Attachment Parenting–What IS it?

Hmmm, good question.

Well, there are many ways of seeing what has come to be seen as “attachment parenting.” I will tell you my interpretation. But if you want more info, please check out the rest of my Attachment Parenting pages, which are linked to in the main menu, or do your own search on the net…There is an ENORMOUS amount of AP sites out there.

My explanation of Attachment Parenting…

Attachment parenting is a style of parenting which puts great emphasis on the value of children and their feelings. Also called “empathic parenting”, AP parenting usually involves promptly responding to children in need. A child crying is seen as a child in need, and is not left to “cry it out” (“CIO”). AP families usually are very against the whole “CIO” philosophy. AP parents generally believe that children, babies in particular, need to learn to trust their caregivers, and ignoring their cries is detrimental to this building of trust.

AP parents also tend to believe in gentle, or positive discipline. This does NOT mean they are permissive. As is true of anything in society, there of course are always parents who ARE permissive, or viewed that way by others, but permissiveness is not part of AP. Just as AP parents see punitive discipline as detrimental to their child, permissiveness is usually also seen negatively. AP parents often believe in teaching children through modeling, natural & logical consequences, and other such practices. Spanking and other forms of punishment are generally not used. AP families usually believe that hitting a child teaches violence, is cruel, and doesn’t work. Instead, children are nurtured and taught that there are consequences to their actions, but those consequences do not include the threat of physical harm. Here’s an excellent quote by Penelope Leach on this subject:

“Children are the only people in this society anybody is allowed to hit. All the rest of us are legally protected.”

(This quote can be found in this article archived here.)

For more info on alternative discipline techniques, often used by AP parents…check out the discipline links at the bottom of this article.

Another practice that is common amongst AP’rs, is the practice of “babywearing.” This is why you will often see AP youngsters being carried alot, especially in a sling or other such baby carrier. AP parents believe that babies in particular not only want, but NEED to be held and cuddled and handled alot. The benefits of this “in-arms phase” (a term coined by Jean Liedloff, author of “The Continuum Concept,”) are a closeness with their parents that is seen as extremely crucial to an “attached” baby. Now, “attached” is not synonymous with “clingy”. Yes, some “attached” children may be viewed by others as “clingy”…but AP parents tend to feel that clinginess is something normal to many children’s personalities (just as shyness is normal for many, but not all children). AP families often feel that a clingy child who is parented with love & respect & not forced away from their parent(s) before they are ready, will grow to be self-confident & independent when they are ready. In their own time. Attachment Parenting is very much about the CHILD’s readiness, not the parent’s.

Breastfeeding is generally the norm in AP families, (barring any extreme physical or environmental problems,) especially extended breastfeeding…often into the toddler and even preschool years. (You will probably find that many, if not most, La Leche League members are AP.) AP families often like to allow their children to self-wean, at their own pace, when they are ready. This is a practice that is common worldwide, and is often seen in many countries as late as age 5 or 6 years or older. (In our bottlefeeding Western society, the average age of weaning is 3 months!) AP moms tend to relish the closeness with their children that breastfeeding allows, and value the physical and emotional benefits they know their children continue to receive, even far past what is considered “normal” in our culture. (Did you know that when a baby reaches 18months, that the mother’s milk goes through a transformation and becomes concentrated with extra vitamins and nutrients, similar to the quality it had for a new baby? This is because the mother’s body knows that the baby is going into a stage of great development and s/he will need extra nutrients to thrive! A weaned baby misses out on this.) They feel that a child that is allowed to wean her/hisself when s/he is ready will do so once the need is met. This is a common feeling among AP parents in all areas, that when something is taken away from a child before the need is fulfilled, this need (such as breastfeeding) will affect the child later in life and will cause future negative consequences. These consequences may not be obvious, and may even be subconscious, but they are there nonetheless. Here’s a great quote by Tine Thevenin, author of “The Family Bed,” on this subject of needs…

“A child who has his needs fulfilled will become an independent, secure person. But independence cannot be forced upon someone. It takes time and growing at the individual’s own pace. The more secure he is in the knowledge that he can always come back to his parents, the more independent he will become. We will only create problems if we regard his needing us at night as a problem which should be “cured.”

Often they also continue to breastfeed far past the norm because of the health benefits that are known to stave off many allergies and other health problems. Children far past the “normal” Western weaning age continue to reap the benefits of their mother’s antibodies and the health benefits continue to be significant.

Another common practice in AP families is the family bed. Most AP families have practiced or currently practice some form of co-sleeping. Either with children sharing the family bed, or with a “side-car” attached to the bed, or a crib or other such bed in the room near the parental bed, etc… Another possibility is siblings sharing beds. Most AP’rs know the value of nighttime parenting. AP parents enjoy their children’s closeness throughout the night, and do not believe that it is necessary to “sleep train.” AP’rs tend to believe that children will learn to sleep on their own when they are ready, and don’t need strict, often harsh, training methods to force them to do so before they are ready. Most AP parents of older children will tell you that children DO eventually leave the family bed (despite what those who don’t family bed might say…family bedders do NOT have teenagers sleeping with them!) and move on to their own beds…and until that happens, the family that sleeps together enjoys a closeness that is not possible with babies forced to cry themselves to sleep down the hall from the arms that they so desperately want to have around them, comforting them in the darkness. A bonus benefit to shared sleep is the reduced risk of SIDS. Contrary to popular belief, many more children die alone in cribs (hence, the term “crib death”) than do in the family bed. Babies who sleep with their mommies develop sleep patterns that are in-sync with their mother’s sleep. This actually helps the baby “learn” to sleep. There are many that theorize that one possible cause of SIDS may be a baby’s immature body “forgetting” to breathe (or sleep apnea)…alone in a crib, with no one to notice that they’ve stopped breathing, babies suffocate…but in the family bed next to mommy, their mother’s breathing next to them “reminds” their body to breathe. Also, mothers sleeping next to their infants tend to wake if anything is wrong with their baby & can thus, sometimes, prevent tragedy…where a mother down the hall would be oblivious to the danger happening. Of course, there’s also the pure joy and comfort of sleeping with one’s children that causes this practice to be so common! (A majority of parents, AP or not, will confess to having “shared sleep” with their children at least temporarily in their lives together.)

Those are some of the most common characteristics among Attachment Parenting parents. There are of course variations…some families pick and choose among these practices…many do not follow all of them. You will also often find that alot of AP parents are just generally into anything that is natural…we are often “tree-huggers”, “environmentalists”, etc…Many of us cloth diaper our children, buy organic foods, don’t circumcise our sons, spend time in nature, homeschool, and many other “natural” or “back to basics” practices. Oh yes, we are weirdos…LOL!  Imagine, teaching children to love and respect all life, including themselves! Woah…now there’s a concept.

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