Attachment Parenting is enveloped in confusion and opinion. It is often perceived as a fringe or extreme approach to parenting, though parents who practice it are simply following their instincts for attunement with their child. You may be practicing it yourself without even realising it.
A Brief History
Attachment Parenting International (API) was founded 25 years ago by Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, in Nashville, Tennessee. They were mothers and teachers who noticed a growing need among students for greater family security and caregiver availability. They founded API to bring information and support to parents through a centralised collection of resources.
Today, the Attachment Parenting movement is well-established. Most parents recognise the power of touch, positive discipline and other Attachment Parenting practices. However, the essence of Attachment Parenting has been muddled. It is often confused with other parenting styles, such as permissive parenting (placing very few rules, expectations or demands on the child), helicopter parenting (like helicopters, parents ‘hover overhead’ to oversee every aspect of their child’s life) and natural parenting (centred on meeting the child’s needs and encouraging them to develop at their own pace). API approaches parenting in ways that can be adapted by any parent with the goal and desire of helping children reach their fullest individual potential.
So What IS Attachment Parenting?
Attachment Parenting promotes a secure attachment bond between parent and child. The attachment quality that forms between parents and children, learned from birth, correlates with how a child perceives and experiences relationships as they grow older.
Attachment quality is correlated with lifelong effects and often has a much more significant impact than people first assume. A person with a secure attachment is generally able to respond to stress in healthy ways and establish more meaningful and close relationships. A person with an insecure attachment style may be more susceptible to stress and less healthy relationships. Insecurely attached individuals are at greater risk of mental health concerns, such as anxiety.
How parents develop a secure attachment with their child lies in the parent’s ability to fulfill that child’s need for trust, empathy and affection by providing consistent, loving, responsive care. By demonstrating healthy, positive relationship skills, the parent provides emotional scaffolding for the child to learn essential self-regulatory skills.
API has eight core principles of parenting that are designed to give parents tools to apply the concept behind Attachment Parenting. These tools guide parents as they incorporate attachment into their parenting styles:
- Prepare for pregnancy, childbirth and parenting
It is important that parents do research into pregnancy care, childbirth choices and parenting styles. Childbirth without intervention shows the best start to the parent-infant bond. However, there are ways to modify the initial bonding experience for mothers who encounter complications.
- Feed with love and respect
Research shows unequivocal evidence for breastfeeding for infants along with gentle weaning into nutritious food choices. The physiology of breastfeeding promotes a high degree of maternal responsiveness. In cases where breastfeeding is not possible, bottle-nursing (attentive bottle-feeding) should emulate the closeness of breastfeeding.
- Respond with sensitivity
This is viewed by many parents as the cornerstone to Attachment Parenting. It encompasses a timely response by a nurturing caregiver. Baby-training systems, such as ‘cry it out,’ are inconsistent with this principle. The foundation of responding with sensitivity in the early years prepares parents for parenting in the long-term by modelling respectfulness and kindness.
- Provide nurturing touch
Parents who ‘wear’ their babies in a sling or body wrap are applying this principle. If your child doesn’t like going in a sling, other forms of nurturing touch can be achieved through massage, hugs, hand-holding and cuddling.
- Ensure safe sleep
Many parents share a bedroom with their young children. Those who exclusively breastfeed and who take necessary safety precautions may prefer to share their bed. However, this principle can be just as easily applied to crib-sleeping situations. The point is that parents should remain responsive to their children during sleep.
- Use consistent and loving care
Secure attachment depends on continuity of care by a single, primary caregiver. Ideally, this is the parent. However, if both parents work outside the home, this principle can be applied by ensuring that the child is being cared for by one long-term childcare provider who is responsive and empathic.
- Practice positive discipline
There is a strong push against physical punishment in recent years, but research shows that all forms of punishment, including punitive timeouts, can be ineffective and harmful to psychological and emotional development. Parents are encouraged to teach by example and use non-punitive discipline techniques such as substitution, distraction, problem-solving and playful parenting. Rules should be implemented only to teach and guide the child as they develop their sense of moral responsibility.
- Strive for personal and family balance
Attachment Parenting is a family-centred approach in that all members of the family have equal value. Parents need balance between their parenting role and their personal life in order to continue exerting the energy and motivation needed to maintain a healthy relationship and to model healthy lifestyles for their children.
Every parent can incorporate attachment-minded techniques into their childrearing philosophy. Moreover, whilst the basis of Attachment Theory is rooted in studies involving infants and toddlers, research in adult relationships is increasingly showing that attachment quality is an important feature of development and the effects persist over a lifetime. Children of all ages and developmental stages can benefit from parenting that takes attachment into account.
Attachment Parenting may be different, but not necessarily difficult
Most parents who incorporate attachment-orientation into their parenting style comment that Attachment Parenting makes their lives smoother. It requires more time and energy than other parenting approaches during the infant stage, or the initial period of time if this approach is introduced to an older child, but it results in an easier relationship long-term because the parent and child are cooperating rather than engaging in power struggles. Even with infants, many families report more sleep and less crying – without sacrificing a parent’s sense of satisfaction – with breastfeeding, baby-wearing and co-sleeping.
When it comes to a parent’s happiness, the role that parenting plays is a matter of subjectivity as well. Attachment-minded parents are happy to give their children more attention than not.
There is no single way within the eight principles to apply the attachment concept. Parents are advised to use what works, meaning that not every attachment-minded family must choose all of the parenting practices within a certain principle. For example, some families may prefer homebirths and midwives while others opt for birthing centres or hospitals. In the same way, most families strive to breastfeed, but there are fortunately alternatives when this cannot happen.
At its core, what differentiates Attachment Parenting from other childrearing approaches is the parent’s desire to treat their child with equal dignity, love and respect as he or she would afford an adult. Put simply, attachment parents treat their children as they would a new co-worker or their friends and adult family members – they provide them with compassion, forgiveness and patience as they learn about their place in the world.
So perhaps it’s not such an extreme approach after all.
This article was written by Attachment Parenting International. To find out more about Attachment Parenting, visit www.attachmentparenting.org
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Toddle About.