Attachment Parenting - What is it?

Beyond the bond

For most parents, the need to bond with their baby is a natural and longed for experience. For other still, the desire to develop a parenting method that is close to their own values, leading them to the attachment parenting approach. Parents everywhere seek a close emotional bond with their babies. There is no right or wrong when it comes to the popular parenting approaches, what works for one family will not necessarily be the best fit for the next. Some models of parenting favour discipline, others treat their children as adults who command respect and should return the same. In an ideal world, a good parenting model promotes strong, healthy bonds between parent and child.

There is a mine field of information out there, for parents to be or those wading through the plethora of information on parenting styles, looking for the answer to their parenting dilemma’s, it can be a difficult task. Understandably, there is usually a mix of trial and tribulation, working slowly and often blindly through the parenting jungle until the most suitable approach is found. This is not helped by the mass of conflicting theories, advice and guidance thrown at parents today, each seeming to disagree with the other. Ultimately, as a parent you go with your gut, you are guided by your inner instinct to parent and care for your child from birth and until you are no more.

Attachment parenting centres on the encouragement of a nurturing bond that develops between parent and child. That nurturing bond is seen, by attachment parenting devotees, as the best way to bring up a child who is independent, empathetic and secure. The theory behind this form of parenting champions the believe that in providing a secure and trusting attachment to a parent during the formative years of infancy and childhood, this then cultivates the basis for secure, loving and stable relationships as the child grows into adulthood. It can be said then that attachment parenting creates the ideal environment for fulfilling a child’s basic need for affection, empathy and trust.

There are eight common principles that apply to the attachment parenting style. This guide aims to look at these principles in more detail. The principles have been founded on sound research and have been proven to be successful in helping children to develop strong, healthy attachments, the building blocks of a happy and stable adult life.

It is important to note that while the word ‘parent’ is used as the term for primary caregiver, it is also worth stating that a ‘parent figure’ could be the child’s primary caregiver, not only a biological parent.

The eight principles, developed by Attachment Parenting International, were developed to promote the best possible attachment scenario, they are developmentally applicable and broad enough to apply to a wide-ranging spectrum of family circumstances. The principles address the fundamentals of attachment parenting and promote a nurturing approach to parenting during pregnancy and throughout early childhood.The eight principles outlined below guide parents on their journey from pregnancy, through birth and into childhood. Parents are free to interpret the principles in ways that work for and suit their own individual family scenario.

1. Preparing for pregnancy, birth and parenting. The focus in the early stages is on letting go of any negative concerns about pregnancy, birth and parenting. Followers of this parenting approach believe that in doing so, the parent is eliminating unnecessary barriers to being a good parent, ensuring that they are ready for the huge emotional task of parenting.

2. Feed with love and respect. Breastfeeding is seen to be the best form of promoting the bond between mother and baby, securing attachment from the very beginning. It teaches baby that the parent will listen to their cues and then respond appropriately to their needs.

3. Respond with sensitivity. Parents consider all shows of emotion, from a cry, wince or tantrum and other attempts at communication. Parents will strive to understand their child’s attempts to communicate with them, they will take them seriously and will respond appropriately, never punishing or dismissing the communication.

4. Use nurturing touch. A parent’s touch meets a baby’s need for physical affection, contact, stimulation, security and movement. The popular method of using skin-to-skin contact is particularly effective, especially during breastfeeding, baby massage, bathing etc… Wearing or carrying your baby, also addresses the issue of touch while a parent is out and about. In older children, cuddles, hugs, back rubs, stroking and physical play can be useful in applying this principle in older children.

5. Ensure safe sleep, physically and emotionally. Babies and children will have needs at night as they do during the daytime. Fear, loneliness, hunger, illness and body temperature all play their part in the process. Children rely on their parents to help them soothe their emotions. Co-sleeping within a safe environment has huge benefits to child and parent.

6. Provide consistent and loving care. Children have the intense need for the presence of consistent, loving, responsive care. They require the physical presence of the parent for this purpose. It is important to keep things flexible during the day to day routine, minimise the stress and fear associated with short separations and ensure that the child has an alternative caregiver who cares for the child in a way that strengthens the bond with the child.

7. Practice positive discipline. This promotes the ‘golden rule’ of attachment parenting. Parents should treat their children the way that they would want others to treat them. Positive discipline promotes the theory that this approach helps the child to develop their own conscience, guided by their own internal discipline that is rooted in their compassion for others. This approach promotes discipline that is entrenched in secure, trusting relationships between parent and child. This form of discipline reinforces the bond whereas strict, overly-punitive discipline, weakens the connection. The goal of discipline ultimately, is to help children to develop their own internal form of self-regulation and self-discipline.

8. Strive for balance in personal and family life. By practicing good personal and family life balance, parents are better able to respond emotionally. This can be achieved by putting people before things, creating a support network of likeminded family and friends, setting realistic and achievable goals and not feeling unable to say ‘no’ when necessary. Recognise the needs of others within the family, meet those needs wherever possible without compromising health and physical well-being. The most important element is to enjoy parenting, have fun and be creative. Parents should take time to care for themselves as much as those around them.

As with any parenting model, there are pro’s and con’s. The research and theory on which attachment parenting is based, has at time been scrutinised and criticised alongside other models. Parents are free to choose their own method when raising their children. For some, a more disciplined approach will appeal, others will go with their own approach or follow the basis of attachment parenting. Whatever the choice, parents will go with their gut instinct which in most cases is the best approach for their children and their family as a whole. It is worth considering the world we live in today and what method is workable when considering the demands of family life, social life and balancing work commitments along the way too. There is no manual for parenting but following your own instincts is, for the majority, the best approach overall.

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