Prepare for Parenting by Healing Your Childhood Wounds

By Rita Brhel

mom, baby & sunsetWe 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.

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New Journal of Attachment Parenting Provides Step Forward for Parenting

By Rita Brhel

AP Journal coverIn response to the growing interest in responsive parenting within the scientific and professional communities, Attachment Parenting International (API) with prominent health psychologist Kathleen Kendall-Tackett announce the advent of the Journal of Attachment Parenting. Access to the online publication is free of charge.

“Numerous recent studies have documented the importance of responsive parenting to both physical and mental health,” says Kendall-Tackett, PhD, IBCLC, FAPA, guest editor of the Journal of Attachment Parenting, an annual review of the most eye-opening research in sensitive responsiveness. “We are finally recognizing that early parenting does make a difference. In fact, it is critically important to adult health. This volume summarizes recent studies that show this connection. I hope that it will provide an evidence base to both parents and professionals. This volume represents a critical gathering of recent science around responsive parenting.”

For this debut issue, the Journal of Attachment Parenting highlights 41 studies selected through a review process that evaluated articles published in high-quality, peer-reviewed journals from around the world. An additional 324 studies have been recognized for their contributions to the Attachment Parenting community.

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The Emotional Legacy of Our Family Trees

By Rita Brhel

gravestoneI’ve been helping my mom research our genealogy off and on over the last few years. Lately, she’s been hunting for tombstones. As I walk the oldest part of the cemeteries, reading the grave markers, I am continually taken aback by how many mark the burials of infants and young children.

We know on an intellectual level why it was difficult for our ancestors to make it through childhood, with disease and famine and lack of medical technology and effective medications. But can you imagine the absolute heartbreak of these early generations? A mother in 1852 can’t have felt any less emotional pain from the death of her son or daughter than I would. And then, try to imagine what emotional wounds these parents faced with this sadness, anger and possibly guilt passed down to their genetic line?

Epigenetics explains how certain genes responsible for diseases and mental illnesses can be turned off or on depending on the environment. In this documentary, “The Ghost in Your Genes,” researchers explain how looking at the genealogy of people affected with certain medical conditions often links them with certain environmental conditions. For example, people today suffering from type 2 diabetes likely had famine in the family tree and people with a tendency toward depression are linked with ancestors who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Because of the type of research, we can’t say that PTSD causes depression susceptibility, but we can say that there seems to be a link.

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Shut Off the TV: Parent-Child Interaction Best for Baby Brain Development

By Rita Brhel

TV timeVery 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.

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On High-Reactive Temperaments and Secure Attachment

By Rita Brhel

690096_silent_screamI 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.

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Is Breastfeeding Worth Cosleeping?

By Rita Brhel

mom kissing babyThere’s a lot of talk about the importance of secure attachment. We mostly hear of it in two circles: adult relationships and parenting, especially of adopted or foster children. We’re hearing more of it in parenting at large, mainly through organizations like Attachment Parenting International. But for the most part, the importance of individual attachment style continues to be downplayed. After all, we all grew up “just fine,” right?

As a breastfeeding educator, I am continually wowed by the progress made over the past several decades of not only promoting mothers to breastfeed their infants but also of encouraging the medical community to embrace the practice that was once touted by post-World War II doctors as the “poor woman’s way of feeding her children,” second to the “superiority” of “modernization,” of formula. It is now well known what nature has always known, that breast is indeed best when it comes to feeding our babies.

Breastfeeding is unique in that it not only delivers superior nutrition and health factors to our infants, as well as benefits mothers’ health in the long term, but also that it promotes a secure attachment relationship between mother and baby. We don’t hear about this much, because our medical community hasn’t yet completely acknowledged that how our brains work—the psychology of it all—is actually a biological, physical function of our body. And so, right now, the medical community is pretty much just interested in communicating the importance of the nutrition and health factors of breastmilk.

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Attachment Parenting vs. Permissive or Helicopter Parenting, and Why My Daughter Wouldn’t Feed the Cats

By Rita Brhel

1167253_love_u_mammaAttachment parenting is often perceived, at first glance, as permissive parenting or helicopter parenting. This is interesting, since the two latter styles of parenting are nearly opposites: permissive parenting is characterized by a high degree of warmth with few, if any, boundaries set by the parent; helicopter parenting, on the other hand, is illustrated by a parent who “hovers,” or becomes too involved, in the child’s decision-making.

Permissive parenting is seen with parent-child pairs in which the child’s behavior is always seen as OK by the parent, rarely warranting discipline. What limits are set are set inconsistently and may be harsh.

Helicopter parenting is seen when the parent continue to be overly involved in a child’s activities and peer relationships far after the child naturally seeks autonomy. The teen doesn’t feel able to make his or her own decisions and relies on the parent to do so.

Attachment parenting, rather, has two key components well-represented in more than 60 years of research: sensitive response by a consistent caregiver. So we’re looking at parents who are responding with age-appropriate sensitivity and striving to be as available and consistent as possible.

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The Laundry Impasse: On Child Behavior, Autonomy & Relationship-based Conflict Resolution

By Rita Brhel

cloth-clips-1396376-mYesterday was my son’s second birthday.

With my two girls, I don’t remember any terrible two’s or three’s. Actually, the hardest year of their early childhood was between their first and second birthdays, when they were walking and getting into everything but still not quite grasping the meaning of “no.” They either ignored my request altogether or smiled while they were doing whatever I told them not to do.

I can tell this is going to be very different with my son. This past year was a breeze. But as we neared his birthday, he has begun to furiously assert his independence. Completely normal, but two-year-olds can run a lot faster and throw a lot farther than one-year-olds and they can reach the door knob and maneuver kitchen chairs easier to climb up onto counters and can unscrew peanut butter jar lids. Plus, the default tricks for one-year-olds, substitution and redirection, don’t work nearly as well on two-year-olds whose memory and focus are more fine-tuned. And then, of course, we have to remember that he’s a little boy, with energy and large motor skills galore.

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Why Breastfeed? It’s More than Milk–It’s About Teaching Relationship Skills

By Rita Brhel

World Breastfeeding Week 2013The core of healthy parenting is responding to our children with sensitivity. On this last day of World Breastfeeding Week, which runs annually from August 1-7, I wanted to spotlight this choice in infant feeding that is often taken for granted in how critical the act can be in getting motherhood–and babyhood–off to the best start. And I’m not talking about the nutritional aspects, but rather the basis of the mother-child relationship and the relationship skills that child will carry into adulthood.

Breastfeeding can be difficult in our society. It is hard to do something different than our family and friends, our social network prior to becoming parents, and to find a new support system for our choices. It is hard to navigate new motherhood relatively alone, compared to other cultures where family rallies together to give the mother a baby moon, a time when mom and baby can bond uninterrupted while housework and caring for other children are taken up by others in her life. It is hard to make the choice to return to work and then try to integrate a child care provider into our alternative way of parenting. It is hard to pump while away from baby. And it is hard to continue to push through difficulties, whether it be a poor latch or milk supply issues or teething or night-waking, when so many others in our lives are trying to convince us to just give a bottle of formula.

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How Do You Make a Difference to Children?

By Rita Brhel

1034106_ripplesI make a difference every day, and so do you.

July is recognized as “Make a Difference Month to Children,” and many organizations and businesses took this opportunity to raise awareness of their causes or to ask for donations to a favorite child-centered charity. And that is wonderful.

But every individual is making a difference to children in the world every single day. We may not be teachers, childcare providers, parent educators or other professionals who work with children. You may not even be a parent, but yet, we all are still making a huge difference to our communities and society—through our relationships with the children we interact with, whether in our homes, in our professions, or in passing.

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