What Is Attachment Parenting?
Attachment parenting (AP) is also called instinctive parenting or gentle parenting. It is a parenting style that emphasizes the relationship between parent and child. In AP, parents strive to be "in tune" with their children, keyed in to the children's emotions, moods, and needs.
Meet Dr. Sears
Dr. William Sears was the first person to use the label "attachment parenting." He and his wife, Martha, have raised eight children using the techniques that AP espouses. Although he was the first to use the words, he did not actually invent the practice. Many of the AP techniques have been practiced in primitive tribes since the earliest days of mankind.
AP in Practice
Most parents would agree that a strong bond is a worthwhile goal of parenting. Actually achieving that is another matter. After all, the experts all have different advice for parents. It is difficult to know what is best. Attachment parenting makes it easy. According to Dr. Sears and other AP proponents, parents instinctively know what their kids need. If a parent closely observes her own children and listens to her inner voice, she already has many of the answers.
While there is no official checklist of attachment parenting behaviors, there are definitely things parents can do to enhance the bond they share with their kids.
AP for Infants
Ideally, AP begins during pregnancy or childbirth. It is best if the parents and baby begin forming a strong bond in the delivery room. There are a few things parents can do to jump-start the bond: breastfeeding, babywearing, feeding on-demand, and quickly responding to baby's cries are good starts.
AP for Older Kids
If you've missed the opportunity to bond at birth or during infancy, don't worry. It is never too late to form a strong bond with your kids. Attachment parenting with older kids is largely about communication.
Attachment parenting doesn't end when the lights go out. As any parent knows, toddlers and young children often have difficulty separating from their parents and going to sleep. Contrary to popular opinion, which endorses techniques like "cry it out" sleep solutions, AP insists that parents still parent at night. According to AP philosophy, children must feel safe, secure, and protected at all times. There are different ways of dealing with nighttime awakenings:
The family bed, or co-sleeping, is probably the most controversial aspect of attachment parenting. Critics point out that infants and small kids are sometimes injured, or even killed, when they sleep with an adult. While the point is legitimate, there are ways to safely share sleeping space with a child:
- Never share a bed with a child if you are intoxicated.
- Remove heavy pillows, blankets, and stuffed animals from the bed.
- Never let the child sleep next to the wall. A small child can become trapped between the mattress and the wall.
The book, Good Nights, provides even more information about co-sleeping safety.
A side sleeper is a small, three-sided bed that attaches to the parents' bed. This allows a baby or small child to be close enough for comfort without actually being in the parents' bed.
You can also allow small children to set up a pallet or a bed in the parents' room. This type of arrangement provides the children the security they need, while still maintaining a certain level of privacy for the parents. What's more, it is often easy to transition from this set-up to the kids sleeping in their own room.
Aside from these options, a parent can just be available as needed. For example, many kids need to sleep with parents only under certain situations, such as thunderstorms, illness, or bad dreams.
No matter what sleeping arrangement your family decides to implement, the main thing is that it meets everyone's needs. Everyone needs to sleep, and everyone needs to feel safe.
Attention to Health
It is no secret that kids get cranky with their physical needs are not being met. When they are sad, sick, hungry, thirsty, over-stimulated, or sleep-deprived, their behavior suffers. AP parents understand this and pay attention to their kids mental, physical, and emotional health. It is unrealistic to expect a tired toddler to behave during a two hour shopping trip. Likewise, a child who is feeling jealous of a new baby will likely throw temper tantrums. By being in tune with your child's mental, emotional, and physical state, you can eliminate many behavior problems before they start.
No matter how close a parent is to her children, problems will inevitably arise. Whether it is fighting between siblings, misbehavior at school, or disagreements over curfew, parents will sometimes find themselves at odds with their kids. AP parents must set firm limits with their kids. Children should always know what is expected of them at a given moment, and they should know the consequences for misbehavior. Although gentle guidance in practice can vary from family to family, one thing remains constant: no spanking! The goal of gentle guidance is to guide and to teach, not to punish or harm.
Most children thrive on physical contact. Loving touch creates a feeling of closeness between parents and children. Although some people are not affectionate by nature, it is a good idea for parents to physically interract with their kids. Some examples of appropriate contact are:
- Hugging & kissing
- Patting on the back
- Holding the child
- Holding hands
- Back rubs
Physical touch can go a long way towards creating and strengthening the family bond.
Attachment Parenting Resources
- Attachment Parenting International offers information about support groups, legal issues, and parenting news. The site also has an online store.
- Kellymom is primarily a breastfeeding site, but it also offers tips and suggestions about other aspects of AP.
- Ask Dr. Sears is the official site of the AP king himself! Site offers an in-depth look at attachment parenting. It also features advice columns and a bookstore.