Category Archives: 2. The Infant

From newborn to 17 months.

40 Percent of Children Miss Out on the Parenting Needed to Succeed in Life

Press release issued March 21, 2014, by the University of Bristol.

1396049_89871050Four in 10 babies don’t develop the strong emotional bonds–what psychologists call “secure attachment”–with their parents that are crucial to success later in life. Disadvantaged children are more likely to face educational and behavioral problems when they grow older as a result, new Sutton Trust research finds today [21 March].

The review of international studies of attachment, Baby Bonds, by Sophie Moullin (Princeton University), Professor Jane Waldfogel (Columbia University and the London School of Economics) and Dr. Elizabeth Washbrook (University of Bristol), finds infants aged under three who do not form strong bonds with their mother or father are more likely to suffer from aggression, defiance and hyperactivity when they get older.

The Trust is urging the government to do more through health visitors and Children’s Centres, with their strong focus on improved outcomes for disadvantaged families, to support parents with babies and toddlers.

About 60 percent of children develop strong parental bonds. The 40 percent who lack such secure attachment are split into 25 percent who avoid their parents when they are upset, because they ignore their needs, and 15 percent who resist their parents because they cause them distress.

This is an issue for families from all social classes, but where families have multiple problems up to two-thirds of children have weak parental attachment. The report finds that boys’ behavior is more affected than girls’ by early parenting.

The research finds that insecure attachment is associated with poorer language and behavior before school. The effect continues into later life, with insecure children more likely to leave school without further education, employment or training. In one US study of disadvantaged children, the quality of parent care and attachment in the first years was a strong predictor of graduating from high school, alone predicting with 77 percent accuracy whether children graduated or not. Neither IQ nor test scores improved upon this prediction.

The report also finds that securely attached children are more resilient to poverty, family instability, parental stress and depression. Boys growing up in poverty are two and a half times less likely to display behavior problems at school if they formed secure attachments with parents in their early years.

Where mothers have weak bonds with their babies, research suggests their children are also more likely to be obese as they enter adolescence.  Parents who were insecurely attached themselves, are living in poverty or with poor mental health, find it hardest to provide sensitive parenting and bond with their babies.

Today’s report explains how sensitive and responsive parenting in the first years of life is crucial to attachment. Simple, and often instinctive, actions such as holding a baby lovingly, and responding to their needs, are key to the development of attachment. Equally important might be acknowledging a baby’s unhappiness with facial expressions and then reassuring them with warm, happy smiles and soothing tones.

Conor Ryan, Director of Research at the Sutton Trust, said: “Better bonding between parents and babies could lead to more social mobility, as there is such a clear link to education, behavior and future employment. The educational divide emerges early in life, with a 19 month school readiness gap between the most and least advantaged children by the age of five.

“This report clearly identifies the fundamental role secure attachment could have in narrowing that school readiness gap and improving children’s life chances. More support from health visitors, children’s centers and local authorities in helping parents improve how they bond with young children could play a role in narrowing the education gap.”

Dr. Elizabeth Washbrook, Lecturer in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Bristol, said: “Children who are secure in their parents’ love and care feel surer of themselves. And, because they feel secure, they are better able to manage their feelings, behavior, be resilient and relate to others. But mums and dads who face insecurity, economic or otherwise, will find it harder to provide the sensitive parenting needed for secure attachment.”

The report Baby Bonds by Sophie Moullin, Professor Jane Waldfogel and Dr. Elizabeth Washbrook is available on the Sutton Trust website.

Further information

About the Sutton Trust

The Sutton Trust is a foundation set up in 1997, dedicated to improving social mobility through education. It has published over 140 research studies and funded and evaluated programs that have helped hundreds of thousands of young people of all ages, from early years through to access to the professions.

API Cofounders Featured in Parenting with Presence Summit

lysaparkerbarbaranicholsonWorld peace, for many, may seem like an unattainable ideal. Not so for families finding support through Attachment Parenting International (API), whose research-backed parenting approach promotes healthy relationships rooted in nonviolent communication and respectful interactions, extending a model of peaceful living into the community.

API cofounders Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker celebrated the organization’s 20th anniversary during a teleseminar hosted by parent educator and author Susan Stiffelman, as part of an online parenting conference on March 18-21. A Shift Network event, the API-cosponsored Parenting with Presence Summit gathered together 25 parenting experts and visionaries to share their perspectives on parenthood. The event was available to the public at no cost.

“Ultimately, we’re wanting world peace,” said Nicholson, who presented a session sharing the title of the book she coauthored with Parker, Attached at the Heart: 8 Proven Parenting Principles for Raising Connected and Compassionate Children. “The mother-father-baby: that little unit is really the core of it all.”

Stiffelman agreed, concluding that many people who are moved toward furthering world peace can make a profound impact without ever leaving home: “The fact is, under our own roofs, if we have children, we can make a dramatic difference in our world.”

Throughout their session, Nicholson’s and Parker’s core message echoed what API has promoted from its beginning—that parents can be nurturing, warm and sensitive while raising emotionally healthy, responsible children. API can provide the guidance and support for parents who need it.

“We didn’t want to spank our children,” said Parker about what inspired API’s foundation. “We wanted to practice more positive discipline, but we were still at the beginning stages. We were each other’s support. The essence of API is parent support.”

Leading up to 1994 when API was first organized, there was a budding awareness in the professional community regarding the importance of attachment research on child development. However, there were no widely circulating resources offering this information to the public.

“We felt there needed to be an organization to get all this information to parents,” Nicholson said.

Fast forward 20 years: Parent education, rooted in attachment science and neurobiology, has permeated much of Western society. API continues to educate and support parents and professionals in adopting healthier approaches to raising children, as well as to introduce new areas of research that further validates API’s Eight Principles of Parenting.

“The Eight Principles are not rules you have to follow, but there is science supporting each of them,” Parker said.

For example, the latest edition of Attached at the Heart covers new information on ultrasounds during pregnancy as well as a new scientific field called epigenetics, which intersects the nature-nurture debate to demonstrate that the choices that parents make can influence the genetic expression for their grandchildren.

“We’re now beyond learning the importance of nurture,” Nicholson said. “It’s exciting but also very daunting. Who we hang out with, what we do, how we eat—everything affects our genetic code.”

During the Parenting with Presence Summit session with API’s cofounders, Stiffelman also explored myths of Attachment Parenting and practical tips to help parents and grandparents bond with a baby beyond breastfeeding, and how API strives to empower parents in following their biological intuition, rather than going along with conflicting conventional wisdom, in raising their children.

“The message is about knowing what’s best for you and your child,” Parker said.

Pocket Full of Feelings: An Interview with co-creator Dr. Ann Corwin

By Rita Brhel, API’s publications coordinator, managing editor of Attached Family magazine and an API Leader (Hastings, Nebraska, USA).

Karin Lombardo
Karin Lombardo


Ann Corwin
Ann Corwin

Part of the core of Attachment Parenting is teaching our children about emotions—what they’re feeling and what to do about it, as well as how to empathize with others—a skill referred to as “emotional literacy” by parenting consultants like Ann Corwin, PhD, MEd, of Laguna Niguel, California, USA.

We know more than ever that emotional literacy is critical for healthy human development. Unfortunately it’s a skill that was not regularly nurtured in past generations, and many parents are learning about difficult emotions like jealousy and disappointment alongside their children. It was evident as I talked with Ann, mother to two grown children, that her life’s passion is in empowering parents in strengthening their relationships with their children and that emotional literacy is very much central to her work.

RITA: Thank you, Ann, for your time. Let’s start by learning how you came into your line of work?

ANN: I have my master’s degree in education with an emphasis in early child development and behavior. I started out very early in my career with an interest in relationships. In fact, my bachelor’s degree is in sociology. I went on to earn my PhD in marriage, family and child therapy.

I started out as a postpartum consultant in a hospital. I was also a childbirth educator, a Lamaze instructor. It was then when I started to make the psychological connection between birth and biology and neurobiology, and this naturally led to an interest in attachment. I was excited to learn how attachment affects our brain, how the amygdala—which manifests our emotional and relational responses—can regenerate itself, so that even if our attachment is crummy, it can be regenerated.

At the time, I was working with Dr. William Sears [pediatrician, author of the Sears parenting library and member of API’s Board of Directors] as well.

I wrote my [PhD] dissertation on parenting in pregnancy. Basically this is teaching parents how to parent during pregnancy, so while they’re learning about the stages and phases of pregnancy, they can also learn about the stages and phases of child development to know what to expect and what is required for healthy development.

RITA: And then you opened your private practice, The Parenting Doctor (

ANN: I was inspired by Attachment Theory. I am fascinated by how we establish a relationship and how we maintain it and how you take that long term. For example, I have been married for 37 years to the same man and feel that we both really had to understand attachment to maintain our relationship through the rocky spots.

My whole career as a parenting consultant is driven by attachment.

RITA: And you are supportive of Attachment Parenting International (API).

ANN: I have always admired API and have always kept up with Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker [API’s cofounders]. I see Attachment Parenting as what I’m practicing. I may be on a little different road, but we’re associated—we’re both trying to get emotional literacy, which is steeped in Attachment Theory, rooted in the mainstream.

I don’t think Attachment Parenting is one way to parent—it’s the only way.

I’m eclectic in that I think you can take pieces from any parenting program and those pieces can be useful to parents. But attachment education is needed by every parent.

RITA: You have developed an emotional literacy curriculum called “Pocket Full of Feelings.” Can you share more about this?

ANN: Pocket Full of Feelings started 15 years ago.

The primary question people would ask me was how to help them keep their child from doing something. How can I keep my child from having tantrums? How can I keep my child from getting kicked out of preschool? How can I get my child to warm up to Grandma? Basically, help me with this immediate problem. I always ask them: Would you rather figure out why your child is doing this and how to have a better relationship with him or her, or do you just want to stop the behavior? Fortunately, 99 percent of parents say they’d like to have a better relationship with their child.

I teach how the most powerful part of the brain is the emotional brain, because in all circumstances we feel the feeling first and then act upon that feeling. Because while our number-one need is survival—food, water, shelter—our immediate number-two need is relationship with others. This is our need for attachment. The way we do this—attach to others—is through eye contact, touching and talking.

When we feed a baby, we are making eye contact with our baby, we are touching our baby and we are talking to our baby. If you were to put milk in a bottle, give it to your baby and turn your back on your baby without talking, your baby might begin to suckle on his own but he will stop after a couple of sucks. He needs connection with you or he will suffer from failure to thrive.

We have to have a relationship with another human being or we literally can’t survive.

My daughter handmade me a burlap pocket chart, and I would use little bears to demonstrate how we carry around our emotions and how these drive our behavior. Inevitably, everywhere I went, people would ask me where they could get one of those pocket charts. And they couldn’t get one anywhere because that was the only one there was.

Then, six years ago, I met Karin Lombardo, a mother seeking solutions for an undesirable behavior her daughter was expressing. I pointed out the feeling I thought was the root cause of her daughter’s undesirable behavior (envy), went through the  simple three-step emotional literacy process with Karin, and let her take the pocket chart home with her over the weekend to practice talking about the feeling at large (envy) with her daughter. When she brought it back, she said that every parent should learn this—that instead of saying “don’t be mad” or “don’t be sad,” to tell their child that these feelings are going to come and here’s how to deal with it.

It turned out that Karin has her MA in Narrative Psychology, so I asked her to go into business with me to develop this idea. We cofounded Generation-EQ, a company committed to providing tools and solutions to aid in the development of emotional literacy and home of Pocket Full of Feelings (

Pocket Full of Feelings took several years to develop, as we had to write all of the content and then we had to test it. It’s now available everywhere.

RITA: How do you hope to benefit society?

ANN: Emotional literacy has been around actually for a long time. It’s emotional intelligence, that EQ we hear about. There have been a lot of books written about it, and a lot of people talk about it. But it’s not mainstream.

We hear parents say how they have to teach their child how to read, but we don’t hear how they need to be teaching emotional literacy. We need to make emotional literacy just as much a priority to parents as school readiness. There is absolutely and positively evidence now that kids do better academically if their social-emotional needs are met.

My goal really is for parents like you and me sitting at a park and having a conversation, and maybe we ask each other about preschools. Then, we move on to talk about how our children know their colors, and then how they’re learning what emotions go with those colors and what to do about it when they have those feelings.

I don’t want this to be just some kind of sideline thing.

In this Technology Age, especially with texting, we can communicate with one another without ever hearing tone of voice or seeing facial expressions, which are vital to relationships. I saw a dad and his three-year-old child the other day, and during the entire walk, the father and child never spoke. The child never looked at his dad, because he was looking at a handheld screen. We need emotional literacy even more now than before.

Strengthening Secure Attachment Through Food

By Kelly Bartlett, author of Encouraging Words For Kids, certified positive discipline educator and Attachment Parenting International Leader (API of Portland, Oregon, USA), Originally published in the “Feeding Our Children” 2009 issue of Attached Family.

Photo credit: Piku
Photo credit: Piku

“Beep! Beep! Beep! Oh, bread’s ready!”

This was my 24-month-old son “cooking” as he took his bath. With only one tiny ceramic cup in the tub with him, he found a way to entertain himself, and I was listening to his running commentary.

“OK, got some water. Now add the flour. Stir. Got some yeast. Sprinkle it. Mix it, mix it, mix it ’til it’s yummy.”

He was adding “ingredients” and stirring the contents of his cup. He turned and placed his cup of “dough” under a washcloth on the side of the tub; this was the oven. After a few seconds, his “timer” beeped and the bread was ready. He took it out of the oven and presented me with his freshly made bread saying, “Hot, Mama, hot! You need to cool it, so don’t eat it yet!”

This is not the first time that either of my kids have “baked” with water, sand, dirt, leaves or other yard debris, but it was the first time that I took pause for a moment and marveled at my barely-2- year-old’s understanding of food. It wasn’t so much that he knew the ingredients or the process of making bread, but really I was proud that moments like these exemplify my kids’ understanding that food doesn’t come from a box or plastic bag. It comes from elements of nature. It comes from someone’s time and effort. It comes from worthy ingredients combined with love.

A Natural Progression from Breastfeeding

Oh, the love that goes into my cooking and baking! Years ago, when we were introducing our 6-month-old daughter to solid foods, I considered the breastmilk she had been receiving full time up until then. It was nutritious, natural, had no preservatives and contained no artificial ingredients or colors. It was everything she needed, nothing she didn’t, and was always prepared and served with the utmost love. I wanted her “fine dining” experience to continue and began to consider more carefully the foods that we introduced.

When I glanced down at the ingredients on my tiny container of yogurt and read high fructose corn syrup, carrageenan, red dye #40, and 30-plus grams of sugar, I wondered if something like that was the best choice of foods to allow her to ingest. No, I decided, we can do better than this. Thus began our journey of whole-foods eating, which has given us so much more than a healthier diet.

I say “us,” because I figured that if there were healthier options to feed our baby girl, why shouldn’t I incorporate them into my husband’s and my diet, as well? I knew that a lot of positive parenting comes from leading by example, and this would include eating habits, too. Moreover, just like Attachment Parenting, the most nourishing cooking happens when it’s created from scratch—nobody else’s prefabricated recipe, no superficial packaging, just the basic ingredients required to meet everyone’s needs.

Whole Foods Now a Lifestyle

Many years after adopting a clean and simple approach to eating, our lives are subtly but greatly enriched through the foods we choose to eat. It’s the effort in getting those foods and the experiences we share in doing so that adds an aspect of closeness to our lives. Because we cook from scratch, our goal is: If we want to eat it, we have to make it. This includes fun challenges such as marshmallows, butterscotch pudding, and chips and salsa.

Our adventures in obtaining ingredients include going to farmers’ markets, heading to the flour mill (and marveling at the huge stone mill), getting to know our milkman, quests in picking all kinds of Oregon berries, trips to various farms for fresh eggs and nuts, and many informative discussions about where meat comes from.

Together, our family has found our own rhythm for meal times. Breakfasts and lunches are just for the kids and me, and my husband joins us after work for dinner. We start our days with a hearty combination of whole grain and protein, like whole wheat waffles and yogurt or homemade granola bars and scrambled eggs.

Breakfast is also when we get our bread started for the day. Four ingredients into the bread machine, hit the start button, and it’ll be ready for lunch.

Lunch goes in phases, beginning with a protein plate that the kids share while they’re still in the midst of their morning play. We are omnivores, but usually eat vegetarian for breakfast and lunch as it helps curb the expense of organic meat. So, the kids will grab bites of beans, nuts, tofu or cheese while they finish their work. Because they are hungry and they choose the proteins for lunch, the plate usually empties.

Then we all sit down at the table for fruit, vegetables, dip and beverage. I’ve seen both kids eat raw vegetables, with or without dip, that they would not eat if they were cooked. By the time we’re done with the “vitamin and fiber” phases, the bread machine is finished. At this point, the kids are satisfied with about half as much bread as if it were served at the beginning of lunch, and they’ve consumed a more balanced meal overall.

Of course, some days we scrap it all, and have macaroni and cheese instead (made from scratch)!

The Family Part of Eating

Our dinner rhythm varies each day, but it always includes sitting down and eating together as a family. Depending on what our activities are for the day, I might have dinner already in the slow cooker, I might quickly put together a pasta dish or I might have time to invite my kids to cook with me. But we always come together at the end of the day for this important meal.

This coming together is the most vital ingredient. Having dinner together is like an automatic family meeting every night!

Sometimes my husband asks everyone, “So, what was the best thing that happened to you today?” Or sometimes my daughter makes statements about what’s on her mind like, “I want to talk about how plants grow.” Even my 2-year-old gets into the conversation and shares what’s been occupying his thoughts lately.

This ritual of eating together not only allows us time to share what’s on our minds and connect with each other but also is yet another way for our children to cultivate their trust in us. They know that every day they will unquestioningly get the sustenance they need: physical nourishment and emotional connection.

Adding Positive Eating Habits in Your Home

I know it must sound like we spend our entire lives focused on obtaining, preparing and eating food! You must wonder, do we have time for anything else? And with all of our busy lives, who would want to spend this much time in the kitchen? Is it possible to adapt some whole-foods, secure-attachment-promoting techniques regarding eating habits, yet not spend so much time in the kitchen?

Here are tips for adding positive eating habits into your meal routine:

·         Start small. Make one change at a time and allow your routine time to adjust.

·         Choose one commercially made/prepackaged product that you regularly buy, and replace it with a homemade or homegrown version. It could be anything from frozen burritos to chocolate syrup!

·         Choose one meal for which you sit down together regularly as a family at least one day a week. Start increasing this as often as you can.

·         If you have a bread machine, dust it off and try it out!

·         Find one food that you can start buying locally. Take your kids with you.

·         Whenever you prepare your child’s favorite dish, give him a task in helping prepare it. Take a photograph of him with his work.

We spend a lot of time in the kitchen because we like it. I enjoy cooking and baking, and my kids love eating. So, we’re very comfortable spending an afternoon together chopping, mixing, talking and snacking.

I do enjoy our trips to local farms and markets to buy the fresh ingredients we need, but they could easily be found in a grocery store. Even large grocery store chains are stocking more and more organic and locally grown products. Sometimes when we just don’t have the opportunity to turn shopping into a daylong family bonding experience, I will go to an online grocery store and have frozen (unsweetened) fruits, pre-cut vegetables and a supply of basic pantry ingredients delivered to my door.

Despite the occasional requirement for modern convenience, I do treasure the time that my kids and I spend making our meals together, and I try to provide that opportunity as often as I can. This time in the kitchen can be spent in a number of ways, depending on what my kids need. They might need to be physically close to me—being in another room, or even across the room, might not be in the cards that day. They might need something to keep their hands busy, an opportunity for “real” work. I love satisfying this need, because I can see the pride on their faces as they do meaningful, independent work.

They might need to experiment and analyze, to satisfy their innate curiosity by learning about mixing, pouring, textures, scents, machines and general cause-and-effect. They might need to work together–cooperating by adding ingredients to the dough and problem solving when only half an egg makes it into the bowl (scraping it off the counter works just fine for them). They might need to talk—to tell me things, small things, which help me understand them better, like: “Mom? All I like to do is read books and forget about stuff.” This time in the kitchen feels so worthwhile.

Through fresh ingredients, working together in the kitchen and sitting down for regular family meals, I am giving so many things to my children. The most important of which, and the reason why I continue to put so much effort into our meals, is that it brings us closer together. Like breastfeeding, a made-from-scratch approach to family meals incorporates physical closeness, uninterrupted time together, emotional connection, high-quality nutrition and family security.

I hope that one day my children will look back on our time in the kitchen with fond memories, as I know that right now they cannot articulate all that is going on before, during and after our mealtimes. Mostly what they take away from our dining experiences are feelings of security and love. They feel the love that goes into our meals, and they instinctively know that they are worth it—worth the time, planning, expense and effort of whole-foods preparation.

The Importance of the Family Table

Coming together to eat as a family is an essential way for many families in today’s fast-paced world to slow down and take time to connect with one another. This is important not only for the parent-child attachment relationship but also for the child’s future. Here is some recent research showing how the family table can benefit your child:

·         Children who partake in family meals have smoother and faster cognitive and behavioral development, because they observe and learn from their parents in communication, morality and other areas of social skills, according to a study by the Dyscovery Centre at Newport University (Wales).

·         Teens who regularly take part in family activities, including eating together, are less likely to have sex, according to a study by Boston College (USA).

·         Teen girls who regularly eat meals with their families are less likely to smoke, drink alcohol and use drugs, according to a study by the University of Minnesota (USA).

·         Children of families who eat together consume more fruits, vegetables, calcium-rich foods, vitamins and minerals, and eat less junk food, according to a study by the University of Minnesota (USA).

·         Children of mothers who think eating together as a family is important are less likely to struggle with obesity as adolescents, according to a study by the University of Queensland (Australia).

·         Teens who regularly eat meals with their families are less likely to engage in alcohol and substance use, according to a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (USA). Eating together reduces tension in families and leads to more teens saying their parents are proud of them and that they can confide in their parents about a serious problem.

·         A paper by researchers at Washington State University (USA) discusses how family meals improve relationship-building communication and contribute to better school performance, better language development among preschoolers and more well-adjusted adolescents. As teens, these children were less likely to use drugs or be depressed and were more motivated at school and had better relationships. Families who eat together are also more likely to eat nutritious foods. The paper also found instances when family meals are harmful: when children are forced to sit face-to-face with controlling or dysfunctional parents, such as those who dominate the conversation, bring up hostilities and suppress children’s opinions. These parents are also more likely to use food as a tool for punishment or manipulation, such as offering food as emotional comfort.


You might also enjoy the other articles in our National Nutrition Month series:

Kids in the Kitchen: An Interview with Sally Sampson, Founder of ChopChopKids

Feeding the Whole Family: An Interview with Cynthia Lair of Cookus Interruptus

Malnourished by a Western Diet, or NDD by Dr. William Sears

Feeding the Whole Family: An Interview with Cynthia Lair of Cookus Interruptus

By Rita Brhel, API’s publications coordinator, managing editor of Attached Family magazine and an API Leader (Hastings, Nebraska, USA). Originally published in the “Feeding Our Children” 2009 issue of Attached Family.

Cynthia LairMy mother has a PhD in nutrition, and my father recently retired after 35 years in food production research. In addition to their food-oriented careers, we lived on a sustainable farm, meaning that we grew food for our own use, as well as to sell to others, in an environmentally and socially responsible way. So I was raised with an appreciation of food—both for the work that goes into growing it and for its capabilities in keeping our bodies healthy.

I carried on this family legacy of responsibility in food production and consumption with an early journalism career in covering sustainable agriculture, connecting producers to consumers and chefs. For many years, until I became a mother and my personal and professional focus shifted to Attachment Parenting, I covered the “big names” in this genre of journalism.

Among the up and coming stars in this realm has been Cynthia Lair, a self-made whole foods chef turned author and cooking show host. This wonder woman of sorts has a lot going on, including:

·         “Cookus Interruptus,” a web-based cooking show ( that teaches consumers how to cook fresh, local, organic, whole foods despite life’s interruptions.

·         Feeding the Whole Family: Recipes for Babies, Young Children, and Their Parents, the book that started it all, and a second book, Feeding the Young Athlete: Sports Nutrition Made Easy for Players and Parents

·         Instructor at Bastyr University’s School of Nutrition and Exercise Science in Kenmore, Washington

In my discussions leading up to this interview, published originally in the Attached Family magazine’s 2009 “Feeding Our Children” issue, Cynthia revealed how much influence that practicing Attachment Parenting with her daughter helped to shape her life—and especially started her on the path to becoming the force she is in encouraging others to try to embrace whole foods.

RITA: Thank you, Cynthia, for taking the time for this interview. Let’s start with what influenced you in embracing whole foods nutrition?

CYNTHIA: It’s a little Lifetime movie-ish. My mother was a cancer patient, and I wanted to help in some way. As I was researching, I learned about macrobiotics and its role in disease prevention and healing. Part of this approach calls for people to move toward more natural foods. I decided to leave behind the strict doctrinal part of it and went on with the more spiritual and natural tenets of it.

My diet prior to that had been a “diet” diet. I was surviving on cottage cheese, diet Coke, coffee and salad—always trying to lose weight. I was in my early 20s, and I’m in my mid-50s now, so it was a long time ago. I didn’t know anything.

After college, I began putting on weight and didn’t understand why. The only information at the time was doing a calorie count.

But it was good. Having gone through that as a person—I also had quite the sugar addiction as a child—I can understand that people can change.

RITA: The most passionate people for a movement tend to be those who’ve “been there, done that” in terms of changing. What does it take to change the way we think about food?

CYNTHIA: Many emotions go into the over 200 decisions about food we make every day. I’m the last to understand all of the reasons behind our decisions. Some choices are made from fear or wanting control. Some are made in an effort to be more spiritual or to heal. You have to understand why you are choosing the foods you choose before you can change. I learned much of this from Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink.

RITA: What inspired you to change specifically?

CYNTHIA: After my eyes were opened up to the nature of food and its healing potential, I went back to school in New York City at the Health and Nutrition Program to become a certified health and nutrition counselor.

During school, I focused all of my papers on maternal and infant nutrition. I was newly married, and we were talking about having a baby. This time in one’s life is such a window of opportunity to change how you eat and to learn how to eat. Every mother wants to make the right choices, the best choices they can.

After my daughter was born and it came time to start her on foods, the experiment began. I started feeding her what we were eating, instead of following the cultural rules at the time [store-bought baby food]. And I couldn’t get this book out of my head. Some of the book came from within me, but most of it came from practicality.

RITA: What do you hope to accomplish through your educational efforts in whole foods?

CYNTHIA: Through “Cookus Interruptus,” the point of the show is to demonstrate how to incorporate high quality, wholesome foods into the diet within the context of a busy family.

There’s a back story to the cooking show. The characters are Great-Grandpa, Grandpa, Grandma and the Mom, who is going through an identity crisis and is struggling to take care of her 5-year-old son so she has moved back home.

It’s an Attachment Parenting community. That’s all going on in there, during the show. It’s so subtle. It’s not a perfect family: We got problems, but the boy is being taken care of in a loving and respectful way. I’m very conscious of what kind of family values we’re presenting.

My goal is to move healthy eating away from the fringes and into the mainstream. I want ordinary people to realize that, yes, you can do this.

I thank U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle for normalizing it through their garden and personal food choices. The more normal it is, the easier it is to get some of the more important things done, like getting healthier foods into school lunches and the hospitals and getting farm subsidies in place for growers of fruits and vegetables. It all starts, I believe, at the family dinner table.

RITA: A sit-down meal shared together is a great way for families to continue practicing the second of Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting: Feeding with Love and Respect. Cynthia, can you explain the importance of the family table?

CYNTHIA: Research bears out that for the family that sits down and shares a meal together, the children have a long list of benefits, including closer family ties, better vocabulary, more resilience when facing emotional crisis—wow—and as teens, not going toward drugs and alcohol as much. Sitting down and eating together is nutritious in every way possible, which is why I believe babies should eat the same foods as the rest of the family.

RITA: You’ve told me that API’s Principle of Feeding with Love and Respect aligns so closely to your own beliefs that it could have come straight out of your book. Can you share with us a little about your journey in Attachment Parenting?

CYNTHIA: I’m not a Mother Earth-type person. I know many people who are, and some of them are good friends of mine, but I’m not. I was curious in raising a child, just like we all are.

When babies are born, their mothers have these incredible strings attached to their hearts from their child: You know when they’re going to cry before they do—that kind of thing. I was shocked by how strong that was.

I think mothers have to let go of some of those strings in order to go back to work full time. I couldn’t let go. I had all this creative energy, but I decided I didn’t have to give up one—my career or motherhood—for the other. I allowed both to nourish each other. I think that’s the heart of Attachment Parenting: allowing that bond to be. It’s not that I was giving up my life but instead I was allowing my life to shift. Once I became a teacher, I found that is a really good career for a parent. I never had to use daycare. That’s what I see as the soul of Attachment Parenting: being there.

You have to change the way you think, just like you do when learning to eat wholesome foods.

RITA: What advice would you give to someone who wants to change the way they think about food?

CYNTHIA: The most important thing is to make really small changes and to do these changes slowly. The people who clear out their cupboards are the ones who only last two weeks. For example, you could set the goal to serve dark leafy greens once a week. Do that for three, four, six months and then pick another goal.

RITA: What other goals would you recommend starting with?

CYNTHIA: The first small change I would suggest is to dump diet soda. This is mostly from personal experience, but on a related note, Walter Willett from Harvard University, author of Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, explains that liquid calories don’t trigger the satiety signals. If you drink 300 calories from a latte, your body still thinks you need lunch.

Second, I would try to serve a warm breakfast once time a week. The easiest breakfast to serve kids is a sweetened or unsweetened cereal. Serving warm toast and eggs is a very loving thing you can do for yourself and your child.

Third, I would learn how to cook more vegetables that are pleasing to your family. Instead of steaming kale and trying to get everyone to choke that down, try serving it in a way your spouse and children would be more likely to eat it. Serve asparagus braised in butter and seasoned. Put cheese on broccoli.

RITA: Thank you so much for your time and your wisdom, Cynthia. Do you have any closing thoughts you’d like to share?

CYNTHIA: One thing I love about the API’s Principle of Feeding with Love and Respect is the word “respect” and its far-reaching implications. That word is important and has a lot of ripples to it: We want to respect ourselves through the food we eat, we want to respect the food by presenting it attractively, we want to respect the work that goes into preparing it, and we want to respect the people who grew the food and brought it to us. Most of all, we want to respect our children by teaching them to eat good food and to respect the people who make the food.

Be Mindful When Feeding Ourselves, Our Children by Cynthia Lair

·         Let an appetite develop – Constant sipping on juices and nibbling on crackers can lead to picky eating at the table. Physical activity is important.

·         Help discover intuition about what the body needs – When your child says, “I’m starving,” ask which food sounds better: this or that.

·         Know what you are serving – not just what the ingredients are but where it came from, how thefood was grown and processed. Whenever possible, choose fresh, local, organic ingredients. Choose whole food (apple) over partial products (apple juice).

·         Instill positive energy into the food you serve yourself and your children – Cook when possible, and pay attention to presentation; create flavor and beauty.

·         Encourage sitting down to eat – In this way, the body is cued that eating and digesting are taking place and nutrient uptake is actually better. Also, most are satisfied with less food.

·         Express gratitude together – Labor was expended in order for you to eat. The miracle of growth from a seed, dirt, water and sunshine occurred.

 Shopping for Sustenance by Cynthia Lair

 This could easily be the mantra guiding whole foods eating. If you purchase a food that was grown locally and organically, and is fresh and in season, that’s as good as it gets.

 High-quality food is more expensive, but consider this: In the 1960s, American families spent 18% of their income on food and 5% on health care. Nowadays, this is reversed: We spend just 9% of our hard-earned dollars on food and 16% on health care. Which would you rather spend your money on?


Fresh is best. The chemical composition of food changes radically a few hours after harvest simply because it is cut off from its food and water supply. Fresh food, particularly fresh produce, gives us maximum nutrients and flavor.

Frozen food can be good, too. Most of the nutrients are retained in foods that are frozen; however, some of the enzymes, color and flavor will have disappeared. If purchasing frozen fruits and vegetables, the texture will have changed. The foods are much less crisp than fresh foods because the cell structure is damaged by crystallization of water.

Canned foods have most of their nutrients present, but the flavor, color and texture suffer. One exception is tomatoes, which are picked at maximum ripeness and canned the same day. Often a canned tomato will be superior in flavor than a fresh tomato purchased in February that was flown thousands of miles.


Did you know that 86% of our fruits, nuts and vegetables are grown on farms surrounding America’s cities? Most farmers who sell their food locally don’t artificially treat crops to withstand shipping and extend their shelf life. Have a conversation with some of the non-organic vendors at your local farmer’s market, and you may find out that some local farmers do not use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides but lack the size or profits to go through the rigorous process to attain organic status. Many farmers will sell their eggs, beef and pork directly to the consumer. The same is true for milk and milk products from healthy cows and goats.

Check out and click on your state. Consider subscribing to a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) operation through which a box of fresh, locally grown produce is delivered or picked up every week. The site has listings.

As Barbara Kingsolver pointedly reminds us in her essay, “Lily’s Chickens”:

“Even if you walk or bike to the store, if you come home with bananas from Ecuador, tomatoes from Holland, cheese from France and artichokes from California, you have guzzled some serious gas. This extravagance that most of us take for granted is a stunning boondoggle: Transporting five calories’ worth of strawberry from California to New York costs 435 calories of fossil fuel.”

Buying locally supports your community, supports your health and supports the intention of conserving global resources.


Buying organic products is a form of voting. Your organic purchase says that you support the growers and manufacturers who are producing food without the use of the synthetic fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides or pesticides that pollute your body and your world.

Buying organic produce, especially locally grown produce, also helps keep you in tune with the seasons.

Many believe that organic produce tastes better and contains more nutrients.

We have national (U.S.) standards for labeling food “organic.” A label that says “100% Organic” must contain all organic ingredients. If the label simply says “organic,” at least 95% of the ingredients are organically produced. When the label reads “made with organic ingredients,” at least 70% of the ingredients are organic. Organic produce label codes start with the number nine.

Please be aware that before there were national standards set for labeling a food “organic,” the term meant that the product had been grown according to strict uniform standards and verified by independent state or private organizations. In constructing national regulations, the standards have been watered down some. Now that super-chains, like Wal-Mart, are carrying organic produce, the standards may be changed to benefit large producers over individual consumers. The large corporations have more lobbying power to get the regulations changed to suit their need for lower prices and bigger profits. This trend may put the small, local farmers out of business, so whenever possible, buy organic produce at your local farmer’s market rather than chain supermarkets.

Make a special effort to use organic products when preparing food for pregnant or nursing moms, infants and children. Toxins found in the mother’s food can cross the placenta to the growing fetus or wind up in breastmilk. What may be tolerated by a mature adult may prove harsh to the immature system of fetus or infant. Regulatory practices used to control pesticides in foods are based on studies of pesticide exposure to the general population without regard to the special needs of infants.

Some of the most pesticide- saturated foods are ones that we routinely give children to snack on, including peanut butter, peanuts, raisins and potato chips. Non-organic apples, peaches, strawberries and celery can contain as many as 80 pesticide residues. Use your power as a consumer to demand the best for our children, our planet and the future of both.


Choosing food that is in season gives the year rhythm and ritual. It is exciting to wait for local strawberries to appear, which are sweeter and fresher than eating Mexican-grown berries in January. Anticipation is a wonderful feeling. I can’t wait for corn to be in season locally because it is so sweet it hardly needs to be cooked. By waiting for produce available locally only during windows of time, our eating has a cyclical feeling keeping us in tune with the seasons.

Eating seasonally also puts your body in tune with the climate you are living in. The stereotypical southern Californian preference for raw salads and avocados has sense to it. The lighter diet that includes lots of raw foods is perfect for living in a sunny, warm climate. Northwesterners need the density of frequent servings of salmon to survive the cold damp of rainy winters. Traveling north of our continent, an even fattier diet is appropriate for surviving the cold. Where do you live? What did the ancestors who inhabited your community grow and eat?

Excerpted from Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair (Sasquatch Books, 2008). Reprinted with permission.

You might also enjoy the other articles in our National Nutrition Month series:

Kids in the Kitchen: An Interview with Sally Sampson, Founder of ChopChopKids

Malnourished by a Western Diet, or NDD by Dr. William Sears

Strengthening Secure Attachment Through Food by Kelly Bartlett


Manage Your Emotions: How to Cool Down Before You Blow Up

By Kassandra Brown, parent coach in private practice at

Kassandra Brown - family yogaYour baby is crying at 3 a.m. It’s not the first time tonight you’ve gotten out of bed to answer her call and offer her your comforting arms and milk. You know she needs you and get up willingly, albeit groggily. You’re confident in Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting and know you want to form a strong bond with your baby.

A few years later, you’re in the grocery store and your now preschool child is sprawled on the floor, screaming that she wants a candy bar. When you sit down beside her and try to comfort her, she screams louder and shrinks away, yelling, “Don’t touch me!” Your tools don’t seem to be working. You feel angry, embarrassed, confused and ashamed. Even worse, you notice an urge within you to slap her or yell at her to get her to stop. What went wrong?

Many parents, including me, have been in this situation. I know I had some illusions that if I just parented “right” and focused on good bonding behaviors to form secure attachments, then parenting would always be smooth sailing. I had some ideas like:

  • If I wear my baby, I can take her anywhere with me and continue my prebaby life.

  • My children won’t need to melt down, hit, scream or even cry because I’ll be so in tune with their needs.

  • My children will listen respectfully to each other and to me.

  • I will never yell.

  • Weaning will happen easily and naturally in a rhythm that works well for the whole family.

  • A secure attachment means I won’t have to set or maintain clear boundaries because my children and I will be kind and cooperative all the time.

  • Crying is a sign that I’m doing something wrong or that I’m not a good parent.

  • Attachment Parenting will make raising children easy.

Do any of these sound familiar? Yet the real world of parenting has not worked out that way for me or my clients. At first I wondered why not. Doesn’t Attachment Parenting work?

While grappling with these questions, I learned a few things about my own expectations for parenting and my emotional reactions to conflict. I’d like to share some tips that have made parenting a lot easier for me. I hope they inspire you, too.

Does AP Work?

Attachment Parenting is an overarching approach about treating children with love, compassion and respect. API’s Eight Principles of Parenting are wonderful tools that help guide parents in caring for their children. When difficult parenting moments arise, it is not a failure of the principles. AP is not a recipe for turning out angelic kids, but rather one for nurturing relationships.

When we ask the question “Does it work?” we need to define what we mean by “working.” If working means that kids and parents behave perfectly, as in the bullet points above, then no it doesn’t work–and neither does anything else in the real world. Relating to other human beings is hard, no matter what.

If working means building the strong foundations upon which loving relationships can be created, then yes it works. If working means creating an environment in which children are listened to, respected and guided with unconditional love, then yes it works.

Why Do I Lose It With My Kids?

We lose it with our kids for so many reasons: we care so much about them, we feel responsible for them, they remind us of ourselves when we were children, we fear what their attitudes and behaviors may mean for their future, we are sensitive to what other parents think about us and our children, and we are sometimes stressed or ill ourselves. Things that felt overwhelming to us as children will come up again. Children help us develop more self-awareness, compassion, tolerance and strength. Many times they do this by triggering our anger, aggression, shame, sadness, insecurity, fear and intolerance. When these emotions arise, we have two main options: repress the emotions or examine them.

How Many Beach Balls Are You Trying To Submerge?

Repressing a strong emotion can be a useful strategy, especially in emergencies. Imagine your child in a swimming pool. She’s just gotten into water over her head but doesn’t know how to swim. You don’t want to sit beside the pool talking to your friend about how you feel scared and nervous or what you think might happen. You want to put your own fear on hold while you jump in to save your child. In this instance, repressing your own fear is a useful and appropriate strategy that allows you to act now and feel later.

However, we get into trouble when we use repression as our “everyday” coping strategy. Trying to repress emotions over the long term is like trying to submerge a beach ball and keep it under water. It takes a lot of energy, balance and concentration. Then just when you think you’ve got the hang of it and let your energy shift to something else, the ball gets away from you and pops up anyway.

Like a beach ball that wants to float, emotions want to come to the surface. Even when we repress them, they often emerge when we least want them to. Multiply that by several different emotions and the different situations that trigger them, and it’s clear why suppressing emotions is a recipe for both exhaustion and failure.

Most of us want more for ourselves and our children.

Tips for Working with Anger and Other Challenging Emotions

1. Cool down. In the heat of the moment, it’s almost impossible to resist the urge to fight, flee or freeze unless you can soothe your stress response. Cooling off will help you more closely align your actions with your values.

10 Tips for Cooling Down: 

  • Take 10 deep breaths and make a wordless sound on the exhale.

  • Resist the urge to rationalize. Let yourself feel exactly what you are feeling without trying to make it better or worse and without trying to justify yourself. Admit out loud that right now you are angry, upset, sad, frustrated, incensed or whatever else you are feeling. Breathe through your feelings and let them pass. For help in identifying your needs and feelings, the Center for Nonviolent Communication offers a needs list and a feelings list.

  • Remove distractions: turn off the devices (TV, computer, music), stop multi-tasking and focus on your child. Both of you will feel better when you’re not distracted or fighting for each other’s attention.

  • If you can safely leave the room for a few minutes, let your child know when you’ll be back and take a parent time-out. (This may or may not be appropriate based on your child’s age, developmental stage and the presence of another caregiver.)

  • If you are shopping, leave the shopping cart and go outside. You can cool off together in the car, do jumping jacks on the sidewalk, or run around a grassy space.

  • Move your body. Exercise is a great way to discharge energy without hurting anyone.

  • Change the scenery. Just walking into a different room or outside can help.

  • Look through your child’s eyes. Bend down or sit at his level. Look in the direction he is looking. Notice what the world is like from this point of view.

  • Write or draw in a journal to express how you feel, what you are thinking, what you want, and any blocks you see to getting what you want. Give your child paper and markers to join you and call this an “art time-out.”

  • At a time when you are calm, make a list of ways to cool off, and post it in a visible place in your house. When stress is creeping up on you, look at your list and do something from it.

2. Listen. Every moment of upset is an opportunity to parent in alignment with your values. Listen to what your child is saying. Then put yourself in her shoes and listen to what you are saying. Your child is small, dependent and not sure of how the world works. What do you want to say to her?

Listening Tip: To support your listening skills, try this visualization exercise:

Take a quiet moment at the start of the day. Listen to your breath for 10 breaths. This will help you settle into your body and feel calm. Then imagine a situation with your child that really bothers you. Imagine how you usually respond. Then imagine how you’d like to respond. Allow this new response to become very vivid; try to connect with the love and compassion you feel for your child. Taking the quiet time in your own mind to rehearse how you want to respond makes it more likely that you will respond that way in the future.

See the Listening Exercises at the end of this article for more in-depth listening tools.

3. Stop the Blame Game. Taking ownership of your own needs and feelings allows you to stop blaming your child for why things are not going right. The situation then becomes an opportunity for self-reflection and adjustment rather than a sign of failure. Listening for needs and feelings can be like learning a new language. It takes time, but it’s worth it as a way to de-escalate conflict and establish connection. It’s worked with inner city gangs, and it can work in your family.

Communication Tip: Ask yourself–What am I feeling; what do I need right now; what was I thinking right before I got upset; are my expectations reasonable? Then you can communicate in age-appropriate ways how you feel and what you need. If you practice using “I” statements, it’s easier for others to hear you. For example: “I feel angry and sad. I want to live in a clean and peaceful home where everyone helps out. I’d like to hear what you want and how you feel. Then I’d like to brainstorm about ways we can both get our needs met.” This is more respectful and effective than saying “I’m mad at you because you didn’t wash the dishes. You never wash the dishes. You’re so ungrateful.”

4. Reframe the Conflict. This step is also a good starting point for next time. When you can examine the conflict with an open heart and the intent to learn and be changed, you set the basis for a new and more powerful way to live your life and parent your children. Conflict happens. The question is, what are you going to do with it?

4 Tips to Open Your Heart After a Conflict:

  • Assume good intent. When you choose to assume your child is doing the best he can  to meet a valid need with the tools he has, you respond differently than when you assume your child is a manipulative, ungrateful or lazy. Try it and see.

  • Tell yourself you are an awesome parent. Imagine that it’s true. It is.

  • Look for the gifts. What can you take away that will help you next time? Conflict can be a way to gain more understanding of the needs you share with your child.

  • Let the conflict be a way of creating more teamwork and shared problem solving with your child. Brainstorm about ways for both of you to have your needs met. Examples include time in nature, rest, good food and loving attention.

5. Forgive Yourself. Taking the time to work with the intense, challenging or disappointing moments is hard. Your own high expectations make it harder. Do you expect yourself to be perfect, and feel guilty or angry when you’re not? Just as punishment won’t help kids learn and grow, treating yourself harshly won’t lead to positive changes.

Forgiveness Tip: Forgive yourself for your breakdowns, tantrums and less-than-desirable behavior. When you are gentle with yourself, you model self-kindness to your children. Taking time to admit your mistakes and apologize to your children is also good modelling and a way to build connection.

What’s the Payoff?

Using conflict as an opportunity to wake up, grow and heal will change your life. Viewing conflict in terms of people clashing over different strategies for getting their needs met is very empowering. This work can offer big rewards in the quality of your parenting and your enjoyment of time with your children. The strong bonds that API’s Eight Principles of Parenting help you form make it easier. I know this has made a big difference in my life, and I hope you will find it valuable as well.


Talk to a good friend with as much honesty and vulnerability as you can.

Join a women’s or men’s group.

Join or start an API support group in your area.

Join the API Neighborhood.

See API’s resources for nurturing empathy.

Learn more about Nonviolent Communication.

Listening Exercise, Part 1

This part of the exercise can be done in a quiet moment during your day, when you know you will have at least 10 to 15 minutes alone. Get comfortable and breathe deeply for 10 breaths, just to help you settle in and be calm. Then imagine a situation involving your child that really bothers you. As an example, perhaps your child ignores you when you ask for help around the house. Remember a recent time when this happened. Think of what you were doing and saying, how you felt, what your child did and what you imagine he was thinking. You might need to pause and come back to your breath here because it takes effort not to get upset all over again while remembering. Now think about how you usually respond. Again, you might need to reconnect with your breath because it’s easy to get caught in this story.

Now try a radical shift. Imagine someone asks you to do something. But maybe you don’t really hear them or know what they mean. You don’t understand why it’s important. You don’t want to stop what you’re doing and do the thing that’s being asked or demanded of you. Allow yourself to travel back to a moment like this when someone–maybe your spouse, your boss or your own parents–asked something of you. How did you feel? How did you respond? Noticing what you felt and the validity of those feelings is a great first step towards change. Take that moment of insight and allow it to bring you into more compassion for your child.

Use your insight to imagine how you want someone to treat you in that situation. Would you like that person to be sure to get your attention? Maybe touch your arm and make eye contact rather than just throw words over her shoulder as she walked through the room? Maybe you want some context as to why the job is important? Maybe you want to be able to say you don’t think it’s important or it’s too hard or you just don’t want to do it? Maybe this job seems easy to everyone else but is hard for you, so you take on a belief that you are stupid or incapable every time you attempt the job? Allow yourself to be curious if any of these things are true for your child. Then offer him the same compassion and courtesy you’d like to be offered.

Listening Exercise, Part 2

This next part can be done with your child Suppose the task in question is something like washing the dishes after dinner. Suppose your child knows the dishes need to be done, she knows why, and she even agrees it’s important, but every night it’s a nagging, foot-dragging pain in everyone’s butt to get them done. The first step might be to uncover why it’s such a big deal. Why does your child resist, and why do you insist and nag? What are the underlying needs and feelings that are being triggered by the dishes? Is there something else your child would rather be doing? Does your child feel she has a voice in this situation? Is this a microcosm of resentment for you and a reminder of how you didn’t even want to cook dinner, let alone do all the dishes too? There could be any number of needs and feelings for both of you.

When you look at what’s going on, you’re better able to address the real causes of the behavior. Maybe after you uncover the needs and feelings about the task, you propose to your child that you both brainstorm three different solutions and then try them for one week each. At the end you will agree on one of them or try something new to make sure everyone’s needs are met. It may seem like it takes a lot of time to do this. But you don’t need to do it every night. Do it once, thoroughly. Then put a plan in place and try to stick to it.

This is just an example; both you and your child will bring your own creative genius into solving the problem once you are able to bridge the gap between you with listening and respect.


Emotional Eating: An Interview with Dr. Marian Tanofsky-Kraff

By Rita Brhel, managing editor of Attached Family, API’s Publications Coordinator and API Leader (Hastings API, Nebraska)

Photo: Miranda Laskowska
Photo: Miranda Laskowska

Feeding a child involves more than providing nutrients. From birth on, there is a very strong emotional component. This is easiest to recognize with babies and toddlers, who rely on comfort sucking as a way to cope with stress. But we continue to see it far beyond these early years, such as in how we crave a cookie or soft drink while unwinding after a hard day.

This tendency to comfort ourselves through food is called “emotional eating.” We all do it sometimes, but some people rely on emotional eating as a primary coping mechanism, and this can lead to problems such as binge eating or obesity. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are also related because those affected find a level of comfort through controlling their food intake. The common link is an unhealthy relationship with food.

Attachment Parenting International addressed this topic during Attachment Parenting Month 2009, when the theme “Full of Love” sparked discussions on how family relationships, particularly secure parent-child attachment, can promote a healthy relationship between children and food, and lower the risk of obesity and other eating disorders.

I interviewed Marian Tanofsky-Kraff, PhD, as part of the effort. The original interview can be found in the Attached Family magazine 2010 “Full of Love” issue.

Dr. Tanofsky-Kraff is an associate psychology professor at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, as well as an obesity researcher at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, both located in Bethesda, Maryland, USA. Previously, she was a binge-eating disorders research associate at the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders in New Haven, Connecticut, USA. Her research program evaluates interpersonal psychotherapy with adolescent girls at high risk for obesity.

API: Let’s first get a good picture of what emotional eating is. Can you tell us what a healthy relationship with food looks like?

DR. TANOFSKY-KRAFF: Sometimes we all emotionally eat. To some extent, I don’t think this is a bad thing. If you want to have a cookie, that’s OK. When it becomes a problem is when you’re eating when you’re not physiologically hungry—when you’re using food to cope. A healthy relationship with food is when we eat only when we’re physiologically hungry. We can enjoy our food, but it’s unhealthy to allow it to control your life.

For some people, food is a “responsible” vice. They don’t drink alcohol, they don’t use drugs, they don’t gamble. They basically live healthy lives, except that food or certain types of food are their emotional vice. The problem is, unlike alcohol or drugs, people can’t abstain from food. They need to learn to find a balance with food. There’s nothing wrong with eating a slice of apple pie while you’re talking through what’s bothering you, but if you get into a habit of doing that, then you have an inappropriate relationship with that food item.

API: How does emotional eating develop?

DR. TANOFSKY-KRAFF: There isn’t much literature on this, so it’s all hypothetical. Some parents may have used food with their children as rewards or as a way to soothe a child when he felt badly. On the other hand, we know that some foods can actually soothe people—carbohydrates, chocolate. People who are using food to cope, and who choose chocolate, are possibly getting reinforcement.

API: So would you say that emotional eating is an addiction?

DR. TANOFSKY-KRAFF: There is a relationship between different food types and the brain and stress. For some people, yes, it can be safe to say that emotional eating can be addictive.

There is also a whole new line of science studying food addictive behavior. It’s been suggested that foods high in carbohydrates and that have been highly processed do have an addictive element—not so much as other addictions, such as to drugs, but still an addictive element. But this is a really new field of science.

API: In terms of prevention and intervention, how can parents teach their children not to emotionally eat? What if parents themselves emotionally eat?

DR. TANOFSKY-KRAFF: I always encourage parents not to use food as a reward. We have to find other ways to reward our kids. Soothe them with words and actions, as opposed to food. Bolster communication between parents and kids. Teach kids when they feel bad to work it out with words.

Keep an eye out and see if your kids are turning to food when they’re feeling down, and then teach them other ways to soothe themselves, like going to the playground. I’m a big prevention advocate because losing weight is very difficult, so if you see your child gaining weight, it’s important to do something then, rather than wait.

When parents emotionally eat, that runs into the problem of modeling. In working with kids, it’s important to have the whole family work on physical fitness and healthy eating together. This works better than singling out the obese child. Both parents need to be involved; if you have one parent who doesn’t focus on healthy eating and getting exercise, this sends a mixed message. The whole family has to be involved.

Modeling healthy eating begins when children are babies. If you expose kids when they’re young to healthy foods, they’ll grow up liking healthy foods. If you say “yum, yum, yum” with carrots, your children will grow up loving carrots.

API: It seems that every children’s activity, from sports to church, involves treats, and often these are sweets or other unhealthy foods. Parents even encounter candy being used to soothe a child after a doctor appointment. Despite the focus from television shows such as “The Biggest Loser,” our society seems to ignore the issue of obesity in children. How can parents teach their children to choose healthy food and eating habits?

DR. TANOFSKY-KRAFF: I think the only way we can change that is with big policy changes, such as a policy that schools cannot hand out sweets. For example, instead of celebrating a child’s birthday with cake, let’s play kickball. I think there need to be changes at a much broader level—it shouldn’t be just on parents.

Kids are eating so many snacks all the time that they don’t even know their hunger cues because they are virtually never hungry. Biologically, we should have a natural physiological reaction that occurs when we are hungry, and that’s when we eat.

API: How big a role do genetics play in determining a child’s risk of obesity?

DR. TANOFSKY-KRAFF: Up until age 6, the parents’ weight determines the weight of the child. So a 2-year-old with one obese parent is more likely to be of a higher weight percentile than a 2-year-old who doesn’t have an obese parent. After age 6, the child’s own weight is the best predictor of the risk of obesity. That is, even if both parents are obese but the child is not obese, his odds of becoming obese are lower.

Healthy eating is so important. I don’t think parents necessarily need to be concerned about obesity, but they should be concerned about healthy eating.

And everyone needs some physical activity every day. No, walking down to the mailbox is not enough exercise, but it’s hard to answer how much exercise is needed every day. It varies according to each person, depending on a number of factors such as your health, your physical fitness level, your age. What is consistent is that every person should have some form of aerobic [activity] every day.

API: Thank you so much for your time and insights. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

DR. TANOFSKY-KRAFF: Most of my work has been on out-of-control eating or binge eating, and what I’m finding is that out-of-control eating is often associated with emotional eating. If we focus on preventing emotional eating, eating in response to a negative affect [emotion] is less likely to occur. Parents can model how to respond to a negative affect in ways other than eating, and children will be less likely to use food to cope as they grow older.

From the Journal of Attachment Parenting: Emotional eating among children is correlated with parental responses that minimize, are punitive and are non-reasoning. These parental responses are in line with authoritarian and permissive parenting styles. Emotional eating among children is not related to parental responses that fall within authoritative parenting styles (under which Attachment Parenting falls). Learn more about this study in API’s Journal of Attachment Parenting, available online free of charge, through a free API Membership.


How Attachment Parenting Produces Independent Kids

By Zoe Claire, originally published on Reprinted with permission.

1095865_74207826Children are in our care for a limited amount of time, generally spanning two decades. During that time, their needs change drastically yet gradually from year to year. I’ve always found it odd that the principles of Attachment Parenting are criticized as promoting dependence in children when, if you analyze the proper development of independence in childhood, the attachment style would be considered the ideal method for raising competent adults.

Attachment style parenting is based on Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting. These principles are designed to guide decision making with a focus on infancy. But the overwhelming theme of the attachment style is the sensitive responsiveness of the parent toward the child. This responsiveness is directed at meeting the child’s needs in a loving and respectful manner.

The meeting of needs is a critical concept.

The end result of meeting a child’s needs is varied yet always positive. A child whose needs are consistently met learns that his voice is heard, his communications are valued, his needs are worthy, he can rely on the world to be a safe and secure place, he can trust his parents both for comfort and guidance, and he is competent.

We are most effective leaders when we teach from a place of love and trust.

Think about a time when someone tried to change you or what you were doing. How did you feel? Now think about how you felt about that person. Did you believe the person had your best interests at heart? If you did, you probably felt positive about the experience, whether you accepted the advice or not. If you believed the person did not understand you, did not care about you, or was only trying to promote their own interests, then you probably felt bad about the experience and certainly rejected the advice. We can only create true change from a position of love and trust. This is a truth of humanity.

Why do so many people worry about Attachment Parenting leading to dependent kids?

Those who don’t understand API’s Eight Principles of Parenting can often confuse meeting a child’s needs with stifling independence. An infant is at the beginning of her experience as a human. She begins her life without the ability to help herself in any way. She is entirely dependent on her caretaker. One aspect of meeting her needs is understanding what her needs are. She has not reached the stage in her development yet where she is capable of independence or desirous of it. The securely attached parent recognizes this need and attends to her accordingly.

The result of this sensitive attendance to the child’s needs is a child who has a secure foundation to begin her journey toward independence.

How does Attachment Parenting foster independence?

The drive for independence is as natural to humans as breathing, sleeping and eating. The securely attached parent is able to recognize when the child needs and wants independence and not only allow him to stand on his own two feet, but encourage him as well.

Independence occurs gradually, throughout the two decades of childhood. We do not need to force it upon a child before she is ready and should not hold her back when she is.

Responsive parents can see when their 2-year-old is demanding to pour her own milk and allow her to so. This is meeting a need. It’s a new need, different from those in infancy, but a need nonetheless. So she is allowed to develop necessary skills as she is ready.

As soon as a child is capable of caring for himself, he should be allowed to do so.

Connected, responsive parents can observe when their child is ready for independence and are able to encourage him. He wants to dress himself? Allow him. It doesn’t matter what he wears. It matters that he is able to care for himself. If he still needs to be close to his parents when he sleeps at night, that’s okay, too. It’s about fostering the child’s desire for independence. It’s about meeting needs. His need for independence is as legitimate as his need for security. Both are met with sensitivity, predictability and love.

What the child learns as she grows is that she is capable and secure. She learns that independence is a positive experience for her, as she masters each new skill. She learns that all of her needs will be met, regardless of what they are or how someone else feels about them.

As the child progresses through childhood, her need for independence will increase while her need for physical closeness to her parents will decrease. But the confidence she has in her parents is what links the two.

What does Attachment Parenting look like in the teen years?

I’ve seen articles proclaiming that parents must detach from their children during the teen years. I believe this is a misunderstanding of what attachment is. The attachment is the relationship, the sensitivity, the unconditional willingness to meet the child’s needs. A securely attached parent is able to recognize that the child’s needs during the teen years have changed and will continue to change to adulthood.

The securely attached teenager has experienced life with his parents knowing that when he speaks, he will be heard. He knows that his ideas, thoughts, opinions, and experiences are valued by them. He knows that he is competent. He knows that he can seek independence and he will be supported in his efforts. He knows that he can go to his parents for emotional support and they will be there for him. He knows that they know him well, they always have, and their primary goal is to support him. He knows this because that has been experience since the day he was born.

Think about this teen for a moment. This is what all parents want. This is a teen who knows when she has a problem, she can trust her parents as a resource. She will talk to them about it. She doesn’t rebel. She has nothing to rebel against. Her parents are allies in her life. They always have been. Nothing magically changes because of her age. They are still watching her, listening to her, anticipating what she needs from them and responding to her with sensitivity. She will take their advice more often than not. She knows that they want the best for her. They don’t disregard her, brush her aside or bully her. They never have. Sure, she might make mistakes. Everyone does and teens are more susceptible due to their inexperience and youth. But she has parents to guide and teach her. And she is still willing to accept their love and support.

We all want the same things for our children. We them to be happy, successful, independent, competent, kind, loving, empathic, responsible adults when they leave to go out into the world. We are not always so sure how to get there. While we all have to find our own way as parents, this I do believe: you can never go wrong meeting your child’s needs, no matter what the needs may be.


An Attached Family in 3 Languages

By Birute Efe,

P1070409We speak three languages at home with our two children, aged 5 years and 20 months: English, Lithuanian and Turkish. No, the children are not geniuses or extra-advanced. They are just regular kids with normal developmental milestones.

My husband and I are from different countries with very different cultures, and we live in the U.S. Before we had children, I never even thought about which or how many languages my children would speak. We followed our intuition, as we did with Attachment Parenting. Now we speak English with each other and our own languages with the kids. Mission impossible? Not for us.

I believe that the Attachment Parenting philosophy has greatly contributed to raising trilingual kids. Actually, AP is a perfect setup that allows a child to learn more languages. Here are some tips on how to apply the principles of Attachment Parenting to naturally teach young kids different languages.

1. The most important tip is to be sensitive, caring, responsive and positive. Only when your child’s needs are met will he be able to explore the world and the languages more freely and easily. Secure attachment and strong bonding is the key for a child to feel confident and succeed in his challenges early in life.

2. Start early. Get into the habit of talking in your native language to your baby before she is born. Your partner can do this, too. After the baby is born, stay consistent and talk to her in your language as you go about your daily activities.

3. Learning a new language doesn’t only involve new vocabulary and grammar. It can also include getting to know a new culture with different traditions. Kids can be introduced to this very early. For example, in our family:

  • We cook national dishes from our countries very often, and both kids love them.

  • We celebrate our cultures’ different religious holidays.

  • We often meet with other families who live near us and are from our native countries.

  • We often share stories from our childhoods, which involve some good memories about certain traditions.

4. Never force a child to speak your native language. This includes no bribing to talk to grandparents, no threatening to take away toys or privileges, no ignoring, and no being upset or disappointed with a child when he doesn’t communicate with you in your desired language.

In our family, the communication with grandparents usually happens through Skype. Our kids are not very fond of sitting on the chair in front of the computer to talk to a digital view of Grandma, so we never force it. We just turn the Skype on with video and let the kids play in the room. The grandparents usually comment while the kids play somewhere in the room, or we just talk and let the kids overhear us. Sometimes the kids just run up to the computer to say “Hi” or show their grandparents their new toy.

5. There will be times when a child will reject speaking your language depending on where you live and if there are any other adults or children there that speak your native language. Don’t panic. Make your child feel comfortable and speak to her in her preferred language for a while. Good communication is the key, and it doesn’t matter what language it is in.

My daughter’s first words were in my native language because I used to spend the most time with her while my husband worked a lot. But when she turned 2 years old and we start seeing and playing with a lot of kids of her age, she learned English and preferred to speak English most times.  And I was fine with it because I knew she had to learn English. So for a while we spoke English at home. She still understood what we said to her in our languages, but she would not speak them back to us. And there were days when she would ask us not to speak “your way.”

6. When you don’t get to use much of your language in regular daily conversations, try different methods to use your native language.

  • Our family loves music. We listen to “Mommy’s music” and “Daddy’s music” all the time. We purchased some fun kids’ music in our languages so the kids could enjoy listening to it. One day I was so pleased when my daughter tried to say something in my husband’s language, and she started singing the song to remember a particular word that she forgot. As soon as she got to the part in the song where the forgotten word was, she remembered.

  • We do have one strict rule on our house. It’s the story time. The first story must be in the reader’s native language, then after the first story it’s the child’s choice.  Sometimes if they really like the first story they will ask for a second “non-English” story.

  • When we play, I invite them to start the game in my or my husband’s language, hoping we will continue that way. Particularly we like silly, imaginary games. For example, I start telling them a story in my language, and we all try to become live characters in it. You would be surprised where the story about the talking lizard who only speaks Lithuanian can lead all of us.

  • We love cooking, especially our national dishes. Even if we are on “English-speaking days” we still can use our native words for special ingredients and the names of the dishes because there simply aren’t other names for them.

  • When our daughter was about 3 years old, we made some friends with a family from my husband’s country. It was a big transformation for our daughter because she finally started speaking in my husband’s language. Hearing other kids talking in “Daddy’s language” made it much “cooler.”

  • One of the greatest influences for my daughter in learning languages was when we visited our home countries this year. Spending two months in each country was the best language learning experience for her.

7. For those who don’t speak more than one language, don’t worry, there are some ways to teach your child another language that don’t require you to enroll in a foreign language class. For example:

  • If possible, find friends that are from different countries and encourage them to speak their native language as much as they can or wish with your child.

  • Teach yourself a second language so you can learn with your child.

  • Seek out learning materials, books, music, and shows or videos featuring another language. (Note: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under two years old.)

  • Teach words for objects, the alphabet, colors, animals, family names (such as sister, brother, father, mother, etc.)

  • Sing songs or nursery rhymes, recite poems or play games involving another language. Games may involve the senses, such as tasting and naming new foods, smelling and naming items while blindfolded, feeling and naming items in a sack, or finger games like “Itsy Bitsy Spider” in another language. Young children learn best through positive experiences and play.

  • If you use child care, you may find a caregiver or daycare with staff who can speak a different language with your child. Or you can check for a preschool that offers language education or full immersion in a second language.

I know it sounds complicated and a lot of work. I won’t lie–it’s not always easy. I hear many parents who raise multilingual kids complain that it is hard to constantly switch the “language gears,” especially when they live busy lives. And my husband and I have those days when we sometimes wonder if it’s worth it.

But then again, parenting is not always easy. The joy of hearing my children being able to express themselves in three languages when they were as young as 16 months old allows me to brush off all the trouble we go through.

I encourage you to speak the languages you want your child to speak. Be confident, be proud and most importantly, be aware of your child’s feelings.


Spotlight On: Birth, Breath and Death

Birth Breath and Death Front Cover copy

An interview with author Amy Wright Glenn about her book Birth, Breath, and Death: Meditations on Motherhood, Chaplaincy, and Life as a Doula.

Tell us about your book.

Birth, Breath, and Death: Meditations on Motherhood, Chaplaincy, and Life as a Doula is a heartfelt account of my work with the birthing and dying. I am a doula. I hold space for women as they give birth. I am a chaplain. I hold space for the dying. I am drawn to life’s thresholds. I am drawn to these doorways.

Birth, Breath, and Death is also a deeply personal exploration of what it meant for me to become a mother, given the painful legacy of my mother’s mental illness. I write about the healing attachment found in cosleeping, breastfeeding and babywearing. I weave together research on attachment and brain development, with reflections on empathy and compassion.

Finally, I share personal stories about birth and death, combined with philosophical reflections as my academic background is in the study of comparative religions and philosophy.

What inspired you to write this book?

My husband, Clark, came up with the title of this book during my training as a hospital chaplain. However, I wasn’t ready to write this book at that point in my life. It was the birth of my son–and the subsequently profound opening of my heart–that compelled me to write this book.

I didn’t want to go back to full-time academic work after holding my newborn in my arms. I knew I could use my skill as a writer to contribute financially to the family and fulfill my heart’s longing, and the longing of my young son, to stay at home and nurture him with the best of my energy and talents.

Much of Birth, Breath, and Death came to me in meditation, and I often woke up from sleep with sentences running through my mind. Writing has opened up many doors for me, and I’m grateful to find a way to work from home and share my insights, struggles, hopes and experiences.

How will this book benefit families?

All of us are born. All of us die. I write about the deepest questions we can examine in life. Within our family circles, we encounter both the miraculous and the mundane. Within our families, we most deeply encounter the transformative energies of birth and death.

I believe we all benefit from reflecting upon what it means to be born and what it means to die. These are life’s big questions. Even if one disagrees with my responses to these big questions, it is still invaluable to take the time to reflect upon them with an open heart and mind.

Parents, in particular, will benefit from reading this book as I reflect on what it means to be a parent and find one’s own way, trust one’s intuition, and draw upon best practices and scholarship to bring out the best in oneself and one’s children.

You share birth stories and reflect upon your work as a chaplain supporting the dying, but tell us more about the “Breath” part of your book.

The first thing we do upon leaving our mother’s body is breathe in, and the last thing we do before we die is breathe out. The breath is the link, the thread. It is a powerfully loyal friend throughout life’s journey between birth and death.

I practice meditation and teach yoga. Conscious breath awareness is central to these mindfulness practices. It’s central to living a mindful life. The “breath” part of the book relates to teachings drawn from many wisdom traditions that help us keep our hearts open as we live with love and seek truth.

You studied comparative religion and taught this on the college and high school level, so how does this impact your writing?

My studies of comparative religion and philosophy profoundly impact everything I do. I love making links between the particular and the universal, between the day-to-day patterns of living and the deep reflections that thinkers across time and culture bring to human life. My book is academically rigorous in the sense that I draw freely from my training as a scholar in the telling of birth, breath and death tales.

What are your views of Attachment Parenting International and what API is doing? How does your book work within our mission statement?

Attachment Parenting International is an organization I admire, support and celebrate. I’m very grateful for API’s commitment to link best parenting practices with research, and support families to develop secure attachments that foster the development of empathy, courage and resilience.

I found myself naturally practicing many AP styles of mothering and applied my previous research in the field of ethical development to the work of nurturing my son. I certainly want to support all parents to “raise secure, joyful, and empathetic children.” We do this best when we as parents embody these qualities ourselves.

My book chronicles my own journey of working through the pain of a difficult childhood and emerging with joy and empathy to embrace openhearted mothering.

Where can readers find more information?

Readers can visit my website to read reviews of the book and find purchase information.