We’ve all heard of attachment parenting and perhaps the benefits of parenting this way. However there are common misinterpretations that can lead to problems. So let’s explore what is healthy attachment parenting, really? The tips, the benefits and how to support secure attachment in a balanced way, from the 4th trimester and beyond.
Attachment parenting is a parenting style originally theorized by John Bowlby and its essence is all about responding to the childs need for connection.
It’s the foundation for a childs capacity to develop and maintain intimate relationships, so it’s really important!
The research tells us that children thrive when they have this securely attached foundation and of course we want this!
Does this mean my child has to be on me all the time?
No. Close physical contact and proximity with your baby is recommended in the 4th trimester (0-3 months), however, those needs change as your baby grows.
As they develop they need to explore without being controlled and overprotected. They need to be supported to assert their free will and explore their personal space and independent movement.
This doesn’t mean you can’t baby-wear or co-sleep beyond 3 months, but be aware that as your child grows our presence can actually prevent them from getting a good night sleep.
However, each child is unique and every family different. Parenting is an art, not a science.
It’s important to understand that healthy attachment is not just about being physically close to your child all the time.
It’s actually more about your degree of presence and attunement with your child, which we can only truly give when we are engaging in good self-care and are supported. And then you are automatically teaching your child self-love!
Cry it out?
Most naturally inclined mumma’s will breastfeed, wear their babies, many will co-sleep and consider ‘crying it out’ to be unresponsive and callous.
But there is a huge difference between leaving a child to ‘cry it out’ (which will teach the child that you will not meet their needs and can create trauma) and being present and empathic while allowing a child to freely express their emotions.
Setting healthy boundaries
There is also a common belief nowadays that setting firm limits is squashing a child’s spirit. But children need them as they begin to exert their free will. Setting loving limits teaches them the difference between a loving action and an unloving action. And it reassures them that you will keep them safe.
Dr. Laura Markham, founder of AhaParenting.com and author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting is an advocate for attachment parenting.
She teaches a relationship-based parenting model in her parent coaching practice and believes that with attachment parenting it is important to respond to the developmental needs of the child, and that includes setting limits as they develop their will.
‘Giving in to kids’ demands because we can’t bear their unhappiness isn’t attachment parenting, it’s irresponsible parenting. It gives kids the message that their sad and angry feelings are so unbearable they must be fended off at all costs, and often that other people’s needs aren’t important.’
I totally agree with this statement. I feel that when a child learns that they cannot cope with their emotions, that this will very often lead to all sorts of emotional and mental health issues.
Another common misinterpretation
Very often the interpretation is that successful attachment parenting results in a quiet baby. That a quiet baby is a securely attached child.
I personally disagree with this assumption. A parent should never feel they are failing because their child is crying. Children need to cry!
Allowing a child to cry, in a present and supportive way, is actually loving them!
Nursing away every tear leads to a child who feels they need their caregiver with them & tending to them all the time to be okay.
Most parents use a bottle, nipple or pacifier every time their child cries. It seems to have become the definition of a good parent. These babies are learning that they have to eat or drink/suckle whenever they’re upset.
We are teaching them that they cannot cope with their feelings with simply our loving presence.
Quietening them on the breast or with a pacifier is much easier than listening to their feelings which can often be uncomfortable, even excruciatingly hard as it can trigger our own pain.
But we have to ask, as responsible, caring parents ‘What effect is this having on my child in the long term?’
The Cons of ‘Attachment Parenting’
Yes, secure attachment is vitally important, and studies demonstrate that children who develop this foundation, through sensitivity to their needs, develop confidence and independence naturally from this foundation.
So why is it that parents who follow attachment parenting guidelines very often end up with clingy, whiny babies that wake frequently and are dependant on parents to get back to sleep? I hear of this SO often.
Janet Lansbury, author of ‘Elevating Childcare’ is a passionate parent educator and advocate for respectful parenting.
‘Children who are not trained to nurse whenever they are upset express their feelings openly, either in the parent’s arms or not, as they choose, and then move on, eager to engage in play again. But the toddlers who nurse on demand seem to be distracted by a need to test those boundaries with the mother. They play for shorter periods of time; have shorter attention spans, and have not developed coping skills. That is what I have observed in the 15 years that I have taught parent/infant and toddler classes.’
I believe this is because we have set up a dependence which is disenabling our children and actually dampening their natural development.
So how do we provide secure attachment in a balanced way?
During the fourth trimester period close contact and proximity with your baby is important. Infants derive comfort and security from an environment that is as “womblike” as possible. Maintaining constant close contact with the mother is also thought to help babies regulate themselves physiologically. It also helps parents to become attuned to their babies.
For more about the fourth trimester period go here.
Beyond the fourth trimester secure attachment involves being present, connected and empathic with our child. It is responding with sensitivity to our child’s developing and changing physical and emotional needs.
Your precious bub is developing rapidly, and has been given the gift of free will and a natural desire to explore their rapidly expanding world in their own way, to roll & bump, trip and learn. To yell & squeal loudly and express themselves!
I hope this has helped to clear up some confusion I so often, especially with new mums.
Dive in deeper
Janet Lansbury’s ‘Elevating Child Care’ is a guide to respectful parenting, and well worth the read.
This book is especially for mum’s and primary caregivers who are exhausted from doing/giving too much and will guide you through a simple shift in perspective that is likely to be life-changing.
Dr. Laura Markham is a dedicated Peaceful Parenting coach. She teaches a highly popular & successful online 12-week course for parents wanting more connection and joy with their kids
Register for her next course here.
Over to You
I would LOVE to hear from you! What have been your experiences with attachment parenting? Is there anything in particular that you struggle with? What works for you and your family?