Category Archives: 4. The Growing Child

From age 4 to age 9.

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

Stop Hitting! An interview with Nadine Block, cofounder for the Center for Effective Discipline and SpankOut April 30th

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

There is a fine line between physical punishment and child abuse, at least as the law sees it. Just where does the line lie between the two? Most people who use physical punishment will tell you that spanking, whether with the hand or another object, is considered safe if not done in anger or excessively. But it’s a lot more complicated than that. The law protects adults from assault – otherwise known as hitting – even in prisons, which are clearly meant to be a punishment. Why not the same for children?

At the center of the annual SpankOut Day April 30th is an equality movement with the goal of giving children the same rights that adults enjoy. But it’s not as simple as telling parents and schools to stop spanking. Changing from a punishing mindset to one where children are given the same respect and courtesy as adults – where parents’ goals are no longer to force and coerce but to preserve a trusting, compassionate, forgiving attachment bond with their children – takes a complete overhaul of a person’s, and a society’s, beliefs.

The good news is, the alternative to physical punishment is a much larger array of discipline options that are far more effective at influencing a child’s behavior while eliminating the need for fear-based parenting approaches where the parent must always be in control and the child must always obey, or else.

Recently, I had the privilege to interview Nadine Block, cofounder with Bob Fathman of the Center for Effective Discipline, the organization behind SpankOut Day. Nadine is the editor of a new book, This Hurts Me More than It Hurts You, a unique read contributed by children who’ve been spanked. In it are their stories and drawings about their thoughts toward spanking, their parents, and themselves. It is eye-opening – and empowering. It opened up a discussion between me and my children that was long overdue – about why some of their friends’ parents spank, about their views on the subject, and a pact that I would never stop using positive discipline with them. I believe that this book has the power to change homes, and lives.

RITA: Good day, Nadine! Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. Let’s start by exploring how you first became interested in promoting positive discipline for children, particularly in advocating for an end to physical punishment? Continue reading

Comparing Children

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

Comparing seems to be part of human nature. We compare ourselves to others. We compare our children to each other and to other children. We compare our spouses to others. Comparing the heart rate or blood sugar levels of a given number of people might be beneficial in determining the range in which people maintain good health – and perhaps we can even say that by comparing children’s abilities and establishing a range of “normal,” we can determine which children have difficulties and how to help them – but comparing ourselves with others, and in particular our children to other children, can have very damaging effects if it’s done in a shameful way — whether or not we actually verbalize it.

One of the most common reasons we compare children is to motivate them: “Look how nicely your sister is sitting and doing her homework. Why can’t you organize yourself the way she does?” or “You should learn a lesson from your brother. He always helps out when he’s asked.” When we compare siblings in this way, we are conveying a message that one child is worth more in our eyes. The less favored child, rather than feeling motivated to emulate his sibling, feels resentment toward him or her, while the more favored child might feel sorry for his or her sibling as well as pressure to maintain his or her status. The damage is threefold: We have inadvertently put a condition on our own relationship with our children, we have harmed the relationship between them, and we have further locked them into their respective behaviors.

Another way we compare children is by judging and grading them. We set up a standard of comparison and then see where a child fits into this standard: “This child is my good eater. He eats everything. But the others are so picky!” or “This is my responsible child. But my other daughter, well, I can never count on her for anything.” or “This child is my astronaut. I have to nag him about everything.” When we judge children and grade them in this way, we fail to see that they are capable of developing many different abilities that can grow with our help, support, and belief in them. Continue reading

Responding to Lying Positively

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

Like many new parents, I naively believed that once I got past the first few years of physically intense infant and toddler care, that surely the rest of childhood would be comparatively easy. By the time my third child came along, I learned to relish those early years. Children don’t get easier to raise the older they get, and they don’t necessarily get harder either. Every age and stage has its own joys and challenges.

One of the challenges I’ve encountered lately that has really made me think has been my five-year-old daughter’s tendency to lie. My four-year-old is an expert storyteller but she tells wildly imaginative, make-believe stories to entertain (“and there was this octopus and it stood on the barn and ate cheese”) and will readily tell the truth if asked. My five-year-old, on the other hand, tells stories to try to get her sister in trouble. Not that it works. I’ve maintained since the beginning that I value truth-telling, even when the child is admitting a wrong. So, say, my daughter breaks a lamp and she tells me what happened truthfully, I look beyond the broken lamp and value the trust that’s there. I don’t react negatively; we just clean it up. But, the problem is when a child blames her sibling and her sibling blames her sister; there is no punishment, but we have to spend a lot more time talking and trying to figure out what the whole story is. I still don’t react negatively, but lying is something that concerns me because it violates my trust. I see it as a sign of a relationship issue. I give a reminder as to what lying is and why we don’t lie to one another, and ask questions to see if there is indeed a relationship issue such as that my daughter feels that I don’t give her as much attention as her sister or if she feels hurt by me for something earlier in the day. It seemed, though, that this wasn’t ever the case; my five-year-old daughter would say all was good, that she wasn’t sad or mad, but she continues to try these lies.

I pondered how my five-year-old learned this behavior for the longest time. I could not understand how she conjured up lying to avoid getting into trouble when being in trouble at our house doesn’t mean anything upsetting. The punishment she seemed to be trying to avoid, by the fear I could see in her eyes, never materialized. She would leave the conversation happily, skipping off to her next play activity. But, before long, we were talking about lying again. Puzzling.

Then, a mother whose child goes to the same preschool suggested that my daughter was learning the behavior at school – that some of her playmates lie to avoid punishment in their homes and were bringing that behavior into the classroom. My daughter was likely just trying out a behavior learned from her friends. This makes sense, as I’ve seen my daughters playing that they were putting their dolls into timeout when we do not use timeout in this family. And we’ve gone through phases when both girls were saying questionable words like “darn” and “stupid,” again words not spoken in this family.

But this lying “phase” has persisted more than a few weeks, and I was beginning to wonder if my approach was developmentally appropriate or if there was something more I could do. Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to wait long before I got an answer. Recently, parenting educator Patricia Nan Anderson, PhD, of Seahurst, Washington USA, held a teleclass on this topic, expanding also into cheating and stealing.

Celebrate Lying?

I have heard from some parents and parent educators alike that lying should be celebrated in a way, because it signals that the child has reached an appropriate developmental milestone. I’m not throwing a party, but this does mean that parents don’t have to fear lying as the basis of future juvenile delinquency. Lying is normal and a sign of positive brain development.

“Once a child understands that others have thoughts of their own, they understand that others can do something on purpose but also that things can happen accidentally,” explained Anderson. This ability doesn’t happen until at least age four. Somewhere between age four and seven, depending on the child, guilt and shame develop. And that’s when children are able to lie.

Furthermore, the ability to delay personal gratification, otherwise known as patience, develops by age two in some children but not until age eight. This plays into why some children have the propensity to lie more than others.

Lying, as well as cheating and stealing, in children older than age nine may be a sign that the child feels powerless on her own. Parents can help the child empower themselves.

“All of this stuff is normal,” Anderson said. “Every parent encounters these behaviors. Every child has a normally over-developed sense of greed and a normally under-developed sense of ethics. Your job is not so much to squash the bad thoughts than to strengthen the good thoughts.”

How to encourage moral development:

  • Model moral choices out loud – This is more than leading by example, which is important in itself; this is talking to your children about your thought process in making choices. Children see their parents as perfect, never tempted and never making mistakes, Anderson said. They need to know that you, too, have to play tug-of-war between greed and ethics. For example, say you’re eating cookies: While you’re dividing the cookies among you and your children, say out loud “Mmm, I love cookies. I could eat all of these cookies myself, but I love each of you and want you to have a cookie, too.”
  • Analyze media-based dilemmas together – This not only pertains to managing screen time or discerning which media programs to view or games to play or books to read, but also to discuss what is going on with characters’ choices in the story plot. For example, say you’re watching a TV show about the three little kittens that lost their mittens: “Oh, those kittens are so sad that they lost their mittens. And when they told their mother, she said they couldn’t have any pie. Oh, that makes them sad. What do you think they should do?”
  • Ask the child’s opinions about moral dilemmas – This isn’t a guess-what-Mom’s-thinking exercise, Anderson said; there isn’t one answer. Parents can use the child’s answer as a clue to his current moral development. For example, say your son and daughter are arguing over a toy: Ask each of them “What do you think you should do?”
  • Celebrate your child’s good moral choices – This is just as it sounds. Recognize your child when she makes a choice that aligns with your family values.

Discipline for Lying

Guilt and shame are two of the most uncomfortable feelings that a person can feel, and lying is a natural reaction to not feel guilt and shame, said Anderson, as well as to avoid punishment. But, by viewing lying as part of normal development, punishment doesn’t have to be the rule. How to respond positively to lying:

  1. Never try to catch your child in a lie – If you know the truth, don’t act like you don’t. This only sets him up to lie. And if you don’t know the truth, phrase the question differently: Instead of asking “Who broke my lamp?” say “I see that my lamp has been broken. Tell me about that.”
  2. Never punish your child for telling the truth – Parents who practice Attachment Parenting strive not to punish for any reason, but it’s especially important not to react negatively to a child telling the truth, no matter what that truth is. This is especially important with older children and teens, said Anderson.

And what if your child does lie? Positive discipline techniques depend on the child’s age and development, explains Judy Arnall, parenting educator from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, in her book, Discipline Without Distress.

Preschoolers, ages three to five, are typically just learning the difference between reality and fantasy. This age group doesn’t so much tell out-right lies than use story-telling to explain their wishes. Parents can help preschool children by teaching them how to get their needs met without lying, as well as reading books about lying. Anderson’s advice in rephrasing questions is helpful, too. Instead of asking “Did you take that toy from John’s house?” say “I see you have one of John’s toys. We need to give it back.”

Children age six to 12 lie to avoid consequences or to fit in with peers, said Arnall. Teaching by example is important in this age group, as is teaching problem-solving to get needs met. She agrees with Anderson to never punish for truth-telling, no matter what the truth involves. She emphasizes for parents to avoid labeling and over-reacting, but also to avoid dismissing the behavior. Telling the child that while telling the truth can be hard, you appreciate it and reassure the child that he won’t be punished for it.

With teenagers, Arnall advocates being straightforward. Parents should continue not punishing for truth-telling and to teach problem-solving for the original issue, but I-statements are effective in communicating why lying is not acceptable, such as “I’m upset when I’m not told the truth. I find it hard to trust you.”

Put It in Perspective

Parents often fear that lying is a sign of a larger psychological problem in their children. In a small percentage of children, there is a pathological reason, but this is rare; Anderson advises parents to only consider it if your child’s behavior appears compulsive. For the great majority of children, lying is simply a normal part of growing up.

“Think of the times you were tempted as a child or now,” Anderson said. Virtually every person has told a lie at one point in their life. Lying may be morally wrong, but it’s common. Be understanding of your children.

Cheating

Cheating happens because winning feels good. While cheating can be done with the intention to deceive, children typically resort to cheating simply as a way to level the playing field, Anderson said – when she feels at a disadvantage, is frustrated with the situation, and feels in need of an accommodation. Think of a younger child playing a game with older siblings. How to respond positively to cheating:

  1. Provide your child a script to opt out of an activity when tempted to cheat, without admitting that he finds the game difficult, such as “I’m not having fun, so I’m going to go do something else.”
  2. If your child cheats on a school exam or assignment, talk to the teacher about it being a sign that your child is frustrated with the material.

Stealing

Stealing in children age eight or younger often occurs when a child is seeking boundaries, during which she steals something in plain sight or tells you about taking something, or as a result of poor impulse control. With a younger child, it could be a misunderstanding of what it means to borrow. Parents should view stealing in these years as an exploration of relationship rules, and to react by explaining the rules for each incidence.

It’s when stealing becomes intentional that parents need to take notice, said Anderson. Children who are at least nine years old may use stealing as a way to fit in with his peers, to boost self esteem, on a dare, as a form of revenge, or as recreation. Children don’t develop the full ability to consider the consequences of their actions until their late teens, so if your child is stealing intentionally, the first step to resolving it is to figure out why. Second, parents should use the event to teach family values.

What Attachment Parenting is…and is Not

Maybe you never knew there was a name for it – the unique way you raise your child – but it’s in tune with your child’s needs and with your own needs, and your family lives it out daily. Or, perhaps, you do know there is a name for it, with many synonyms and variations, but you live it out without being defined.

It’s hit the news, blogs, social media, and forums where parenting approaches are more contentious than politics or religion.

Some may know what they know about it from a critique or a comment. But, every day, growing numbers of parents find the name and the communities that come with it – and breathe a sigh of relief to find welcome, encouragement, information, and freedom from judgment.

From professionals to media, it’s not just parents who are discussing Attachment Parenting.

The Latest Fad, or Something More? Time for some clarification and a reality check…

The Technology of Attachment

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

Grandmother Naomi, now well into her 80s, still remembers the excitement she felt the first time she used the newly invented mop that allowed her to wash her floors without bending down on her hands and knees.

Change has come fast in 50 years – from the mop to electrical gadgets, cell phones, ipods, computers, blackberries, and internet. In fact, the upgrade in technology is so fast that new systems are designed before we have even mastered the use of the older versions.

For parents, this is not necessarily good news. “Attachment technology” is very powerful. It was originally designed for use in business, but in recent years has fallen into the hands of the young, and today teenagers and children often know more about cell phones, ipods, sms and icq than their parents. Why is this called “attachment technology,” and why is it cause for concern for parents and teachers?

The greatest need of children is attachment. The more secure the attachment, the more the child can rest in it and be free to express and come to define his own individuality. Only a secure relationship with an adult can provide this. Today, however, more and more children and teens are having their attachment needs met through relationships with other children or teens. The problem with this is that children and teens are not yet mature enough for true, deep relationships and so these relationships are rarely secure. Friendships are formed and broken easily; friends tease each other, talk behind each other’s backs, and betray each other’s secrets. There is no true fulfillment from this kind of relationship. It is shallow and creates a strong energy that drives a child to restlessness, conformity, and preoccupation with how to be accepted and fit in with the group. As a result, the child’s own individuality, creativity, and originality are trumped.

If children and teens were using their cell phones and computers to stay in contact with their parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, we would have no problem. But they are using them to stay in touch with each other. Even worse, they are being pulled more deeply into an artificial youth culture that never existed before and that does not offer them anything of true and lasting value. As the ties to parents, family, and teachers weaken, the rebellion against family and school grows stronger and the normal processes of maturation into adulthood become more and more stuck, creating aggression and other social problems.

Adults today need to create a culture, rules, and habits around the use of attachment technology. When all we had was the telephone, we knew where our children were when they used it. We knew who they were speaking with and about what they were speaking. The whole family shared one phone and phone calls were limited. Cell phones have changed this. Parents at home and teachers at school need to create new rules and rituals to protect our children and teenagers from the addiction that they lead to. And even more than this, we need to strengthen our own attachments to our children and students so they will not have to continue their futile search to satisfy this hunger in ways that hurt them.

What Happens to the Brain When We “Lose It”

By Kelly Bartlett, certified positive discipline educator and attachment parenting leader (API of Portland, Oregon USA)

Learning neuroscience isn’t something every parent has time for, so Dr. Dan Siegel and Mary Hartzell, authors of Parenting from the Inside Out, developed a simple and surprisingly accurate model of the brain that parents can make with their own hands, which helps us understand what goes on in there. When we know what’s going on in our children’s brains (and in our own), we are better able to respond sensitively and appropriately when emotions run strong.

Make a fist with your thumb tucked inside your fingers. This is the model of your brain; your fist is the brain, and your wrist and forearm are the spinal cord, carrying nerve impulses to the rest of your body.

The bottom of your palm is the brainstem. This is where the brain connects to the spinal cord and is where our instinctive behavior and involuntary functions are regulated. The brain stem controls things like breathing, heart rate, hunger, digestion, body temperature, etc. It is our basic, “primitive” brain.

Your thumb, tucked in the middle of your fist, is the midbrain. This is where our emotions and memories are created and processed, as well as where the fight-or-flight reflex is triggered. The midbrain is our “emotional brain.”

The back of your hand and fingers, encasing everything, is the cerebral cortex. This is where higher functioning occurs. This part of our brain allows us to think logically, act with kindness and empathy, and it houses our reasoning and problem-solving abilities. The cortex is our “rational brain.” It is in this part of a child’s brain that Attachment Parenting has a profound impact.

The brain is structured to communicate. It sends messages from section to section within itself about what our bodies are feeling and needing. When a child screams, “No!” and lashes out to hit because he is angry, a parent’s brain interprets this data as, “Hmm, I don’t like this, and I need to be treated differently.” Only we don’t always react so calmly, right?

Take another look at your brain-fist. See where your fingernails are? That’s the prefrontal cortex, the very front part of your brain that sits behind your eyebrows. This is where logic and reasoning originates. It’s the part of the brain that kicks into gear when we have a problem to solve. Now, sometimes the emotional brain (thumb) and the rational brain (fingers) don’t communicate so well. The emotions of the midbrain are simply too overwhelming, our fight-or-flight reflex triggers, and we “flip our lids.” Now make all four of your fingers stand straight up. Flip.

Of course, our brains don’t actually change shape like this, but this simple demonstration is a valuable tool in understanding how our brains function during emotionally charged situations. See your fingertips now? See how far away from the midbrain they are? When we “flip our lids,” our rational brains have a very poor connection with our emotional brains. Our feelings are intense, and we’re not able to access the logical, problem-solving part of our brain. We need to calm our anger and ease our fears in order to restore our rational brain to its coherent state (close fingers over thumb again).

Children and adults alike experience a flipped lid. But as the human brain isn’t fully mature (that is, all parts communicating effectively) until sometime between 21 and 30 years old, children flip their lids much more often. They need a lot more help “re-connecting” the prefrontal cortex with the midbrain; that is, calming down and learning how to respond to strong emotions.

Here are a few tools taken from Jane Nelsen’s “52 Positive Discipline Tool” Cards that help during “flipped lid” moments:

  • Hugs – When your child flips her lid, a hug may be the last thing you want to offer. But it might be the thing she needs most. The mirror neurons in her brain are hard-wired to assess the emotional state of the people around her and influence how she’ll react. When her brain picks up on the loving composure in a hug, its chemistry begins to return to a calm state. If your child is not ready for a hug when she’s immediately upset, just let her know you’re available and would love a hug when she is ready. See what happens!
  • Focus on Solutions – This is for when you’re about to flip your lid. Yes, there’s a huge mess on the floor. Yes, your two-year-old is bothering his older (and now very annoyed) sibling again. Yes, someone lost an important item again, or someone else is dawdling to get ready…again. But rather than get mad and yell (again), focus on practical solutions to these problems. Instead of thinking, “What can I to do to get through to you?” think, “What can I do to help you succeed with this? What solutions can we come up with?”
  • Positive Time Out – This is perfect for when either you or your child has a flipped lid. Before addressing your child, take a positive timeout for yourself to calm down and restore your brain chemistry. The problem—the one that triggered your flipped lid—will still be there, ready to be addressed when you’re feeling better. With time and practice, you can also teach your child how and when to take a positive time-out for himself, so he can learn how to calm down before doing or saying anything inappropriate.

As emotionally responsive parents, we help our children develop efficient communication between their emotional brains and their rational brains, though this is not easy! In the face of a highly emotional “flipped lid” (our own or our child’s), it is most helpful if we remember that the reaction is not personal or purposeful; it’s simply the normal result of our brain chemistry and just needs some loving restoration.

Connecting with Older Children during Pregnancy

By Kathleen Mitchell-Askar, contributing editor to The Attached Family

When I was pregnant with my first child, I wrote in my journal nearly every day about what I felt and the changes I was experiencing. Once a week, I went to a prenatal yoga class and I listened to special meditations to connect with my baby. If I wasn’t at work or caring for the home, I used to just lie down and feel my baby sweep her elbows and knees across my belly.

Pregnancy with my second child brought an entirely different experience. In nine months, I went to one yoga class, took my older child to my prenatal visits with me, and had an extra set of hands on my belly whenever the baby kicked. And while I enjoyed the few moments before I slept, feeling the baby alone, my prime focus during pregnancy was to prepare my older child for the arrival of a new sibling.

Knowing that the nine months of pregnancy before baby’s arrival would be my last nine months of parenting a single child, I tried, like all mothers of second babies, to include my older child in preparations for the baby in a way that made her feel valuable and important.

When parents find out they will be expecting a second child, they often wonder when and how to tell their first. Experts agree that the way in which parents tell their older child the news depends on the child’s age. The nine months before baby’s arrival may be an abstract idea for a younger child that doesn’t quite understand time; in this case, it sometimes helps to connect the birth to a holiday near which the baby should arrive.

A preschooler or kindergarten-aged child is bound to ask where babies come from. A child this age doesn’t necessarily want to know about sex but about where in the body the baby literally comes from. “The baby comes from the mommy’s uterus,” might be a good answer, especially if a parent has access to a developmentally appropriate, illustrated book about the body. A family’s religious or other values might lead to another response entirely; what matters most is that the answer be respectful and genuine.

When parents decide to tell their child about the new baby may depend on a past history of miscarriage. Some families may decide to wait until the second trimester, while others may not be able to contain their excitement and decide to tell their older child immediately.

During pregnancy, maintaining a strong bond with the older child is crucial. It may seem like everybody outside the home is focused on the mother’s belly and will constantly ask the older child what he thinks about having a new baby brother or sister, which may make the older child feel excluded or replaced. To keep an older child feeling important, spend ample time focused on him as an individual, rather than as a big brother-to-be. Spend time each day doing activities the child enjoys, like trips to the park or pool, family game time, and art projects. By allowing an older child to have time with Mom and Dad, doing the things he enjoys without talking about the baby, parents will maintain their child’s sense of his vital and valuable role in the family.

To lay the foundation for a loving relationship between siblings, parents can include their older child in preparations for the baby. Kids may have fun choosing potential names for the baby, picking out furniture and clothing, and helping assemble toys and furniture.

In order to prepare an older child for the shift to life with an infant, parents and their older children can look through pictures of the older child as a baby or go through her baby book. Talk to the child about special memories, silly things he did or said as a baby, how happy his mother and father were and still are to have him. It may also make the transition easier if parents talk about the attention a new baby needs, and if parents show pictures of the older child as a baby having a bath or snuggling with Mom or Dad, she can see how fun and tender life with a new baby can be.

Most bookstores and libraries have books about becoming a big brother or sister that can help a child understand what he or she can expect, such as The Big Sibling Book: Baby’s First Year According to ME by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, The Berenstain Bears’ New Baby or The Berenstain Bears Baby Makes Five by Stan Berenstain and Jan Berenstain, and Julius, the Baby of the World by Kevin Henkes. There are also big-brother and big-sister journals in which the child can draw pictures for his sibling and record his hopes for the fun games they can play together and what he wants to teach his little brother or sister to do. Kids may even enjoy assembling their own journals or scrapbooks from scratch.

Once the baby arrives, older siblings often enjoy helping to change diapers and give baths. Other children may prefer to have their own “baby,” a doll or animal that they diaper, bathe, and carry in a sling. There will, of course, be times when the older child asks Mom or Dad for something when the parent must feed the baby or change a particularly dirty diaper. At these times, parents should avoid saying that they will help the older child after they have helped the baby; instead, something like, “When I have a free hand in just a minute, I will help you,” may prove a more acceptable answer to an anxious older child.

There will be times, too, when the family must wait for the baby to wake up before going on an outing. In this case, blame the wait on an expected phone call or urgent load of laundry rather than on the baby’s nap. In the meantime, play a game the child enjoys, draw a picture, or bake cookies; after all, naptime may be the only time of day when an older child can have Mom or Dad all to herself.

Many parents of only children wear the baby in a sling to keep the baby close and content. When parenting an older child and a younger one, wearing a sling or carrier becomes all the more essential, because the parent can then have her hands free to push the older child on the swing or help him tie his shoes. And having children who feel happy and loved is all a parent can ask for.

The Invisible Bond Not Limited to Parents

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

Ricki was in trouble again with her first-grade substitute teacher, this time for accidentally spilling water on her desk. She missed her regular teacher who was on a four-month leave of absence after giving birth. Ever since the new teacher came, Ricki hated school. She was sure the teacher didn’t like her — for forgetting her homework one day, for not paying attention another day, and now for spilling water on the desk. She returned home each day, filled with foul frustration, which erupted in attacking her younger brother, taunting her older sister, and talking back to her parents.

She counted the days until her real teacher would return to teach the class. She was so excited with anticipation that she prepared a folder from an empty cereal box and decorated it with foil paper and stickers. Then she drew some pictures, wrote her teacher a letter, and put these in the folder. On the morning her teacher was to return, Ricki got up extra early and carefully got dressed and brushed her hair. She wanted to look her best for her teacher. She also wanted to make sure to be at school early.

There she was, the teacher, standing at the head of the stairs. When she turned around and saw Ricki at the end of the hallway, her face lit up into a big smile and she stretched her arms out wide to Ricki. Ricki, too, smiled and ran as fast as she could into the inviting arms of her teacher.

What magic did the teacher possess that drew Ricki to her,that commanded her attention and brought out in Ricki the desire to please her? It’s called attachment energy, and it works like a magnet. The teacher knew intuitively how to collect Ricki and activate the deep attachment instinct that is meant to connect a child to the caring adults who are responsible for her. It is an invisible bond that creates an irresistible attraction that is felt but not seen. It is what we all long for, children and adults alike.

But children need it even more because they are not yet mature enough to exist without it. They cannot learn without this invisible connection. Children of elementary school age, and even many high school students, have not yet developed enough independent thinking, personal goals, or maturity to sustain the effort needed to achieve these goals. They are still of the age when they do the bidding of adults in order to fulfill their attachment needs. It is so important that these needs be met if children are to develop the mature independence and social responsibility we long to see in them. Ricki loves and wants to please her teacher, because her teacher smiles at her and takes delight in seeing her. Her teacher gives her the generous invitation to come into her arms and exist in her presence. Her teacher knows how to collect her with her eyes, smile, warmth, and making Ricki feel special. Ricki can feel that her teacher loves her. Continue reading

Creating a Village

By Jenni Pertuset, parent consultant, API Leader in Seattle, Washington USA, http://apiseattle.org

The life of a parent can feel very isolated. Warm relationships with caring adults can sustain us when we’re struggling and help our children feel at ease when they’re away from home. So, how do we build the village we need to raise our children?

What is a Village?

My working definition of a “village” is that it is a connected community of caring adults who support us in nurturing our relationships with our children. A village isn’t just a set of friends. It is those friends, neighbors, extended family members, and acquaintances who, whether it’s intentional or even knowing, help deliver us as a parents to our children. We are of course not just recipients of support, but full participants, offering our caring and support to others.

Principles

Building a village requires effort and persistence. It is rare to stumble into a ready-made community where you are and feel immediately welcome. Even in inclusive and inviting organizations, it takes reaching out, showing up frequently, extending invitations repeatedly, and having patience.

It also requires vulnerability. This is apparent in the effort itself — extending ourselves and making invitations that may not be accepted can be challenging. And the challenge doesn’t end once we’ve established relationships, either. Opening our homes and our lives to other people also opens our heart to hurts, but we can hardly find genuine relationships without that willingness.

Building a strong village also requires accepting differences. While we’re all looking for people who share our values or who are otherwise like us, true community allows for diversity, where our connection is deeper than our similarities. (Although there is of course a point at which we will not sacrifice our values for the sake of connection.) Continue reading