There is a pervasive myth that Attachment Parenting is done once the child has left the baby stage, when breastfeeding and babywearing are no longer appropriate or even possible to do. This is related to the same myth that prescribes only certain parenting techniques – namely breastfeeding, babywearing, bedsharing, and others – to parenting with secure attachment in mind.
Actually, Attachment Parenting – being an approach to childrearing – knows no age barriers, and while this approach has to look drastically different in older children than it does with babies and toddlers, it is still vitally important to a child’s optimal development to continue to parent with attachment well beyond the early years.
Right now, I have a baby, a preschooler, and a school-ager in the house. I am using an Attachment Parenting approach with all three of them, but the techniques that go with each child development stage are very different. They have to be.
What works for the baby just plain will not work with older children – as anyone can tell you. When someone mentions Attachment Parenting for the older child, that person isn’t so dense as to think that the same strategies used with babies can be applied to an older child.
This isn’t a matter of breastfeeding a six-year-old. Rather, what can be applied to all age groups are the Attachment Parenting principles.
I must say – and this is supported by other parents using Attachment Parenting principles with their older children – that parenting with attachment gets significantly harder as the child grows. Parenting babies is intense; there’s no doubt about it. But it’s mostly physically intense, as the parent is the center of the universe for the baby. There may be some protesting, but for the most part, the parent-baby pair move as a single unit, each giving and taking in a fluid design of attachment because, well, babies are completely dependent on the parent for everything.
As the child grows, certainly he continues to depend on his parent but the child is developing his independence rapidly – not only in physical ability but mentally, socially and emotionally. A few years past birth, when your child is able to state his opinion on matters and it doesn’t match yours, and then what will you do?
It’s at this point that Attachment Parenting morphs from strategies heavy on being physically comforting to techniques that focus more on mental development. Of course, Attachment Parenting has both elements all the way through, but the proportion of emphasis changes as the child grows older – as do the parenting tools. My baby’s need for exploration is supported by allowing him to take all the objects out of my purse, to feel, look at and mouth. My older children’s need for exploration and play requires much more of my involvement. They need not just my physical presence but my social interaction.
When I was a new mother, I had this idea that once I got past the baby/toddler stage, that parenting would get easier because the child would be able to entertain themselves more often, not need diapers changed, pour their own milk, eat grapes without being cut up, they can vocalize using words. It’s true – they can do all of this – but it’s not easier. It can be deceptive, because older children have so many more abilities than babies and toddlers, but they are still children – even teenagers are still children – and they will surprise you at times by how much they still need your guidance in some areas.