Attachment parenting is a method of parenting which strives to ensure that the family unit provides loving, careful, respectful support to all of its members.
The goal is to raise children who will become adults with a highly developed capacity for empathy and connection. It eliminates violence from the raising of children and ultimately aims to prevent violence as a way of life.
Attachment parenting challenges us to model our behaviour and interaction with our children on the way we would like them to interact with others.
Attachment parenting isn’t new, it’s the way children have been raised for thousands of years, prior to modern ideas of child-rearing and is still practised today among the tribes of the Amazon and other increasing limited places which are beyond modern living. In the last 60 years or so, the behaviours of attachment have been studied extensively by psychologists and child development researchers.
“The Continuum Concept” shows, in-depth, the personal research conducted into tribes in the Amazon by Jean Liedloff who lived with them for some time. She found that the people raised happy delightful and well adjusted children by following the simple principle of providing reassuring human touch to babies from the time of birth. They treated all of the children with dignity and never raised their voices or hit them. Whenever the child was upset (which was infrequent) they were cuddled or breastfed until the child was asleep or happy again. The babies were worn in a sling close to the mothers body and beating heart and when that wasn’t possible, they were given to another pair of loving arms to hold. As the children grew they were not told what they shouldn’t do, they were told what they should do. This gave them a safe boundary and reduced any confusion in their minds.
Research has shown that our unconscious brain cannot differentiate between negative and positive. When we are told not to do something, for example “don’t go too near the water” our brain interprets this as “go near the water”. This is why we have so many rule breakers in modern society. Imagine now that a toddler is told this same thing. He will go near the water. Instead tell him to stay close to you. Try to minimise the negative statements.
Attachment parenting is comprised of principles that aim to bring you and your child closer together. To attach emotionally to each other. When we are attached we want to make to other person happy, we want to do what’s right for them, and more we see things from their point of view. Imagine your teenager growing up to feel that way about you. It starts with these principles.
Prepare for pregnancy, birth and parenthood- Become emotionally and physically prepared for pregnancy and birth. Sign up for natural, calm birth classes. Look into hiring a doula. Research peaceful parenting methods. Learn about the best nutrition for your pregnant body, growing baby and to support breastfeeding long-term. If possible plan to breastfeed long-term, at least 2 years. Continuously educate yourself about your child’s stage of development and parenting. Make sure you have realistic expectations and remain intuitive to the needs of your child.
Feed with love and respect- Breastfeeding is the optimal way to ensure your child’s nutritional needs. If necessary, research support for breastfeeding so that you can give yourself the best chance to breastfeed your baby. If you have to bottle feed, use the “bottle nursing” method where you adapt breastfeeding behaviours to bottle feeding to initiate secure attachment such as: feeding when hungry and avoiding schedules, hold the baby while feeding and talk softly and lovingly with eye contact, switch positions each feed, associate the bottle with being held and undivided attention, wean from the bottle as if from the breast. Feed them your own milk, if possible, second best is donor breastmilk, and third organic goats milk formula, as it is easier on the babies stomach. For both babies and older children follow cues for feeding, encouraging them to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full, rather than follow a schedule. Feeding is an act of love, so much more than simply providing nutrition. Food should be prepared and served with love, in a non-hurried fashion. Toddlers often eat more throughout the day rather than a big meal in the evening, and they shouldn’t be expected to sit at the table for too long. Never force a child to eat. Avoid using food as reward or punishment. Have only healthy options of food in the home and then give your child a choice.
Respond with sensitivity- You build the foundation of trust and empathy by understanding and responding appropriately to your child’s needs. Babies communicate their needs in many ways including body movements, facial expressions and crying. They learn to trust when their needs are consistently responded to with sensitivity. Building strong attachment means not only responding sensitively to your child’s physical needs, but also enjoying time interacting with them, thus fulfilling his emotional needs as well. Babies brains are undeveloped at birth and they are unable to soothe themselves, but through the consistent responsiveness of a compassionate adult they learn to soothe themselves. Some babies seem more sensitive to the environment and stimulation. Understand your child’s inner rhythms and try to schedule around them. It’s perfectly normal for a baby to want physical contact in order to soothe stress. High levels of stress, such as prolonged crying can cause the chemical state of the baby’s brain to become unbalanced and can place them at risk for physical and emotional problems later. If you are experiencing symptoms of burnout, such as being unable to cope with your child’s needs, this is a sign that you may need extra support and help. Tantrums are a sign of real emotions and must be taken seriously. Some emotions are too powerful for a young child to manage in a socially acceptable manner. The parents role is to comfort the child, and change the circumstances which prompted the outburst, not to punish or get scold. Nurture a close connection as the child grows, by respecting his feelings and trying to understand the underlying needs causing outward behaviour. Provide a safe environment for exploration and discovery which helps the brain to develop. Show interest in the child’s activities and participate in child directed play.
Use nurturing touch- Human babies are born with an urgent and intense need for human contact. Having been inside the womb for the whole pregnancy and thus emerging into the world, they have a real need to be in contact with their mother. Nurturing touch helps meet the need for physical contact, affection, security and stimulation. With babies nurturing touch is always gentle and can include holding, stroking, massage, breastfeeding, gentle patting, kissing, carrying in a sling etc. As the child grows bigger that touches change to hugs and cuddles during story time etc. Nurturing touch stimulates growth promoting hormones, improving intellectual and motor development, regulating the temperature, heart-rate and sleep/wake patterns. Babies who receive nurturing touch sleep better, gain weight faster, nurse better, cry less, are calmer. Cultures high in physical affection, touch, carrying or holding, have lower rates of adult physical violence. Skin-to-skin contact is especially effective, such as bathing together or during feeding. Massage soothes colic, helps a child unwind before bedtime and provides opportunity for playful interaction. Be conscious to avoid the overuse of devices designed to keep the baby away from physical contact such as swings, strollers, carriers and car-seats. With older children touch can be frequent hugs, snuggling, massages, back rubs and physical play such as wrestling and gentle tickling instigated by the child. All humans thrive on touch.
Ensure safe sleep, physically and emotionally- newborn babies do not sleep through the night, they cat-nap. They go through sleep cycles which include waking every couple of hours to feed. This is the time of their lives where they are growing the fastest and they need almost constant feeding. During this time they also use their mothers heart rate and breathing patterns to regulate their own. The best sleeping solution for this time of life is co-sleeping. Solitary sleeping for infants is a relatively new practice introduced in the western world in the last 100 years, and coincided with a rise in SIDS(sudden infant death syndrome). In cultures where shared sleeping is the norm, the rates of SIDS is low or non-existent. For more information see the page on Co-sleeping.
Provide consistent and loving care- Babies and children have a need for the physical presence of a consistent, loving responsive caregiver. Daily care and playful, loving interaction builds strong bonds, this is the basis of building attachment. If neither parent is available, then the child needs someone to whom they can become attached who supports attachment parenting and provides consistent loving care. Create routines and schedules around the needs of your child. When planning short separations such as evenings out, use a trusted caregiver who is well versed in attachment parenting principles, respect the child’s feelings, use creativity to avoid unnecessary anxiety, accept that all children will at times have difficulty with separation, avoid using shame or threats to force the separation or to stop a child from crying. Different children are ready for separation at different ages. Day care that exceeds 20 hours a week for a child under 30 months can be extremely stressful and detrimental to the long term health of children. In-home care is preferable, either by a parent or trusted caregiver. Explore a variety of work arrangements to ensure that your child is cared for by a parent at all times except for short separations. A trusted care-giver should form a bond with the child in their care, its important that there is continuity of care. Make the transition to a caregiver well in advance of a separation so that it is gradual and comfortable for the child. Hold an cuddle the child after separation as a way to reconnect after being apart. Include the child in day to day tasks and spend non-work time with family.
Practice positive discipline- Parents should treat their children the way they would want to be treated, that is the “golden rule” of attachment parenting. Positive discipline is a philosophy that helps a child develop a conscience guided by his own internal discipline and compassion for others. Discipline that is empathetic, loving and respectful strengthens the connection between parent and child, while harsh or overly punishing discipline weakens the connection. Instilling fear and shame in the child may lead to increased anti-social behaviour including crime and substance abuse. Studies show that spanking and other physical discipline techniques create ongoing behavioural and emotional problems. Harsh physical discipline teaches children that violence is the only way to solve problems. Controlling and manipulative discipline harms the trust and bond between parent and child. It is a sign of strength and growth to examine ones own childhood experiences and seek help to develop good parenting habits. Positive discipline involves techniques such as distraction, prevention, and substitution to gently guide the child away from harm. Try to understand what need a child’s behaviour is communicating. Look for the underlying cause. Understand developmentally appropriate behaviour and tailor loving guidance to the needs and temperament of the child. Positive discipline begins at birth with the bonds of attachment which are formed when a child is nurtured by parents who consistently and compassionately respond to the infants needs. Children learn by imitating, so model positive interactions within the family and with others. If you slip up and behave badly, you can repair your relationship with your child by apologizing and reconnecting again.
Tools for positive discipline-
-Maintain a positive relationship-Use empathy and respect-Research positive discipline-Understand the unmet need-Work out a solution together-Be proactive-Understand the child’s developmental abilities-Create a “yes” environment-Discipline through play-State facts rather than making demands-Avoid labelling-Make requests in the affirmative-Allow natural consequences-Use care when offering praise-Use time in rather than time out-Talk to a child before intervening-Don’t force apologies-Comfort the hurt child first-Offer choices-Be sensitive to strong emotions-Consider carefully before imposing the parents will- Use logical consequences sparingly and with compassion-Use incentives sparingly with older children.
Strive for balance in your personal and family life-This means making sure that everyone’s needs are met, not just the child’s. Balance is the foundation on which attachment grows. When in balance family members are more able to be emotionally responsive. Although the child’s needs come first, especially when they are young, the child’s needs are still only a piece of the whole, which includes the parents as individuals and as a couple, siblings and the family as a whole.
Practical Tips for Maintaining Balance-
-Enjoy today and accept that a child changes things-Set realistic goals-Put people before things-Don’t be afraid to say “no”-Turn unpleasant parental duties into easier, enjoyable ones-Be creative in finding ways to spend couple time-Take time for yourself-Eat healthy and exercise regularly-Avoid over-scheduling-Get out of the house
Tips for Supporting New Mothers-
-Be patient and sensitive-Say something appreciative every day-Be grateful-Be an empathetic listener
Tips for Balance with the Older Sibling-
-Bring a helper to activities-Spend individual time with each child-Develop family traditions-Create family nights-Rekindle hobbies to share with an older child
Avoid “burn out”-
-Regain balance today-Cultivate friendships with other AP parents-Simplify and let go of unnecessary things-Use yoga, visualization, meditation-Enjoy the momen