Attachment Parenting In Practice – Babies and Toddlers

Hazel Leese-Dixon

As a parent, I generally follow what is known as Attachment Parenting.  This style of parenting is intuitive and is designed to encourage children to become emotionally secure people.  I started Attachment Parenting principles during pregnancy and birth.  I now use Attachment Parenting (AP) every day.  As every parent knows, it can be difficult sometimes to get parenting decisions right and AP isn’t a foolproof method to avoid every possible mistake.  However, in my opinion, AP provides the best way to nurture children into secure adults.

My daughter is now 3 years old.  As far as I can, I try to follow AP principles on daily basis so that her needs as a growing person are most appropriately met.  These are the principles:

Provide love and respect

Respond to my child’s needs with sensitivity

Use physical, nurturing touch

Ensure that my child sleeps safely both physically and emotionally

Provide loving care in a consistent manner

Practice positive discipline

Strive for balance in personal and family life

(adapted from http://www.attachmentparenting.org/principles/principles.php)

This means that when my daughter cries, I pick her up.  I never leave her to cry, day or night.  There have been moments when has had a moderate tantrum (she has never had a full blown tantrum) that I leave her for a moment or two but only to calm myself down.  I then pick her up, cuddle her in then after she has calmed, I try to explain where things went wrong.  I don’t give into tantrums by giving her the item she wants.  I distract her with another item or activity.  So she doesn’t get rewarded for undesirable behaviour.  Instead, she feels loved and secure. This is clearly evidence through, “a study of mothers and their 12 month old infants reports that mothers who showed greater insight about their babies’ psychological experiences were rated as more sensitive and were more likely to have securely-attached infants” (Koren-Karie 2002 via http://www.parentingscience.com/attachment-parenting.html). I always think about responding to children’s emotional needs like this, I put myself in their shoes – I imagine how I would feel if the person I loved most the in the world, ignored me when I cried. It wouldn’t be beneficial to my psyche.  This is more prevalent for a child, without the resources to comfort themselves.   Not leaving my daughter to cry also sits alongside practicing positive discipline.  Managing behaviour can be difficult and I have made mistakes.  I work to AP principles but I sometimes slip and shout or threaten to take something away from my daughter to manage her behaviour.  However, using positive incentives such as if you put that down, I will give you this toy and offering praise when she does I’ve asked always works better than shouting.   I always try to reward positive behaviour.  This might mean being almost over to the top with enthusiasm when she does a wee on the potty or tidies her toys away.  However, no matter how daft I feel, the beaming smile on her face when she gets positive affirmed for doing something positive is worth it.  I try to offer choices such as how many bed time stories would you like, she makes a choice then I agree to read x amount of bedtime stories if she finishes her milk for example.  Luckily she has never asked for 100 bedtime stories because I try to deliver all my promises!

My daughter and I co-sleep.  In others words, we share a bed.  In truth, I fell into this because I desperately wanted some sleep.  Unfortunately my daughter doesn’t always sleep through.  That being said, most of us wake at night for short periods of time and children often need encouragement to go back to sleep.  I find it easier to get her back to sleep if she is near to me.  I also find it easier to go back to sleep myself, if I don’t have to get up.  There is research for and against co-sleeping.  Certainly orthodox medicine practices tend to be against co-sleeping.  These are focused on the potential dangers to infants.  However dangers are usually only present when parents drink, are over-tired or take prescription or non-prescription drugs.  Natural sleep combined with co-sleeping can be very beneficial for children (http://neuroanthropology.net/2008/12/21/cosleeping-and-biological-imperatives-why-human-babies-do-not-and-should-not-sleep-alone/).  The Baby Centre offers a balanced view of the pros and cons of co-sleeping (http://www.babycentre.co.uk/a558561/the-pros-and-cons-of-co-sleeping).

Loving touch is another key element of AP.  It’s something that most parents naturally do with their children.  A hug makes most of us feel much better.  In my opinion, a cuddle with your child really lifts you up so it’s easy to imagine what it does for your child.  My daughter and I cuddle often.  We also rub noses, share kisses and tickle each other.  This is the fun part of parenting and it’s the stuff that really ensures children feel emotionally secure.  There is numerous scientific evidence behind the power of loving touch (http://www.elsevier.com/about/press-releases/research-and-journals/the-loving-touch-is-critical-for-premature-infants) and (http://www.emaxhealth.com/11402/loving-touch-mother-can-make-all-difference).  Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t just apply to children (http://www.uncommon-knowledge.co.uk/touch/touch-1.html).  Breastfeeding is a key element to loving touch between mother and child.  However loving touch can also be achieved with other methods of feeding, where breastfeeding isn’t possible or has ended.  Loving, emotionally supportive touch is vital within the parent child relationship.  It is one of the easiest elements of AP to utilise in parenting your child.  In a positive parent child relationship, loving touch is intuitive.  However, there are circumstances where loving touch can be difficult for a new parent.  Post-natal depression makes all aspects of parenting extremely challenging.  Seeking support from medical professionals, friends and family is important in these cases.  Asking for help can make all the difference for parent and child.

Providing consistent loving care is a fairly extensive principle and practicing it can be easier said than done but essentially it is about being child-focused.  Things like managing change effectively, spend as much time as possible with your child, keeping separation to a minimum.  Of course, practically this can be difficult and may be even more difficult for single parents.  When she first went to nursery, we had taster sessions where I stayed in the room, taster rooms where I stayed in an adjoining room, then sessions where I came back an hour later.  She actually settled really quickly and probably didn’t need me to manage the change to the extent that I did.  In the first few months of her life, I was with her constantly.  I’m still my daughter’s main caregiver. She does spend time with other significant adults but the mainstay of her care is through me.  It varies from child to child but some children find separation very difficult (http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/20623893).

Making time for you is crucial to any parenting practice and it is part of AP.  Since becoming a single mummy, I have less personal time than I had before but I do take time out for myself.  Generally this is when my daughter is asleep.  I do, sometimes pop on the laptop when my daughter is happily playing. Sometimes I forget to make time to actively play with my daughter.  When this happens, I try to rebalance things.  It stands to reason that parents who have personal time will be more happy and relaxed parents.  The happier we are, the happier our children are and this is what is what we all strive for as parents.   The key is the make sure it is balanced.  Personal time doesn’t have to have be a night out away from your children, it can simply mean reading a book or watching a film when your child sleeps.  It has to work for you and it has to work for you children.

To me the most important part of being a parent is recognising that you will make mistakes and trying to learn from these.  It’s probably the most important job in the world, yet none of us get any training for it.  I believe that following just some AP principles helps to make children more emotionally secure, if you can follow all the principles then that is even better.

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