All posts by The Attached Family

Attachment as Important at School as at Home

By Shoshana Hayman, director of the Life Center/Israel Center for Attachment Parenting, http://lifecenter.org.il

If your children or grandchildren are anything like mine, they were looking forward to starting school after the long, hot summer, equipped with their new books and school supplies. No doubt, you too are hoping that their enthusiasm about learning will last. All too often, not far into the school year, children complain about too much homework, teachers not being fair, boring classes, bullying on the playground, and the list goes on. What, if anything, can we do to help our children look forward to school and keep their natural bias to learn and grow?

In a nutshell, the answer is to cultivate secure teacher-student attachment. Let me illustrate with a true story. A girl in the third grade, who was getting ready for school one morning, remarked to her mother, “I don’t want to get slapped again by my teacher.” Her mother, startled by this statement, asked her what she meant by being slapped. “I didn’t actually get slapped,” she replied, “but the nasty face my teacher makes is worse, because she uses it all morning.” This student did only the minimum that was required of her. She did not seek to be close to her teacher or to take counsel with her. Nor did she see her teacher as a role model that she would like to emulate. To put it simply, the girl was not attached to her teacher. As a result, she also lost her enthusiasm for learning.

On the other hand, when a student is attached to her teacher, she wants to be close. She loves her teacher and wants to be like her. She is motivated to do her best to learn and succeed.

If you can picture the well-known image of the mother goose followed by a neat, orderly row of  goslings, you get a glimpse of the attachment dynamic in nature. Mother goose is the compass point for her goslings, and she need not worry that they will go astray. This unseen force is what needs to be harnessed between parents and children as well as teachers and students, so that children will maintain their orientation toward the adults responsible for them. The child might not know where you are leading him, but he will follow with trust. This is the true source of a teacher’s authority and ability to teach and influence. This can make the difference in whether or not a child will look forward to coming to school. To the child, school must feel like a safe, secure place where he is cared for. He knows he will find comfort and consolation from his teacher or from other caring members of the school staff. Of course, every child needs to feel this at home, too. Until this need is met, the child’s brain is not free to learn. This is the number-one priority on the brain’s agenda! Learning is a luxury!

A five-year-old complained to his parents that he doesn’t want to go to kindergarten anymore, because “no one is in charge.” Upon investigation, the parents learned that there was a bully among the children and their son took the side of the bully in order to avoid being pushed around by him because the teacher was not solving the problem. “No one is in charge” was the child’s way of saying, “No one is protecting me from getting hurt. Being in school is too alarming for me!” As a result, this child became aggressive and uncooperative.

Although research shows that while children who are in daycare or preschool before the age of five show improvements in cognitive performance, the results are the opposite for emotional health and intelligence.  Researchers have found that levels of stress hormones are high in young children whose emotional needs are not taken care of, and this can lead to aggressive behavior, noncompliance, anxiety, and depression, even years later in life. In this environment, there is no room for creative thought and interest.

Whether a child is in daycare, elementary, or high school, his attachment needs should be taken care of as a first priority. What does an attachment-based environment look like? The teacher greets and welcomes her students with warmth and a smile. Throughout the day, she finds ways to let each student know she cares about him or her. She focuses on her students’ good intentions and personal development, instead of on behavior and performance. She knows how to support a child’s interests, curiosity, and natural desire to learn, instead of motivating through competition and prizes. She helps her students feel safe and protects them from being shamed, hurt, or bullied. She believes in her students and sees the goodness in them. She welcomes the parents of her students into the learning process.

Our goal should be to create learning environments that are attachment-based, in which teachers give their students the sense of home, safety, and security they need to be able to focus on learning and thinking creatively.

Spotlight On: Soothing Slumber DVD

API: Tell us, exactly what is the Soothing Slumber DVD?

RACHEL RAINBOLT: The Soothing Slumber DVD is a video class of infant massage for nighttime. You will learn all the strokes you need to soothe your baby into a deeper and longer sleep while also gaining knowledge about different sleeping arrangements, safe sleep, why babies wake during the night, and what strategies you can use to maximize the amount of sleep that’s healthy for your baby. Incorporate the Soothing Slumber nighttime massage into your bedtime routine and slow your baby’s heart rate, regulate breathing, increase circulation, warm hands and feet, balance hormone levels, and give your baby a lasting dose of skin-to-skin contact and bonding, sending your baby off to a peaceful slumber. The DVD also includes an 18-page Parent Booklet containing stroke handouts, an outline of all of the nighttime parenting material, the Nighttime Harmony article, and a worksheet for parents to incorporate what they have learned into their relationship and life with their baby.

API: What have parents found to be most useful about this DVD? Continue reading

Spotlight On: Million Minute Family Challenge

API: Tell us, exactly what is the Million Minute Family Challenge?

BETH MUEHLENKAMP: The Million Minute Family Challenge is a grassroots effort across the United States and Canada to encourage families and friends to play non-electronic games together. We know people across the country enjoy playing games; this is a way for them to visually see their efforts and connect with others who share the same interest.

API: What have parents found to be most useful about the Million Minute Family Challenge?

BETH: Most parents tell me that the Million Minute Family Challenge gave them a reason or goal to turn off the TV, computer, or video game and reconnect around a board game. It gave them that little extra push, and when their kids see that other kids across the country are doing this, too, they get excited. The other bonus is that there is no cost to join and it takes as little as 20 minutes, but the benefits can last a lifetime. Plus, we provide you with an organizer kit and all the tools you need just in case you want to plan a larger scale game night or spread the word to your school, church, or any other group you are involved with.

API: How does the Million Minute Family Challenge fit into Attachment Parenting? Continue reading

The Busy Brain Kit

By Judy Arnall, director of Attachment Parenting Canada, www.professionalparenting.ca

Are you worried about your children’s bent necks and poor posture? Do their batteries run out at the wrong time?  Concerned that your toddler might drop your iphone? You don’t have to rely on cell-phone applications, portable handheld gaming devices, media players, and other electronic devices to occupy your kids during waiting times.

These constructive ideas will stimulate imagination, creativity, intellect, problem solving, and social skills. Best of all, they don’t require cable or batteries, can be taken anywhere, and will amuse toddlers to teens.

The lot of these items should fit in a small 9-by-12 inch container, such as a rectangular plastic box with a snap lid, a backpack, or even a laptop side pocket or briefcase for ease of carrying to restaurants, appointments, or airports. Continue reading

Attachment Parenting Our Teens

By Laurie A. Couture, author of Instead of Medicating and Punishing

So many attachment parents start out so passionate about giving very young children the best start possible in life: Moms birth naturally, spare their sons the trauma of circumcision by keeping them intact, breastfeed for at least three years or longer, carry their babies at all times, cosleep for several years, and they ideally are gentle and nurturing to their young ones as the children begin to assert their wants and express upset emotions.

Sadly, however, something happens between the ages of seven and 12 in far too many families who started out as attachment-minded: Moms and dads stop parenting for attachment and connection and start letting the mainstream lifestyle creep in. This often translates into sending children to school to suffer with all of its toxic elements, passively allowing children to become saturated and enslaved by the media, consumerism, pop culture and peer culture. And most tragically, moms pull away emotionally and physically from their older children.

If children as young as seven to 12 years old are being slowly absorbed into the mainstream cultural ideals of consuming and “individuating,” where does that leave our teenaged children? Very lost and disconnected, for sure!

Even in the Attachment Parenting (AP) community, writings about adolescent children have a negative and anti-attachment twinge to them: Most writings about parenting teens advise that teens should be  “individuating” from their parents and parents should be “pulling back” and “letting go” of their adolescent children. Due to years of “letting go,” parents of teens seem to passively assume that the disconnected behavior of their teens is “natural” and they oblige: They pull away and let go of their child even more.

My beautiful 17-year-old son Brycen is a free-spirited, self-directed child who revels in the freedom of unschooling. His expression of his individualism is unique, evolving and all his own creation. He is busy with endless creative pursuits, music, community activities, and flexible work of his choosing. He can sometimes be gone for days with back-to-back plans with friends. He knows that if he wanted to travel, or manifest an opportunity in his life, I would stand behind him in doing it. Brycen is truly a free child!

The most important essence of his life, however, is that he and I are deeply and closely connected. The parent-child attachment security and his needs are just as much my priority now as they were when he was little. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, and creatively, I have not “backed off,” “stepped back,” or “let go.” I have not relaxed my protection of him, diluted my delight in him, or weakened my nurturance of him. Instead, as if he was little, I have remained a loving, nurturing, affectionate, compassionate, protecting, delighted, supportive, and passionate mom to my son throughout his adolescence. In doing so, I have set him free to grow holistically.

What is your emotional reaction to this? Do you feel happiness, warmth, and a sense of bliss? Or do you feel uncomfortable, anxious or defensive — a desire to  give me your contrary opinion?

Our society seems to feel very uncomfortable about parent-teen closeness, especially mom and son closeness. These are deep cultural wounds in the collective unconscious that continue to be part of our culture. Tragically, as a result of this harmful emotionally charged bias, boys are often cast off physically and emotionally by their moms by their eighth or ninth year of life — a decade before they can handle such a disconnect! Teens who are disconnected from their parents are often stuck in a dynamic with their parents of push and pull, love and hate, compliance and rebellion, clinginess and aggression, being controlled and being pushed away.

Let’s return to nature for a moment: Nature’s intent is the only parenting advice we truly need. Our parenting challenges, concerns, and choices can become so simple if we consider, “What is nature’s intent for a child’s holistic development?” Nature is our reference manual, our guide to mammalian and human needs.

Our closest mammalian relative, a primate called the bonobo, is a great example of mother-adolescent relationships in the wild. In bonobos, the mother is intensely affectionate to her young well into adolescence. The daughter stays with the mother for seven years, at which time she leaves her mother and joins a neighboring tribe of bonobos. The son, however, remains dependent upon his mother for ten years and, as an adult, will be joined by his mate to live with his mother for life.

What about humans? In the Yequana tribe of South America, documented by the late Jean Liedloff in The Continuum Concept, adolescents and young adults remain interdependent with their parents until they marry. There is no teenage rebellion, no “individuating,” no mutual disrespect, no parental pushing away, no “letting go,” no “backing off,” and no “casting out of the nest,” even once the teen reaches adulthood. In fact, if an unmarried young adult’s parents pass away, another family in the tribe will “adopt” the young adult into their family until that adult marries. Parent-child affection, physical nurturance (especially during a time of injury or illness), support, and protection continues in many peaceful, nonviolent tribal societies well into young adulthood, until the adult child marries.

But what about the American mainstream cultural phenomenon of “helicopter parenting” happening to Generation-Y and the Millennials? Isn’t Attachment Parenting adolescents akin to Helicopter Parenting? No doubt, people’s fear of the unhealthy parent-child clinginess of Helicopter Parenting is what incites cultural backlash that is even more harmful. The imfamous Tiger Mother method, a new label on the old problem of child maltreatment, is one example (which ironically is opposite of how real tigers parent their young).

Both Helicopter Parenting and the Tiger Mother method are examples of parenting that is grossly contrary to nature’s intent for children. The children of families that interact in this manner are disconnected and insecurely attached. Such youth are all dependent upon their parents in an unhealthy manner, begging to get basic needs met that have never been met. These ways of raising children are stifling, suffocating, mentally crippling, and in the case of children treated harshly, traumatizing. Children parented in these ways will grow up incompletely, to be holistically wounded, unfulfilled, distressed, empty, and stunted. In both of these extremes, children are not allowed to live and learn in freedom and in joy. Their holistic needs are not met and their passions are not guided and nurtured. In these cases, parents live their children’s lives for them, controlling them every step of the way, giving them only a mirage of a relationship and of a life that evaporates when touched. This is not nature’s intent for children. This is youth maltreatment.

Attachment Parenting our teens means keeping the parent-child connection and attachment secure and strong throughout childhood from birth until adulthood. The behavior and emotional stability of our teens will reflect the quality of this attachment. Attachment Parenting our teens means remaining physically and emotionally affectionate and nurturing, available, compassionate, and sensitive. It means allowing them to unschool to keep them free of the toxic, stressful environments of school. It means allowing your teens to direct their own lives, learning, healthy interests, and passions while you support these endeavors as passionately as you did when they were much younger.

Editor’s Note: The Attached Family invites various views on Attachment Parenting, and this author’s choice of schooling for her child is one of them. Attachment Parenting International takes no stance on schooling and believes that children in formal school settings, as well as homeschooling and unschooling, are equally able to maintain a strong parent-child attachment.

Attachment Parenting means listening to your teens everyday and getting excited about what they are excited about. It means talking openly and honestly with them about things they want to know such as puberty,  masturbation, sex, sexual orientation issues, moral principles, social justice, world events, life and death, philosophy, and spirituality. It means treating teens with respect, dignity, humanity, and care — not speaking to them with sarcasm, cynicism, irritation, and disgust. It means understanding the incredible hormonal changes happening to your children that might mean they appear less responsible or helpful than when they were younger: Be sensitive to and celebratory with them of the amazing metamorphosis their bodies and brains are experiencing! It means protecting them online and in the community from sexually explicit media, predatory adults (men and women), drug addictions, media addictions, and sexually dangerous situations through dialogue, discussion, and honesty about your feelings and principles.

Attachment Parenting means allowing your teen children to unfold as they are, not what you wish for them to be. It means letting go of controlling them but not letting go of nurturing them. It means guiding them in life and cultivating a loving, peaceful, and interdependent relationship with them, where they feel free to branch out, return, branch out again, return, and fly when they are ready. It means holding them in an embrace of unconditional love and emotional support — an attachment bond that will last a lifetime!

The Basics of Breastfeeding Advocacy

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Breastfeeding has seen the gamut in terms of public support. For centuries, it was the most natural thing to do, and then in the mid-20th Century, it suddenly became taboo and nearly disappeared from Western civilization. Through La Leche League International and other breastfeeding advocates, it has steadily made a comeback into mainstream family culture. But, in some respects, breastfeeding still has a long way to go — in normalizing public breastfeeding and breastfeeding for working mothers, and improving access to lactation services for all socio-economic classes by enabling lactation consultants to be reimbursed by health insurance and Medicaid.

“It’s very important that people realize they have a voice and that people will listen to that voice — and you don’t have to have a lot of letters after your name,” said Dr. Laura Wilwerding, MD, IBCLC, FAAP, FABM, a pediatrician in Plattsmouth, Nebraska USA, and a pediatrics professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, where she lectures on breastfeeding medicine, child advocacy, antibiotic overusage, and obesity prevention.

In addition to being a fellow of the International Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, Wilwerding is involved in the Nebraska chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics as the breastfeeding coordinator, the Nebraska Breastfeeding Coalition on the leadership team, and as a member of the Nebraska Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity Prevention Advisory Board. Wilwerding spoke during the La Leche League of Nebraska Annual Breastfeeding and Parenting Conference in May 2011 in Omaha, Nebraska USA.

“Particularly locally, you do have power, and not just with elected officials but also hospital administrators and human services program directors,” she said. It’s all in your approach. Continue reading

10 Phrases to Make a Better Parent

By Judy Arnall, author of Discipline without Distress, www.professionalparenting.ca

Many times as parents, we blurt out sayings that we heard as children and later vowed to never say to our own children. However, that is easier said than done. In times of stress, we revert very easily back to actions and phrases we saw and heard when we were parented.

Parenting skills are learned skills, and we can consciously effect change if we become aware of what needs to be changed. Here are 10 common parenting phrases and alternatives to nurture closer, caring, and more respectful relationships with our children.

INSTEAD OF: You are a bad boy.
TRY: What did you learn from this? What can you try next time?

INSTEAD OF: Hurry Up! We are late!
TRY: It’s okay. Take the time you need… (Next time, leave more time to get ready!)

INSTEAD OF: Oh no! Look at what you have done!
TRY: It really won’t matter five years from now! I will show you how to fix this.

INSTEAD OF: You need to…
TRY: I need you to…

INSTEAD OF: Because I said so!
TRY: I’ll explain my reasoning in five minutes when I’m not distracted so much.

INSTEAD OF: Stop that tantrum right now!
TRY: You feel frustrated and angry. Can I give you a hug?

INSTEAD OF: No!
TRY: I can see you really want that but I can’t provide it right now.

INSTEAD OF: You’ve wrecked my…
TRY: I’m really angry right now. I need to take a timeout.

INSTEAD OF: Stop doing that!
TRY: Would you consider this?

INSTEAD OF: Suck it up and stop crying.
TRY: It’s OK to cry and feel your feelings. Want a hug?

INSTEAD OF: Go play and leave me alone.
TRY: I love you!

Try any one of these substitutions today and you will see how much better your parent-child relationship will be. If you are not sure what to say and how to say it, especially in the moment, just offer a hug. You will be surprised how much body language can communicate empathy and affection, and then you can get on with solving the problem with your child.

A Parent’s Look at: BabyBabyOhBaby

By Beth Hendrickson, blogger at http://bellesqueaks.wordpress.com

“They grow up so fast” I hear from everyone. My parents, my friends, other moms at the pool, the sweat-drenched mailman, the harried grocery store clerk, the homeless woman. It’s been a unanimous vote through all of those precious (sleepless?) early months. Mired as I was in the molasses of my days, I felt confident disregarding the dire predictions. Sure, Little Friend would grow up…someday…in the vague and distant future. I forgot about the future’s annoying propensity to turn into today. Yesterday, as I watched Little Friend select her shoes, put on bracelets, and feed her baby (doll) at 19 years, I mean, months old, I had to join the wistful chorus in decrying, “They grow up so fast!” I’m now ever more so grateful for the moments I invested in Little Friend’s infancy to baby massage, thanks to the incomparable BabyBabyOhBaby DVD.

I’m not sure I would have sought out a baby massage DVD if it hadn’t been for having a premature baby and reading all of the accompanying literature singing the healthful, healing benefits of infant massage. I’m not exactly the incense-burning, new age music type of gal, although I do love me a good massage. But I found myself sitting at home in the dead of a snow-engulfed winter, staring at a four-pound baby wondering what in the world I was going to do for the next couple of months until Little Friend was allowed out and about. So began our daily sessions of infant massage. I couldn’t treasure more the memories, both mental and physical, of spending quiet, concentrated moments pressing my love and affection stroke by stroke through the skin, sinews, muscles, and ligaments of my little one’s body. Continue reading

Peaceful Parenting Tips for the Growing Child

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Natasha Hartley doesn’t see herself as an expert in Attachment Parenting, but the many people who know her say she definitely knows what she’s doing with her four children. Hartley lives in Omaha, Nebraska USA, and shared some of her tips in APing the older child during a May 2011 La Leche League meeting.

La Leche League International promotes a Loving Guidance ideal, which is similar to Attachment Parenting International’s Principle of Providing Positive Discipline. Both focus on lovingly setting boundaries and disciplining through teaching rather than punitive correction. Much of what Hartley considers to be the overarching idea behind peaceful parenting, for children of all growth stages, is learning about appropriate child development and applying those concepts to the upholding of age-appropriate expectations.

“A lot of it is just being attentive to children and trying to be fulfilling to them,” she said. “When they’re little, parenting is a lot more physical work. As they get older, you think it’ll get easier, but instead of being physical work, it’s a lot more mental work.”

Hartley gains much of her parenting inspiration from the book, Peaceful Parents, Peaceful Kids by Naomi Drew. From the 17 keys found in this book, these are the ones Hartley finds most helpful now that her oldest children, twin girls, are eight years old and many of the parenting techniques useful with babies and toddlers, and even preschoolers, no longer relate:

  • Peace Begins with the Parent — Family and personal balance is pivotal in helping parents meet the remaining Principles of Parenting. A parent must feel refreshed herself before she can give total, undivided loving attention to her children. “After eight years, I realize that I need to take some mom time. I hope I can help other [parents] learn to do this earlier,” Hartley said, advising the primary caregiving parent to take at least 15 to 30 minutes a day for some me-time. Until that time, if the home environment is getting intense, she suggests remembering to take a moment before confronting a situation to say a positive comment like “I am a good parent; I am a positive parent.” If every day seems stressful, Hartley advises learning to live a simpler life, such as avoiding over-scheduling, getting more organized, and establishing daily routines.
  • Make the Home a Place of Kind Words — Ban negativity in the home. This includes not only perspectives of people outside the home, such as the erratic driver in the next lane, but especially in how parents and children communicate to each other within the family. Examine phrases so that a behavior is addressed, rather than implying that there’s something wrong with a person; this likely means focusing on “I” phrases, such as “I need this room to be picked up” rather than “You’re so messy,” or “I need it to be a little quieter right now” rather than “You’re so loud.”
  • Encourage Positive Behaviors, but Avoid Praise — Praise, such as “good boy [or girl],” is not as powerful in teaching children as is encouraging specific behaviors through encouragement, such as “I like how you cleaned up your toys.” Hartley suggests keeping a list of positive behaviors specific to each child, to read through during times of difficulty.
  • Spend One-on-One Time with Each Child, Every Day — Each child needs at least 15 minutes a day of one-on-one time with each parent, where the parent is keenly listening and interacting positively and not trying to do a household chore or something on the computer at the same time. This time should be during an activity that the child enjoys doing with the parent, or that is entirely child-led.
  • Be Clear on Expectations, and Honor Them — Come together and decide as a family what the principles of the home will be, and then be consistent in upholding those standards. As children grow older, they’ll take more responsibility in shaping the guidelines needed to follow the standards. It’s a good idea to begin holding family meetings when the child is very young, but it’s essential as the child grows older and has more opinions separate from his parents; this doesn’t mean that every idea thrown out by the child is an option but that the child has input into family matters.
  • Say “No” When Needed, but Phrased in Options — When upholding family principles, there will be times when you will need to say “no” to your child, but rather than phrase it as a straight “no,” follow it up with options that the child can do.
  • Provide Children Empty Spaces of Time when They Can Just Be Kids — Especially when children spend the majority of their day in school outside the home, and therefore have to follow rules that may be different or more strict than what they have at home, children benefit from having time to not have to listen to any adults, even Mom and Dad.
  • Develop “Cool Off” Lists — Writing a list of ways to handle anger is great for both parents and children, especially as they grow older. Brainstorm together to come up with ideas to express anger in a more positive way, such as drawing or writing in a feelings journal or yelling into a pillow. It’s critical that parents make it a rule to resolve conflicts peacefully — telling the truth, being respectful, using nonviolent communication or reflective listening, taking responsibility, compromising, and seeking forgiveness — so they can then teach by example to their children.
  • Be a Good Listener — You want your children to listen to you, but you also need to make sure you’re modeling good listening skills to them: looking at the speaker, making eye contact, not interrupting, being open to other ideas, letting the speaker tell his story and not making it about yourself, and focusing on what the speaker is saying.

Sydney Rose’s Birthday

By Kyle Mills

Few things in life are as intense, painful, scary, and mind-blowing as the birth of your child, but I would say that excitement is probably what most people remember feeling when thinking back to the day their child came into the world. At least, that’s how it was for me and my husband when I had our daughter, Sydney Rose.

I remember beginning to feel some strong contractions around 3:30 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon. I was putting some groceries away when they started, and by 6:00 p.m., they still hadn’t let up. We considered going to the hospital, but I didn’t think the timing was close enough and I didn’t want to be turned away. Besides, we had never attended a childbirth class, and we hadn’t even watched the Lamaze video we’d gotten. After dinner, we took a walk, and then settled in to attempt the video before heading to the hospital, all the while keeping a close eye on my contractions, which were getting worse by the half hour. Finally at 9:00 p.m., I said we should head to the hospital because I was definitely in more pain, the timing patterns were right on — anywhere from five to eight minutes — and I wanted to get checked before it got too late in case they were to send me back home.

We checked in around 9:30 p.m. and were told I was one centimeter dilated — one measly centimeter! They were going to monitor my contractions and check me again in an hour, and if I’d progressed another centimeter in that time, they would admit me. An hour later, I had not progressed, and although they could see my contractions were close together and acknowledged I was in active labor, it was their standard procedure to send people home and tell them to come back when the contractions were three to five minutes apart. By the time I walked in the front door of my house, my contractions were definitely closer to the three-minute mark, but I refused to get back in the car until I could barely stand it. After all, checking in, getting in a gown, waiting until the doctor can see you, getting checked, and lying around for an hour — just to be sent home — can take a lot out of an uncomfortable, nine-month pregnant woman. So I got in bed, and basically writhed in pain for five and a half hours, with minute-apart contractions until, at 4:30 a.m., I decided I was getting in the shower and then going back to the hospital. Continue reading