engineering terms of this difference, like, you join with a negative affect and the negative affect gets smaller and it gets you to your goal. Then he said, oh, okay. Alright, I’ll do it.

Dr. Sarah (26:30):

Right. We could still be goal oriented. It’s just slightly different approach that may actually be more effective, but it is, like you said, it’s a paradox. It’s counterintuitive. It doesn’t always make sense to join with sadness, to reduce sadness, but what I think we’re doing in that moment is we’re increasing tolerance for sadness, which makes the sadness more bearable so that it doesn’t knock us off our feet, not, we’re not as derailed by the sadness. The sadness might not feel smaller, but it feels safer or in having someone join us in it, it feels like it goes down. I can separate myself from it now, although it’s funny because the counter to that, which I think is where people get stuck, is in trying to convince a child out of the sadness. What do we tend to do when someone tries to convince us out of a feeling?

Dafna (27:31):

Yeah, we stick in our heels.

Dr. Sarah (27:33):

We grab on tighter. It’s like, no, no, no. I have to show you just how sad I am now and now bigger and bigger and bigger. So yeah, I think it is helpful for parents to understand those mechanisms. It’s like, yeah, we’re all trying to get to the same place here. It’s just the strategies that we think make the most sense sometimes do the opposite. I was curious, you were saying something, we were talking a little bit about helping our kids ultimately get to this place of more regulated behavior and the goal isn’t understanding our kid, but just because we’re trying to understand our kid doesn’t mean we’re letting them get away with everything. We still are going to help guide them around what’s an appropriate behavior and what are consequences, and can you talk a little bit about how do consequences fit into this model and understanding an attachment relationship that has healthy limits and reliable power dynamics between the child and the parent?

Dafna (28:49):

Yeah. Well, I, I don’t focus too much on consequences as much as, first of all, a lot of behavior problems come from dysregulation. When you look at it, it’s really a physiologic, a phenomenon of being overwhelmed, tired, feeling things too intensely or not intensely enough a sense of just disorientation and things like that. So what that means is that the parent is going to be needing to be a lot more active in being a co-regulating other for their child, and I’ll give you an example. I was observing this in synagogue. There was a social hour after services and a kid who’s got a DHD and sensory issues was running around the social hall screaming and he’s six and all the other kids were running after him. So he is being a ringleader and the parent is essentially telling him, yelling at him from across the hall, this huge social hall and there’s 300 people telling him to stop running and stop yelling and stop jumping on the stage and stop pulling the curtains and things.


And finally she goes over there and she grabs him by the arm and she’s stern with him and then he starts kicking and falling on the floor. But it took her so long to walk over there and by that time she was super upset and grabbed his arm and there was even a bigger scene. So that’s really uncomfortable for her. I think she didn’t intend to, but it’s like you don’t have to go with your child when they’re in a situation like that knowing that they’re completely overwhelmed and tired and that this is a way of them to organize their world since they’re feeling so overwhelmed. You have to go with them with your child and at the first time that you see it and then walk ’em to another room and if they’re going to scream and cause a scene, you have to tell yourself that it’s okay that people are looking at you and you’re going to go into the library and you’re going to read the kid a story and you’re going to have to go home early, and that’s your lot.


That’s your lot in life. You have a child who can’t be in the social hall, and if they are in the social hall, you have to be right next to them even though they’re six and the other kids can handle it. Okay, so is that a consequence that the child would’ve had to need to go into the library and maybe have a juice box and a story just kind of accepting your lot that your kid can’t handle it and that it’s not like he’s doing it on purpose, but it’s like, what about me? I want social at work. I have a life too. So there’s just, if you are going to let your kid have this kind of wild freedom and they’re overstimulated, then they’re going to cause chaos, then that’s okay, but you have to be able to tolerate the fallout from it and say, well, at least I had a good time and was able to have my coffee with my friends for the first 20 minutes. I’m sort of saying that it’s not a direct answer to your question about consequences because I think it’s much more complex than that. You don’t give a consequence to a kid who was overstimulated and was being the ringleader and causing mayhem because he shouldn’t have been in that situation all alone.

Two children kissing their moms cheeks at the same time

Dr. Sarah (32:46):

But it’s interesting because even I guess with semantics, what are consequences and they’re not always punishments. A consequence of like, oh, you can’t handle this setting and so I have to move you to a quieter room to help you calm down is a consequence. It’s taking away the freedom and the excessive stimulation and the buzz of it all, and it’s going to somewhere quieter that’s calm, and we might have a juice box and a book, and I think what people are afraid of is that’s going to reinforce this behavior. What I think you’re saying is no, that’s going to help calm down the nervous system and get that child back to a calmer, more regulated state where they might be able to come back into that space and engage in a more appropriate way. That’s a win for everybody. So if we’re getting the outcome that we want appropriate behaviors with developmentally appropriate expectation and our expectations that are based off of our child’s actual abilities, not our wish is, okay, my kid can’t go to these big social functions and have a completely untethered free for all without getting too excited and too out of control.


So either I have to kind of be their buddy guard. I have to sort of help them keep him from getting too excited, too out of control, too big, too loud, too everything. Or if I let it go, I do want to socialize with my friends. We’re allowed to do that too. Then I just know that if he loses it, then I’m going to have to go help him bring it back together before I think it’s about having realistic expectations of our kids, but I hear a lot of consequences in that. I just don’t think it’s what I think people equate consequence and punishment and I don’t think they’re the same thing.

Dafna (34:51):

Yeah, I mean, if you give a consequence, you also, I mean this is a tangent, but if you give a consequence, you have to be able to enforce the consequence, which I had a mom who said that her mom, her child, her child was 16 and basically crawled out the window, went down the second floor, I don’t know, the trellis went and took the L train here in the city and went and visited her boyfriend. So the mom said, okay, you’re grounded. You can’t leave the house. Well, this girl already climbed out the window. I mean, the fact that she had a lock on the door, the sensors didn’t mean a thing because she climbed out the window, so she was so upset that she couldn’t, I told her that’s the girl actually of course broke this grounding that her mom imposed on her, and the mom was out of her mind with fear about what this girl is going to be encountering when she goes in the middle of the night on the train and said, you know what?


You can’t control her. She said, I could put locks on the window. I said, okay. I mean, you could try to create a prison in your house, but the problem is is that she’s going to undo the whatever lock or sensor she was going to put on the windows, said, maybe you should, if you’re worried about her being on the train at night, you can offer to drive her to her boyfriend’s house. And she’s like, that would be, that’s crazy. I don’t want to condone that at all. She can’t sleep at her boyfriend’s house. I’m like, we have to think about what can you control here? What is it that you want to be able to control?

Dr. Sarah (36:42):

Yeah, and I can see other parents having a similar reaction just listening to this, what am I? Am I going to go drive her to her boyfriend’s house and let her spend the night? But really if we continue to tighten and tighten our grip, it may ultimately be at the sacrifice of the relationship, and of course 16 and six are two very different ages, but in reality at 16, if you want to be building trust and giving her what she craves, which is freedom, because that’s developmentally kind of the drive at that age, then it might actually be important to zoom out and look at her motivation, look what is driving her behaviors, have honest and open conversations about safety and kind of accept that sometimes there are going to be mistakes and they, she’s going to have to learn from those mistakes herself.


If we can’t come together, if we can’t find a way to have somewhere in the middle, some middle ground, she’s going to continue to sneak around and hide things. And so again, when we zoom out, her feeling as though she has to sneak around and hide things that might even ultimately be more dangerous than finding some middle ground where maybe there’s more freedom, which is hard. That’s a hard pill to swallow as a parent. I get that. But yeah, so whether it’s a 16-year-old who’s sneaking out of the, or it’s a 6-year-old who’s running away from you at the park, how do we help parents who are in this deadlock power struggle figure out what the line is of what is our job to protect our kids from, and where do we have to say, I can’t control this, and then how do we then help parents feel like they have the tools to still support their kids and not feel like I’m just like, well do whatever then I don’t have any control.

Dafna (39:09):

Yeah. Well, I think that there’s the difference between a 6-year-old who you can’t stop them from running. I mean essentially the co-regulation aspect and choosing carefully where you go with your child. You can help them a lot more than the child who’s 16 and crawls out the window to go visit her boyfriend. At some point, all parents come to the realization that their children are not in their control, and that 16-year-old, her mom could not control her no matter what, and her mom was fighting tooth and nail and just in hysterics, she was in a panic about this idea that her daughter was sleeping with her boyfriend and going to his house. That’s something she can’t control. She tried to, she can’t, unfortunately, it was extremely painful. It’s really, really painful when your child is doing very distressing things and that it’s really about how am I going to preserve their connection and their relationship with my child to the maximum and also really preserve myself, and there’s a lot of peace that comes with realizing that you’re not in control.

Dr. Sarah (40:25):

And I think it’s an important distinction between a six and a 16-year-old. Yes, the 6-year-old, you are in control and it is your job to keep them safe and you do need to, I think it’s important to sort of say, I’m not going to be able to control them from running, and that’s okay, but I am going to still have this role of holding boundaries and setting limits. I think when you have a 16-year-old, if you haven’t set these things up from the beginning, if you haven’t created this strong attachment relationship like you’re talking about where it’s like I have the capacity to be curious about your position, to try to understand what’s your motivation here, what’s your goal and to try to help join you in compassion for the goal, maybe I’m not going to be comfortable with every part of that goal. Maybe there’s a lot of danger in that goal you have. How can I help you understand what the risks are? How do I help you reduce your risk while still trying to achieve your goal? Using our trusting relationship to be a place where you can come to me for help.


If you have a 16-year-old and you’re at this place where you’re in these constant power struggles, I don’t think it’s hopeless at all. I think there’s a lot of things that can be done to help repair that relationship and improve that stuff, but if you could do it when they’re six, it’s a lot easier to get there first and work on that stuff and create that sense of safety so that your kid is going to you to say, you know what? I really need a ride. This is important to me. Can you help me with this? I don’t think it’s safe for me to take the L right now, but to feel safe enough to go to your parents with your problems and say, this is what I’m trying to do. Can you help me do it in a way that’s safe? I think like we said, what’s the bigger goal ultimately?

Dafna (42:29):

Yeah, exactly. A hundred percent the connection is what’s going to bring you through these really rough years. If it’s a 16-year-old adolescent, in the case that I was just talking about of the 16-year-old, so she was incredibly super duper impulsive and had a really hard background, and so sometimes you do everything that you can and your child is acting really dangerous and crazy and you actually are trying to provide that connection and that openness and the communication and it’s really painful and scary to, but it’s important for the parent of that child, and it’s also important for the parent of children who are really healthy and well-adjusted to realize, okay, I cannot control her and I’m scared to death that something bad is going to happen to her, and I still have to sit here and be open to her when she does come to me and want to connect with me. Rather than being in super panic mode and control mode and the yelling and screaming and fighting and trying to do, there’s so many mechanisms for trying to track your child on having the device be like, find my phone and having the air tags and everything that people try to do to follow their kid around, they’re watching them go to neighborhoods that they’re not supposed to and all this, and they’re obsessed. They’re not sleeping at night and it’s not helping.


Then the therapy really becomes much about a lot about just distress tolerance and letting go and being able to focus on what you can control, which includes essentially, what do you want, mom, dad, what do you want for your life? Let’s start focusing on what you want for your life despite the fact that your child is having really dangerous behaviors and that you’re legitimately distressed. So that’s a lot of this work really is, being a parent is so hard. I just think, I don’t think the society really trains people enough to the position of what you’re going to go through.

Dr. Sarah (45:05):

It’s true, and I think it’s nice. I think it’s nice for there to be resources where people can go, whether it’s going and doing Integrative Attachment Family Therapy, where you’re actually working on the relationship with your child in vivo. That’s a really powerful opportunity to figure out how to start fresh, how to make new strides, because I do think people can feel so they just are like, I just don’t know what to do anymore. I feel so helpless. I feel so done. And so that family, I mean, I’m a really big fan of family therapy for that reason because I think it helps bring the tenderness back and the intimacy back in those relationships, the ability to just be together again, because that’s what gets eroded when you have these to really intense, intense, prolonged power struggles that that’s the part that goes.

Dafna (46:09):

Correct, and that is so sad. People just want to have, a parent wants to just feel connected with their child and that they can help their child, that they feel like they understand their child. That’s like the parent brain has a compulsive need to feel like I’m an adequate, I’m a good parent. And so it’s so satisfying when you get that back. And in therapy, if you just play like balloon, you toss a balloon back and forth, and then you choose one topic where your kid says something like a complaint or something, and then with the help of the therapist you say something accepting and empathic without trying to defend yourself or reassure or give reasons and rationales. And at the end of the therapy session, if the therapist says, wow, you two make a really good team, you know what? You’re really, I mean, you’re great. You’re a great dad and kid. I mean, wow, you’re acing this. And then they walk out the door and they’re walking on the air. I mean, they’re just like, oh my gosh, hey, we make a good team.

Dr. Sarah (47:18):

And it’s so interesting because when we’re able to help a family see authentics ability to connect and really when see them in their best selves as a family, it’s like modeling for them how to see one another as their best self. There’s so much power to seeing the good that’s genuinely there, and when we feel seen, it’s so much easier to see someone else. And so I feel like the work that you’re doing is so critical, so fantastic. If people want to learn more about the books that you wrote or the work that you do, where can they find you?

Dafna (48:03):

I have a website and dafnalender.com, so that’s d.a.f as in Frank, n. as in Nancy, a. So it’s dafnaender.com. My books are on there, and so is a description of Integrative Attachment Family Therapy.

Dr. Sarah (48:19):

Amazing. And can people, therapists can do trainings in it as well, right?

Dafna (48:26):

Yeah, that’s my main goal. I can’t see that many people, so my main goal is to train therapists. That’s my objective.

Dr. Sarah (48:34):

That’s amazing. Help the helpers so that more people get it. I love it.

Dafna (48:39):

Yeah, that’s the idea.

Dr. Sarah (48:41):

Alright, well thank you so much for coming on. This was so lovely speaking with you.

Dafna (48:45):

Thank you. It’s been my honor.

Dr. Sarah (48:54):Thanks so much for listening. If you are interested in learning more about attachment science, check out my free guide, The Four Pillars of Fostering Secure Attachment. In this guide, I teach you how to use the principles of attachment science to help you parent with attunement and trust by focusing on four simple things. You can work towards helping your child form a secure attachment bond, which is a predictor of so many positive aspects of mental health, including self-esteem independence, healthier relationships with others throughout their lifespan, better academic and workplace achievement, and lower reported instances of anxiety and depression, not a small list. So to download this free guide and learn the four pillars of fostering secure attachment, go to drsarahbren.com/secure. That’s drsarahbren.com/secure. And until next time, don’t be a stranger.

I want to hear from you! Send me a topic you want me to cover or a question you want answered on the show!

✨ DM me on Instagram at @securelyattachedpodcast or @drsarahbren

✨ Send an email to sarah@drsarahbren.com

✨ And check out drsarahbren.com for more parenting resources 

162. Transforming Relationships: How Integrative Attachment Family Therapy can deepen bonds with Dafna Lender