Category Archives: 3. The Toddler

From 18 months to age 3.

Parenting for a Sustainable World: Cultivating a Reverence for Life

By Lysa Parker, MS, CFLE, cofounder of Attachment Parenting International, coauthor of Attached at the Heart,

**Reprinted with permission from Pathways to Family Wellness Magazine,

It wasn’t until I became a parent that I truly understood the deep connection between early childhood experiences and how they affect our relationship to the earth and all living things. In my work with children, I found that many kids seem to have a natural affinity to nature, but this affinity must be nurtured, or it gets buried like so many other gifts.

When my oldest son was an infant, he was always calmest when we were outside. He could be in a full wail, but as soon as we went outside his crying stopped. To this day he loves to be outdoors, and when he feels the need to get centered and calm, he will go to his favorite place in a nature preserve or a park. There is a spiritual, unknowable, meditative energy in nature that evokes awe and reverence if we will be still, listen, and observe.

Check Out This Issue of Pathways Magazine to Get a New Perspective on TIME’s AP Coverage

Pathways to Family Wellness Magazine highlights Attachment Parenting in its newest edition featuring TIME cover mom Jamie Lynn Grumet in a real-life family portrait. This issue includes features by Jamie Lynn, API cofounders Lysa Parker and Barbara Nicholson, and other experts providing a historical perspective of the AP Movement, a biocultural anthropological overview of child-led weaning, and a discussion of the TIME cover and its cultural backlash in the context of a consciousness shift toward global wellness.

The Man Behind a Movement

While doing research years ago for another project, I learned about the work of Dr. Albert Schweitzer (1875–1965) and his contributions to humanity. He was a theologian, medical doctor, philosopher, scholar, speaker, writer, musician, and humanitarian. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952 for building a hospital in West Africa and devoting his life to treating the people there, who suffered from disease, famine, and the ravages of war.

As I was doing research for this article, about the relationship between Attachment Parenting and the environmental movement, I kept coming back to Dr. Schweitzer’s work. He is best known for creating an ethical philosophy in 1915 called “Reverence for Life,” a philosophy that he considered the basis for morality, which he referred to as a universal principle of ethics. In his 1923 treatise, Civilization and Ethics, Schweitzer wrote: “Ethics is nothing other than Reverence for Life. Rever­ence for Life affords me my fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, assisting, and enhancing life, and to destroy, to harm, or to hinder life is evil.”

According to The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship website, Dr. Schweitzer stressed “the interdependence and unity of all life,” and is considered by many to be the forerunner of the Environmental and Animal Welfare movements. In 1962, author Rachel Carson dedicated her revolutionary book, Silent Spring, which ignited the environmental movement, to Dr. Schweitzer.

The Reverence for Life ethic may seem obvious to those who have highly developed capacities of empathy and compassion for all living things; for others, it takes an awakening of conscience, with some re-educating about how our actions impact living systems. The family system is one that has been neglected for too long and is our only hope for future generations, so we have to view all living systems as integral parts of the whole. What we do, how we interact with each other, and what we teach our children will determine how they treat others and engage in the world. Being the quintessential observer and philosopher that he was, Dr. Schweitzer understood this well and addressed the importance of teaching children, stating: “Adults teach children in three important ways: The first is by example, the second is by example, and the third is by example.”

“As the middle child of five born to a hard-working father and a stay-at-home mom, the main tenets to maintain sanity and stability were practicality and resourcefulness. There was always a purpose behind our collection of four-legged friends. We raised sheep, rabbits, ducks, and a goose. Each of the children had husbandry chores in addition to house­hold responsibilities. Mother always had a large garden. I have very fond memories of the apple cider assembly line production in the front yard. Mom and Dad still have the apple press in their kitchen, albeit as an ode to the past. A lot more time was spent harvesting food at home than time spent grocery shopping, or any type of shopping; mom sewed, and the clothes moved from one child to the next. With four girls, this was a cost-effective approach. When I recently decided to start our gentleman’s farm (three Nigerian dwarf goats, six free-range chickens, two dogs, and a cat), it was to recreate that synergy for my son, which had developed in me a strong work ethic and a great appreciation and respect for nature’s generosity.” ~ Cathleen K.

Attachment Parenting

Someone said, “When you change the way you view the world, the way you view the world will change.” That’s what happened to me 30-odd years ago when I became pregnant and read Suzanne Arms’s book, Immaculate Deception: My world view changed and the activist in me was born. I was later introduced to the breastfeeding and Attachment Parenting world through La Leche League meetings in Nashville, Tennessee, USA, where I discovered my passion and mission in life, to advocate for children and their families.

Initially, my journey into Attachment Parenting was one of trepidation, because I didn’t know anyone who had older children that had actually parented this way. With the support and experience of other mothers at the meetings, and watching them interact with their children so lovingly and respectfully, I couldn’t resist my awakening intuition that told me it was right.

“In general, my daughter has less stuff because we followed some attachment principles. We didn’t buy things like a baby monitor, a play gym, a baby bathtub, pacifiers, mobiles, or most things meant to soothe or occupy a baby. We kept her close, and her entertainment was whatever we were doing.” ~ Carrie N.

At one meeting, I met Barbara Nicholson, and we became lifelong friends and sisters in this journey ever since.

In the early 1990s, we learned that many Attachment Parenting groups were popping up across the country, but there was no distinct or cohesive movement or clarity about what this new phenomenon actually was. Everyone seemed to have their own interpretation. The term “attachment parenting” (AP) was coined by Dr. William and Martha Sears, and was defined by the principles they called the “Baby Bs” as a way of helping parents learn to empathize and become more attuned to their infants. (These included “birth bonding,” “breastfeeding,” and “belief in a baby’s cry.”) Their books were our lifeline, because no other pediatricians, let alone mainstream society, were supporting our choices.

As educators, we saw the disconnection of our students due to dysfunction in their homes, and we felt strongly that it was due in large part to parents not having ac­curate parenting information or support. In 1994, Barbara and I formed our grassroots, non­profit organization, Attach­ment Parenting International (API), to provide parents with the evidence-based information they need to debunk the bad advice of many popular parenting books (some still popular today), and created parent support groups around the country and internationally.

At that time, many AP families were also involved in the Environmental Movement, but we knew that we had to keep our message simple and focused strictly on principles related to the parent-child attachment relationship, just as La Leche League International later decided it had to focus on breastfeeding rather than par­enting. It didn’t mean that we didn’t value or appreciate natural living lifestyles, just that we knew we had all we could handle in terms of promoting the attachment message. We also understood that if we could help par­ents raise empathic children, then that empathy would carry over in all aspects of life.

Some felt that the Searses had created a parenting formula, but what they really taught us was to trust our intuition and the reasons why this empathic style of parenting was so critical to children, the family, and society. Their overarching message helped us learn to respect and trust our baby’s cues and our own instincts; the baby will tell the parent what she needs through her body language and cries, and the parent’s sensitive response to her cues will teach her the first lessons of trust. And that was just the beginning.

“I was already very involved in the environmental movement before I had children and had learned not to ac­cept things at face value and consider what is truly best for families and the earth. So when I had children, attachment parenting was a natural fit. It is more about connection and less about material things. Now our eight-year-old son is helping our family with recycling, gardening and composting. I also homeschool using Waldorf methods and philosophy, which is all about inculcating reverence for life, and I think that really helps, too.” ~ Kara C.

Creating a Conscience

The Searses have long taught that when we see the world through our children’s eyes, our worldview changes. We begin to feel more respect and empathy for our children’s feelings, and act accordingly. The way we are treated as children and the example our parents set for us are the primary determining factors in develop­ing a conscience.

Every child’s brain has the capacity to develop empathy, compassion and remorse, all of which comprise the inner workings of the conscience. The brain is a “use it or lose it” organ, so the window of opportunity to develop these capacities is in the early years of a child’s life. These early experiences don’t rest solely on our interpersonal relationship, but also in what we are taught about our relationship with the ex­ternal environment—teaching the value of and express­ing appreciation for the natural world.

“Compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind.” ~ Dr. Albert Schweitzer

Parenting for a Sustainable World

With the Searses’ permission, API expanded on the Baby Bs to create The Eight Principles of Parenting. These are intended to provide guidance for the optimal development of children that we can strive for, but they are not intended to be standards of perfection. They can be used as core principles, regardless of what name is used for the parenting style: Attachment Parenting, natural parenting, conscious parenting, or original parenting. API recognizes that there are many configu­rations to what constitutes a family and, depending on their life circumstances, parents are encouraged to use what works in their family and leave the rest.

With the Reverence of Life ethic in mind, these Eight Principles are designed to be respectful of the needs of the newborn child who comes into this world with a set of expectations: to be held, fed, protected, and loved in a multi-sensory bath of smells, touch, and loving words. There is an intimate connection, also known as attunement, that arises out of the day-to-day care to the point where the mother or primary caregiver can begin to intuit what the child is feeling and what his needs are before the child has words to express himself.

The principles themselves are based on respecting the natural systems–the less interference, the better. For example, “Feed with Love and Respect” encourages breastfeeding as the ideal attachment model: It’s natural, it’s designed for the human infant, there’s no waste, and there is respect for the hunger cues of the infant, rather than adhering to rigid schedules. In environmental terms, it is a natural, closed-loop system that has a natural flow or rhythm.

With slight adaptations, the principles can easily be adapted for older children as well.

  1. Prepare for Parenting: Become knowledgeable about your child’s emotional, developmental and cognitive levels.
  2. Respond with Sensitivity: Stay emotionally responsive.
  3. Feed with Love and Respect: Strive for optimum physical health.
  4. Use Nurturing Touch: Maintain a high-touch relationship with your child.
  5. Engage in Nighttime Parenting: Develop and maintain positive sleep routines.
  6. Provide Consistent, Loving Care: Be physically present and emotionally available for your children.
  7. Practice Positive Discipline: Preserve the connection with your child.
  8. Strive for Balance in Your Personal and Family Life: Navigate the challenges of modern society.

“Becoming pregnant was akin to opening the flood­gates: My intuition increased tenfold, my artistic juices overflowed. I was genuinely fascinated with the evolution of pregnancy, and invited a commu­nity of friends and family into the delivery room to welcome Jackson into each daily adventure. The tenets of Attachment Parenting make complete sense to me. Even though I was introduced to the work after Jackson was born, I had already embod­ied much of the ideology. I consider parenthood a privilege and a responsibility. I think of mother­hood as the invitation to create, contain, and let go. I cherish every cuddle, knowing a self-possessed nine-year-old is around the corner, and then I will have to be satisfied with hurried pats on the back. Why rush it? I have surrendered my ideas of how I thought it would/should be and accepted the messes and the madness. I do pick my battles—holding strong on ritual (family dinners and reading books before bedtime) and respect for the adult and the child. It’s amazing what we hear when we really listen. If I’m consistent, he will be too. I may be raising an only child, but I am clear that how I treat him will affect how he treats others through­out his life, including his own family.” ~ Cathleen K.

Parenting and Permaculture

There are a multitude of similarities between Attachment Parenting and the Green Movement, particularly the Permaculture Movement. Sometimes parents are attracted to Attachment Parenting, because it already fits their lifestyle and philosophy. More often, parents find Attachment Parenting, because they are looking for a better way of raising children, and as a result find their own consciousness awakened, realizing that their children present a greater purpose for society, and as such, feel more obligated to teach them to be good and compassionate stewards of the earth.

The concept of permaculture can be difficult to define. Some describe it as “a connecting system between disciplines,” or “observing nature and the natural flow of systems.” Permaculture ideally is “a closed-loop system, taking responsibility and producing no waste.” Many AP parents consciously choose to take responsibility to minimize material things that create waste.

David Holmgren, one of the originators of the permaculture movement, helped to create 3 Permaculture Ethics and 12 Principles as the framework that can be applied in ecosystems, businesses, communities, and the nation. I would add families to that list.

The 3 Ethics are:

  1. Care of the Earth
  2. Care of People
  3. Fair Share (for everyone)

The 12 Principles are:

  1. Observe and interact
  2. Catch and store energy
  3. Obtain a yield
  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services
  6. Produce no waste
  7. Design from patterns and details
  8. Integrate rather than segregate
  9. Use small and slow solutions
  10. Use and value diversity
  11. Use edges and value the marginal
  12. Creatively use and respond to change

To learn more about the 12 principles, go to

In Australian, filmmaker Peter Downey’s film Anima Mundi, collective voices speak of the urgent need to help the earth achieve balance—that we must “evolve or perish, grow up or die,” because, like it or not, the world is changing. As we witness various groups and politicians point fingers of blame, our reality remains the same: Our populations continue to increase, while our resources dwindle away and the climate continues to change. We can and must raise new generations of children who will become adults who are conscious, concerned and committed to helping heal the earth. Attachment parenting families are doing just that.

As humanity slowly comes to the realization of the damage we have done to this living organism we call earth, we have learned some hard lessons along the way. We must take personal responsibility, and teach our children well.

“I think it’s because we are very mindful of our choices. Just as we care for our children by making decisions to do everything in their best interests (whether that’s babywearing, cloth diapers/wipes, organic foods, etc.), we extend that same mindfulness and respect to others in our families, neighborhoods, and environment. I think because Attachment Parenting has such a core value of respect, we don’t only respect our children, but also everyone around us. We want the earth to be a good, clean, and healthy place for our children to grow up, and for everyone else’s children, too.” ~ Jennifer Y.

True Sharing Can’t Be Taught

By Shoshana Hayman, director of The Life Center/Israel Center for Attachment Parenting,

When educational television tries to teach young children to share, it’s helpful for parents to know how the desire to share really develops in children.

My two granddaughters, five and three years old, recently watched a program that talked about sharing. No sooner did the show end, when the girls had a fight over a game they didn’t want to share. Oops! So much for the half-hour lesson on sharing! If I hadn’t learned from Gordon Neufeld, PhD, how children develop the capacity and desire to share, I would have been very frustrated, wondering why the girls weren’t implementing what they had just “learned” five minutes ago from the colorful and engaging television program.

Sharing isn’t something that is learned. True sharing comes from feelings of caring, together with the ability to think about the “yes” and “no” feelings of sharing. In other words, when you care about someone, you will want to share with him.

Ah, but that is not enough! There may be reasons why you don’t want to share at this particular time, and now you must weigh these considerations and decide if you will share, when you will share, and how much you will share. There are sophisticated emotions and thoughts, contradicting each other, that must mix together in the brain during this process: “On the one hand, I’d like to give it to him. On the other hand, I haven’t finished using it myself. Oh, but what if he breaks it? Now I remember I promised my little brother I’d let him use it first!”

In fact, a child’s brain is not even ready for this task of taking all of these things into consideration before the age of five years old, and then, like a muscle, this part of the brain must be exercised so the growing child can take into consideration many things at once. This is called integrative thinking – a level of maturity that takes time to develop, and requires of parents to be patient and trust in the process.

Efforts in creating programs to teach sharing to preschoolers may be doing more harm than good. We are setting up an expectation that children are capable of mature behavior that is not realistic for their age. This creates frustration for parents, which they may dump onto their children. We put pressure on children to make them share by telling them it “makes Mommy happy,” “you’re the big girl now and you should know better,” or “if you want people to share with you…” without realizing that this hijacks the child’s own budding spirit of wanting to share with others. Now, he may be sharing, not because he cares and wants to, but rather because he wants to gain approval. This kind of sharing turns the quality of giving to others into a selfish act rather than an altruistic one. The child’s own ability to decide if he can indeed share and still respect his own limits has now been compromised.

It’s important to remember that when we expect a child to share before he is developmentally ready, we may be inhibiting his true spirit of caring. Instead of sharing because he cares, he now shares because he wants to gain approval, thus turning sharing into a selfish act rather than an altruistic one.  We can be assured that if we are caring toward our children and guide them in a spirit of caring, their own spirit of caring will develop, and as they mature and develop integrative thinking, we will see the fruits: caring that comes naturally and spontaneously from their hearts.

How Independence and Maturity Develops

By Shoshana Hayman, director of The Life Center/Israel Center for Attachment Parenting,

A father of an 18-year-old boy recently consulted with me because, among other things, his son had totaled the family’s car. As any parent would be, this father was very worried about his son’s poor judgment, impulsiveness, and lack of consciousness. How could he give him responsibility if his son could not handle it?

As our children get older, we expect them to be able to handle more responsibility and become more independent. We intuitively know whether or not we can count on them to cooperate with us and be able to make commitments in order to achieve a goal. They should also be able to sense danger and exercise caution accordingly. In addition, they should experience the feelings of caring that are needed to temper their reactions and impulses. True independence also requires of them to be able to consider different sides of a situation, different points of view, and different contexts in order to make mature decisions. We also hope that they will be conscious of the values needed to guide them through life.

As children get older and develop these abilities, we naturally and spontaneously live together cooperatively.  It doesn’t even occur to us to ask questions about how much independence to give a child, because we can see that he is moved by consideration and a growing desire to take more responsibility. He is developing the character traits of a mature person. Continue reading How Independence and Maturity Develops

Cosleeping Reality: Your Toddler’s Bedtime May Be Yours, Too

By Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves,

Q: Every night, I put my 13-month-old daughter to sleep in our family bed, but shortly afterward, she wakes up and I have to start all over – breastfeeding her and helping her fall asleep. This keeps happening, and I cannot stay up with my husband so we can have a bit of time for ourselves. She also wakes up a lot at night. How can I help my toddler to stay asleep?

A: Some babies and toddlers sleep deeply even after you leave the room, while others become anxious sleepers unless you stay with them at all times. When you leave your toddler in the family bed by herself, her experience is the same as sleeping in a crib because you are not there. Your daughter is obviously not able to sleep away from you even for a short time.

Using sleep as a “babysitter” to provide couple time works well for some families, but not for everyone. Even babies who are able to stay asleep in another room often stop being so accommodating as they grow older. Continue reading Cosleeping Reality: Your Toddler’s Bedtime May Be Yours, Too

Why Early Attachment Matters for Childhood, and Beyond

By Peter Ernest Haiman, PhD,

The quality of love a mother gives during her child’s first years of life has a tremendous and long-term impact on that youngster. A life that could be described as emotionally healthy, happy, harmonious, constructive, and productive depends on the quality of maternal love received at an early age. This is a fact well known by psychologists.

Unfortunately, however, many parents remain unaware of the importance of maternal love for the very young child. Nor are they aware of the problems that can result during childhood and adolescence if an infant does not form a proper early attachment.

Here, we look at what Attachment Theory (Ainsworth 1978; Bowlby 1969) tells us about the importance of early relationships for the development of an individual’s basic sense of security in life. By “attachment,” we mean the relationship formed between the infant and the primary caregiver. The “primary caregiver” is the person, usually the mother, with whom the infant most frequently interacts. Through bonding with this caregiver, a child develops expectations about the extent to which he or she can acquire and maintain secure relationships, as well as beliefs about others’ trustworthiness in relationships.

The relationship between an infant and his mother can lead to two possible outcomes: secure attachment or insecure attachment. In other words, the experience can be positive or negative. Let’s look first at the positive outcome:

Secure Attachment

An infant develops a secure attachment when her mother sensitively and appropriately meets the child’s needs. From an infant’s perspective, sensitive and appropriate mean the mother observes and understands her needs. Sensitive and appropriate also mean the mother responds in ways that please and satisfy her child. A mother who fosters her child’s secure attachment meets all needs soon after the child begins to show distress or cries. The mother’s behavior is always tender and affectionate.

Secure attachment is also created when the mother holds or cuddles her infant and toddler in ways that are comforting. The mother reflects the infant’s behaviors and responds in ways the child enjoys. For example, when the baby smiles, the mother smiles at the infant. The infant shows pleasure and interest in the mother’s smile.

The mother who fosters secure attachment is in tune with her child. An ongoing, interactive harmony develops as the mother learns to understand, interpret, and then appropriately react to the child’s behavior. She successfully communicates to her youngster that the child’s behavior is respected, interesting, and significant to her. For example, when an infant babbles, makes sounds or syllables, or begins to talk, the mother notices these new verbal abilities and responds in ways that lets the toddler feel valued. The acquisition of speech is greatly facilitated when a mother holds, smiles at, and talks to her infant (Bus & van Ijzendoorn, 1988).

Infants and toddlers love to explore and play. Mothers who wish to foster security in a young child provide toys and activities in which the child expresses interest. Because infants, toddlers, and preschoolers enjoy making choices, parents who want their child to feel secure provide opportunities to make choices throughout the day. These mothers also allow the amount of playtime the youngster wants. Without interrupting, they allow the child to focus on an activity the child finds interesting and do not distract the child until he or she becomes bored with that activity.

Mothers desirous of having their child form a secure bond with them also evaluate their own childrearing behaviors. They do this by paying attention to the child’s reactions to them. If at any point the child becomes distressed or acts out or displays insecure behavior, the mother does not blame the child. Rather, the mother looks to her own behavior and adjusts it to provide greater security and unconditional love.

The childrearing behaviors described here allow an infant or toddler to feel secure. These behaviors also build a foundation of social harmony between child and mother. The child enjoys being with the mother, and the mother enjoys being with the child. The way an infant reacts to the mother reveals whether the child feels his or her needs have been met in ways that are pleasing. Contrary to popular belief, this kind of parenting will not spoil a child. In fact, spoiled, dependent, misbehaving, and demanding children are created when parents consistently violate these childrearing practices.

Insecure Attachment

When maternal love is not consistently forthcoming, an infant develops an insecure attachment. In this case, the bonding with his primary caregiver is incomplete and unsatisfactory. For example, when the infant cries or shows distress or expresses a need, the mother does not respond, or only responds after a significant delay. The mother may act in loud, abrupt, or exaggerated ways that scare the youngster and cause insecurity. The mother does not spend time holding and cuddling her infant or child. She does not regularly play with, talk to, or exchange smiles with the child. Instead, the mother may attempt to impose her own interests on the child, such as by providing toys and activities of her own choosing. In general, none of the intimate behaviors that occur during secure bonding happen, or these behaviors happen so infrequently that they are not noticed by the child.

As a result, the child becomes frustrated because his or her needs are not being met responsively. The child begins to expect that this will happen whenever a need arises. Thus, the child fails to develop trust in adults and in himself or herself. In short, the child becomes insecure rather than secure.

Many undesirable outcomes can occur when a child forms an insecure attachment. Youngsters who experience insecure attachments at home also form insecure attachments with their preschool, kindergarten, and first-grade teachers. These teachers often have difficulty building a relationship with these young students because these children harbor negative views of adults. The children are not trusting of their teachers and may act out in class. In turn, it is difficult therefore for teachers to learn about these children’s needs and to respond to them in a manner that helps them learn and adjust (Bowlby 1988).

Effects of Secure and Insecure Attachment

The type of emotional attachment established during the first four or five years usually lasts a lifetime. The pattern of early attachment significantly influences the quality of love relationship an individual will have as a teenager, adult, and even as a parent with his or her own children. Let’s summarize what research has concluded about the effects of secure and insecure attachment:

  • Children who experienced a secure attachment at one year are better able to explore on their own than are insecure infants (Waters, Whippman, & Sroufe, 1979). Secure toddlers are more independent than are their insecure peers, and as a result, more curious and interested in exploring the world around them. Secure infants and toddlers develop a sense of agency; that is, the sense that “I am a person” and “I can do.” Insecure infants and toddlers are far less curious, and are far more inhibited and withdrawn (Kagan, 1981; Suess, Grossman, & Sroufe, 1992). As a result, secure children are better able than are insecure children to master the environment using their senses. They are also better able to perform related motor actions than are insecure infants and toddlers (Matas, Arend, & Sroufe, 1978).
  • Numerous studies have concluded a positive relationship exists between the development of secure attachment in the early years of life and later social competence (e.g., Coleman, 2003; Lieberman, Doyle, & Markiewicz, 1999). Preschool children who are secure demonstrate better social skills and school adjustment than do their insecure peers (Sroufe, Carlson, & Schulman, 1993). Elementary schoolchildren who are secure are significantly more accepted by their peers and have more friendships and are less lonely than are less secure children (Kerns, Klepac, & Cole, 1996). The attachment security a child feels throughout his or her early years has been associated with that youngster’s later ability to pay attention, focus, and learn in school. Children with secure attachment histories earn higher grades and are more goal-oriented and cooperative than are students with insecure attachment histories (Crittenden, 1992; Jacobsen & Hofmann, 1997).
  • Insecure children are more likely to struggle academically than are secure children (Wong, Wiest, & Cusick, 2002). Secure children successfully bond with their teacher, view their teacher favorably, have the confidence to succeed, and use the teacher as a secure base from which to engage in academic tasks and challenges (O’Conner & McCartney, 2006). Children who have experienced secure bonding later have high self-esteem and are confident in their ability to excel academically. These children prefer to be challenged in class and are more motivated to learn for the sake of learning than are their insecure counterparts.

According to Attachment Theory, the most essential task of the first years of life is the creation of a child’s secure bond to the mother. Many studies have demonstrated this by examining the interactions of mother and child and by contrasting the long-term behavioral outcomes of securely and insecurely attached children. More recently, research has shown that the type of attachment formed during infancy affects right brain development (Schore 2002). In fact, this biologic foundation can last a lifetime.


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Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss (Vol. 1). New York, NY: Basic Books.

Bowlby, J. (1988). A secure base: Parent-child attachment and healthy human development. New York, NY: Basic Books.

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Coleman, P. K. (2003). Perceptions of parent-child attachment, social self-efficacy, and peer relationships in middle childhood. Infant and Child Development, 12, 351–368.

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Schore, A. N. (2002). Dysregulation of the right brain: A fundamental mechanism of traumatic attachment and the psychopathogenesis of posttraumatic stress disorder. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 36, 9–30.

Sroufe, L. A., Carlson, E., & Shulman, S. (1993). Individuals in relationships: Development from infancy through adolescence. In D. C. Funder, R. Parke, C. Tomlinson-Keesey, & K. Widaman (Eds.), Studying lives through time: Personality and development (pp. 315–342), Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

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Playful Learning

By Rita Brhel, managing editor & API leader

I am quite happy with the preschool that my children attended, although it took a lot of interviewing teachers and visiting sites, and a bit of trial-and-error, to find a program that I agree with. And now that my daughter is entering Kindergarten, I wonder if we will begin the process of finding an appropriate, like-minded school all over again?

A major concern of mine about organized school programs outside the home is the lack of child-led play offered. The preschool programs that I turned down for my children were focused so narrowly on teaching reading, writing, and math for “school preparation” that they missed the best learning opportunities provided by a child’s natural inclination to explore. Preschoolers are wired to learn through play, not through deskwork.

Nicole Polifka, MEd, Head of Early Childhood Professional Development at the Minnesota Children’s Museum in Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA, shares my concern, adding that even childcare programs designed for infants and toddlers are increasingly becoming more geared toward academic testing and orienting away from free play.

“Play is very complex,” Polifka explained. “A very big difference between promoting intelligence in a child and just promoting academics: With the latter, there is a lot more they need to learn.”

Teachers tend to view play and learning as opposing forces when in fact they are synonymous for children, she said: “Play and learning are partners, not competitors. Learning is a whole-body experience. Learning by doing creates a ton of positive things for the brain.” Continue reading Playful Learning

Attachment Parenting Isn’t Asking Too Much…Our Society Is

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and API leader

There is still a lot of discussion centering on Attachment Parenting, even though the controversial TIME coverage was almost three weeks ago, which is equal to eons away in our instantaneous, cluttered, sensationalism-saturated mass media. You know that something – some issue, some news story – has made it big when it’s still being talked about this long after the buzz first began.

TIME is hardly the first to bring Attachment Parenting into mainstream light and not necessarily in a good light. In all fairness, the articles included in the TIME package on May 21, 2012, were probably the most fair, least biased of any mainstream coverage on the parenting style that I’ve seen. But it still perpetuated a lot of myths: One that particularly irks me is the claim that there is no research to back up Attachment Parenting, when in fact it is very well researched and one of the branches of research where there are very certain results, with studies all pointing in the same direction rather than some studies contradicting one another.

One of the myths that is particularly virulent – but then again, always has been – is that Attachment Parenting equals mommy martyrdom, that it asks too much of parents. I find this a little comical, because what does that say about you if you think that there is a parenting style that asks too much of you? As if your child isn’t worth it. Are there parents who think that way? I hope not.

What the argument is really, is revealing an overall lack of a sense of individual balance in our Western society. Asking us to do a little more for the betterment of our children, whom we love, wouldn’t be such a big deal if the majority of parents didn’t already feel tired and overworked and severely lacking some “me” time. If our emotional cups were already full most of the time. But they’re not. As a society, we seem to be constantly seeking contentment, chasing happiness.

There are plenty of theories abound of why this is, but I see it as our society asking too much of us. Mothers are supposed to work and raise children, and really, there are not many mothers who have a choice between working and staying at home. It isn’t a matter of selfishness but often out of necessity; rising food and fuel costs, access to affordable health insurance, debt, divorce – all these contribute to mothers’ lack of options. And at the end of the day, many mothers feel responsible for the housework as well.

What scares parents about Attachment Parenting is that it’s another thing to do, that it’s something else that they really need to do but just cannot get to, that not doing it could have real and lasting consequences and they already feel guilty of what they perceive to not be giving right now. Attachment Parenting isn’t asking too much of parents but too much of people who already have too much going on in their lives. To give our children as much time and energy that parents are imagining that we “attachment parents” give, well, it would require that they give up on something in their life – and that would probably be the only thing in their life that gives them any sense of personal balance. It would require them to completely overhaul their lifestyles and re-learn how to be content with a slower, simpler life – one where personal happiness wasn’t dependent on more, more, more.

This change in thinking would be daunting in the least – for some, impossible, unless they were willing to face and address their own unmet needs for emotional balance, and change the very way that they strive to meet that unquenchable void: by switching their priority away from materialism and instant gratification to quality relationships that require patience, commitment, sometimes hard work without meaningful results, and character strength.

That’s not the core of Western society, and that’s why Attachment Parenting isn’t yet mainstream. To “attachment parents,” it can be frustrating that attachment-promoting parenting techniques aren’t more widely accepted –shouldn’t love, that emotion that everyone desires to feel authentically, be an obvious way to raise our children? But for Attachment Parenting to become more mainstream, it couldn’t come by force or policy – that isn’t our way as “attachment parents,” anyway. It would have to come by a shift in our societal attitude.

Forget Child- or Parent-Centered…Think Family-Centered

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and API leader

Various parenting approaches are usually categorized as either child-centered or parent-centered, and there is great contention about which is better for both children and parents. Child-centered, critics say, compromises a parent’s sense of balance and may lead to children feeling entitlement. Parent-centered, critics counter, compromises a child’s need for parental attention and attunement.

But is this polarization, this black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking, reality? Should we be debating for which is the better of the two “evils”?

The fear centered on Attachment Parenting is that, because it involves a parent to be attuned to her child around the clock, that it must be synonymous with or at least bordering on permissive parenting. Scary music please… Permissive parenting is that style of parenting that conjures thoughts of dread in as many parents as abusive parenting does. Permissive parenting indicates a seriously imbalanced, child-centered parenting style where parents bend to the will of the child in everything, perhaps out of fear of rejection or out of pure indifference, without setting behavioral limits. It can lead to where the parent has no rights to her own sense of self, because the parent will forgo her own needs to satisfy her child’s wants.

The reaction by critics of Attachment Parenting is – instead of understanding the ins and outs of what it indeed means to have a secure parent-child attachment bond – is often to recommend a complete overhaul on the parenting principles: shut the child in the bedroom and let him cry himself to sleep alone, schedule feedings, punish and shame and ignore requests. As if doing the very opposite of their perceived fears is anymore healthy? Continue reading Forget Child- or Parent-Centered…Think Family-Centered

Attachment Parenting Beyond Breastfeeding, Babywearing, and Cosleeping

By Shoshana Hayman, director of the Life Center/Israel Center for Attachment Parenting,

It’s not so much that pediatrician and author William Sears, MD, has remade motherhood, as TIME magazine suggested, but rather that he has revived within mothers their own ageless intuition. He has helped women restore their own confidence in themselves as mothers, which has allowed them to live their motherhood out loud. But putting the focus on breastfeeding, cosleeping, and babywearing have unfortunately reduced Attachment Parenting to these three practices alone. These are not the heart and soul of Attachment Parenting.

Attachment Parenting is a concept much greater than physical closeness. A mature parent-child attachment means that the parent and child are connected at the heart: The child can share what is within his heart with his parent; the child seeks his parent’s advice and guidance and shares values. The relationship exists securely even without physical proximity. It takes years for a relationship to mature to this stage. It unfolds slowly as the parent takes the lead in providing what is needed for the relationship to develop and deepen.

In the beginning, the relationship is characterized by a drive to seek and maintain physical closeness. But physical proximity through the senses is only the first stage of this attachment relationship, and during the first year of life, it is the only way that babies can attach. Breastfeeding, cosleeping, and babywearing certainly stimulate the senses and keep babies physically close to their primary caregiver – Mama – but they are not the only ways that a parent can provide for the child’s attachment needs. If attachment through the senses and physical closeness remain the only way of attaching, the relationship will be shallow, insecure, and prevent the child from becoming his own person. Continue reading Attachment Parenting Beyond Breastfeeding, Babywearing, and Cosleeping

Attachment Parenting, Illustrated

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and API Leader

“The question should not be, ‘Are you mom enough?’ The questions should be:

  • Are you responsively parenting your child in a timely way?
  • Are you attuned to his or her individual needs?
  • Are you providing a safe, protected, and predictable environment?
  • Do you understand and respond to the developmental differences between infants, toddlers, and older verbal children?
  • Are you available and empathetic when your child needs you or is under stress?

If the answer is ‘yes’ to these questions, you are practicing Attachment Parenting.  You can reasonably expect that your child will become emotionally secure, will be able to give and receive affection, and will lead a productive and successful life.”~ Isabelle Fox, PhD, author of Growing Up: Attachment Parenting from Kindergarten to College, in response to Time magazine’s feature article “Are you Mom Enough?” on May 21, 2012

What does Attachment Parenting look like? That depends on who you ask.

  • William is a stay-at-home father with his infant son. An environmental engineer, Crystal works two days in the office and three days from home. William travels with Crystal during her frequent business trips so that she can continue breastfeeding, babywearing, and bedsharing after the workday has ended.
  • Jason, a prison guard, works shifts opposite his wife, Becky, a physical therapist, so that one of them is always home with their infant son and toddler daughter. Becky is tandem-nursing, and the family cosleeps.
  • Shell is a stay-at-home mom to her toddler son. Her husband, Dusty, owns his own electrical business, so they often eat lunch at the job sites and he can take a day off here or there to spend more time as a family. Shell breastfed, coslept, and babywore their son, and she plans on homeschooling.
  • Rita is a stay-at-home mom to her three children and a full-time work-from-home mom doing communications. Because her husband, Mike, works 60-hour weeks at the factory, it’s not uncommon to see Rita bring at least one of her children in with her to a work meeting. Her two older children attend morning preschool, and her baby is her first exclusively breastfed child. Rita and Mike also cosleep regularly with the younger two children.
  • Jamie works full time at a bank, and her husband, Anthony, is a church pastor. She breastfeeds and pumps milk to be bottle-fed to her baby at the childcare center where both of her children attend. The center operates on values consistent with Attachment Parenting. At home, the baby sleeps in his parents’ room in a crib, and his toddler brother sleeps in his own room.
  • Cristin is a stay-at-home mom to four children. Her husband, Jon, travels extensively for his job as a computer technician. Their oldest two children attend public school, leaving Cristin home with a baby and a toddler. She is breastfeeding the baby who sleeps in her room in a bassinet.
  • Lindsey is a single mom who used to work at a large childcare center. She now provides childcare out of her home, in order to spend more time with her infant daughter. She breastfed until recently, when she ran into supply issues, but has enough breastmilk stored up to last another six months when her daughter will turn one.
  • Britney is a stay-at-home mom to a toddler daughter. Her husband, Steven, farms. Britney breastfed and babywore her daughter.
  • Leslie has been working as a full-time school teacher for the past ten years but has been seeking a half-time position since her daughter, now a preschooler, was born. She’s seriously considering taking a year or two off from working to spend more time with her daughter. Her husband, Spencer, a college instructor, supports her decision.
  • Traci is a stay-at-home mom during the day and spends her nights cleaning houses. When her pilot husband, Chuck, is away flying airplanes, her two school-age boys and preschool daughter sleep over at Grandma’s until Traci’s shift ends.
  • Brian and Karen both work full time. When a favorite childcare provider raised her rates, Karen spent a lot of time reviewing and interviewing potential providers for her toddler daughter before deciding on a nearby in-home daycare. When her daughter was a baby, Karen breastfed her until she returned to work at six weeks and then switched to formula. Karen never coslept, but she and Brian always got up for her daughter in the middle of the night, soothing her back to sleep by holding and rocking her.

Attachment Parenting is an approach to childrearing, independent of a parent’s lifestyle. What this means is that instead of centering on specific rules, such as that a mother must breastfeed or bedshare or stay-at-home, the Attachment Parenting approach shifts the parents’ focus to meeting the individual emotional needs of each child, interdependent with the needs of the parent and the family as a whole. It is a family-centered approach to parenting through which children are responded to consistently and sensitively, depending on their development, but treated with the same respect and value as an adult, yet without sacrificing the parents’ needs for personal balance. Continue reading Attachment Parenting, Illustrated