All posts by The Attached Family

Playful Parenting with Older Children and Teens

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

Young children play effortlessly. Kids are naturally predisposed to play, and it doesn’t take much to engage a child in a silly game or role-play. Through play, kids express feelings, needs, thoughts, and ideas that they might not yet have the words to articulate. Playing together lets parents connect and communicate with kids beyond a conversation and provides insight into their world.

But how does playtime change as kids get older? How can parents adapt their approach to playful parenting after kids outgrow the desire to get silly, wrestle, and pretend? How can we achieve the same results with our teenagers that we can by playing “tickle monster” with our toddlers?

Emily Troper is an early childhood educator, a founder of Continuum Learning Community in Portland, Oregon USA, and an attached mom who says that play is a big part of her family’s life. Troper has four children ages 6 to 19, and though she says it can be difficult to find ways to play that suit all of her kids, it is important enough to continue to try. Troper shares some of her family’s insights on how they continue to play together and what playtime looks like in a house with teenagers.

Physical Play

Physical games don’t lose their appeal for kids, but they do become more organized. While young children enjoy the rough-and-tumble play of wrestling, tackling, being tossed, rolled, or carried, older children (and their developing logical brains) enjoy sports, games, and other organized activities. Basketball, golf, tennis, jogging, even air hockey or table soccer all release endorphins and cause players to experience a shared, “feel-good” moment.
Interactive physical activity provides emotionally connecting experiences for parents and kids.

Troper says that despite her children’s wide range of ages, they have discovered several games that they all enjoy. She says, “We love the sock game from Larry Cohen’s book [Playful Parenting]. Everyone wears socks and sits on the floor. When we say ‘Go!’ we try to get off the other family members’ socks but keep our own on.” Their family also loves driving go-carts and playing Ping-Pong together.

Verbal Play

As children grow and their brains and language become more developed, jokes are a great way to stay connected. Jokes are interactive, and they keep us thinking and laughing together. A funny joke activates many areas of the brain and releases endorphins when we “get it” and find the humor in it. For Troper’s family, play has become much more verbal as her children have grown older, with mealtimes becoming a new kind of playtime. She says, “We often share funny stories at the dinner table and have a long history of inside jokes.”

Fun Stuff

Besides finding games that the whole family can do together, Troper says it’s equally important to have fun with each of her kids individually. She recommends joining kids in whatever they’re interested. “With my oldest son, we enjoyed watching comedy shows after the younger ones were sleeping and laughing our heads off together.” Whether the activity is playing cards or board games, listening to music, building Legos, or playing laser tag, sharing regular, enjoyable one-on-one time helps parents stay in-tune with their child’s interests and keeps their connection strong.

A Listening Tool

In the early years, play helps express a child’s feelings and is an avenue for parent-child communication. According to Troper, this did not change much as her kids have grown older and outgrown the creative play of early childhood. For her teenagers, playful, enjoyable moments continue to be opportunities for listening to find out what her children might be feeling and needing. She says, “With my oldest son, the pre-teen years were filled with being in the car together in the morning and afternoon. We listened to the music he wanted to listen to and talked about it. It was light and fun, but every so often, deeper subjects would come up and it was a safe space to talk.”

Although parents may not share all of their kids’ interests, taking the time to understand and get involved in them inevitably leads to talking, connecting, and building a trusting relationship. The games may change as kids get older, but the enjoyment of playtime doesn’t end in early childhood. Tweens and teens still like to have fun. They still like to laugh. They still express themselves through their interests. No matter how playtime has evolved, parents can use it as an opportunity to get and stay close to their growing children.

Love Not Always Floodlights and Fireworks, but Sometimes It Is

By Megan Oteri, www.memomuse.wordpress.com

My son is sleeping on my husband’s chest. Snuggled in an O against his broad shoulders in a snuggly nest. Resting easy, gently. I want my son to wake up because I haven’t seen him this morning. My husband let me sleep in, because I stayed up late last night writing and working on grad school work. I woke refreshed and awake, not my usual still-feel-like-I-need-two-more-hours-of-sleep grogginess. Dare I say refreshed. Yes, I was refreshed.

As I walked by my two darlings, my husband was singing a song and waving me off –- as in, “go away!” So you don’t wake the boy. He is almost asleep. I went to the kitchen to get my breakfast and make coffee. I toasted two slices of cinnamon-raisin bread and slowly buttered it, taking my time. I put my son’s toys in the basket that I washed yesterday, placing them in, like an organizer would, quite a difference than their daily throw-it-in-the-basket routine. I did some laundry, changing over a load in the washer to the dryer and taking the dried clothes out of the laundry room. That load is in the kitchen. Still.

I want my little one to wake up. I miss his little face, his little body. His tiny little shoulders -– how they’ve grown — yet he is still so tiny. Continue reading

Attachment as Important at School as at Home

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

If your children or grandchildren are anything like mine, they were looking forward to starting school after the long, hot summer, equipped with their new books and school supplies. No doubt, you too are hoping that their enthusiasm about learning will last. All too often, not far into the school year, children complain about too much homework, teachers not being fair, boring classes, bullying on the playground, and the list goes on. What, if anything, can we do to help our children look forward to school and keep their natural bias to learn and grow?

In a nutshell, the answer is to cultivate secure teacher-student attachment. Let me illustrate with a true story. A girl in the third grade, who was getting ready for school one morning, remarked to her mother, “I don’t want to get slapped again by my teacher.” Her mother, startled by this statement, asked her what she meant by being slapped. “I didn’t actually get slapped,” she replied, “but the nasty face my teacher makes is worse, because she uses it all morning.” This student did only the minimum that was required of her. She did not seek to be close to her teacher or to take counsel with her. Nor did she see her teacher as a role model that she would like to emulate. To put it simply, the girl was not attached to her teacher. As a result, she also lost her enthusiasm for learning.

On the other hand, when a student is attached to her teacher, she wants to be close. She loves her teacher and wants to be like her. She is motivated to do her best to learn and succeed.

If you can picture the well-known image of the mother goose followed by a neat, orderly row of  goslings, you get a glimpse of the attachment dynamic in nature. Mother goose is the compass point for her goslings, and she need not worry that they will go astray. This unseen force is what needs to be harnessed between parents and children as well as teachers and students, so that children will maintain their orientation toward the adults responsible for them. The child might not know where you are leading him, but he will follow with trust. This is the true source of a teacher’s authority and ability to teach and influence. This can make the difference in whether or not a child will look forward to coming to school. To the child, school must feel like a safe, secure place where he is cared for. He knows he will find comfort and consolation from his teacher or from other caring members of the school staff. Of course, every child needs to feel this at home, too. Until this need is met, the child’s brain is not free to learn. This is the number-one priority on the brain’s agenda! Learning is a luxury!

A five-year-old complained to his parents that he doesn’t want to go to kindergarten anymore, because “no one is in charge.” Upon investigation, the parents learned that there was a bully among the children and their son took the side of the bully in order to avoid being pushed around by him because the teacher was not solving the problem. “No one is in charge” was the child’s way of saying, “No one is protecting me from getting hurt. Being in school is too alarming for me!” As a result, this child became aggressive and uncooperative.

Although research shows that while children who are in daycare or preschool before the age of five show improvements in cognitive performance, the results are the opposite for emotional health and intelligence.  Researchers have found that levels of stress hormones are high in young children whose emotional needs are not taken care of, and this can lead to aggressive behavior, noncompliance, anxiety, and depression, even years later in life. In this environment, there is no room for creative thought and interest.

Whether a child is in daycare, elementary, or high school, his attachment needs should be taken care of as a first priority. What does an attachment-based environment look like? The teacher greets and welcomes her students with warmth and a smile. Throughout the day, she finds ways to let each student know she cares about him or her. She focuses on her students’ good intentions and personal development, instead of on behavior and performance. She knows how to support a child’s interests, curiosity, and natural desire to learn, instead of motivating through competition and prizes. She helps her students feel safe and protects them from being shamed, hurt, or bullied. She believes in her students and sees the goodness in them. She welcomes the parents of her students into the learning process.

Our goal should be to create learning environments that are attachment-based, in which teachers give their students the sense of home, safety, and security they need to be able to focus on learning and thinking creatively.

Spotlight On: Soothing Slumber DVD

API: Tell us, exactly what is the Soothing Slumber DVD?

RACHEL RAINBOLT: The Soothing Slumber DVD is a video class of infant massage for nighttime. You will learn all the strokes you need to soothe your baby into a deeper and longer sleep while also gaining knowledge about different sleeping arrangements, safe sleep, why babies wake during the night, and what strategies you can use to maximize the amount of sleep that’s healthy for your baby. Incorporate the Soothing Slumber nighttime massage into your bedtime routine and slow your baby’s heart rate, regulate breathing, increase circulation, warm hands and feet, balance hormone levels, and give your baby a lasting dose of skin-to-skin contact and bonding, sending your baby off to a peaceful slumber. The DVD also includes an 18-page Parent Booklet containing stroke handouts, an outline of all of the nighttime parenting material, the Nighttime Harmony article, and a worksheet for parents to incorporate what they have learned into their relationship and life with their baby.

API: What have parents found to be most useful about this DVD? Continue reading

Spotlight On: Million Minute Family Challenge

API: Tell us, exactly what is the Million Minute Family Challenge?

BETH MUEHLENKAMP: The Million Minute Family Challenge is a grassroots effort across the United States and Canada to encourage families and friends to play non-electronic games together. We know people across the country enjoy playing games; this is a way for them to visually see their efforts and connect with others who share the same interest.

API: What have parents found to be most useful about the Million Minute Family Challenge?

BETH: Most parents tell me that the Million Minute Family Challenge gave them a reason or goal to turn off the TV, computer, or video game and reconnect around a board game. It gave them that little extra push, and when their kids see that other kids across the country are doing this, too, they get excited. The other bonus is that there is no cost to join and it takes as little as 20 minutes, but the benefits can last a lifetime. Plus, we provide you with an organizer kit and all the tools you need just in case you want to plan a larger scale game night or spread the word to your school, church, or any other group you are involved with.

API: How does the Million Minute Family Challenge fit into Attachment Parenting? Continue reading

The Busy Brain Kit

By Judy Arnall, director of Attachment Parenting Canada, www.professionalparenting.ca

Are you worried about your children’s bent necks and poor posture? Do their batteries run out at the wrong time?  Concerned that your toddler might drop your iphone? You don’t have to rely on cell-phone applications, portable handheld gaming devices, media players, and other electronic devices to occupy your kids during waiting times.

These constructive ideas will stimulate imagination, creativity, intellect, problem solving, and social skills. Best of all, they don’t require cable or batteries, can be taken anywhere, and will amuse toddlers to teens.

The lot of these items should fit in a small 9-by-12 inch container, such as a rectangular plastic box with a snap lid, a backpack, or even a laptop side pocket or briefcase for ease of carrying to restaurants, appointments, or airports. Continue reading

Attachment Parenting Our Teens

By Laurie A. Couture, author of Instead of Medicating and Punishing

So many attachment parents start out so passionate about giving very young children the best start possible in life: Moms birth naturally, spare their sons the trauma of circumcision by keeping them intact, breastfeed for at least three years or longer, carry their babies at all times, cosleep for several years, and they ideally are gentle and nurturing to their young ones as the children begin to assert their wants and express upset emotions.

Sadly, however, something happens between the ages of seven and 12 in far too many families who started out as attachment-minded: Moms and dads stop parenting for attachment and connection and start letting the mainstream lifestyle creep in. This often translates into sending children to school to suffer with all of its toxic elements, passively allowing children to become saturated and enslaved by the media, consumerism, pop culture and peer culture. And most tragically, moms pull away emotionally and physically from their older children.

If children as young as seven to 12 years old are being slowly absorbed into the mainstream cultural ideals of consuming and “individuating,” where does that leave our teenaged children? Very lost and disconnected, for sure!

Even in the Attachment Parenting (AP) community, writings about adolescent children have a negative and anti-attachment twinge to them: Most writings about parenting teens advise that teens should be  “individuating” from their parents and parents should be “pulling back” and “letting go” of their adolescent children. Due to years of “letting go,” parents of teens seem to passively assume that the disconnected behavior of their teens is “natural” and they oblige: They pull away and let go of their child even more.

My beautiful 17-year-old son Brycen is a free-spirited, self-directed child who revels in the freedom of unschooling. His expression of his individualism is unique, evolving and all his own creation. He is busy with endless creative pursuits, music, community activities, and flexible work of his choosing. He can sometimes be gone for days with back-to-back plans with friends. He knows that if he wanted to travel, or manifest an opportunity in his life, I would stand behind him in doing it. Brycen is truly a free child!

The most important essence of his life, however, is that he and I are deeply and closely connected. The parent-child attachment security and his needs are just as much my priority now as they were when he was little. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, and creatively, I have not “backed off,” “stepped back,” or “let go.” I have not relaxed my protection of him, diluted my delight in him, or weakened my nurturance of him. Instead, as if he was little, I have remained a loving, nurturing, affectionate, compassionate, protecting, delighted, supportive, and passionate mom to my son throughout his adolescence. In doing so, I have set him free to grow holistically.

What is your emotional reaction to this? Do you feel happiness, warmth, and a sense of bliss? Or do you feel uncomfortable, anxious or defensive — a desire to  give me your contrary opinion?

Our society seems to feel very uncomfortable about parent-teen closeness, especially mom and son closeness. These are deep cultural wounds in the collective unconscious that continue to be part of our culture. Tragically, as a result of this harmful emotionally charged bias, boys are often cast off physically and emotionally by their moms by their eighth or ninth year of life — a decade before they can handle such a disconnect! Teens who are disconnected from their parents are often stuck in a dynamic with their parents of push and pull, love and hate, compliance and rebellion, clinginess and aggression, being controlled and being pushed away.

Let’s return to nature for a moment: Nature’s intent is the only parenting advice we truly need. Our parenting challenges, concerns, and choices can become so simple if we consider, “What is nature’s intent for a child’s holistic development?” Nature is our reference manual, our guide to mammalian and human needs.

Our closest mammalian relative, a primate called the bonobo, is a great example of mother-adolescent relationships in the wild. In bonobos, the mother is intensely affectionate to her young well into adolescence. The daughter stays with the mother for seven years, at which time she leaves her mother and joins a neighboring tribe of bonobos. The son, however, remains dependent upon his mother for ten years and, as an adult, will be joined by his mate to live with his mother for life.

What about humans? In the Yequana tribe of South America, documented by the late Jean Liedloff in The Continuum Concept, adolescents and young adults remain interdependent with their parents until they marry. There is no teenage rebellion, no “individuating,” no mutual disrespect, no parental pushing away, no “letting go,” no “backing off,” and no “casting out of the nest,” even once the teen reaches adulthood. In fact, if an unmarried young adult’s parents pass away, another family in the tribe will “adopt” the young adult into their family until that adult marries. Parent-child affection, physical nurturance (especially during a time of injury or illness), support, and protection continues in many peaceful, nonviolent tribal societies well into young adulthood, until the adult child marries.

But what about the American mainstream cultural phenomenon of “helicopter parenting” happening to Generation-Y and the Millennials? Isn’t Attachment Parenting adolescents akin to Helicopter Parenting? No doubt, people’s fear of the unhealthy parent-child clinginess of Helicopter Parenting is what incites cultural backlash that is even more harmful. The imfamous Tiger Mother method, a new label on the old problem of child maltreatment, is one example (which ironically is opposite of how real tigers parent their young).

Both Helicopter Parenting and the Tiger Mother method are examples of parenting that is grossly contrary to nature’s intent for children. The children of families that interact in this manner are disconnected and insecurely attached. Such youth are all dependent upon their parents in an unhealthy manner, begging to get basic needs met that have never been met. These ways of raising children are stifling, suffocating, mentally crippling, and in the case of children treated harshly, traumatizing. Children parented in these ways will grow up incompletely, to be holistically wounded, unfulfilled, distressed, empty, and stunted. In both of these extremes, children are not allowed to live and learn in freedom and in joy. Their holistic needs are not met and their passions are not guided and nurtured. In these cases, parents live their children’s lives for them, controlling them every step of the way, giving them only a mirage of a relationship and of a life that evaporates when touched. This is not nature’s intent for children. This is youth maltreatment.

Attachment Parenting our teens means keeping the parent-child connection and attachment secure and strong throughout childhood from birth until adulthood. The behavior and emotional stability of our teens will reflect the quality of this attachment. Attachment Parenting our teens means remaining physically and emotionally affectionate and nurturing, available, compassionate, and sensitive. It means allowing them to unschool to keep them free of the toxic, stressful environments of school. It means allowing your teens to direct their own lives, learning, healthy interests, and passions while you support these endeavors as passionately as you did when they were much younger.

Editor’s Note: The Attached Family invites various views on Attachment Parenting, and this author’s choice of schooling for her child is one of them. Attachment Parenting International takes no stance on schooling and believes that children in formal school settings, as well as homeschooling and unschooling, are equally able to maintain a strong parent-child attachment.

Attachment Parenting means listening to your teens everyday and getting excited about what they are excited about. It means talking openly and honestly with them about things they want to know such as puberty,  masturbation, sex, sexual orientation issues, moral principles, social justice, world events, life and death, philosophy, and spirituality. It means treating teens with respect, dignity, humanity, and care — not speaking to them with sarcasm, cynicism, irritation, and disgust. It means understanding the incredible hormonal changes happening to your children that might mean they appear less responsible or helpful than when they were younger: Be sensitive to and celebratory with them of the amazing metamorphosis their bodies and brains are experiencing! It means protecting them online and in the community from sexually explicit media, predatory adults (men and women), drug addictions, media addictions, and sexually dangerous situations through dialogue, discussion, and honesty about your feelings and principles.

Attachment Parenting means allowing your teen children to unfold as they are, not what you wish for them to be. It means letting go of controlling them but not letting go of nurturing them. It means guiding them in life and cultivating a loving, peaceful, and interdependent relationship with them, where they feel free to branch out, return, branch out again, return, and fly when they are ready. It means holding them in an embrace of unconditional love and emotional support — an attachment bond that will last a lifetime!

The Basics of Breastfeeding Advocacy

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

Breastfeeding has seen the gamut in terms of public support. For centuries, it was the most natural thing to do, and then in the mid-20th Century, it suddenly became taboo and nearly disappeared from Western civilization. Through La Leche League International and other breastfeeding advocates, it has steadily made a comeback into mainstream family culture. But, in some respects, breastfeeding still has a long way to go — in normalizing public breastfeeding and breastfeeding for working mothers, and improving access to lactation services for all socio-economic classes by enabling lactation consultants to be reimbursed by health insurance and Medicaid.

“It’s very important that people realize they have a voice and that people will listen to that voice — and you don’t have to have a lot of letters after your name,” said Dr. Laura Wilwerding, MD, IBCLC, FAAP, FABM, a pediatrician in Plattsmouth, Nebraska USA, and a pediatrics professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, where she lectures on breastfeeding medicine, child advocacy, antibiotic overusage, and obesity prevention.

In addition to being a fellow of the International Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, Wilwerding is involved in the Nebraska chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics as the breastfeeding coordinator, the Nebraska Breastfeeding Coalition on the leadership team, and as a member of the Nebraska Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity Prevention Advisory Board. Wilwerding spoke during the La Leche League of Nebraska Annual Breastfeeding and Parenting Conference in May 2011 in Omaha, Nebraska USA.

“Particularly locally, you do have power, and not just with elected officials but also hospital administrators and human services program directors,” she said. It’s all in your approach. Continue reading

10 Phrases to Make a Better Parent

By Judy Arnall, author of Discipline without Distress, www.professionalparenting.ca

Many times as parents, we blurt out sayings that we heard as children and later vowed to never say to our own children. However, that is easier said than done. In times of stress, we revert very easily back to actions and phrases we saw and heard when we were parented.

Parenting skills are learned skills, and we can consciously effect change if we become aware of what needs to be changed. Here are 10 common parenting phrases and alternatives to nurture closer, caring, and more respectful relationships with our children.

INSTEAD OF: You are a bad boy.
TRY: What did you learn from this? What can you try next time?

INSTEAD OF: Hurry Up! We are late!
TRY: It’s okay. Take the time you need… (Next time, leave more time to get ready!)

INSTEAD OF: Oh no! Look at what you have done!
TRY: It really won’t matter five years from now! I will show you how to fix this.

INSTEAD OF: You need to…
TRY: I need you to…

INSTEAD OF: Because I said so!
TRY: I’ll explain my reasoning in five minutes when I’m not distracted so much.

INSTEAD OF: Stop that tantrum right now!
TRY: You feel frustrated and angry. Can I give you a hug?

INSTEAD OF: No!
TRY: I can see you really want that but I can’t provide it right now.

INSTEAD OF: You’ve wrecked my…
TRY: I’m really angry right now. I need to take a timeout.

INSTEAD OF: Stop doing that!
TRY: Would you consider this?

INSTEAD OF: Suck it up and stop crying.
TRY: It’s OK to cry and feel your feelings. Want a hug?

INSTEAD OF: Go play and leave me alone.
TRY: I love you!

Try any one of these substitutions today and you will see how much better your parent-child relationship will be. If you are not sure what to say and how to say it, especially in the moment, just offer a hug. You will be surprised how much body language can communicate empathy and affection, and then you can get on with solving the problem with your child.

A Parent’s Look at: BabyBabyOhBaby

By Beth Hendrickson, blogger at http://bellesqueaks.wordpress.com

“They grow up so fast” I hear from everyone. My parents, my friends, other moms at the pool, the sweat-drenched mailman, the harried grocery store clerk, the homeless woman. It’s been a unanimous vote through all of those precious (sleepless?) early months. Mired as I was in the molasses of my days, I felt confident disregarding the dire predictions. Sure, Little Friend would grow up…someday…in the vague and distant future. I forgot about the future’s annoying propensity to turn into today. Yesterday, as I watched Little Friend select her shoes, put on bracelets, and feed her baby (doll) at 19 years, I mean, months old, I had to join the wistful chorus in decrying, “They grow up so fast!” I’m now ever more so grateful for the moments I invested in Little Friend’s infancy to baby massage, thanks to the incomparable BabyBabyOhBaby DVD.

I’m not sure I would have sought out a baby massage DVD if it hadn’t been for having a premature baby and reading all of the accompanying literature singing the healthful, healing benefits of infant massage. I’m not exactly the incense-burning, new age music type of gal, although I do love me a good massage. But I found myself sitting at home in the dead of a snow-engulfed winter, staring at a four-pound baby wondering what in the world I was going to do for the next couple of months until Little Friend was allowed out and about. So began our daily sessions of infant massage. I couldn’t treasure more the memories, both mental and physical, of spending quiet, concentrated moments pressing my love and affection stroke by stroke through the skin, sinews, muscles, and ligaments of my little one’s body. Continue reading