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Published on August 21, 2020

What Is Attachment Parenting and Does It Work?

What Is Attachment Parenting and Does It Work?

Attachment Parenting (AP) is not a new occurrence. In fact, Mary Slater Ainsworth[1], a developmental psychologist best known for her work in attachment theory, worked with John Bowlby[2] (the founder of attachment theory) at Tavistock Clinic in England, researching mother/infant attachments and studying what effects, if any, resulted from the parent and child connection.

The goal of attachment parenting—a child-centered versus parent-centered approach—is to bring up children that are happy, healthy, and able to emotionally connect with others throughout the course of their lives.

If you’re wondering where AP has its roots, it goes back to the World War II era. It was during that time that psychiatrists observed an impairment in the physical, psychological, and social development in children who were separated from their parents and either left in hospitals and/or orphanages. It was discerned that food and water were simply not the only necessary things needed for these children to thrive. Physical contact, they discovered, was essential for their development. Once they received that, a huge improvement was noted in the children’s emotional and psychological health.

The phrase Attachment Parenting was actually coined by pediatrician William Sears in his 1993 book, The Baby Book. Some of the most important principles based on his work include the items below:

  1. Feed with love and respect.
  2. Respond with sensitivity.
  3. Use nurturing touch.
  4. Ensure safe sleep, physically and emotionally.
  5. Provide consistent and loving care.
  6. Practice positive discipline.
  7. Strive for balance in your personal and family life.

The above-mentioned principles actually feel very Zen-like to me. Rather than a methodical approach, AP is considered more of a frame of mind. It’s an attitude of being there for your child whenever they need you. In other words, parents are continually in tune to their child’s needs and responsive to their demands, whatever and whenever they may be.

Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D, delineates the four components considered key in the care of infants when practicing attachment parenting[3]. We are going to look at these closely to understand their importance.

Components of Attachment Parenting

Co-Sleeping

With co-sleeping, your child sleeps in your room, or in your bed. If the latter is the case, then safety precautions must be practiced to avoid any harm coming to your child. Sadly, I once treated a client who practiced AP. In this tragic case, my client rolled over his little baby girl during the night. The grim discovery the next day still haunted my client decades later.

A common question about co-sleeping is, is it healthy? Is it a good idea to have your baby sleep with you? In 1999, a report titled “Hazards Associated with Children Placed in Adult Beds” was circulated[4]. The report detailed research that seemed to indicate an increase in infant deaths when co-sleeping was practiced. As a result, a nationwide campaign began to keep children under 2 out of adult beds.

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In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics expanded its guidelines in 2011 to recommended that it was OK for a baby to sleep in the same room, but not in the same bed. This, they said, would prevent SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), or having a parent roll over on their child during the night, like what happened to my client.

Certainly, some adjustments would be necessary for you as a parent if co-sleeping were incorporated into your child-rearing. Bedtime would revolve around your child, not your own personal schedule. You can see how this might cause issues if your bedtime is 11:00 p.m. and your child’s is 7:30 p.m. Other adjustments to be considered include scheduling intimacy in your relationship. This may seem like a sacrifice, but for parents who practice AP, the squeeze is worth the juice.

Feeding on Demand

Whether breastfed or bottle-fed, attachment parenting allows the infant to determine its own feeding schedule. Here’s the thing: breastfeeding is instinctual for babies. Your child will signal you when they need to be fed, which is in sync with how they grow and develop.

Paying attention to your child’s cues will also allow you to know when their food intake needs to be increased as your infant gets older. Your baby will let you know when it has had enough, or if it is still hungry.

Furthermore, feeding on demand also includes self-weaning. So what happens if your child turns three and still wants to be breastfed? This is something that needs to be considered. AP parents might soldier on, but for some, it may be too much to have their 3 year old still wanting to breastfeed. You need to ask yourself if that is something you’re willing to take on.

Holding and Touching

When your baby comes into the world, it arrives with strong and immediate needs, and they are completely dependent on you to provide them. For healthy development and attachment with others, physical contact is critical.

One of my clients adopted a little girl from India. The little girl was 18 months old when she was brought home to America. For the first 18 months, the child did not receive any of the essential physical contact or the affection and security that she needed in order to thrive. My client did the best she could and kept her new baby close to her all the time. To this day, her daughter, who is now 25 years old, doesn’t like to be touched and has other severe mental problems. Unfortunately, too much time had passed by the time the little girl was adopted and brought home. Despite my client’s best efforts, her little girl has grown up experiencing attachment disorders[5].

Physical touch is important to AP, hence why parents who practice it hold and keep their babies close at all times. This could be done in various ways: cuddling, cradling, or wearing a little baby wrap or carrier where the child is held close to the chest. This allows the baby to feel the warmth and love of their caretaker at all times, which aids them in forming healthy attachments.

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Responsiveness to Crying

Some parents, when their babies are crying, might say, “Don’t pick him up. Just let him cry it out! We can’t pick him up every time he cries; he’ll become spoiled!” Not so with parents who practice AP. If their infant cries, they respond almost immediately, before the child’s discomfort has a chance to escalate.

Their goal is to create a foundation of trust and understanding. Parents who practice AP believe that crying is their baby’s way of communicating discomfort and should be taken quite seriously. It is their belief that letting their child “cry it out” is too much to handle for their underdeveloped brain. Therefore, AP parents respond to tantrums in a loving, comforting away, never getting angry or punishing them. Constant response to their child’s sensitivities, parents believe, will strengthen the child’s trust muscle.

As good as AP might sound, it isn’t popular with everyone. Back in a May 2012 issue of Time Magazine, a woman by the name of Jamie Lynne Grummet was featured on the cover nursing her 3-year old child[6]. The title, Are You Mom Enough? sparked a great deal of controversy in the Anti-Attachment Parenting group, who claimed that there had to be something wrong with mothers who indulged their children to such an extent. Furthermore, the A-AP suggests that there is too much stress placed on parents, making them feel that anything less than constant pampering and attention would reflect badly on them as parents.

Downsides of Attachment Parenting

In an article featured in The Atlantic titled, “The Perils of Attachment Parenting,” by Emma Jenner, Jenner discusses various potential negative side-effects that come with AP[7]. She writes:

“The dad and his wife had decided to try ‘attachment parenting’ with their newborn son. That meant they slept in bed with their son every night, fed him milk every time he cried, and carried him everywhere they went in a baby sling. Though the intentions behind the philosophy are wonderful—let’s raise secure, attached, emotionally healthy children—attachment parenting is an unsustainable model.”

Lack of personal time, lack of intimacy, and being constantly on baby mode can place a big stressor on any couple’s relationship. This is something to definitely keep in mind if you’re entertaining the possibility of AP. It’s important that you weigh all the pros and cons of AP, then decide how’d you’d like to bring up your little one.

Benefits of Attachment Parenting

Despite some of the controversy surrounding AP, there are multiple benefits attributed to its child-rearing practices. Let’s take a look at some of those. The children are:

  • Happier
  • Better at problem solving
  • Can create long-lasting friendships
  • Get along better with their brothers and sisters
  • Have higher self-esteem
  • Feel loved and protected by their caretakers
  • Are more trusting
  • Have a better outlook on life overall

Let’s look at more details regarding some of the most important benefits.

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1. Biochemical Benefits

When you breastfeed your baby, you’re not only providing nourishment, you are also providing comfort. And not only is your baby soothed, but you, as a mother, will feel the positive effects when the prolactin hormone is released[8], making you feel tranquil and warmhearted. A happy and relaxed mother makes for a happy and relaxed baby.

2. Better Behavior

Attached babies tend to cry less. They may be less clingy and whiney as they feel connected and valued[9].

An infant that feels good, so the theory goes, behaves better overall because they are operating from a place of inner calmness and happiness.

3. Enhanced Development

It is believed that a baby who isn’t constantly crying is, instead, learning. A quiet baby, then, is more receptive to absorbing information from its environment, assimilating it, and using their energy to learn instead of getting worked up. The peaceful child is better able to develop and interact with their environment in a healthier way.

Does Attachment Parenting Really Work?

I believe it is up to each parent to decide whether AP is right for them. Parenting is hard enough as it is without additional stress. AP can either alleviate the stress of child-rearing, or increase it, depending on each individual case.

Anything can work if you are aware of all the demands, are willing to try, and see them through. If you weigh out the benefits vs. the possible negatives and find yourself deciding on the AP style, then I believe it can certainly work. If you go into it half-heartedly, or without the support of your partner, then you may not be able to see AP through.

If you are considering AP but feel that maybe it’s too much, there may be other options. Perhaps you can create your own version that would work better for you and your partner—a hybrid of sorts. For example, you may want your baby to sleep in your room, but you’re not always going to feed on demand. You may be responsive to your baby’s cries, but you’re not willing to wear him or her on your body 24/7.

There are pros and cons to most situations. You just have to weigh out what you’re willing or unwilling to do with regards to your child. Choosing one over the other doesn’t make you a bad/better parent. And remember, not raising your child by following all the AP principles doesn’t mean you’re going to raise a sociopath.

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I am of the opinion that no matter what parenting style you choose, if you’re there for your child, if you’re providing love, guidance, and understanding, you’re a “Good Enough Mother,” a phrase Dr. Donald Winnicott, British pediatrician and psychoanalyst, coined in 1953.

In her article, “The Gift of the Good Enough Mother”[10], Carla Naumburg, states:

“The process of becoming a good enough mother to our children happens over time. When our babies are infants, we try to be available constantly and respond to them immediately. As soon as they cry, we feed them or snuggle them or change their diapers – in other words, we do whatever it takes to help them feel better. This is important because it teaches our children that they are safe and will be cared for.

The thing is, we can’t sustain this level of attentiveness to our children forever, nor should we. That is precisely Winnicott’s point. He believed that the way to be a good mother is to be a good enough mother. Children need their mother (or primary caretaker) to fail them in tolerable ways on a regular basis so they can learn to live in an imperfect world.”

Final Thoughts

Take it easy, and take the time to decide what type of parenting is right for you and your child. Remember, you can always change things if you find something isn’t work. Be flexible and raise the happiest, healthiest child you can.

More on Attachment Parenting

Featured photo credit: Ana Tablas via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Rossana Snee

Rossana is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. She aspires to motivate, to inspire, and to awaken your best self!

8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener How to Be a Better Parent: 11 Things to Remember What Is Attachment Parenting and Does It Work? How to Love Someone in the Way They Need How to Be a Successful And Happy Stay at Home Mom

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Published on October 23, 2020

How to Help Your Kids to Deal with Bullies at School

How to Help Your Kids to Deal with Bullies at School

Sara is in her first year of Junior High. Every day, when Sara walks down the school hallway between her mid-morning classes, there is a group of girls who will tease, push her, or dump her books from her arms.

She wonders daily what she did to deserve their meanness. She doesn’t even know these girls as they came from a different primary school than her own. Every evening, she lays in bed and cries just thinking about having to encounter these girls in the hallway the next day.

Jeremy used to be good friends with Bill until Bill started calling Jeremy names. At first, it started as what seemed to be Bill trying to get a laugh from the other boys on his soccer team. He would make fun of Jeremy to get a laugh from the other boys. He has continued with the behavior for weeks, but it has gotten worse and Bill now calls Jeremy hurtful names at their soccer practice every day. Jeremy is thinking about quitting soccer because the situation has become so bad.

Renee was born with a congenital defect. Her arm is malformed and she only has three fingers on one hand. She is in her first year of primary school. There is a little boy in her class who makes fun of her arm and mimics her arm movements and shortened arm effect anytime they are together and a teacher isn’t watching. Renee cries at home after school saying that she doesn’t want to go to school anymore. Her parents are bewildered as she has been begging to go to school for years. Now that she is old enough to be enrolled in primary school, she doesn’t want to attend anymore after just one month of school. Her parents have no idea what is causing her to be upset and not want to go to school.

These are just three examples of bullying. Bullying can vary widely in behavior and context. Parents must know the difference between “kids just being kids” and bullying.

Bullying Defined

Bullying involves repeated behavior that harms another child. For example, the girls who continually pick on Sara in the hallway are bullying her by dumping her books, pushing her, and shoving her every day.

Bullying is not always physical, though. For example, in the situation of Jeremy, his teammate Bill is bullying him by calling him names repeatedly.

StopBullying.gov is a website about bullying that is hosted by the United States government. This website provides a clear definition of bullying as the following:[1]

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems. In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include [an imbalance of power and repetition].

An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.

Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.

Bullying is aggressive, mean, and/or unwanted behaviors that happen repeatedly to a child.

Intervention

Bullying, especially for kids, requires immediate intervention. If your child suddenly decides that they no longer want to go to school or that they want to quit an activity, then a discussion should occur. Sit down with your child, and ask them what is going on in their life.

Have compassion, understanding, and care in your words and tone of voice so that your child can open up to you. You never know if they are being a victim of bullying unless they open up to you and share what is occurring in their life.

Some children don’t share immediately because they are embarrassed by the bullying. Others don’t tell their parents because they are afraid of the bully. They worry that if they tell, the wrath of the bully may get worse. This should also be a concern for the parents.

Any intervention must be effective in removing the threat of the bully. If reporting the situation makes the bully’s behavior worse, then the intervention has failed.

Talk to School Leadership

Parents should talk to school leadership, such as the teacher, counselor, or principal when a bullying situation is occurring. If the bullying is happening at school, then the staff should be made aware so that they can intervene.

Most schools have policies and protocols in place for handling bullies. Such things may include separating the students so that they aren’t interacting anymore.

For example, with the situation of Renee, the boy who makes fun of her arm may be moved away from the school table they currently share. He would be moved to a separate side of the classroom so that he couldn’t easily communicate or make fun of Renee.

Then, the counselor would talk to the boy about how his actions are hurtful and why he shouldn’t be making fun of anyone. The teacher and principal may have to implement consequences, such as removal from class or suspension, that are made clear to the student and his parent if he continues his behavior.

In many instances, removing the opportunity for the students to interact is the best way for the bullying to stop. If the bully doesn’t have the opportunity to interact or communicate with the victim, their bullying behavior is stopped. This is the reason why in many instances of bullying parents need to involve school staff members (if it is happening at school).

Parents can’t control where the students sit in the classroom. However, the school can change where students sit in the classroom. Parents should speak to the school about the bullying to ensure that appropriate interventions are made, including separating the bully from their victim.

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Parents

Parents are advocates for their children. If parents do not stand up to protect their child, then who will? When a situation of bullying is revealed by a child, the parents need to take the information seriously.

Unfortunately, many parents of bullies don’t want to admit that their child is a bully. It can look and feel like they failed as parents. When a child is being bullied, that parent may reach out to the bully’s parent for intervention only to be put off. The bully’s parent may claim it is the other child’s fault, or they may insist that their child is innocent.

This is why intervention should happen at the school if possible. Parents must advocate protecting their children as bullying can leave mental and emotional scars. The sooner they can get the bullying to cease, the better.

Bullying Can Have Serious Effects

Victims of bullying can develop depression and anxiety. The ongoing bullying can impact a child mentally and emotionally long term. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center cites research that shows that both bullies and their victims are at an increased risk for suicide.[2] In recent years, suicide has been increasing among teens and pre-teens. Bullying, including cyberbullying, is one of the primary causes for the increase in suicide among our youth.

The serious—and sometimes even deadly—effects of bullying should be considered by all parents. If a child comes forward to reveal a situation of bullying, affecting either them or someone else, then parents and adults must intervene. Schools are set up to handle these situations, with policies and protocols in place. The consequences of bullying can be quite serious, which is why most schools have taken steps to institute bullying policies.

Signs of Bullying

Not all kids will come forward to tell their parents that they are being bullied. Parents should be aware of behavioral changes in their child, such as depression, anxiety, sadness, loss of interest in activities or school, sleeping issues, not eating, irritability, and moodiness. If your child exhibits any of these behaviors for a period of two weeks or more, then it is time to talk to the child about what is happening in their life.

A parent who suspects bullying may be happening can talk to their child about bullying in general. The parent can explain what bullying can look like, or they can provide an example that has happened in their own life. They can explain that it is not the victim’s fault.

Let the child know that if they see other children being bullied or if they are experiencing bullying, then they need to tell an adult (preferably you as the parent). When the child believes that telling can help the situation, that child is likely to then talk about it.

How to Help Your Kids

If your child is being bullied, you can and should help them. You can do it not only via intervention within the school but also by helping them cope with the situation.

The first step is talking—having the child open up and talk about what is happening so that you can help them with strategies to stop the bullying. You can’t help them unless you know what is actually happening.

Here are some more ways that you can help your child who is dealing with a bully:

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1. Advise Them to Avoid the Bully

If they aren’t exposed to the bully, then the bullying often stops. This is often why school intervention is needed so that the kids are separated and no longer have interactions.

If it is cyberbullying taking place (e.g., your child is being bullied on social media) then they may need to block the person who is bullying them or put their own account on hold.

2. Advise Them to Walk Away and Not Engage

Many bullies thrive on reaction. The reaction from the person being bullied is what fuels their behavior. They may be doing it to make others laugh, or they do it to feel power over another person. If the reaction from the one being bullied goes away, then the bully may become less interested.

You should advise your kids to not engage with a bully. Walking away without reacting is a good way of handling the bully.

3. Let Them Know It Is Okay to Get Help

The child should feel empowered to get help when they need it. For example, if Jeremy stays in soccer and the coach is informed about what is happening and the bullying happens again, Jeremy should tell the coach.

He can do it confidentially after practice, or he can talk to the coach off to the side during practice if possible. If Jeremy needs intervention for Bill to stop, then he needs to ask for help when it happens.

4. Build Their Confidence

Often, a bully chooses to bully someone because they see the person as a weak or easy target. Other times, a child is picked on because there is something about them that is different. Building up your child’s confidence and self-esteem is important to helping them prepare for handling bullying in the future.

For example, if another child makes fun of Renee’s arm next year in her new class, she would be prepared to shut it down by defending herself confidently with calm words that deter the child from making fun of her again.

Every situation is different. But if your child has something that makes them different or stand out from others, then they can be prepared to handle the situation better if they know in advance what they would say to someone who picks on them for this difference.

5. Encourage Them to Have Positive Friendships

Children and youth need peer relationships. This helps them live a balanced and healthy life. A child without peer relationships and friendships is more likely to be a target of bullies.

Encourage your child to make friends with others who are positive and kind. Help your child develop these skills as well. You can’t get friends unless you can be a friend.

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Be There for Your Child

One of the worst things that a parent can do when their child is being bullied is for them to say “tough it out” or “kids will be kids”. Not taking their situation seriously and not helping them is failing them. Parents must be willing to not only listen to their child and allow them to express things openly, but they must also be ready to help their child.

If your child comes to you because they are being bullied, then take the situation seriously. The lasting effects of bullying are not something you will want to deal with in the future. Deal with the situation at hand so that the bullying can cease today.

Be prepared to take serious action. If your school principal is not taking the situation seriously, then take it to the next level. Inform the school board or school administrators about what is happening. Keep the facts, and let them know you want the bullying to stop immediately.

If the school doesn’t take any action and the bully continues to be a threat to your child, then be prepared to remove your child from the situation or the school, so you can protect your child from harm. Above all else, our job as parents is to protect our children.

Bullying is not a one-time instance of someone saying something mean to your child. Bullying is a repeated act, whether physically or verbally, that is harming your child. Don’t allow your child to be repeatedly harmed. Once you know that bullying is happening, it must be stopped immediately through appropriate interventions.

Get Additional Help if Needed

If your child has been bullied and is suffering from depression, anxiety, or other emotional turmoil because of bullying then they should get professional help. You can go to Psychology Today and enter your location to find a qualified therapist near you. This website allows you to search by issue and treatment age as well. This can help you find a therapist near you who can help your child with their specific issues.

Stomp Out Bullying is another website with additional support and information about bullying. They offer a free chat line to teens who are experiencing bullying. If your teen is being bullied and needs additional support check out their website today.

Final Thoughts

Bullying, especially for kids, is a serious matter that should be addressed as soon as possible. It can bring long-term psychological and physical damage to your children if you don’t act on it immediately. Your primary role as a parent is to protect your child from harm. This guide can help you help your kids to deal with bullies to get them out of harm’s way.

Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] StopBullying.gov: What Is Bullying
[2] Suicide Prevention Resource Center: Suicide and Bullying

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