Category Archives: 4. The Growing Child

From age 4 to age 9.

Generation AP: An Interview with Patricia Mackie

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

In celebration of Attachment Parenting International’s 20th Anniversary, we are pleased to present two series of interviews with API Leaders. This article, the first in the “Generation AP” series, recognizes today’s second-generation Attachment Parenting parents.

Joe Mackie of Naperville“When I experienced major emotions, I would just shut down. My mom would sit with me for hours and wait for me to talk.”   ~Patricia Mackie

Attachment Parenting is no one-size-fits-all child-rearing formula: It’s about having a warm, joyful relationship with our children built on the foundation of sensitive responsiveness, empathy and trust. The need for a secure attachment is instinctually programmed into each of us so that we’re continually striving toward it, whether we recognize it or not. Every parent is on their own parenting journey, and all parents are doing the best they can with the knowledge and support available.

Still, it’s reassuring to know that we’re not the first generation to practice Attachment Parenting (AP).

At the time of this interview, Patricia Mackie of Naperville, Illinois, USA, was just a few weeks away from her third baby’s birth. Patricia is a passionate API volunteer and devotes time to several API projects, including Naperville API in Illinois as an API Leader, API Professionals Program, API Editorial Review Board, API Warmline and Journal of Attachment Parenting. In addition, Patricia is a marriage and family therapist, author of the “Three’s a Crowd” course for expectant and new parents, and founder of the Connecting 1 Day at a Time program for couples with children.

RITA: Thank you, Patricia, for squeezing me into your busy schedule, especially with baby coming soon. Let’s start by reviewing how your parents practiced AP.

PATRICIA: My parents grew into it. They practiced more Attachment Parenting with me than they did with my older sister.For the most part, they followed all of the principles.

We were very involved as a family in cooking and growing our own food.

I have great pictures of my dad with me on his back. Both of my parents wore me as a baby, more so when we were out and about than when we were at home.

They were also sensitive to us during sleep. Mom said I would not sleep in her arms. She would rock and nurse me for hours waiting for me to sleep. Then, she put me in the bassinet and I was out. My sister and I had our own beds, but my parents’ bed was always open for my sister and me.

My mom tried to do as much positive discipline as she could, but she was really young when she had children and didn’t have much support. She went through trial and error as all parents do.

RITA: It sounds like you had a family-centered lifestyle growing up. Please share a couple of your favorite memories.

PATRICIA: I grew up in Alaska, and Mom’s favorite thing to do was to go to this little pull-off on the road, Beluga Point. Sometimes when we were having a hard day or a really good day, or just because, we would go for a drive, get Subway sandwiches, go to Beluga Point, and sit and eat and watch the ocean and the mountain sheep. Sometimes Mom would go with both me and my sister, sometimes it was just me and Mom, but it was a connection point for us.

When I was 4, my parents bought a cabin, and we would go up there every weekend. It was our family time—time with everybody together, to play together, to work together, another connection time.

RITA: It’s important for families to spend time together in a positive environment. How did your parents react when emotions were not so positive? How did they respond to strong emotions in you, such as anger?

PATRICIA: It was an area of growth for my parents, but my mom had a way of knowing what to do.

When I was 7, I ran my bike through a stop sign, and there as a police officer who saw me. I think I scared him as much as he scared me, but he apparently wanted to make an impression and turned on his lights and yelled at me to slow down and watch what I was doing. He scared the daylights out of me! I came home really upset. Mom knew something was going on but didn’t know what, and I wasn’t talking. So she sat down with me and encouraged me to talk about it.

When I experienced major emotions, I would just shut down. My mom would sit with me for hours and wait for me to talk.

RITA: Is this what influenced your career in counseling?

PATRICIA: Growing up, my parents thought I’d end of in one of two careers: either a lawyer, because I was really good at arguing, or a therapist. At school, there was this little hill where I liked to sit. And my friends would come and sit and talk with me when they needed someone to talk to.

It felt so good to talk and be listened to. I grew up learning that when you have a hard time, you talk about it. It’s so simple and yet the very last thing we think about.

When I was a teenager, I had a negative view on life and was difficult to be around. But every day, my mom and I would have afternoon tea. I didn’t have to drink the tea or eat cookies, but I couldn’t get up from the table until I talked about what was going on. If I had a rough day, she helped me to look at the positives and to stop dwelling on the negatives. That was her way of teaching me without making me feel worse.

My mom also encouraged me in a way that she didn’t realize My sister and I had a very hard relationship growing up. We don’t see the world through the same eyes. Mom would threaten us, but never follow through, for us to either stop fighting or she would take us to therapy. I always wanted to go to therapy, because then my sister and I could learn to talk to one another.

Another big influence was my grandmother. She died when I was 12, and this really affected me. We had a very special relationship. It was from her that I grew up with high values for marriage and that you don’t give up on marriage.

RITA: Did you ever feel that the way your parents were raising you was different than how your peers were raised?

PATRICIA: I knew when I was very young that I was very lucky to have the parents I have, though I didn’t know why. I would go to sleepovers at friends’ houses and would be shocked to hear their parents fighting in the next room or when one of the parents would ignore the other parent.

RITA: Hmm, that’s interesting. So did you find it natural to practice AP with your own children?

PATRICIA: I was practicing Attachment Parenting before I knew what it was. To me, there was no other choice.

I remember one visit to the doctor when he asked me if I was going to breastfeed. I said, “Yeah.” And he put down his notebook, turned to me and said that in all his years of practice, not one time did a mother said “yes” that they would breastfeed without a second thought. They all said they would try.

However, positive discipline has been a challenge. My mom did some spanking when I was young, and she made threats. My mom didn’t get into the groove with positive discipline until I was a teen.

All the things that make my daughter a wonderful person also make it hard during discipline, just like I was for my mom. That’s the hardest part of raising her: She’s me.

My son is very different: very laid back, go-with-the-flow. I thought my daughter was an easy baby, and then my son was born and I realized, oh, she was a high-needs baby.

RITA: Many parents are plagued by the desire to be perfect in their parenting. How do you feel about parents who struggle with AP?

PATRICIA: It’s natural to struggle. I don’t think that everything in parenting comes naturally. I think of my sister. She doesn’t have that natural instinct to pick up her babies and snuggle with them. Some people don’t. We all struggle at some points.

RITA: When did you find API and learn that what you’re doing is AP?

PATRICIA: When I needed support because my daughter wouldn’t sleep, I would go online and search the mommy boards looking for answers. I was reading all the horrible stuff that people do to their kids and was thinking, I need to find people who think like I do.

RITA: Now that you have a name for your parenting approach, how do your parents feel about Attachment Parenting?

PATRICIA: Because my sister lives closer to my parents than I do, and she does not practice Attachment Parenting, they are more familiar now with her parenting style than mine. But they are very supportive of me, and we are able to talk about our differences in parenting views.

RITA: And what about your husband—did he come from an AP family, too?

PATRICIA: No, at all. He was an only child, and he had no experience with children or babies whatsoever. But he has always been very much okay with what I do.

It’s hard with his parents. Over the years, though, they’ve grown very curious about Attachment Parenting. They’ve accepted that’s the way we do things, because clearly it’s working.

RITA: Thank you, Patricia, for your insights. One final question: What is a way that others can see the effects of Attachment Parenting?

PATRICIA: All of my daughter’s preschool teachers say they can’t believe how empathic she is. She’s not trying to please anyone. She’s just aware of everyone’s emotions and readily goes to comfort an upset child.

How Parents Can Support Their Budding Performers: An Interview with Actress Elisa Llamido

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

elisaheadshotFrom the beginning, 20 years ago, Attachment Parenting International has been a community of parents coming together to support one another in raising their children with trust, empathy, affection, compassion and joy. We may come from very different backgrounds and cultures, but we are all alike in our approach to relationships with our children and our willingness to advocate for this in our communities around the world.

I’m excited to introduce television and theatre actress Elisa Llamido (, who lives in Los Angeles, California, USA, with her husband, 18-year-old stepson and a 4-year-old son.

RITA: Thank you, Elisa, for your time. To begin with, please tell us about your career in acting and theatre.

ELISA: I’ve had some fun roles in The Unit, Invasion and Numbers. I’m also a martial artist and acrobat, so I did stunts for the kids’ shows Power Rangers and Big Bad Beetleborgs. For theatre, I did a number of shows at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre [California, USA], including the world premiere of Stephen Sondheim’s first straight play, The Doctor is Out. I’ve also been seen in Los Angeles at the Kirk Douglas Theater in A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings, with Los Angeles Opera in The Imaginary Invalid, with Will and Company, and with Shakespeare Festival/LA.

RITA: Many parents value involving their children in the arts, including theatre, and we’d all like our children to do well in their activities. As an actress, how can parents support budding performers?

ELISA: Children who learn how to perform on stage learn how to present themselves to the world. They learn control of their bodies, projection of their voices and how to be themselves even when someone is looking at them. No matter where a child goes in life, these are valuable skills that they can take with them.

The caveat, of course, is that these skills can only be learned in a loving environment. Parents can very easily make performing, which is an intensely personal act, into a terrible experience where children can feel as though they have done their best and been rejected. It’s important to remember that your “goal” as the parent of a performer should not be to make them the best no matter what the cost. It is highly unlikely that this is what they want or need. Your goal should be to nurture and accept your child and do what you can to help them reach their own goals. What you say makes a difference.

RITA: It sounds like theatre is a great option for Attachment Parenting-minded families seeking activities for their children. How did you first become interested in Attachment Parenting?

ELISA: My mother was a very sensitive mother who thought that children were just little people and deserved the same respect that adults did. When I became a mother, I brought that ideal with me.

When I was pregnant, my mother researched parenting books and bought me a copy of Dr. William Sears’ The Baby Book, which made a huge impact on me. I had never thought of cosleeping before—I thought it was dangerous to do before I was educated—and although the idea of babywearing seemed convenient, I learned that it is very good for the baby, too.

I spent so much time when I was pregnant doing research about natural childbirth, Attachment Parenting, child brain development and pregnancy!

RITA: That is wonderful that you had a great role model in your mother and that you had the foresight to prepare for parenthood during your pregnancy, as API advocates through the first of our Eight Principles of Parenting. How has Attachment Parenting benefited your family?

ELISA: My husband and I have an extremely close relationship with our son. He’s an extremely bright, fearless boy who is endlessly creative and so much fun for us. I also got a wonderful bonus that I never expected: Through the unconditional love that I give to my son, I have finally been able to accept myself in all of my gloriously flawed humanity. I never realized how hard I was on myself before I was a parent. Now, in showing my son how to love himself, I’ve become as kind to myself as I am to other people!

My son was definitely what Dr. Sears calls a “high-need baby,” who just needed more than other babies do. He didn’t want to be on his own at all for the first few years, but because I gave him such a secure base and never forced him to be “independent,” when he was ready, he went forth on his own. Now as he approaches his fifth birthday, he is a very articulate, confident child who loves to perform on stage, go to school and do other things on his own with joy. Because we have such a strong, securely attached relationship, when he comes home, he loves to tell me all about his day and any things that happened that concern him.

Before I became a parent, I had always heard that until you have a child, you will never experience the depth of love that parenting brings. That is definitely true. But Attachment Parenting has brought so much more to us than just love: It’s brought a sense of confidence and self-worth to my son—and to me.


Screen-Free Week: An Interview with the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood

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

for-white-TEE-e1390923415217Television, computers and other technology can offer a lot in terms of education and entertainment. Living in a temperate region with bitter winters and sweltering summers, there are seasons when my outdoors-loving family prefers time inside, and I have found creative ways to turn screen time into interactive family time as needed.

However, I also have to admit that it can be tempting, especially in the seemingly endless winter months, to overdo the screen time. Screen-Free Week—being observed this year from May 5-11—serves as an annual reminder to balance screen time with time away from technology.

Attachment Parenting International (API) promotes a balance of screen time within the family as one of the many ways to prioritize the parent-child relationship. Each year, API’s online magazine, blog, social media sites and other online resources go quiet in support of Screen-Free Week. We’re excited to be able to bring you this interview with Sara Adelmann, MA, with the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, home of Screen-Free Week, to further inspire your family to take part in this international event.

RITA: Thank you, Sara, for your time. I understand that this is a very busy time of the year for you as Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) gets ready for Screen-Free Week. API embraces Screen-Free Week as an opportunity to educate and support parents in reducing screen time in their homes. Let’s start by learning more about CCFC and Screen-Free Week.

SARA: CCFC is the proud home to Screen-Free Week. We set the dates each year, provide resources and help spread the word. But it’s the thousands of individuals all over the world who organize local events. Anyone can organize Screen-Free Week in a classroom or entire school, with a scout troop, faith community, neighborhood association, at a local library or in any community group. Organizers and volunteers promote the week, reach out to partners, and help children and families discover fun, screen-free activities.

Screen-Free Week celebrations vary from family to family, school to school and town to town. Every year, we hear from organizers and participants around the globe about all of the fun screen-free activities they’ve discovered. Visit to find out how you can get involved—for the children in your life, for yourself and for a more positive, healthier future.

RITA: Screen-Free Week is an innovative project and so needed in our tech-heavy culture. What originally inspired CCFC to organize Screen-Free Week?

SARA: Reducing children’s screen time and advocating for screen-free, commercial-free time and space has always been essential to CCFC’s mission. That’s why when the Center for Screen-Time Awareness closed its doors [in 2010] and asked us to become the new official home of what used to be called “TV-Turnoff” [since 1994], we leaped at the chance.

Children are spending way too much time with screens—a staggering 32 hours per week for preschoolers and even more for older kids. And now, with mobile devices, children are immersed in screens, and the things they sell, nearly every waking moment. Regardless of content, excessive screen time changes children’s fundamental connection to the world. It deprives them of hands-on creative play—the foundation of learning, creativity, constructive problem solving and the capacity to wrestle with life to make it meaningful. And the costs are extraordinary: poor school performance, childhood obesity and problems with attention are just a few.

Turning off screens for seven days helps participants realize that life without screens is not impossible and is actually fun. A week-long turnoff allows sufficient time to explore a wide range of screen-free activities and develop more productive and healthy habits. Giving children the chance to play actively, develop relationships and learn to evaluate options will help them become more well-rounded people, better educated citizens and more alert consumers.

RITA: API loves how Screen-Free Week promotes families spending time together beyond technology, but we recognize that in many families, at least some screen time is the norm. How much screen time is too much?

SARA: Research links excessive screen time with many of the health and social problems facing children today, including learning, attention and social problems, childhood obesity and sleep disturbances. In addition, the more time our youngest children spend with screens, the less time they spend interacting with caring adults and in hands-on, creative play—two activities proven to be important for learning. It also exposes kids to lots of harmful advertising and can be habit forming.

It’s vital that parents monitor the amount of time their children spend with screen media. With so many different devices available these days, parents might not realize how much time their children are spending with screens—minutes can easily turn into hours. Setting rules early on about when, where, what and how much is important.

Stop Hitting Kids in School: An Interview with Nadine Block

By Lisa Lord, editor of The Attached

spankOutLogoThough research continues to show that spanking and other forms of physical punishment are both ineffective and harmful, and despite many nations across the globe instituting bans on corporal punishment in schools and homes, the laws of the United States still do not reflect this reality. Corporal punishment teaches children that violence is a way to solve problems. Children worried about being paddled are not free to learn. And according to The Center for Effective Discipline (CED), certain groups–poor children, minorities, children with disabilities and boys–are hit in schools up to 2-5 times more often than other children. Nadine Block, cofounder of the CED and SpankOut Day April 30, is committed to changing this for American children and children everywhere.

Block spearheaded the advocacy movement in Ohio, USA, that resulted in a legislative ban on school corporal punishment in that state in 2009. In her latest book, Breaking the Paddle: Ending School Corporal Punishment, Block shares her experience and wisdom to inspire others to join the movement to end corporal punishment of children, and to give them the tools to make it happen.

It was enlightening and inspiring to talk with her about what advocates have been able to achieve thus far, how much farther we all have to go to see the end of child corporal punishment and how the United States compares to other nations when it comes to legally-sanctioned physical punishment of children.

LISA: Tell us about your new book Breaking the Paddle: Ending School Corporal Punishment. What inspired you to write this?

NADINE: I wanted to bring attention to the existence of the practice, because over 200,000 children in 19 states are still being permitted to be hit for misbehavior. This is shameful and unnecessary—and a lot of people don’t know it’s still going on.

I also want to give people tools to protect their children as much as possible if their school districts still permit corporal punishment, and to help end it for all children. It is not enough to say, “No paddling.” You have to show people how it can be ended and encourage them to do so. My experience of more than 25 years of working at all levels–local, state and federal–gives me a unique perspective to be able to do that. About 70 percent of adults in surveys say we should ban it, so I wonder where is the tipping point? When can we get this done?

LISA: How do you feel about the U.S. status globally on the topic of corporal punishment of children?

NADINE: I am embarrassed that we are the only country other than Somalia that has not signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which provides for giving children basic human rights including protection from harm. I am embarrassed that over 100 countries have banned corporal punishment in schools and that 36 have banned it in all settings, even homes, but we allow it in schools in 19 states and in homes in every state.

LISA: As a parent, the thought that someone else would be legally allowed to hit my child is shocking.

NADINE: In some school districts, parents have no right to disagree or to prevent this. In those cases, we tell the parents to write a letter stating that under no condition should their child be hit, and if the school needs help disciplining the child, then the parent will come to school and meet with the staff. Then the parent should sign and date the letter and try to have the child’s pediatrician sign as well. I’ve found that most school districts would be hesitant to hit that child, because the parents have said unequivocally not to.

LISA: You worked as a school psychologist and saw the effects of corporal punishment firsthand. You said in a previous interview with API, “One cannot study learning and behavior without becoming opposed to physical punishment of children. It is harmful and ineffective in the long term.” What kinds of effects on learning and psychological well-being have you seen?

NADINE: We know that people learn best in a more nurturing environment. It is hard to learn when fear is a motivator. Kids may also become school resistant and not want to go to school, and part of the reason is fear of getting paddled, especially for sensitive children who are hurt by even seeing someone else paddled. In my book, I have an example of a reading teacher who tells how kids would come into her reading group anxious and worried, either because they would be hit when they got back to the classroom for something they did, or because of something they saw.

It is not a way to teach children to be independent. What does this teach them about [what to do] when the punisher isn’t nearby? This is not what we want for the long term. We want people who are independent and know that following rules is good for them and the country and their family, not just to escape punishment.

LISA: Why do you think that policymakers ignore research when it so plainly spells out the risks of corporal punishment on children? Who is opposing ending corporal punishment in schools?

NADINE: A lot of it is regional. There are areas of the country, particularly the South and rural areas, where people tend to be more supportive of the use of corporal punishment and do not want it to be interfered with. Some have not fully examined it and give a knee-jerk response. It’s a very emotional issue for them. To question the use of corporal punishment is to question the parenting they had, the parenting they are giving and authority in general.

I believe it shows a fear of losing authority. They look through a prism of tradition, order and faith [religion]. They believe that parents are losing authority and children are worse than ever before in history. They do not believe the statistics that show young people today are less violent, have fewer out-of-wedlock babies, and do less drugs and drinking. They read about a few bad apples and extrapolate that to a whole population.

LISA: What is your strategy when you meet this kind of resistance?

NADINE: The first thing to realize is that social change is slow, but people do change over time. If they hear a message over and over again, they tend to come around. You have to be temperate, consistent and persistent. You may move people, but it may not happen quickly.

In the beginning, it was difficult because I thought that bringing research and reasoned arguments would change hearts and minds. I learned it is much more difficult. You have to appeal to emotions, too, such as with stories about children who are injured. You have to be consistent and temperate in response to critics, who are often quite angry. We move slowly in protecting children but have not gone backward. Knowing you are on the winning side makes advocacy much easier.

If you can get people in the community or the church to come on the side [of opposing corporal punishment], it’s easier. For example, when I found that several African American school board members supported corporal punishment and didn’t want it taken out of schools, Dr. Alvin Poussaint and I asked 20 national African American leaders–including the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr., and Marian Wright Edelman [founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund]–to sign a proclamation calling for an immediate ban on corporal punishment in schools. Having that proclamation come from inside was helpful.

LISA: If you are from one of the states that doesn’t allow corporal punishment, then it might not be on your radar screen at all.

 NADINE: Right. I think that people from the North, such as New Jersey, where corporal punishment has been banned a long time, need to start moving toward the more European model, which is to ban it in all settings, like 36 countries have done. We can do that incrementally, if necessary, like not allowing the use of instruments to beat children or not allowing children with disabilities to be hit. Protecting children still needs to be on the radar.

There have been a few bills in states like Massachusetts where they have tried to do that. But they will have to try more than once to educate people about why this is needed. It’s so much easier to kill bills in legislature than to pass them.

LISA: In a part of your book, you mention that most educators are not sadists, but they are using the paddling because that is all that is promoted at the school for discipline. Perhaps you can recommend some great positive discipline programs for schools that want to consider transitioning from corporal punishment?

NADINE: Our education goal is to improve instruction and behavior for all students. We want to have caring, informed, empathic, productive citizens. It means using misbehavior as an opportunity for teaching rather than just punishing. It means recognizing that most misbehavior is a mistake in judgment. It means thinking about what we, as adults, want to happen when we make mistakes. We want to learn from them, not be hit for them. It means teaching children social skills they need to behave appropriately, such as listening, asking questions politely, cooperation, managing anger and disagreement, and sharing.

The successful programs are data based and provide a decision-making framework that supports good practices every day throughout the district. Many school districts use Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (PBIS). It is a U.S. Department of Education system-wide effort that involves using data for decision making, defining measurable outcomes that can be evaluated and supported, and implementing evidence-based practices that can be used for prevention. So instead of punishing kids for specific things, it looks at what we are punishing kids for–perhaps tardiness or fighting in the halls, for example–collecting data so that we know what needs to be changed, then looking at preventive practices that could be used decrease the problems. (See the CED’s website for more information about positive discipline programs.)

In school districts, there is either an atmosphere of looking at things to punish or looking for a way to solve problems. I’d rather be in a district looking for ways to solve problems.

LISA: How can parents and professions start an advocacy effort and locate like-minded policy lawmakers to join them?

NADINE: Advocates for bans should check the list of national organizations that have positions against school corporal punishment. There are more than 50 of them on the CED website.

Start by gathering a support group. At the state level, work on those organizations that already have positions against corporal punishment. Get them to sign a proclamation calling on the state legislature to ban it. Having a long list of organizations shows support for a ban.

Locally look at the organizations that have positions against corporal punishment and find members in the community, such as PTA members, psychologists and mental health professionals, and physicians, especially pediatricians and ER [emergency room] doctors who see paddling injuries. Parents who have had children injured often make wonderful supporters.

Keep informed by reading stories about corporal punishment and doing research on its effects. Join organizations like The Center for Effective Discipline. Help start or join organizations seeking bans in your state. (The CED can help identify these.)

As for lawmakers, take a look at their websites. What bills have they introduced? What is their background? For example, Governor Ted Strickland was a compassionate psychologist prior to becoming a legislator, and he was instrumental in getting a ban in Ohio schools. If you are trying to change a school district policy, attend a board of education meeting. You can tell a lot about the board members by questions they ask, their empathy for children and parents, and their responses.

This is what I did in Ohio. The states around Ohio, like Kentucky and Indiana, still have corporal punishment, but we don’t because we worked at it.

LISA: What effect do you hope your book will have on society?

NADINE: First I want to say corporal punishment in schools is still going on. It isn’t appropriate, and we need to change it. Also I want to tell people how they can do this, to give them the tools and the process they need to go through.

If you take on something like this, you will meet wonderful people, you will feel good about helping children, and you will teach them that giving back is so important. You get so much more back than you ever put in. No state has ever rescinded laws in corporal punishment in schools. Some people have tried, but it has never happened. This is a winning-side argument—and it is a great side to be on. It is the winning side of history.

Visit the Center for Effective Discipline ( for information and resources including effective discipline at home, successful positive discipline programs for schools, tools for advocacy efforts, and the latest news from the CED.

Navigating Military Life with API’s Eight Principles of Parenting

By Kathryn Abbott, API Leader. Kathryn led an API Support Group in Skagit County, WA, in 2011-2012 and then served as a Co-Leader for San Diego County API in 2012-2013. She plans to start a new API support group in Norfolk this year.

Kathryn Abbott FamilyBoth the joys and the challenges of parenting provide parents opportunities to grow and develop into our best selves. As we undergo this process, we are the model for our children, leading by example and showing them our core values.

For families in which one or both parents serve in the military, there may be a set of unique circumstances that shapes some of those joys and challenges. These circumstances may include moving (on average every two to three years), deployments or long separations, being far from family and friends, interrupted relationships with health professionals, changing schools and jobs, making new friends and finding community, just to name a few.

In my family, my husband serves in the military and I am a stay-at-home parent. We have found that using API’s Eight Principles of Parenting has helped us more easily navigate the life changes that come with serving in the military. It has also helped us maintain consistency for our children during times of change and stress in their lives, leading to more secure attachment. Many nonmilitary families also face the challenges of moving, being far from family and friends, or having to parent separately, so it is my hope that this article will be helpful to military and nonmilitary families alike.

Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting

This principle addresses the need to be prepared for the experiences of pregnancy, birth, the postpartum period and ongoing parenting though all its stages. It encourages us to become informed about the choices we will make for our care during our pregnancy and birth, as well as to become familiar with the stages of child development.

As part of our preparation for birth, my husband and I took a birth class. During the class, we were asked to do a drawing exercise that led us into labor and birth and then from birth into the postpartum period.  When I looked up during my drawing, I saw that my husband was finished with his picture, while I was only about one quarter of the way done. We had a chance to talk about this difference. “I will be getting ready for and then going on deployment three months after our baby is born, so my postpartum experience won’t be long,” he reminded me. Oh, right. For a large part of our newborn’s life, my husband would be working 10-12 hours a day, six days a week, getting ready for deployment, and then he would be gone.

As a military spouse, I am not alone in this experience; many parents are home alone for long days caring for their families or are parenting solo while a spouse is deployed. Many members of the military miss the birth of their child, or they may miss most of the pregnancy and make it home just in time for the birth.

Part of working with this challenge is being prepared for it. Talking about expectations, seeking out the support needed during these times, and finding ways to involve the physically absent partner in the experience of the pregnancy or birth are all strategies families can use to be better prepared for the many transitions to come.

In families in which one parent may be absent from the children for months, understanding child development is vital. For example, the 18-month-old a partner returns home to will be quite different from the 1-year-old he or she left. For the partner at home, sharing the development of the children through emails, letters, phone calls, texts, Skype or Facetime can be very helpful for the parent who is away.

Feeding With Love and Respect

This principle encourages us to meet our children’s need for physical nourishment throughout their lives. Preparing nourishing meals and developing mealtime rituals can be a wonderful way to provide consistency and connection even during the transitions military families must face.

Our family has used our mealtime rituals of sharing meal preparation, eating together as a family and saying a blessing at meals as a way to nurture our whole family during moves, deployments and daily life. Even if our meal is a simple one served on a paper plate while sitting on the floor of an empty house, we come back to the security of preparing meals and eating together.

Respond with Sensitivity

This principle encourages us to respond to our child with sensitivity throughout his or her life. Whether we are holding our crying infant or sharing the joys and challenges of our teenager, we are building a relationship based on trust and empathy.

For families in the military, especially for the parent who is serving, it can be hard to hear our child’s sadness at leaving their home, their friends or perhaps even a pet behind. Choosing to respond to these feelings and expressions with sensitivity only strengthens our relationship with our child.

As the parent, we might need to take a deep breath and remind ourselves that we didn’t create this sadness for our child on purpose. Nor is it ours to take away. We can hold our child and say to her, “I am sorry we moved and your best friend is so far away.” And when she is finished sharing her feelings with us and is ready for a solution, we can help her write a letter or email, or make a phone call or Skype with that friend. And then we can support her through the process of making another new friend.  

Use Nurturing Touch

Using nurturing touch is a wonderful way for all parents to help connect with their children. From babywearing to hugs, tickles and massage, there are many ways to meet your child’s need for nurturing touch.

Nurturing touch can especially be of value during times of change, which can be stressful even when we are happy about them. Remembering to give children extra time for snuggles or foot rubs at bedtime can help them relax in a new home or give them time to share their fears about a parent’s absence.

When a parent returns from a time away from the family, nurturing touch, whether through snuggles or horseplay, can be a wonderful way for the family to reconnect.

In our family, my husband and children have a goodbye/goodnight ritual that includes a hug, kiss, nose rub, butterfly kiss (using the eyelash on a check) and ends with deciding who has the hardest head. Of course, it is always our children who knock him down amid much laughter. This is something they will even do over the phone or Skype, and they love hearing him fall on the floor, even if he is 3,000 miles away.  

Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally

This principle encourages us to meet our children’s needs for security, even at night. This will look different in all families and can include a variety of different sleeping arrangements. These arrangements can and should be flexible to meet the needs of the individuals of the family. Cosleeping (where the child is in the same room as the parents) or bedsharing (where the child sleeps in the bed with the parents) can be invaluable tools for the benefit of both parents and children. (Click to read more about API’s Infant Sleep Safety Guidelines.)

As a new mother, I shared a bed with my newborn to facilitate ease of breastfeeding and maximize my sleep and rest. My husband slept in the other room so he could be sure to have enough rest to fly safely the next day, and later he was on deployment. This sleeping arrangement meant I was better able to care for my infant and myself.

Bed sharing and cosleeping have continued to serve our family well, as they ease our children’s fears in new places, provide an opportunity for warmth and reconnection when my husband returns from deployments or trips, and often allow me, as the solo parent when he is gone, to get some much needed rest.

For families who find that separate sleeping places serve them best, providing assurance to a child through a bedtime ritual (and a nightlight if needed) and responding to their needs at night are ways that help children to feel secure throughout the night.

Provide Consistent and Loving Care

For military families in which the one consistent thing is change, this principle can provide us with a way to help ease some of the insecurities that can arise for our children and ourselves.

It our family, we planned that I would be the stay-home parent. We felt that having one consistent caregiver, especially as we moved, would be the most beneficial arrangement for our children. Since the birth of our oldest daughter eight years ago, we have moved four times. Being able to give our children consistent and loving care has truly been a gift to our family. There is no added sense of loss or insecurity that may come with changing child care as the result of a move.

For some families, both partners need or want to work, but they may also want to find consistent and loving care for their children. Some creative ways I have seen military families meet these needs include: having another family member, such as a grandparent, live with them and provide full-time care for the child; using an in-home nanny; or arranging for child care with a friend who stays home with his or her children.

For the many military parents using a local daycare as their child care option, finding ways to reconnect at the end of the day becomes essential. Taking time to spend some one-on-one time each day, giving extra hugs or having a special date with your child once a week can go a long way in creating and maintaining a secure attachment with you. Seeking out a child care provider who is consistent with your philosophy and acts as your partner in caring for your child is truly a benefit to the whole family.

Practice Positive Discipline

This principle encourages us to use discipline that is empathetic, loving, respectful and that strengthens the connection between parent and child. Positive discipline is the hardest for me when I am under stress. That stress can come, for example, at the end of a long day when there won’t be a partner coming home to relieve me, or when my children are balking at going to the dentist because they have never met this new dentist, or when my house looks like 143 boxes have just been unpacked and nothing has been put away (although really that’s just how it looks after the girls have been busy playing!).

Practicing positive discipline, even if you were raised with it, can be hard. For me, this is the area where parenting calls me to become better than I am right now and also calls me to be as gentle with myself as I can. When I remind myself that I value relationships over things, that I want my children to feel and know what it means to be respected, that I want to repair any disconnect my child is feeling with me, then I can help myself reframe whatever stressful situation I may be in and make the connection with my child.  

Sometimes in order to practice positive discipline, I need to give myself a break. I simply tell the children, “I am feeling angry [or frustrated or upset] and I am going to go outside and take some deep breaths. When I come back we will figure this out.” I give myself that pause and time to de-stress so I can reconnect with the love I have for my children and then reconnect with them.

For the military parent, practicing positive discipline can have an added element of challenge since much of military culture is based on giving and following orders. This is an area where both parents will need to talk through how positive discipline will be used within their family and how to support each other in this practice.

Strive for Balance in Your Personal and Family Life

This principle comes last on the list, but it is really the foundation all the others. If you are not able to have time for yourself and time to nurture your relationship with your partner, it will be more of a challenge to nurture your children and your family.

For military families, this principle can have an added layer of challenge. Moving often requires rebuilding community: you must all make new friends and start over in favorite activities, and there may be new schools and new jobs. When you are far from family and friends and don’t have a trusted child care provider while your partner is away, finding time to recharge can be a challenge.

To help find balance in your days, consider:

  • Attending a support group meeting. Attending (or starting) API support group meetings has been invaluable for me. My children can come, and I get some time with other like-minded parents.

  • Arranging play dates. When my oldest was younger, I had three close friends who all had same-aged children. Once a week, all the children would go to one house for play time and snacks while the other three moms went to do whatever we wanted. Anything from cleaning the floors to doing yoga was on the list! Our children were safe and happy, and we each got a much needed respite.

  • Wake up early. I don’t wake myself early on purpose, but I find that if I am awake before my children, I have time in my day to read, check email or just think.

  • Celebrate the moment. Whether I am making myself a really nice cup of tea or spending 20 minutes on the phone with my sister, I recognize this time as time for me to recharge.

  • Make a date with yourself. When my husband is home, I go on a yoga date with myself and he has a father-daughter date with our children. Many gyms also offer child care if that is something you and your child are comfortable using.

Making time to nurture your relationship is key. Though you will have seasons in which you are more  or less connected with each other, it is important to find ways to keep the relationship strong, especially when you have young children who have many needs. For military families, an added challenge to the parental relationship is the extended separations. These separations can add more stress to a couple in an already stressful situation. Again, being prepared, seeking out resources and using creative solutions can help you maintain your relationship. Simply making the time once a week (even if it is in the early morning!) to maintain your connection to your partner will support and sustain your relationship.

Practicing Attachment Parenting and striving to use API’s Eight Principles of Parenting doesn’t mean my life will be perfect. But I know that when my house is a mess, my children are adjusting to a new home with all that it entails, and my spouse has been gone for more days than I want to count, the tools we use to help maintain connection and build trust and empathy will help us through those times of challenge and those times of joy. These tools help me as I strive to be the person I want to be.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further information

About the Sutton Trust

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

API Cofounders Featured in Parenting with Presence Summit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karin Lombardo
Karin Lombardo


Ann Corwin
Ann Corwin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ANN: Pocket Full of Feelings started 15 years ago.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RITA: How do you hope to benefit society?

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

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

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

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

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

Strengthening Secure Attachment Through Food

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

Photo credit: Piku
Photo credit: Piku

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

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

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

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

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

A Natural Progression from Breastfeeding

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

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

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

Whole Foods Now a Lifestyle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Family Part of Eating

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

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

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

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

Adding Positive Eating Habits in Your Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Importance of the Family Table

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Malnourished by a Western Diet, or NDD

By Dr. William Sears, pediatrician, author and member of API’s Advisory Board. Originally published in the “Feeding Our Children” 2009 issue of Attached Family.

billsearsOftentimes, parents bring their child to me for consultation on learning or behavioral problems at school. They typically open their concern with, “We and our child’s teacher believe he has Attention Deficit Disorder.” After taking a nutritional history, I often reply, “Your child doesn’t have ADD; he has NDD.”

Obviously, they look surprised. They don’t know what NDD is, but it doesn’t sound like something they want their child to have. I go on to explain that what I mean by NDD is a Nutrition Deficit Disorder.

In my experience, many children described as having ADD lose this tag once their NDD is treated. Here’s how: Since the brain is 60% fat, it stands to reason that growing brains need high-quality fats. Smart fats make the brain grow and perform better. Smart fats are the omega-3 fatty acids found in high amounts in seafood. Omega-3 fats are also found in some plants (for example, flaxseed oil, canola oil, nuts and seeds), but the omega-3 fats found in plants have to be converted from shorter-chain fatty acids to longer ones before they can be used in the brain. Seafood and supplements are the most direct source of long-chain omega-3s, including the most important omega-3, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Smart vs. Dumb Fats

Research shows that omega-3 fats make brains healthier, especially the brains of young kids and older adults. Researchers believe that the high levels of omega-3 fats in breastmilk help to explain the differences in IQ between children who received human milk in infancy and those who did not.

The body uses omega-3 fats to make cell membranes. Omega-3 fats are also needed to make myelin, the insulation around nerves, and to help neurotransmitters function at the optimal levels. Omega-3 fats are known as essential fatty acids from food. Other types of fats can be manufactured in the body, but the body cannot make essential fatty acids. That is why it is important for growing brains to get adequate amounts of these “smart” fats from food.

If there are not enough smart fats available to make brain cells and other key substances, the body uses lesser-quality fats and produces lesser-quality cells. The “dumb” fats—known as replacement fatty acids—such as the kind that come from the trans fats in hydrogenated oils, clog the receptors in the cell membrane and the brain cell does not function well.

Neurotransmitters, the biochemical messengers that carry information from one brain cell to another, fit into receptors on cell membranes like a key fits into a lock. The keys and locks must match. If the cell membrane is composed of the right fats, the locks and keys match. But if the receptors are clogged with the wrong fats, the neurotransmitter keys won’t fit and brain cell function suffers. Omega-3 fats keep the receptors open so the neurotransmitters fit and the brain can function optimally.

Eat Smart Fats: Learn and Behave Better

In the past few years, several studies showed that growing children diagnosed with ADD who were given omega-3 supplements, especially DHA, improved their attention and learning.

In order for kids to learn, they have to be able to concentrate. Studies show that omega-3 fats help the brain pay attention and make connections. Researchers at Purdue University found that boys with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) had lower levels of omega-3 fats, especially DHA, the main omega-3 fat found in fish. The boys with the most abnormal behavior had the lowest levels of DHA. School-age children with the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood had the fewest learning problems. In addition, students who were given DHA supplements prior to exams showed less hostility and aggression during this time of stress.

Feed Your Family with Smart Carbs

Around 50% of the energy from the carbohydrates children eat goes to fueling their growing brains. Muscles can store glucose, the body’s main fuel extracted from digested carbs, but the brain can’t store much glucose. It depends on a steady supply of glucose in the bloodstream. If the blood sugar dips too low, brain function can deteriorate within minutes.

The brain is very selective about the carbs it craves, and it prefers that you eat the right carbs with the right partners at the right time. If brain cells could comment on the best ways to give them carbs they need, here’s what they would request:

·         Partner carbs with fiber and protein – The brain prefers carbs that are naturally packaged with protein and fiber. These two partners slow the digestive process and steady the rate at which glucose enters the blood. Without protein or fiber in a food, the carbs are digested quickly and rush into the bloodstream so fast that they cause a sugar high followed by a sugar low, as the body releases a large amount of insulin to handle the sugar. Unstable blood sugar levels lead to unstable brain chemistry, which makes it hard for kids to pay attention and control their behavior.

·         Graze on good carbs – Kids and adults don’t think well when they’re hungry. Frequent mini-meals throughout the day are good for the brain.

·         Eat protein for brain power – High-protein foods perk up the brain by increasing levels of two “alertness” neurotransmitters, dopamine and norepinephrine. A high-protein meal really is a “power breakfast” or a “power lunch.”

·         Add more protein to each meal and snack.

·         Avoid fiber-less carbs (for example, candy and soda) – Instead, choose the fiber-filled carbs in fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains.

·         Feed your child a brainy breakfast – Since proteins perk up the brain, send your kids off to school with a high-protein, healthy-carb and healthy-fat breakfast, such as whole-grain cereal and yogurt.

Brain Food by Dr. William Sears

·         Smart foods: blueberries, nuts, salmon, spinach

·         Dumb foods: excitotoxins (for example, monosodium glutamate (MSG), aspartame, food colorings, preservatives), fiber-poor carbs, hydrogenated oils, sweetened beverages


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

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

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

Strengthening Secure Attachment Through Food by Kelly Bartlett