I hear, from time to time, that Attachment Parenting is not the only way to form a secure attachment with your child.
“Attachment” is very literally the relationship style between parent and child, and “secure” or “insecure” describes the quality of that relationship style. Secure attachment develops out of an appropriate and sensitive responsiveness to a child by a consistent, loving caregiver. Consistency and sensitivity, especially in moments of distress, are key.
The hallmark of a secure parent-child attachment is trust but also includes affection and empathy. Children with insecure attachment are more likely to have difficulty with social skills, behavior and emotional self-regulation, language development and school readiness, as well as more likely to develop low self-esteem and obesity, to name a few. Adults with insecure attachment continue to struggle with relationships and stress-coping.
Often, the question above is being asked by someone referring to the stereotypical “attachment parenting” lifestyle—the vision coming to mind of a mother giving birth at home, wearing her baby in a sling, breastfeeding through toddlerhood and other child rearing techniques that constitute choices some parents make but are not what define Attachment Parenting.
Attachment Parenting is a term that covers any parenting philosophy with the goal of forming secure parent-child attachment. The attachment parenting lifestyle is included under the Attachment Parenting umbrella, but it’s far from the only option.
Part of the core of Attachment Parenting is teaching our children about emotions—what they’re feeling and what to do about it, as well as how to empathize with others—a skill referred to as “emotional literacy” by parenting consultants like Ann Corwin, PhD, MEd, of Laguna Niguel, California, USA.
We know more than ever that emotional literacy is critical for healthy human development. Unfortunately it’s a skill that was not regularly nurtured in past generations, and many parents are learning about difficult emotions like jealousy and disappointment alongside their children. It was evident as I talked with Ann, mother to two grown children, that her life’s passion is in empowering parents in strengthening their relationships with their children and that emotional literacy is very much central to her work.
RITA: Thank you, Ann, for your time. Let’s start by learning how you came into your line of work?
By Jennifer Scoby, AttachmentParenting.org. Reprinted with permission by Attachment Parenting International, www.attachmentparenting.org. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.
Attachment Parenting International is often contacted by confused parents like a mother who recently asked, “I no longer breastfeed my baby, but I try to babywear and I like the idea of having a securely attached relationship and using positive discipline. Is it OK to do some of Attachment Parenting but not all of it?”
Many parents could be disillusioned about what it fundamentally means to practice Attachment Parenting and where they fall into the parenting philosophy spectrum. How many parents out there wonder where they fit in?
As far as we’re concerned, you can babywear, breastfeed, cosleep, be a stay-at-home parent and more but still not be practicing Attachment Parenting if you don’t let yourself get emotionally attached to your baby or child. Or you can choose to do almost none of the above parenting techniques and still practicing Attachment Parenting as long as you form a genuine emotional connection with your child.
It’s time to acknowledge that children are people.
That may sound silly, but there are parents who swear by discipline methods that don’t reflect their child’s value as a person.
This reminds me, there’s new study led by George Holden of Southern Methodist University has found—based on real-time audio recordings of parents who volunteered to wear a wire during their daily interactions—that of parents who use corporal discipline, spanking and slapping is a very frequent child-rearing practice. Read about the study here. While in other studies, which were based on parent self-reports, it was found that the average parent spanked only as a last resort for severe misbehavior, Holden’s audio recordings revealed that spanking was used as a first-line discipline method for even trivial misbehavior and that children tended to misbehave again within 10 minutes of being punished.
I grew up in a loving home. I knew my parents cared deeply for me, and our lifestyle was centered on the family.
I know my mom did some crying-it-out methods, but I also know that she breastfed all four of her children, that she had unmedicated births and that she attended to each of us through the night, letting us sleep in her bedroom when we needed security. I even found a photo of her wearing me in a sling!
While my mom spanked us when we were young, eventually her discipline methods gave way to more positive discipline. She worked full-time as a researcher before having children and for a year after having her oldest, before becoming a stay-at-home mom for the next 26 years, actively volunteering with many of our extracurricular activities. When my youngest sister went to high school, my mom got a part-time job that fit within the school’s hours, allowing her to see her daughter off to school every morning and welcome her home every afternoon.
My family loves watching the Olympics, and we marvel at how these athletes are able to get to such a high level of performance, often at very young ages—a 15-year-old ice-skating gold medalist, an 18-year-old skiing medalist and so on. When my children ask how these athletes get so good, I reply that it took them a lot of time and practice.
No doubt there was also a lot of support from their parents.
As parents, we all want our children to succeed in life and part of that is mastering some skill that they can call their own. So we help our children explore their natural talents and personal interests, and we guide them as they develop their skills set.
It can be confusing learning how to be supportive of our children’s pursuits without becoming overbearing, which can actually have the opposite effect of helping our children grow into their potential, because certainly we don’t want to appear to not be proud of our children’s accomplishments.
There is a widespread belief that to be a good Attachment Parenting (AP) family, one parent must stay at home with the children full-time and that parent should be the mother. To be sure, this is a myth.
Some parents are mistaken in thinking that “real” AP families don’t choose to put their children in daycare.
However, parents need to look beyond the specific practices to realize the true goal in Attachment Parenting: Whether or not parents stay at home with their children is not as important as being sure to raise their children with secure attachments. If a dual-income family strives to maintain a strong parent-child emotional bond, this family is just as AP as one in which the mother or father stays at home full-time.
We often hear the cornerstone of healthy parenting quoted as consistently “responding with sensitivity” to our infants’ and children’s emotional and physical needs in relation to their biological-developmental stage. And while I agree this overarching idea is at the core of healthy parenting, I do not feel that it is necessarily as instinctual as many authors and parenting experts claim.
Before parents can even fathom relying on their gut feelings in how to approach their parent-child relationships in a healthy, sensitive way, it is my firm belief that they must first address and heal from any childhood emotional wounds they may be carrying around, often without their realization until they bring a new child into the world, and even sometimes not even then.
Depending on life circumstances, our individual attachment quality, the patterns of our relationships from childhood on, communication style, coping skills picked up along the way and other factors, even the most balanced people among us can still have areas in their emotional life needing attention. And every one of us always has room to improve, just because we humans are like that—if we’re not intentionally moving forward, we’ll slide backwards.
Very few parents can resist the urge to use television at least occasionally to entertain their children. And occasional TV viewing isn’t concerning. It’s when parents are relying on TV for frequent “babysitting” or, more likely, early educational opportunity that there’s a need for change.
Since the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a recommendation in 1999 that no child under two years old should watch any TV, there have been a number of studies that have demonstrated that not only do so-called educational programming not have any effect on children’s learning, but they actually may be detrimental. For example, researchers from the University of Washington (USA) found that babies 8 to 16 months old who watched “educational” programming started talking later than peers who didn’t. There was a direct link between the more hours of TV viewing and the smaller the child’s vocabulary.
How much TV is too much? That depends on how much time parents are spending with their children. A researcher from Children’s Hospital Boston (USA) found that while an average of 1 hour of TV a day didn’t necessarily have any effect on cognitive development of babies and toddlers. What did was that the parents who are more likely to allow their children to watch TV are losing the opportunity to interact with their children, such as through conversation and reading, two important contributors to language development.
I attended a mother-and-tots group the other night. There were two babies in the corner, sitting in their car seats, one about two months old and the other closer to four months. The older baby was contently looking around, and the younger was sleeping, later waking to gaze out and only fussing when it was time to eat, afterwards being happy to lie on a blanket on the floor. I asked the mom of the younger baby how it was going at home, and she said that her baby is so quiet and calm that it’s sometimes easy to forget that there is a baby at home.
I can’t imagine. Each of my three children was impossible to forget as soon as they were delivered. Each craved touch and presence. Each protested loudly and violently at separation. Just riding around in the car was a trial, let alone sitting in a car seat at a community function. These were babies that refused to be put down.
I was tempted with my oldest child to “teach” independence by way of crying it out, but she sank into depression that took years to break through. With my younger two, I focused on creating and strengthening a secure attachment, and didn’t try to change them. I just loved them, and continue to love all three of them, as they are. And over time, they have conquered many of their fears and anxieties on their own and have blossomed into secure, confident, happy, competent children.