What is Attachment Parenting?

Attachment Parenting International (API) is a worldwide educational association that states-

Attachment Parenting is an approach to childrearing that promotes a secure attachment bond between parents and their children. Attachment is a scientific term for the emotional bond in a relationship. The attachment quality that forms between parents and children, learned from the relational patterns with caregivers from birth on, correlates with how a child perceives – and ultimately is able to experience – relationships. Attachment quality is correlated with lifelong effects and often much more profound an impact than people understand. A person with a secure attachment is generally able to respond to stress in healthy ways and establish more meaningful and close relationships more often; a person with an insecure attachment style may be more susceptible to stress and less healthy relationships. A greater number of insecurely attached individuals are at risk for more serious mental health concerns such as depression and 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, and responsive care. By demonstrating healthy and positive relationship skills, the parent Provides critical emotional scaffolding for the child to learn essential self-regulatory skills.
Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting are designed to give parents the science-backed “tools” – valuable, practical insights for everyday parenting – that they can use to apply the concept behind Attachment Parenting. These tools guide parents as they incorporate attachment into their individual parenting styles:
  • Prepare for Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Parenting — The overarching message within this principle is the importance of parents to research their decisions regarding pregnancy care, childbirth choices, and parenting styles; childbirth without the use of interventions shows the best start to the parent-infant bond. However, there are ways to modify the initial bonding experience for mothers who do encounter complications.
  • Feed with Love and Respect — Research shows unequivocal evidence for breastfeeding for infants along with gentle weaning into nutritious food choices. Breastfeeding is the healthiest infant-feeding choice. The physiology of breastfeeding promotes a high degree of maternal responsiveness and is associated with several other positive outcomes. In the case breastfeeding is not possible, bottle-nursing — attentive bottle-feeding — should emulate the closeness of breastfeeding.
  • Respond with Sensitivity — This Principle is a central element in all of the Principles; it 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 the commonly referred-to “cry it out,” are inconsistent with this Principle. The foundation of responding with sensitivity in the early years prepares parents for all their years of parenting, by modeling respect and caring.
  • Provide Nurturing Touch — Parents who “wear” their babies in a sling or wrap are applying this Principle. Infants who are opposed to babywearing enjoy being held in-arms. Touch remains important throughout childhood and can be done through massage, hugs, hand-holding, and cuddling.
  • Ensure Safe Sleep — This principle is the basis for one of the more controversial subjects in parenting. Many attachment parents share a room 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 not the sleeping surface but that parents 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 must work outside the home, this principle can be applied by ensuring that the child is being cared for by one childcare provider who embodies a responsive, empathic caregiver over the long-term; for example, an in-home nanny versus a large daycare center with rotating staff.
  • 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 not only be ineffective in teaching children boundaries in their behavior but also harmful to psychological and emotional development. Parents are encouraged to teach by example and to use non-punitive discipline techniques such as substitution, distraction, problem solving, and playful parenting. Parents do not set rules so that their child obeys for the sake of structure, but rather to be the teacher, the coach, the cheerleader, and the guidepost as the child develops his or her own sense of moral responsibility within the construct of the family value system.
  • Strive for Personal and Family Balance — Attachment Parenting is a family-centered approach in that all members of the family have equal value. The parent is not a tyrant, yet also not a martyr. Parents need balance between their parenting role and their personal life in order to continue having the energy and motivation to maintain a healthy relationship and to model healthy lifestyles for their children.
Attachment Parenting is not exclusive. Every parent – every socioeconomic class, every ethnicity, every culture – can incorporate attachment-minded techniques into their childrearing philosophy. Moreover, while 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 the lifetime, beyond these early years. Children of all ages and developmental stages can benefit from parenting that takes attachment into account. For example, school-age children and teenagers benefit from sit-down meals of nutritious foods over which family members discuss the happenings of the day or play a game. Frequent hugs or shoulder massages or even a light touch on the shoulder can provide moments of sensitive responsiveness that only deepen as children mature and parents’ connection with their children remains critical for providing them guidance.

What does attachment parenting look like for us? Why do you connect with this particular form of parenting?

During my pregnancy, I prepared for our baby and the birth through reading everything I could get my hands on. I seemed drawn to a certain style of parenting and certain ideas about labor and delivery. I didn’t make conscious choice to follow attachment parenting or not to, I just seemed drawn to that approach and the information I found in books. Many people have big ideas about what attachment parenting is and parenting debates have played out in the news, social media, and online. I guess people who naturally are drawn to attachment parenting might strive to meet most of the eight principles listed above by API, meeting your own child’s needs is going to look different in every family. I think the most important aspect for us is trying to meet our child’s needs while also finding personal and family balance. This is not always easy to do, for any parent, but it’s also very important to everyone’s wellbeing.

General Myths about Attachment Parenting

  • You can’t bottle feed. You must breastfeed, until the child is ready to self wean, on demand.
  • You must bed share with your baby until he/she is ready to sleep alone.
  • You must always hold your baby or wear your baby using a sling or baby carrier and never put them down.
  • Babies should never cry, not even for a moment.
  • Parents never get a break, never have sex, and never get any sleep.
  • One parent must always be home with the child.
  • A parent never says “no” to their child.

 

What attachment parenting looks like in our home…

Responding to Needs with Sensitivity 

Since Boba was born we have always tried to respond to her needs with respect and sensitivity. When she was under a year I always tried to respond as quickly as possible. As she’s gotten older and has developed more patience and is capable of waiting for longer periods, I respond when I can but I don’t disrupt a task if the need is not an emergency. I still always respond when she’s calling my name and I always verbally respond to her with sensitivity and compassion. I explain when I will be able to meet the need and we always follow through, as best we can, in order to create trust and build her tolerance for waiting.

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*One of the few times Boba tolerated the baby carrier. She liked the Ergo better than any other we tried. No matter what the parent plans, the child has his/her own needs and preferences. Go figure! 

Sleep

Boba (our daughter) has always slept in our room, despite the fact that we painted and decorated a beautiful nursery as part of my “nesting” during pregnancy. When she was born we attempted to co-sleep, which is different than bed sharing. We had a co-sleeper attached to the side of the bed primarily to make nursing and diaper changes in the night easier. We always planned to move her to the crib eventually but it never happened. The co-sleep never even happened. Every time she fell asleep, as soon as we would try to transfer her to her sleep surface she would wake up screaming. After several nights of attempting to soothe her, swaddle her, feed her, burp her, and relieve gas and/or anything else we could think of, we were sleep deprived and losing our minds. We tried bed sharing out of pure exhaustion and it has worked beautifully ever since. It’s important to mention that this arrangement has always been comfortable and worked well for everyone in our family. We probably wouldn’t have continued if someone was uncomfortable (i.e., my husband, etc.). Bed sharing is not essential to attachment parenting though– nighttime parenting is! I just found responding to my child’s needs in the night was much easier on everyone when she was in our bed.

Feeding

I always knew I wanted to do everything in my power to breastfeed my child no matter how many obstacles we had to face. We faced MANY obstacles too. Boba was born with a lip tie and tongue tie, when they handed me my baby girl in the hospital I noticed her tongue right away. It looked like a little heart because the tip was attached to the bottom of her mouth. Right away we struggled with breastfeeding but she was tenacious and so was I. She was getting milk but it only took a few days before my nipples were cracked and bleeding from the ties in her mouth. Eventually, with MUCH support and an amazing lactation consultant, Kate Cropp, we got through laser revising her lip and tongue ties and found our groove. I do credit her revisions (at 6 weeks), the support we got, and our bed sharing in keeping up my supply and helping us to make our breastfeeding journey a long term reality. Until she was 2 years old, I breastfed her completely on demand. Did I ever feel touched out at times, yes. Did I ever doubt what I was doing, no. It just felt right for my daughter, for me, and for our family. I am still breastfeeding Boba day and night but I no longer breastfeed her on demand. Sometimes she asks me in public and I remind her that she can have milk when we get home. Sometimes I’m cooking dinner and I ask her to wait until after dinner. Or I will tell her that we’re saving the milk for bedtime. It has never stunted her and has only created a wonderful attachment and bond that I treasure. *

Childcare

I have always been home since Boba was born. This was a conscious decision we made as a couple. It wasn’t a light decision but one we felt I needed to do and we were fortunate to be able to cut back and still make it on one income. Staying home has nothing to do with attachment parenting as long as the child’s caregiver is screened to be at tentative to your child’s needs as you would be. We did try a Mother’s Day Out Program when Boba was about 15 or 16 months and it did not go well. I think for a couple reasons, she was just entering a significant stranger anxiety phase and we had just moved. Also, the site that had an opening was not my first choice and although they were sweet, retired grandmas, they had a child rearing philosophy that was not in line with our values. She went for about 1.5 months and I pulled her when I overheard them telling my crying 16 month old to “shush up” and “Stop crying, you don’t see your friends crying. Why are you being such a baby.” So…yep, that was the end of that! I decided to hold off until she was older and she was better able to communicate with me how she felt about the site and her teachers and peers. This subject will come up repeatedly because it’s one I struggle with most as a parent, mostly because of my own baggage and not because of attachment parenting or anything with Boba! Parenting has a way of bringing up all our sh*t!

Discipline/Parenting with Peace

Obviously this blog and community is about parenting with peace and I feel that really fits nicely with the attachment parenting philosophy. Before I had Boba and before we moved from California, I was a preschool special education teacher. I felt I just understood behavior and treated many students differently than I would today. I was never abusive in any way and followed much of the behavioral norms at the time but I felt yucky inside when I obsessively used time outs or felt I wasn’t meeting a child’s needs by ignoring a crying child who had been acting out. I have since changed my whole perspective on discipline. I don’t use timeouts with Boba because I know it would never work. I’ve also never seen it be very productive with other children either. Yes, they were removed from the activity but they usually were misbehaving as a way of communicating with me to begin with and I never really got the message when I responded in that way. They also wanted to leave the activity because it was usually not something they enjoyed or it was difficult for them and timeout became a valuable way for them to avoid the task. With Boba, it seems she acts out when she’s tired, hungry, overstimulated, or when she needs my direct attention. Putting her in timeout because of any of those reasons seems unreasonable and risky because I basically teach her that she can get my attention through unwanted behaviors. Instead we tend to stop what we’re doing and respond with sensitivity and understanding. We also try to make sure her “attention cup” is filled throughout the day so it never runs empty and comes out as “acting out”. It doesn’t mean that she never hears “no” or isn’t made to wait from time to time but I also try to keep realistic expectations that are age appropriate. She is only 2.5 years old and she has big feeling she doesn’t really understand yet and feels her needs with great urgency. I’m trying to stretch her ability to wait when I’m busy taking care of other needs or meeting my own needs (i.e., going to the bathroom, eating my lunch, etc.) but I try to put most of her needs first still because she’s a young child who still needs me.

*I am completely aware that many mothers fight tooth and nail to breastfeed and for whatever reasons it doesn’t work out. My heart goes out to you all because I heard many of your stories in La Leche League and other breastfeeding support groups and I know it can be very difficult. I will be posting much more about the struggles in my breastfeeding journey and I appreciate any comments, questions, or shares from your own experience. Together we can support one another.

 

Do You Talk to Your Kids About Sex?

Many people dread “the talk” with their children about sex. Some parents don’t even attempt to talk to their kids about the subject and others have no idea what to say or how to say it, let alone when.

I belonged to a Facebook group a while back, while I was pregnant, that spoke of a workshop some of the parents went to about how to talk to your kids about sex and sexuality. The presenter was Emi Canahuati, MA, CSE, Sexuality Educator and Coach. The parents raved about the workshop and it started many discussions online about communicating with our children openly and honestly.

I decided I wanted more information in order to answer potential questions my daughter might have. I also wanted to know how to discuss appropriate touch with her without scaring her. I talked with other mothers and fathers in my social circle and found several parents were concerned about the same things I was. They wanted accurate, up-to-date information and support in looking at our own hangups about sex and sexuality so we can pass on the good and maybe hold back the fear, anxiety, negativity and shame. So we scheduled a workshop with Emi and she came to my house and presented to several of my close friends. It was awesome!!

One of the many things I love about Emi’s philosophy, and what I would like to pass down to my own children…

Sexuality is lifelong, natural, and an integral part of being human. Sex has the potential to be a powerful force for good and requires care and consideration.


 

Some of the big take aways for me-

  • There is NO “BIG TALK”, we are constantly shaping and sharing messages about sex/sexuality and conversations should be ongoing and age appropriate.
  • Children deserve to have accurate answers to their questions. We’ve been taught by society that we don’t “teach” sexuality or sex and yet we teach our children everything. If we don’t teach them, someone else will.
  • Teaching our children about their bodies, about where babies come from, about sex, about fulfilling relationships, and how to be safe doesn’t make children go out and do all the things we’re giving them information and facts about.
  • Any feelings of discomfort or anxiety when discussing sex with out kids comes from our own negative experiences and shame. We can chose to educate ourselves and have awareness around our own experiences and chose to pass that on or not.
  • Start young and talk openly and honestly in order to set up a long lasting connection. Parents who can talk about sex with their kids (largely viewed as one of the most uncomfortable topics) will develop the type of relationship where children can talk to their parents about anything and everything.
  • Use real, scientific words for body parts. This empowers, protects, and informs our children about their bodies and helps us to know if something is wrong (i.e., a child is hurt or has a urinary tract infection, etc.) or if someone is hurting them (i.e., predators may teach your child a made up name for their private parts to make inappropriate touch more like a game). If your child starts calling their private parts by a made up name, this can be a red flag.

 

Emi Canahuati also shared an amazing book with us, It’s Not the Stork!: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families and Friends by Robie H. Harris. This book is the first part of a sequence, two other books follow that include more information for older children. The other two books are It’s So Amazing!: A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies and Families and It’s Perfectly Normal!: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health, both by Robie H. Harris. All the books have amazing illustrations by Michael Emberley. These books are really helpful in providing information for children but also for parents on what topics to cover and how.

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For more information about Emi Canahuati, MA, CSE Sexuality Educator and Coach, please check out her wonderful website at www.talkandthrive.com. Her website offers a resource page with trusted websites that offer accurate and up-to-date information for parents when answering a child’s questions. If you don’t know something, be honest with your child and find the answers together. *Please use a trusted source.

If you’re in the Nashville, TN area please consider attending one of Emi’s workshops or talks to learn more.

 

Meditating With Toddlers

Have you ever tried to meditate with a toddler running around the room? No?

Many Americans complain that meditating feels like a toddler running around in their brain but what if you have a restless mind and an actual small human jumping on the bed?

I started meditating before my daughter was born, while I was pregnant. I guess it was easier while I was pregnant but I still had heartburn, restless legs, and all day nausea, so really, it was only marginally easier. I continued to meditate while she was a baby, which was really easy! She napped 3x a day!! I could meditate whenever, however and it didn’t bother her much. I really started struggling with my meditation routine when she became mobile and cut down on her naps. Oh and my daughter hasn’t napped since 20 months old!

I’ve recently returned to my meditation practice (with some slight variations and a big ol’ change in my expectations) about 4.5 months ago. How do I do it??

  1. I accepted my reality– I’m a stay at home mother of a walking, talking toddler.
  2. She wakes up when I wake up. So…I had to learn to alter my expectations.
  3. I learned to accept less is more when it comes to practicing regularly but for shorter periods.
  4. Sometimes Most times I get interrupted.
  5. I explain to her in simple language what mommy is doing and why it helps me.
  6. I allow her to join me (and wiggle around).
  7. I try to remain flexible about when I do my meditation.
  8. I try to remind myself that it doesn’t need to be perfect to be beneficial.

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photo by Takashi .M


 

Here’s how I explained meditation to my 2.5 year old daughter…

Mommy is meditating. I close my eyes and sit very quiet. It helps mommy feel more happy and ready to play!

I also try to plan and prepare prior to taking my quiet time. I bring her out to the family room and set her up with a cozy blanket, some books and puzzles. Most days I don’t remind her that I’m meditating because I’ve found that she tends to interrupt me more on those days. I then retreat down the hall to my office/meditation room and leave the door open. I can hear her playing faintly in the background and it usually never disturbs me. If she comes looking for me, I allow her to join me by silently opening my arms. I’ve also toddler proofed my office so that I’m comfortable with her “exploring” without my direct supervision.

I seem to be able to meditate for an average of 10-15 minutes. I find this is enough to really provide some great benefits for me.

I notice I can be agitated, sleep deprived, annoyed, restless, irritable, etc. in the morning and after my meditation (most mornings) I feel like I got a do-over. I start the rest of my morning more patient, kind, compassionate, considerate, and peaceful. **Even when I don’t have these results, I trust that it’s about the big picture and continuing a practice with results over time rather than daily results.

Suggestions-

  • Baby proof/toddler proof your meditation space.
  • Meditate in the same room if you child is under 2.
  • Always keep the door open so you can hear or use a monitor.
  • Keep the meditation shorter so you can remain consistent.
  • Expect to be interrupted and accept any emotions that accompany the interruption (annoyance, irritability, distractibility, etc.).
  • Try to fit it in first thing in the morning when your child is still waking up and easily distracted.
  • Provide activities, plan and prepare.
  • Try to be gentle with yourself and remember that results are more noticeable over long periods and not daily.
  • Start out with shorter periods of time and increase over time to see what your child can comfortably manage.