Category Archives: 3. The Toddler

From 18 months to age 3.

Interaction and Relationships in Breastfeeding Families: Interview with Dr. Keren Epstein-Gilboa

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

Having nursed one child and not the other, I can say with confidence that there is something truly magical about the breastfeeding relationship. So much more than a transfer of nutrients from mother to baby, the act of breastfeeding touches on each of the Eight Principles of Parenting from nurturing touch and safe sleep to consistent care and personal balance. Breastfeeding is, as Attachment Parenting International co-founders Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker write in their book, Attached at the Heart, the very model of an attachment bond.

author Keren Gilboa-EpsteinAnd as Dr. Keren Epstein-Gilboa of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, explains through a new book intended for professionals working with new parents — Interaction and Relationships in Breastfeeding Families: Implications for Practice — the choice to breastfeed positively impacts much more than the attachment bond between mother and baby, but also among all members of the family unit, from siblings to the father, even after the breastfed baby has weaned.

A nurse psychotherapist with a long list of credentials behind her name (PhD, MEd, BSN, RN, FACCE, LCCE, IBCLC, RLC), Keren has been working with new parents and families with young children for the past 25 years as a counselor, lactation consultant, childbirth educator and birth supporter, researcher, and preschool teacher. She is also well published in scientific journals and other publications on topics ranging from pregnancy and birth to breastfeeding and early parenting. Interaction and Relationships in Breastfeeding Families was borne out of Keren’s own clinical and research experiences.

I devoured the information presented in this book. It reveals to the reader the psychological aspects of breastfeeding on the whole family, not just through the intimacy between mother and baby but how breastfeeding literally shapes family development and promotes sensitive interactions between all family members. And then, it follows up with implications for the professionals working with young families. Interaction and Relationships in Breastfeeding Families also gives another dimension to breastfeeding education for lactation consultants, counselors, and others who work with new parents in their transition to family life.

RITA: Keren, how did you first become interested in Attachment Parenting?

KEREN: My experience as a nursing mother is the basis of my interest in Attachment Parenting and interactions in breastfeeding. I parented in a style that might be defined as Attachment Parenting without knowing that there was a name associated with this behavior. My own experiences taught me the importance of mothering in tune with child needs, including cue-based breastfeeding into early childhood. I also learned how this style of breastfeeding and parenting seems to be misunderstood and is criticized by others.

RITA: What led you to write your book?

Interactions and Relationships in Breastfeeding FamiliesKEREN: Insights from my personal experience influence my clinical work and research interests. My aim is to increase the understanding and respect for physiologically based nursing and associated parenting through research. I use recognized theories of development to clarify and validate behaviors in my writing. The material in Interactions and Relationships in Breastfeeding Families reflects my first study on maternal-infant interaction during breastfeeding that was published in a peer-reviewed journal of psychology in 1993. Later training as a family therapist demonstrated to me how important it is to look at the entire family in order to understand more about the interchanges between the nursing mother and child. In 2006, I completed a study that used a family systems approach to describe the entire nursing family. The results of this study are described in my book.

RITA: How do you hope for your book to benefit families?

KEREN: I hope to help families in two ways:

  1. By providing them with information about themselves that will hopefully normalize their experience and fortify their behaviors
  2. By enriching families’ interactions with professionals by describing physiologically based breastfeeding patterns and associated parenting to services providers.

I talk about the feelings that might arise for those providing services to families whose lifestyles and attitudes might differ from their own view of family life. Many services providers in Western contexts criticize cue-based nursing, nursing into early childhood, and ongoing respect for children’s needs for closeness. I believe that helping services providers’ recognize their bias may enrich their ability to listen to and to provide optimal information to families.

RITA: How does your book fit into API’s Eight Principles of Parenting?

KEREN: I think that the work Attachment Parenting International does is very important!

My book demonstrates how families apply many of the Principles of Attachment Parenting to real life and also discusses the implications of this style of parent-child interaction for parent development, positive child outcome, and family function:

  • Preparing for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting — The book demonstrates that parents’ attitude toward birth affects their nursing behaviors.
  • Feeding with Love and Respect — Most of the families described in the book see birth and breastfeeding as a part of a physiological continuum, and this seems to facilitate cue-based nursing. Physiologically and cue-based nursing implies that parents respect and respond to infants’ and older nursing children’s needs and signals for nursing. The practice that parents get responding to infants and children’s cues for nursing seems to enhance the development of a parenting style that respects children’s needs and focuses on responding to children’s signals.
  • Responding with Sensitivity — This responsive style of interaction is called sensitive or attuned parenting in the literature and appears to contribute to healthy child development. Cue-based and child-focused parenting also implies that parents suit their interactions to children’s individual characteristic and evolving capacities.
  • Using Nurturing Touch and Ensuring Safe Sleep — The sensitive parenting style associated with cue-based actions through nursing in infancy carried on into other behaviors, including children’s needs for proximity and touch at all hours. Most of the families respond to their children’s needs for closeness by holding, carrying, and sleeping with or near their children. Children’s changing needs for proximity are respected and responded in an individual manner.
  • Practicing Positive Discipline — Open communication, sharing, and parents’ capacity to tolerate children’s unique needs, including in difficult situations, seems to be the central means that parents use to guide children.
  • Providing Consistent and Loving Care — Sensitive tactile interactions evolve into a warm communication style that helps parents meet their children’s changing developmental needs. Parents see their children as individuals, enabling them to suit interventions to the specific needs of each child.
  • Striving for Personal and Family Balance — Open communication and reverence for all of their children’s needs seem to help parents establish and also restore balance to the family system. Parents share joint values and alter couple interactions to reflect infants and children’s changing needs. Older children’s experiences of being heard seem to help them tolerate younger siblings’ needs and also enrich their capacity to understand others – an important tool contributing to family function.

RITA: What tips do you have for parents seeking a closer bond with their baby?

KEREN: Parents should use nursing as a method of learning how to read and respond to babies’ signals. The physiological and psychological meaning of nursing for infants prompts them to cue frequently to nurse. Parents may learn about their child and parenting by observing, interpreting, and responding to children’s cues for nursing. Cues include signs of readiness to commence and finish a nursing session. In addition, women in particular learn how to mother by interacting with their babies during the nursing sessions. Men internalize sensitive fathering by participating in cue reading for nursing, by observing mothers, and also by matching their supportive actions to the changing needs of the nursing dyad. Both parents may use the touch associated with nursing to learn more about sensitive parenting.

RITA: Thank you, Keren, for your time and insights. Do you have any closing thoughts you’d like to share?

KEREN: I go back to my reasons for studying and writing about breastfeeding families and issues related to an Attachment Parenting style: I want to help strengthen parents and enable them to see birth and nursing as normal, rather than medically owned events. I hope to help parents feel comfortable responding to their infants’ and children’s cues, and to feel that their role as parents is important. One might recall that an important insight that I brought from my parenting experience to my clinical and research work was that professionals misunderstood cue-based nursing and parenting. Hence, I also directed my book towards professionals and dealt with the bias that they might have toward cue-based breastfeeding into early childhood and associated parenting. I hope that parents will tell their health care and other professional services providers about the book and encourage them to read it.

The Grandparent Challenge

By Sonya Fehér, contributing editor for the API Speaks blog, leader for API of South Austin, Texas, USA, and blogger at www.mamatrue.com

Sonya FeherHow many of us arrived at Attachment Parenting because we wanted to parent differently than we were parented? I have had the (mis)fortune recently of witnessing exactly how I was parented. First my mom came to visit, then my dad. It’s hard to get the distance to observe our relationship objectively, but watching each of them with my son was illuminating.

Unclear Boundaries

First was my mother’s inability to say no. While I am certainly not interested in the “no” that frequently is an automatic reaction in parenting, what gentle discipline means to me is that it is my responsibility to help my son by setting appropriate limits. Parental guidance means he doesn’t have to figure out what is okay or safe on his own. Continue reading

Latest Research on Long-term Effects of Child Abuse

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

Child abuse effectsIn the United States alone, there are 3.2 million referrals to social services on allegations of child maltreatment each year — one-quarter of which are found to have a substantiated case of physical or sexual abuse or severe neglect. Seventy-five percent of these founded cases of abuse or neglect had no prior history. It’s an astounding number of children who aren’t living in safe, loving homes — especially knowing that these numbers don’t count the abused and neglected children living around the world. It’s a number that child maltreatment prevention researcher David Zielinski, PhD, wants to stick in your mind.

“I can highlight this, I can underline this — we’re talking about a huge number of children,” said Zielinski, who works with the National Institute of Mental Health. Earlier this year, he addressed a wide audience of researchers, social workers, and other professionals in the field of child abuse prevention and treatment through a webinar hosted by the Quality Improvement Center on Early Childhood.

That “huge number of children” Zielinski was describing translates into another sizable group – 25 million to 30 million adults, just in the U.S., who were abused or neglected as children. Research has shown us that individuals who experienced abuse and neglect have a higher risk of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders, antisocial personality disorder, substance abuse, and other addictions. And it’s well known that adults who were abused or neglected as children are more likely to become abusers themselves.

“You learn what’s appropriate based on imitation,” Zielinski said.

But the effects of this abuse tend to focus on treatment, rather than prevention — on the individual, rather than society. Continue reading

Parenting without Punishment or Reward…Really?

By Larissa Dann, Australia’s parenting editor for The Attached Family

Really?I was 31 years old. In my arms, I held another life. He was warm, pliable and soft, caked in afterbirth, and seemed breakable. He had huge blue eyes and now he relied on me. Such a huge realization: I had to grow up now as I was largely responsible for meeting all his needs – his nutrition, his physical and emotional needs, his safe passage through life.

I was also, overwhelmingly, in love.

There was, I realized, a dilemma for me. In my entire life, I think I had only ever held one baby. I did not know how to change nappies or what to do when he cried. All I had to guide me through this parenting jungle was the dimly remembered and experienced way I was brought up.

That way meant lots of affection. It also meant lots of smacking — at least once every six months because, as I recall my mother saying, we just needed that spank to get us back in line.

When my son was eight months old, he bit me during an exuberant breastfeeding session. I did not know what to do: I thought the only tool at my disposal was to punish him, so I tapped him lightly on the foot. I still remember how he pulled off the breast straight away, and looked at me, his round eyes totally puzzled. I was lost: This did not feel good. What else could I do?

Putting the Relationship Back into Parenting

Serendipitously, around that time, a friend asked if I’d like to take her place at a parenting course called Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) that teaches a relationship — and, I now believe, an attachment — approach to parenting. I had no idea what it would entail — I just knew I needed all the tips I could find on this new journey.

The course was life changing for me. I learned that children were people! I learned they deserved respect, but the most mind-blowing and challenging tenet of this approach to parenting was that I could eschew the use of rewards and punishment.

Wow!  This was big! All my assumptions about being a “good” parent, which was based a lot on my experience of being parented — that was all being questioned and, ultimately, thrown out the window. Now, my guide to being a parent was about building a relationship with my child, not trying to control him. This was a fundamental shift in the foundations I had been preparing for parenting.

Meeting Skepticism with Resolve

Could I do it? Could I really bring up a considerate, caring child in today’s world, without bringing him into line using the old carrot and stick? Wouldn’t he end up spoiled and self-centred? I proudly told my mother of my plans, and excitedly described all the new skills and philosophy I had just learned.  She listened, skeptically.

A week or so later, my mother relayed a story and advice from her golfing friends. She had told them I was planning to bring up my son without smacking him. They all laughed, saying I would soon find out that was impossible. I bowed my head, more determined than ever. I was going to do this, and my son would benefit!

I was influenced to take change my attitude toward parenting by authors such as Thomas Gordon who wrote Parent Effectiveness Training and Teaching Children Self Discipline, and Louise Porter who wrote Children are People, Too. These authors demonstrated a strong case against using rewards or punishment. Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence further cemented my resolve to rely on relationship skills.

Change Begins with a New View of Children

And so, this journey through positive parenting began. How was I going to avoid using praise, or star charts, or stickers? What would I do when I couldn’t put my child in timeout, count to three, plan a consequence for his actions, or be able to smack him?

I was helped by an underlying ethos from my parent training — that children do not “misbehave.” Instead, they behave simply to meet a need. If I could understand that need, rather than blame my child or see him as deliberately wanting to “get at” me, then I might find it easier to respond to him, rather than punish him.

The Trial of the Toddler Years

Soon, we came to the toddler years. How could I entice him to use the toilet without reward? How could I stop him drawing on the fridge without some consequence? And surely he was too young to understand my verbal communication, and I would need to smack him or put him in timeout?

Somehow, I managed. I did not use timeout or rewards. Instead, I used the relationship skills I’d been taught, with the core belief that he was not being “naughty” or “bad” but simply being a child with unmet needs. I was also guided by the incentive to develop emotional and social intelligence in my son, for him to become empathic and considerate.

Making a Long-term Commitment

Having emerged relatively unscathed through the toddler years, I decided I wanted to teach this style of parenting. One motivation was that teaching the skills would help keep me on track with using the skills personally. I have now been teaching P.E.T. for more than 13 years and love it!

Attention Parents: Attachment Parenting International Leadership is a great way to continue educating yourself on Attachment Parenting — and “keep yourself in line” — while also getting the added benefit of educating and supporting other parents. Learn more here.

Parenting in this way has resulted in some interesting judgements by family and friends. I have been seen as “giving in” to my children, because I don’t insist they do everything my way. “You let him win that time!” is a never-forgotten comment by my grandmother. My take on those same  situations, however, has been to see the outcome as a win-win for both my child and myself.

Being a teacher of parenting has it’s own social issues. I was once meeting my cousin and her friend who had been a student in the course. The ex-student was reticent with me and later told me that she had warned her children to behave as they were going to be seeing the parenting teacher! In my eyes, I’m just a mum, who happens to have taken a certain path.

Still Learning

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing. I am no perfect mother — just ask my children! They will happily fill you in on where I could do better. I make heaps of mistakes, but I forgive myself because I am human and then apologize — a lot! And I continue to delight in my children.

My son is now a teenager, and I am thoroughly enjoying walking beside him as he negotiates this difficult stage in life. I am excited by who he is becoming and I value our relationship every day. I have not grounded him and he is aware that this is not an option for me.

My younger child is another delight, and I marvel at her sparkle every minute I am with her. We have our moments, as does any relationship, but our attachment bond is strong. I hope that her entry and movement through adolescence is as exciting and wondrous for us both, as the journey her brother is taking.

Validation

Recently, my mother complimented me.  She acknowledged that she thought it would be impossible to bring up children without physical punishment. Now, when she looks at my children, she sees that it is possible.

For me, taking this approach to parenting seems to be fulfilling my goals as a parent. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea. I just wanted to share that choosing to parent in this fashion — relying on relationship rather than behavior management — is possible…if you trust yourself, your children, and your motivation.

Reclaiming Happy Hour: Responding with Sensitivity during Meal Preparation

By Stephanie Dahl, Responding with Sensitivity editor for The Attached Family

happy hourThe hours of 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., known in the restaurant and lounge world as “Happy Hour,” have not been historically happy in my house. A more accurate term would be the “Wicked Hours.”  The reason for this is that two essential parenting principles were in conflict with one another during that timeframe: Feed with Love and Respect, and Respond with Sensitivity. I wanted to be both fully present to help facilitate positive play and lovingly cook a healthy homemade dinner — at the same time. It seemed impossible to do both.

Around 4 p.m., I would start to cook dinner. Because I use fresh ingredients and cook from scratch, my attention would be on meal preparation. I can’t see the living room while I’m in the kitchen in my house, so supervising my toddlers while preparing dinner was a challenge. Most often, I would be a frazzled mess, bouncing between the kitchen and living room.

By 5:30 p.m., my husband arrived home and we all sat down at the table to have a meal together. But the children were cranky, I was cantankerous, and he was tired. Family mealtime was not shaping up to be as positive as I had hoped. Change was needed.

In order to cook dinner and meet my children’s needs, I had to either adjust how I was approaching dinner or adjust how I structured my children’s time. As it turns out, I ended up doing a little of both, depending upon the meal.

Here are two meal preparation techniques I’ve found helpful for streamlining cooking:

  • Slow Cooker — While the kids are napping in the afternoon, I can prepare our dinner ingredients and pop them into the slow cooker to cook on high until dinner time. There are very diverse recipes that can be made in a slow cooker. (Not everything will be a casserole!)
  • Freezer Storage — You can take this as far as you’d like, but the basic idea is to prepare ingredients or meals ahead of time and freeze them. Some people dedicate a day to making and freezing their meals for the next 30 days, but I’m not that organized. Instead, I do some basic ingredient preparation that saves time, such as chopping onions and freezing them flat in a plastic bag. When a recipe calls for onion, I just break off what I need from the freezer pack. You can also chop fresh herbs and freeze them in ice cube trays –- just pop out what you need for your meal.

If I’m cooking more traditionally, I know I’ll need great activities to keep my kids nearby and occupied:

  • Sensory play allows children to experience different textures
    Sensory play allows children to experience different textures

    Sensory Play

    — I partially fill a long, shallow tub with dry bulk goods (such as beans, peas, or flax seed), drop in some measuring spoons, and let the girls scoop, stir, and experience soothing tactile sensations.

  • Little Chefs — While I’m not yet comfortable sharing the stove with my children, I’ve begun to incorporate tasks that they can safely do to help. Plastic knives are safe for little hands and do a nice job of slicing soft fruits and vegetables. (We hand-wash and reuse the knives.) My girls also enjoy measuring and pouring ingredients and taking turns stirring (nothing hot!).
  • Tablescape
    A peek inside the drawer used for Tablescape
    A peek inside the drawer used for Tablescape

    The girls have their own drawer with their tableware and they love getting the things they need for dinner. Sometimes they end up with a few too many bowls, or need a reminder to grab a spoon, but giving them the responsibility for collecting their own dinnerware has been such a joy for all of us. And you’d be surprised at how engaging this activity can be!

  • Floor Art — Coloring can be such a fun activity, but somehow it is even better when done on a giant piece of paper on the floor. Check your local newspaper to see if they offer end rolls of newsprint, try butcher paper (available at most office supply stores), or use large scrap paper (we recently used the backs of used wrapping paper).

These little changes have made a tremendous difference in our afternoons. Now I’m either letting the slow cooker do the work or I have engaging, constructive activities for the kids to do while I cook. And 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in our home is now known as our “Happy Hours.”

‘I was Spanked, and I’m Fine!’

By Jan Hunt, founder/director of The Natural Child Project, www.naturalchild.org

We hear it all the time, when spanking is mentioned. Someone steps forward and says something like this:

“Well, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. I was spanked, and I’m fine. We all know that sometimes spanking is necessary for solving problems with kids. And since it’s both necessary and harmless, it should be allowed and even encouraged.”

At face value, this seems to be an airtight case — a perfectly logical justification of spanking as part of the necessary discipline of children. And a lot of people see it that way. But is it really so logical? Is spanking necessary? And is it as harmless as so many believe it to be?

Let’s examine the argument:

  • “I was spanked.” (fact)
  • “I’m fine.” (opinion)
  • “Sometimes spanking is necessary for solving problems with kids.” (false assumption)
  • “Since it’s both necessary and harmless, it should be allowed and even encouraged.” (illogical conclusion)

Now let’s consider a similar argument that seems to justify smoking:

  • “George Burns smoked all his life from his teenage years on.” (fact)
  • “He was in reasonably good health all his life and lived to be 100.” (fact)
  • “Sometimes smoking is necessary for coping with life’s problems.” (false assumption)
  • “It should be allowed and even encouraged.” (illogical conclusion)

Smoking good?This analogy should help to make it clear that the spanking argument, like the one on smoking, is based on false assumptions and leads to illogical conclusions. Some children, like some smokers, are less affected than others because of a natural emotional resiliency, just as Mr. Burns must have had physical resilience. Some children, like some smokers, are less harmed than others because of mitigating factors, such as the presence of other adults who treat them with love and care. To the extent that a spanked child is really “fine,” it is in spite of, not because of, the punishments they have received. Mr. Burns must have had mitigating factors, too. Perhaps his strict regimen of daily exercise helped him to fare better than other smokers, or perhaps he inherited a strong constitution.

For many reasons, George Burns was one of the survivors among frequent smokers. And for many reasons, there are also “survivors” of spanking. But we can never know just how much happier and more fulfilled they might have been had they been gently guided instead of being punished — any more than we can know just how much healthier Mr. Burns might have been had he never smoked a cigarette or a cigar. Would he have lived even longer?

Like smoking, spanking can be harmful and it is entirely unnecessary, because there are far more effective and emotionally healthy alternatives. And these alternatives work in the long term — unlike spanking — because they establish a pattern of good behavior that is motivated by the simple, genuine desire to reciprocate love.

As Dr. Elliott Barker has written: “Kids who have their needs met early by loving parents … are subjected totally and thoroughly to the most effective form of ‘discipline’ conceivable: they don’t do what you don’t want them to do because they love you so much!”

Behavior that is based on fear can last only until the child is old enough not to fear defying the parent. Punishment builds anger and resentment within the child that will inevitably be expressed at a future time — angry teenagers do not fall from the sky! In contrast, behavior that is based on mutual love and trust will last through all the years of a child’s life, and through the entire length of the parent-child relationship. There is little that is more rewarding for a parent than the enjoyment of an enduring, loving, and close tie with their child over many years.

Given all of this, let’s revise the spanking argument:

  • “I was spanked.”
  • “I’m fine, but I wish I was happier and more productive, and better able to love and trust others.”
  • “Since spanking is both unnecessary and harmful, it should never be allowed. Our government, like those in many European nations, should actively and strongly discourage it.”

Spanking, like all other forms of punishment, such as timeout and consequences, can only bring about temporary and superficially “good” behavior based on threats and fear.

As John Holt reminded us years ago: “When we make a child afraid, we stop learning dead in its tracks.”

Gentle, loving, and respectful guidance is the only truly effective way to help a child to grow and develop to his full potential as a loving and trusting adult. Spanking is unnecessary, harmful, disrespectful, and unfair. Let’s stop doing it!

Early Weaning: A Time of Transition for Baby…and Mom

By Chandra Hamilton

Ryan and ChandraAs each new talent emerges, toddlers get busy and forget to do lots of things: watch in front of them when moving, pick up toys before stepping on them, and eat. They fight the fork, the spoon, and even self-feeding in an effort to get back to their most important work: play.

Some toddlers make up by nursing even more at night. Sometimes this continues to work for both mother and toddler. Sometimes, however, Mother chooses to night wean.

In this case, night weaning led to day weaning, and soon, my toddler was completely off the breast long before I ever considered the idea.

Our Story

When Ryan was 15 months old, we decided to move. (May I just point out, this is total chaos and I never recommend it!) We packed up everything we owned and drove four hours north. This move from the familiar into the unknown turned my toddler’s world upside-down. He didn’t know where he was, where any of his toys were, where his dogs were, and most importantly, he didn’t understand why Mommy had been less than 100% attentive in the weeks leading up to the move. Since he was mobile, self-feeding, and easily entertained, my attention had been focused on working and packing.

So, slowly but surely, one feeding would slip through the cracks, then another and another.

At the same time, we gave up night nursing. As a family, we decided that Ryan’s continued and constant night nursing wasn’t working. As he became a busy toddler, he became what I like to call a “full-body” nurser. What I mean by this is that he no longer just nursed with his mouth, he rubbed my belly with his hand, kicked with his feet, and screamed every time I even considered taking him off the breast so I could roll over and sleep myself. When he was an infant, night nursing was a joy. But as he grew more adept with his body, it became a challenge.

One thing led to another, and the next thing I knew, my toddler had not asked to nurse and I had not offered in several days. He did take a few weeks to wean completely; it was a gradual and gentle weaning.

But I found myself missing the time we spent together. My baby was gone, and a cranky toddler had replaced him. And though I love the new skills and fun this age provides, I missed my little boy.

I felt rejected — that I was less than the mother I used to be. How can I possibly be an attached parent if I didn’t breastfeed past the 16th month? And the guilt — oh, the guilt! I’ve selectively vaccinated my son — is he now set to get polio since he’s weaned? Do I have to skip ahead and vaccinate like crazy to catch up now that he won’t be getting breastmilk anymore? These are just a few of the questions bouncing around in my mind.

Nursing had always been my go-to fix for anything Ryan needed. Fell down and bumped your knee? Nurse. Bored and cranky because we’ve had to wait too long for an appointment? Nurse. Tired and distracted and just need some time to get centered? Nurse.

With weaning, like all transitions, I had to learn how to interact and care for this new person in my life. This independent, yet fragile, little boy still needed my love and support, and I had to figure out some other way to be there for him without offering the breast.

Easing the Transition

Here are a few tips that have worked for us:

  • Make up for the missed breastfeeding time by having extra cuddle time — Sleep with your toddler even after the nursing is gone.
  • Have special before-bed and wake-up time — that involves singing, cuddling, and the same undivided attention you would have given had you been nursing.
  • Consider bottle nursing — If you are comfortable with it, cow’s milk or water in a bottle can be tempting enough for some toddlers to allow lap time, even if it is only once a day.
  • Pick a special song or two just for boo-boos — When Ryan gets hurt, I pull him onto my lap and sing very softly and close to his ear the same song every time. He seems to get a sense of comfort from this. He knows that he has been upset or hurt before, and by the end of the song everything seems a little bit easier to handle.
  • Acknowledge and mourn the passing of one stage, but celebrate and rejoice in this new one — It is okay to feel sad and miss that small bundle who depended on you for everything. It is also normal to feel happy and relieved that you are no longer the only one who can provide this comfort for your child. Allow yourself some time to just stop and feel.

I know that Ryan still loves me, needs me, and can’t imagine a day without me. And I know that like all things in life, this too shall pass. Sometimes, though, I wish some things — like breastfeeding — wouldn’t pass so quickly!

Barbie and Disney Princesses Every Which Way: Balancing Family Values with Individual Choices

By Elaine Barrington

It used to be so much easier…

Isabelle
Isabelle

Sometimes I miss the days when my values and my daughter’s were one and the same. For the first few years of Isabelle’s life I believed I could, and actually did, shield her from Barbie’s plastic smile and Cinderella’s batting eye lashes.

Any signs of the Disney princess posse magically disappeared with a mom’s deft sleight of hand. I was on a mission to deflect and distract, determined to make sure my daughter did not fall prey to these sirens. I had the “Barbie and princess drawer,” a final resting place away from Isabelle’s watchful eye and curious nature where all gifts and goody bags bearing their likeness remained until they could be re-gifted or otherwise disposed of.

Then Isabelle turned three years old, and like Snow White’s poison apple, she tasted the forbidden fruit and has entered a deep slumber from which someday, fingers crossed, she will awake. It started with a birthday trip to the toy store with my mother-in-law. To my surprise, she came home with a Barbie. Naively, it had never occurred to me that something like this could happen. My mother-in-law has her own agenda, we all do. Hers includes a traditional notion of how girls should be raised — playing with Barbie and princesses of course! It has been a slippery slope ever since.

Let me clarify why this is a problem for me. It’s about two issues really:

  • One is the over-commercialization of our society where everything is branded and marketed. I don’t like the idea of corporate America infiltrating my daughter’s beautifully original brain and pruning down her neural pathways based on their bottom line.
  • The other is my desire for my daughter’s female role models to have more role and less model to them. My values are clearly biased toward the infinite possibilities of what Isabelle could become. Her strong, athletic body and bright, creative mind surely have more to offer the world than what Barbie and Disney represent. And when Isabelle looks in the mirror, her reflection does not match most Barbies and Disney princesses.

I could devote many paragraphs to the debate about why I believe Barbie and Disney princesses are harmful to our young girls, but rather than an academic discussion, I am most concerned with what this actually means for me and Isabelle.

Confounding matters is how I’ve raised Isabelle, who is four years old now, to think independently and figure out her tendencies based on her own ideas. She is consistently offered a lot of choices, and I encourage her to think through decisions and not go with the obvious or what others are telling her. Of course, she isn’t raised in a vacuum. Her head is filled with our family’s ideals and values, and our community and society as a whole play their important part as well. Still, Isabelle has become exactly who I wanted her to be. She is a clever and thoughtful child who, in most situations, is able to clearly identify her likes and dislikes and assert her preferences to those around her.

The Barbie and Disney princess struggle is almost a daily occurrence now. When it was time for a new toothbrush, Isabelle said she wanted one with sparkles. So we went to the store and couldn’t find any kid-sized sparkle toothbrushes. Her eye was immediately drawn to the electric Cinderella toothbrush. “That’s the one I want!” she declared confidently. I declined, reminding her she already had an electric toothbrush that she rarely used. “Plus,” I added, “you don’t need to have a princess toothbrush.” So we agreed on a set of brightly colored toothbrushes and moved on.  Score one for Mom!

The next week, a dentist came to Isabelle’s preschool and gave a talk on oral hygiene. Each child got a take-away bag filled with floss, a mask, gloves, and a toothbrush. All the boys got a blue toothbrush with a Cars character. And I’m sure you can guess what all the girls got — a pink toothbrush with Ariel. Score one for Disney!

The following week, Isabelle had her routine dental check-up. Her dentist is a friend and knows to avoid the Disney characters with our family, so after the cleaning she showed Isabelle an array of colorful toothbrushes to choose from. Alas, Isabelle’s princess sixth sense kicked in.  She picked one of those colorful toothbrushes then turned and pointed to a cabinet behind her head and said, “But I want one of those.” How she knew there were Disney princess toothbrushes in there is beyond me. We came home with Belle.

For those of you keeping score in the toothbrush arena, Disney trumped Mom two to one in a matter of weeks. So, what’s the moral of this fable? I suppose one lesson is that I am not a super mom who can and will take on the Disney giant and win, but I already knew that about myself.

I choose to believe the real lesson is the one I re-learn every day: The art of Attachment Parenting is a delicate dance where sharing your values and letting your child be free to be who they are sometimes trample on each other’s toes.

I’m not going to control what the random dentist at school passes out to my child, but I can say no when we’re at the store. And when my daughter sits through a cleaning at the dentist holding her little self together and doing what’s asked of her, I have no intention of quashing her request for a Disney princess toothbrush and the joy that it brings her in that moment, because in that moment, her joy is mine as well.

Where to Draw the Line? Exploring Boundaries, Limits, and Consequences

By Tamara Parnay

where do you draw the line?“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

~ Serenity Prayer, attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr theologian

A mother was in the kitchen, preparing dinner. Her child came up from behind her and hit her. “Ow!” she called out angrily. “That hurt! I’ll teach you!” She immediately turned and hit her child back. The child cried out in pain and shock. “I’m not going to raise a wild, disrespectful child!”

That child grew up and became a mother. She is now in the kitchen, preparing dinner. Her child comes up from behind her and hits her. “Ow!” she calls out angrily. “That hurt! I’ll teach you!” She immediately turns to hit her child back — but somehow stops herself… Continue reading

What Children REALLY Want: An interview with author Licia Rando

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

The Warmest Place of AllA cup of hot cocoa, a bubble bath, a cozy blanket, a cuddle with a fluffy dog, a steamy bowl of soup, a tuck into bed — all of these are warm, but none compares to a snuggle with someone we love and who loves us. And this is especially true for Sophie, the little girl whose story is told in The Warmest Place of All, a new children’s book by Licia Rando, M.Ed, illustrated by Anne Jewett. After trying comfort after comfort, Sophie climbs into bed with her mother and father and discovers a true sense of peace and wholeness.

Attached parents understand the importance of cultivating emotional attachment with their children, and use the Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting as a guide to do so. But there are many parents in the world, especially in Western society, who may be confused as to what children need. They seek out early independence through sleep training, discouragement of physical affection, punitive discipline, and other practices not consistent with Attachment Parenting (AP) — when what is most important for their child’s development is that warmest place of all: wrapped in the arms of a parent attuned to the emotional needs of that individual child, apart from any cultural influences.

Let’s turn to Rando, mother of three from Boston, Massachusetts, USA, to learn more about how she is working to help parents provide children with the warmest place of all.

RITA: Hi Licia. Your book is such a great read, really taking the reader on a journey, and has a solid AP theme: that what really matters in a child’s life is time with his or her parents. What inspired you to write this book?

LICIA: I became interested in parenting styles as I was growing up and saw kids getting hit and sworn at, and I wanted to do something about that. Then, 17 years ago, while considering adopting a child, I did a lot of research into Attachment Theory, reading John Bowlby’s studies and Harry Harlow’s studies on rhesus monkeys. Through this journey in learning about abuse and trauma and the effect on children, I realized the importance of parenting.

Then, years later, neuroscience began coming out with studies that confirmed what Bowlby had suspected, and that was a very exciting time. I became interested in, and wrote about, how parents who were neglected and abused as children can go about learning to parent in a connected way. You can read about this in one of the sections in my Caring and Connected Parenting Guide for new parents on my website, LiciaRando.com.

So, I wanted to put everything I had learned in a story form that could reach more parents, a story with a warm, fuzzy moment that could help parents realize that snuggling with a parent really is the most important thing in the world to your child.

RITA: A lot of parents really struggle with learning how to raise their children differently than they were raised – where non-AP practices were the norm.

LICIA: Dan Siegel and Mary Hartzell describe this in their book, Parenting from the Inside Out, how people have emotional memories from when they were young, memories they don’t even know they have except that they have certain triggers that stir strong emotions for no apparent reason. Parents really need to evaluate what happened to them as children, first, in order to be able to connect with their own child.

RITA: Some parents don’t understand how their relationships with their children will change if they take the time to examine their parenting style and make a commitment to change. I know parents who are really struggling with connecting with their children, who have anger problems and whose children frequently act-out, yelling back at the parent the same way the parent yells at them. These parents can’t believe that there are families where conflict resolution is peaceful and children are willingly cooperative. Can you give us your top three tips for parents who are seeking this?

LICIA: First, if you have a background of trauma, abuse and neglect, or loss such as of a parent, you need to come to understand how that is affecting your life. It goes back to Parenting from the Inside Out. It’s a matter of learning why you parent the way you do, to identify your triggers, and to retrain how you interact with your child and others when your strong emotions are triggered.

I’ve heard people say, “This is just the way I am.” But it’s never too late to change, never too late to become a better parent and person.

Second is listening and speaking respectfully to your child. You need to set limits, but it should be done with respect while showing that you understand what the child wants. Say, “I understand how much you want to go see this movie, but it is a school night and you can’t be out late. The weekend would be a better choice.“ When there is an altercation, go back and talk about it after you have calmed down or burned the energy with a walk or exercise. Take responsibility for your part in the eruption. Reflect with your child about inner emotions that played a part. For example, you yelled because you were worried about where your child was, because you love him and want him safe.

Third is modeling. Your kids are constantly learning how to act from you. Modeling is the best teaching tool. If you express anger in a certain way, that’s how your child will learn to express anger. So, if you yell and scream and throw things, so will your child. And if you talk respectfully with your child during a conflict, that’s how your child will learn to deal with his anger.

What you’re doing affects more than yourself. It affects your children, too, and it’s passed through the generations and interactions with others. So, your behavior affects your grandchildren, and their children and grandchildren, and all the way down the life — and other children outside your family.

RITA: Which is why AP is so important…

LICIA: It’d be a more peaceful world if we could all interact like that. I really believe that family peace is the way to world peace.

RITA: I love that quote: Family peace is the way to world peace! We should put it on a T-shirt. So, since your book came out in September 2009, what kind of response have you received?

LICIA: I’ve read the book around a lot, in libraries and bookstores. Little kids just love it. From their reactions, I feel like I just hit the nail on the head. They know! They really relate to that feeling of snuggling with Mom and Dad.

RITA: What kind of response have you received from adults?

LICIA: A lot of people are buying the book for holiday gifts. Parents like to use the word, “sweet,” when they refer to it.

I wrote the book in simile, so it can be a good teaching tool, and sent it the reviewers who recommend books for classroom use. They wouldn’t review it! They didn’t like the idea of a seven-year-old child crawling into bed with her parents. I was surprised that it was being censored, especially with the disrespectful and violent books and movies out there. They’re so worried about this one illustration — a very loving and beautiful illustration of what children long for.

But there are teachers who’ve read it and love it and are using it in their classrooms. It just won’t be formally reviewed for teachers for classroom use.

RITA: That just goes to show, unfortunately, how much more work there is to educate our culture about the importance of AP. How do you see your book furthering AP?

LICIA: From all that I’ve learned from abuse statistics and brain trauma research, the really vulnerable age for children is from infancy through four years old. The Warmest Place of All is meant to emphasize the importance of early connection for parents. Research shows that if children get that connection early in life, parents have less difficulty with that child later on. And that the earlier a child receives harsh discipline, the more likely the child will act out later on.

My book also emphasizes the importance of touch. Why touch is so important is that it releases the hormone, oxytocin, which makes us feel good. The Warmest Place of All helps parents to actually feel the experience.

RITA: You have such a vast knowledge base of how parenting affects child development, as well as how to help parents learn the importance of connection. Are there more books promoting AP in the works?

LICIA: This is my life mission. I am always writing books that link or connect people and form community. I want to help people to connect with one another, especially between generations, like older people with the young child, parents with their children.