The Benefits of Attachment Parenting

half moon bay

What is Attachment Parenting?

Attachment Parenting, phrase coined by pediatrician William Sears, is a parenting philosophy based on the principles of the attachment theory in developmental psychology [2]. 

The emotional bond that typically forms between infant / children and caregiver (usually a parent) not only stimulates brain growth but affects personality development and lifelong ability to form stable relationships. Neuroscientists now believe that attachment is such a primal need that there are networks of neurons in the brain dedicated to it, and the process of forming lasting bonds is powered in part by the hormone oxytocin [2].

For the past decades, the attachment theory has become a subject of extensive research on healthy personality, relationships, and even occupational development.  Couples therapy based on attachment theory, for example, is shown to be a highly effective way to help people repair damaged close relationships.

Attachment theory emphasizes the nature of the relationship between children and their caregivers (usually the parents).  It has its roots in observations made by psychiatrists in World War II who noted the impaired physical, psychological, and social development of infants in hospitals and orphanages who were separated from their parents.  After recognizing that these children needed not just food but physical contact, the caregivers noticed vast improvements in their development. Clinical psychologists went on to propose theories of personality development called “object relations” that emphasized these early mother-infant bonds [1].

The evidence based on studies of Attachment Parenting (AP) in infants shows a wide range of psychological and physical benefits. For example, AP-raised infants have lower stress levels, cry less often, and feel more connected to other people as they get older, even showing higher levels of empathy [1].

AP-raised Children learn to regulate their emotions easier. The older they get, the more they can control their own emotions, but this early foundation will help ensure they’ll do so successfully. Children with attachment parenting may be less likely to show road rage as adults.

Some may say that parents are spoiling their children if they respond to their child’s call or cry too quickly.  But are they? and how does Attachment Parenting influence a child?

Parenthood is not easy and some people may say that AP would add more stress to the parents lives. But the opposite is true. Attachment parenting have some advantages for alleviating stress in parents. Through Attachment Parenting children’s emotional needs are met so children don’t cry as often because they are emotionally more stable. While children that are not raise closely to their parents don’t have their emotional needs met so, they are more likely to be aggressive.

Also, children raised through AP theory will throw fewer tantrums. It’ll be easier for them to adjust to baby sitters or day care. Finally, if what they say about stress is true, their immune systems might function better and they won’t be sick as often.  You may not be perfect as an AP parent, but the more you can incorporate some of its principles into the relationships you have with your children, the more likely it is you’ll experience its very real benefits.

 

8 Attachment Parenting Principles and their benefits:

- Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting
Become emotionally and physically prepared for pregnancy and birth. Research available options for healthcare providers and birthing environments, and become informed about routine newborn care. Continuously educate yourself about developmental stages of childhood, setting realistic expectations and remaining flexible [3].
- Feed with Love and Respect
Breastfeeding is the optimal way to satisfy an infant’s nutritional and emotional needs. “Bottle Nursing” adapts breastfeeding behaviors to bottle-feeding to help initiate a secure attachment. Follow the feeding cues for both infants and children, encouraging them to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. Offer healthy food choices and model healthy eating behavior  [3]. 
- Respond with Sensitivity
Build the foundation of trust and empathy beginning in infancy. Tune in to what your child is communicating to you, then respond consistently and appropriately. Babies cannot be expected to self-soothe, they need calm, loving, empathetic parents to help them learn to regulate their emotions. Respond sensitively to a child who is hurting or expressing strong emotion, and share in their joy  [3].
- Use Nurturing Touch
Touch meets a baby’s needs for physical contact, affection, security, stimulation, and movement. Skin-to-skin contact is especially effective, such as during breastfeeding, bathing, or massage. Carrying or babywearing also meets this need while on the go. Hugs, snuggling, back rubs, massage, and physical play help meet this need in older children  [3]. 
- Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally
Babies and children have needs at night just as they do during the day; from hunger, loneliness, and fear, to feeling too hot or too cold. They rely on parents to soothe them and help them regulate their intense emotions. Sleep training techniques can have detrimental physiological and psychological effects. Safe co-sleeping has benefits to both babies and parents  [3]. 
- Provide Consistent and Loving Care
Babies and young children have an intense need for the physical presence of a consistent, loving, responsive caregiver: ideally a parent. If it becomes necessary, choose an alternate caregiver who has formed a bond with the child and who cares for him in a way that strengthens the attachment relationship. Keep schedules flexible, and minimize stress and fear during short separations  [3]. 
- Practice Positive Discipline
Positive discipline helps a child develop a conscience guided by his own internal discipline and compassion for others. Discipline that is empathetic, loving, and respectful strengthens the connection between parent and child. Rather than reacting to behavior, discover the needs leading to the behavior. Communicate and craft solutions together while keeping everyone’s dignity intact  [3]. 
- Strive for Balance in Your Personal and Family Life
It is easier to be emotionally responsive when you feel in balance. Create a support network, set realistic goals, put people before things, and don’t be afraid to say “no”. Recognize individual needs within the family and meet them to the greatest extent possible without compromising your physical and emotional health. Be creative, have fun with parenting, and take time to care for yourself [3]. 
***

The bottom line is that when you separate the popular exaggerations of AP from the more objectively-oriented scientific studies, it’s a sensible approach that fosters physical and psychological health in children.  We do know from extensive research on adult attachment style that securely attached adults have happier and less conflict-ridden lives. There’s even research to suggest they may be better parents themselves having received this secure base in their own development. Before you write off AP as parenting that spoils children, I hope you will take a look at the evidence to help inform your own choices in whatever role you play in the lives of the young.

 

 

References:

[1] Psycologytoday.com (Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D)

[2] Wikipedia

[3] attachmentparenting.org/principles