In recent years, as our culture makes efforts to return back to “the natural,” a relatively new philosophy has taken hold among mothers with young children, with its focus heavily emphasizing the treatment of infants and toddlers. It is called “attachment parenting,” and it stems from attachment theory in the field of developmental psychology.
The fundamental outcome which attachment parenting strives to achieve is that a child’s “secure attachment”–or sufficiently strong bond–to parents, particularly the mother, will ultimately lead to healthy, fulfilling relationships in adulthood.
What follows is a series of principles which are meant to help parents create said secure attachment. Those principles are as follows (first lines taken from the official Attachment Parenting International website):
1. Prepare for pregnancy, birth, and parenting. This is essentially self-explanatory. Get yourself educated about local healthcare facilities and the birthing environments available. If this is your first child, then familiarize yourself with newborn care. Read up. Ask questions. Set realistic expectations for yourself, your family, and your baby.
Many mothers who practice attachment parenting prefer to give birth naturally, even at home. If this sounds appealing to you, then investigate using a midwife or doula.
2. Feed with love and respect. Parents who follow attachment theory believe that breastfeeding is the ideal way for infants and even toddlers to receive primary nutrition. Children should be taught to make healthy food selections from the earliest stages of weaning. Parents should make it a priority to set the example for healthy behaviors.
3. Respond with sensitivity. Both parents should make efforts to react immediately to either a crying or a laughing child. Even infants have something to communicate, and each parent should take time to discern what that is and respond accordingly.
4. Use nurturing touch. Parents should use physical contact, particularly skin-to-skin, to communicate love, affection, and a sense of security. This is important as an ongoing practice, not isolated to infancy. Many parents, whether using “AP,” principles or not, have gotten into “babywearing.” AP parents believe that this creates a sense of security in the child while you are on the go.
5. Ensure safe sleep, physically and emotionally. Many AP parents practice co-sleeping; this means that the child sleeps in bed with his or her parents. Even when this is not done, it means that parents are continually attentive to the child’s needs while he or she is sleeping, including feeding during the night, checking to see the child is not too cold or too hot, and so on.
6. Provide consistent and loving care. Ideally, one parent will stay at home to continually nurture the attachment relationship. However, if this is not possible, then care should be provided by someone active in the family’s life who can give the child one-on-one attention, not a disinterested daycare provider.
7. Practice positive discipline. Efforts should be made by parents not to react to behavior but instead discover the root cause of behaviors. AP parents tend to believe that bad behaviors are a result of unmet needs. Rewarding good behaviors rather than punishing bad ones will create a more loving home environment.
8. Strive for balance in personal and family life. Remember to take time and recharge your batteries. Seek to handle stress in a positive way, and put your family first. If you get overwhelmed, you will not be able to respond sensitively to your children.
Attachment parenting as a whole philosophy isn’t for everyone, and the principles can sometimes be very inflexible. But there are no rules that say that you can’t take the parts that you like and apply them to your own parenting style.