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What Is Attachment Parenting and Does It Work?

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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!

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Last Updated on October 7, 2021

Why Spending Time With Your Family Is Important (And How To Do So)

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Why Spending Time With Your Family Is Important (And How To Do So)

In today’s chaotic world, having family time isn’t always easy. It can get pretty hard to coordinate schedules, especially if the family is large. Life demands that we work, attend school, nurture friendships, hobbies, etc. All of those things are extremely time-consuming and important—but so is spending time with your family.

Why is family time so important? Because we all need love and support, and a good, strong family can provide that regularly. For children, spending time with their family helps shape them into good, responsible adults, improve their mental health, and develop strong core values.

There are many positive effects of spending time with your family. My family and I, for instance (and this includes grandchildren as well), meet every Tuesday night for dinner and games. My older son and I take turns cooking. This gives all of us a chance to try some new recipes. After dinner, we play games. And without fail, they inspire competitiveness and laughter. As family night has evolved, the grandkids have invited their friends over as well, creating the need for more chairs but also expanding our circle of fun.

Aside from the obvious fun and games, there are other reasons why spending time with your family is paramount. In this article, I will provide you with multiple reasons why spending time with your family regularly is a win-win. And then, I will lay out some ways on how to do it.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Why Spending Time With Your Family Is Important

Here are six reasons why it’s important to spend time with your family.

1. Provides the Opportunity to Bond

When you spend time together as a family—talking about your day, your highs, your lows—it fosters communication. As parents, it gives you the chance to listen to your children, to hear them out, to learn about what’s going on in their world. It also provides you with the opportunity to use life situations as teaching moments.

Before our Tuesday night dinner/game nights, my family used to see each other pretty regularly but not consistently, especially the grandkids. Our family night changed all that. Now, it’s guaranteed that the grandchildren, along with some of their friends, will be there. Not only do I get to find out what’s been happening in their lives, but they also get to know us better. It’s creating memories they can treasure forever, as well as modeling the Get-Together tradition for when they eventually have families of their own.

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“Spending time partaking in everyday family leisure activities has been associated with greater emotional bonding within families.”[1]

2. Teaches the Value of Family

Taking the time to be with your family lets your children know they are valued—that spending time together is a priority. I know that in today’s world, both parents are busy as both usually working. What better way to let your children know they are loved than by carving out time each week to spend with them?

According to Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D., “words like honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage are core to centuries of religious, philosophical, and family beliefs. Use them and others to express and reinforce your family values. Teach children the behaviors that flow from these principles. Use quotes to ignite meaningful dinner conversations and encourage kids to talk about these values.”[2]

3. Enhances Mental Well-Being

Spending that quality time together gives your children a safe platform in which to express themselves, ask questions about things that are bothering them, or talk about their day and things they’ve learned. I know that my 9-year old granddaughter can’t wait until it’s her turn to talk about her day. She usually goes on and on and has to be stopped to give everyone else a chance to talk about their goings-on.

“Research shows the quality of family relationships is more important than their size or composition. Whoever the family is made up of, they can build strong, positive relationships that promote wellbeing and support children and young people’s mental health.”[3]

For children, having the opportunity to seek advice from parents they trust—as well as being able to have a sounding board and help with problem-solving—is priceless. In addition, being able to voice their opinions and be heard—and to feel like what they have to say matters—is an esteem-builder. All of these can have a very impactful positive effect on their well-being.

4. Helps the Child Feel Loved

How do you think a child feels knowing their parents want to spend time with them—talking, sharing experiences, playing games, listening to them? It will make them feel as though they are important, and a child that feels important is happier and more apt to thrive. Setting aside chores or work to spend time with your children demonstrates that they’re essential—that they matter. What a gift to give your child!

“If a child has your undivided attention, it signals that they are loved and important to you. This can be further nurtured by experiencing joyful activities together, as it demonstrates that you want to spend time with your children over and above all of the daily demands.”[4]

5. Creates a Safe Environment

If you regularly spend time with your children, you are also creating an atmosphere of trust. The more trust they have, the more likely they are to share with you what’s going on in their world. As they get older, you’re going to want to know. Negative influences can show up at any time, but if you’ve always been there for your child, they are more apt to come to you and ask for your advice.

Spending time together generates familiarity and feelings of being supported. When a child feels safe and comfortable, they’re more likely to open up. This is one way to get to know your child and know what’s on their minds. Are they okay? Do they need your guidance? If so, how?

6. Reduces Stress

This is significant. We all suffer from stress at one point or another in our lives. Spending time with family helps alleviate that stress. It’s an opportunity to talk things out, get feedback, and maybe brainstorm for a solution to the problem that is causing the stress.

According to Brandy Drzymkowski, “During the holidays, your closest five people probably shifts to family and friends. You may even get to see loved ones who live far away. Good news! This can actually help lower your stress levels. Studies show ‘face-to-face interaction…counteracts the body’s defensive ‘fight-or-flight’ response.’ In other words, quality time spent with loved ones is nature’s stress reliever.”[5]

So, now that you know some of the benefits, what are some ideas for making family time happen?

How to Make Family Time Happen

Here are four things you can do to make family time happen and spend more time with them.

1. Family Dinners

This, as I said above, is a wonderful way to spend time together. While you’re having dinner, you have the chance to discuss things that are going on in your lives—the ups, the downs, and everywhere in between. It’s like having a buffer against life’s challenges.

Aside from that, eating dinner together has many additional benefits. Studies have shown that for kids who eat regularly with their families, there is less risk of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and depression.[6]

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“Our belief in the ‘magic’ of family dinners is grounded in research on the physical, mental and emotional benefits of regular family meals.” It further states, “We recommend combining food, fun and conversation at mealtimes because those three ingredients are the recipe for a warm, positive family dinner—the type of environment that makes these scientifically proven benefits possible.”[7]

According to Parenting NI, “children and adolescents who spend more time with their parents are less likely to get involved in risky behavior. According to studies done by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse via Arizona State University, teens who have infrequent family dinners are twice as likely to use tobacco, nearly twice as likely to use alcohol and one and a half times more likely to use marijuana.”[8]

As you can see, there are multiple benefits to spending time with each other routinely. You can’t go wrong with this family activity.

2.  Regular Movie Nights

This is another fun event, although, from personal experience, I have to caution that choosing a movie that everyone wants to see is not easy. So, give yourselves plenty of time so you don’t spend two hours searching for a movie, and then end up watching no movie at all because the night is practically over. Try and choose a movie before the day, if possible.

Afterward, open it up for discussion. Ask questions pertinent to the movie. What do you think of ABC? Should they have done that? Would you have done something differently? There are so many questions you can ask to spark a conversation and keep the night going.

3. Game Night

This is another occasion for great fun. If you have a competitive spirit, it makes it even more fun. There are numerous games out there—Balderdash, Pictionary, Apples to Apples, Charades, to name a few—that can create fun havoc. All I can say is, on game nights, don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s okay if you lose the game. The fun is in being together, laughing, debating, and having a good time.

In addition, “Playing board games is great for children for many reasons besides the obvious; it’s fun to play games! Age appropriate games can help children to think strategically, solve problems creatively, work on pattern recognition and build simple math skills. They also help children develop social skills such as following rules, taking turns, and graceful winning or losing. Additionally, a family game night provides an opportunity for children to bond with siblings, parents and family members as well as peers. It can promote tradition building and establish a fun routine.”[9]

So, go find your family a game and start having fun!

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4. Sharing a Hobby

If you and one of your kids like to do the same things, do it more often. For example, my oldest son and his teenage son go on long bike rides together on the weekends. Not only do they get to exercise, but they also get to talk and look at beautiful sceneries. They’ve also incorporated cooking into their routine. They plan the meal, shop, and prepare—activities that bring them closer together.

Sharing a hobby is a great way to bring family members together. It bonds people in amazing ways. According to Alison Ratner Mayer, LICSW, “One of the easiest and most important ways to build a child’s self-esteem is to spend time with them doing something not only that they enjoy but something that you also enjoy. There is a special magic that happens between a parent and a child when they share a mutually beloved activity. It sends the message to the child that their parents are having fun, true, honest, real fun, with them.”[10]

Final Thoughts

Spending time with the family is an investment. It is an investment in the happiness, well-being, and security of that system. It can also serve as a way to break out of the daily rut and the constant worldly demands, while at the same time, building a strong family unit.

Even though it isn’t always easy to find the time, finding the time is key to staying close and to providing and receiving love and support. There is no greater gift than the gift of time. That’s what we all seem to be missing nowadays. So, in giving that gift consistently, everyone feels loved and appreciated.

The family that takes the time to interact regularly is typically happy. They know they are part of a tribe, and that’s essential in today’s chaotic world. To know that there are people whom you can count on—people who will have your back in times of need—is invaluable.

Now, go and plan something plan with your family, if you haven’t already.

Featured photo credit: Jimmy Dean via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Pittsburgh Parent: Spending Time Together—Benefits of Family Time
[2] Roots of Action: Integrity: How Families Teach and Live Their Values
[3] Beyond Blue: Healthy Families
[4] Esperance Anglican Community School: The importance of family time
[5] Brandy Drzymkowski: Spending Time With Loved Ones Reduces Stress
[6] Harvard Graduate School of Education: Harvard EdCast: The Benefit of Family Mealtime
[7] The Family Dinner Project: BENEFITS OF FAMILY DINNERS
[8] Parenting NI: The Importance of Spending Time Together
[9] WNY Children: Family Game Night- The Benefits of Game Play
[10] Child Therapy Boston: The Benefits of Sharing a Hobby With Your Child

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