All posts by The Attached Family

What to do When Children Demean Each Other

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

Q: My daughter calls her brother stupid and he feels hurt. He does the same in return. I tried everything, but neither of them will stop. How do I teach them to stop hurting each other and to use proper language?

A: At a family counseling in my home, a girl called her sister “stupid.” Both girls then engaged in yelling at each other, “you are stupid,” and were getting very upset. I then announced, “Me too. I am stupid.” They looked at me and started laughing, relieving their own stress. I continued cheerfully and with rhythm, “I am stupid, Dad is stupid, Mom is stupid too, Grandma is stupid, Beethoven was stupid, the neighbor is stupid…” Then I shared my own stupid moments and the upset turned into laughter. The children got so excited that they started telling about their own stupid moments.

Two weeks later, the mother called to tell me that her older daughter said, “I can’t call her [sister] stupid anymore. It doesn’t work. She doesn’t get hurt.” To the mother’s surprise, the result was not a new vocabulary of harsh words but a greater connection between the girls. Continue reading What to do When Children Demean Each Other

Teens and Sex from an Attachment Perspective

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

You cannot understand sexuality without first understanding the attachment dynamic, psychologist Dr. Gordon Neufeld explains. The pursuit of proximity is one of the primary emotions that drive our behavior. The main way that the immature seek proximity and closeness is through the senses — being physically close: the most primitive way of attaching. On the heels of closeness through the senses is being the same as; by being the same as the person they are seeking contact with, they are holding that person close. This is also an immature way of attaching, for it does not allow room for individual expression. Following sameness, closeness is pursued through belonging and loyalty, still a rather shallow way to hold a person close as it does not leave enough room for your own personhood.

When a person matures and develops the capacity for deeper relationships, they can hold a person close without physical proximity or having to be the same as. They can feel altruistic love and psychological intimacy; they can share the essence of their being. There is mutual respect, caring, and being careful when someone entrusts his heart to you. This kind of relationship becomes eternal.

Adolescence is a time of becoming a sexual being. Teens have a new awareness of themselves, and touch itself becomes sexualized. Sometimes, the only way teenagers can experience contact and closeness is through sexual interaction — when they have not developed the capacity for deep relationship. A large part of teenage sexuality today is about sameness: being alike. If the norm seems to be sexually active at the age of 15, there’s huge pressure on the teen to imitate, emulate, be the same as his friends, and therefore to become sexually active. Adolescents and children of elementary school age are being exposed to sexual images and pornography through advertising, television, and the internet, and attaching to images and superstars who are highly sexual. This contributes to promiscuity and increased sexual activity, as the immature seek to be like the images they attach to on the screen.

Attaching through belonging and loyalty in the sexual arena creates a huge problem with girls obeying and showing loyalty to please boys, creating intense feelings of possessiveness and jealousy. Kids have no idea of how attached they become; how crucial it is for them to be significant to another. Boys might need to be significant in the eyes of other boys and therefore, in order to get status and recognition, must become sexually active. Instead of sex being part of the context of a deep, caring, long-term relationship, it is being divorced from love and turned into a cheap, shallow, and selfish way to serve the adolescent’s need for attachment.

One’s sexuality is only as developed as one’s capacity for relationship. The greatest expression of sexuality is in the context of marriage, when the potential for all the elements of attachment can be fulfilled. (However, not everyone grows up as they grow older, and even in marriage, one’s capacity for relationship might be superficial, and so the expression of sexuality will also be superficial. )

Dr. Neufeld, who has helped rehabilitate many teens from their addictions, explains that when you understand the nature of relationships, you see that sexual liberation is a myth, as there is no such thing as sexual freedom. The desire for sexual interaction automatically brings the desire for fusion and union. It’s meant to create an exclusive relationship because this connection involves incredible vulnerability. Teenagers are shocked to discover that some kind of union has taken place that there is no way to get out of without getting hurt. The greatest wounding comes from separation, being rejected, being ignored, losing your specialness. These painful feelings trigger defenses in the brain that lead to numbing out of feelings, tuning out perceptions, and a hardening or toughness, which actually fuel the need to pursue closeness through the senses. We are fooling ourselves if we think that the answer is teaching teens to use birth control or condoms, for we are ignoring the emotional pain and psychological problems that are involved.

A teenager’s safest bet is strong relationships with his parents, grandparents, teachers, and coaches. These relationships are hierarchical, and are not sexualized. The teen, as well as younger children, should have his attachment needs met in the context of his relationships with the important adults in his life. This is what prevents the sexualization of relationships with peers, and buys time for the teen to truly mature and develop the capacity for a deep, meaningful relationship.

As Dr. Neufeld puts it, “Sex is ‘super glue’ and is meant to bind two people together.” With greater understanding of the reactions of the brain, science is coming to a very conservative approach towards sex, concurring with the ancient wisdom about creating the right context for sexual relationships.

Why It’s Important to Help Children Make Friends

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

My four-year-old is exceptionally smart but has a tough time with social relationships due to developmental delays spurring from prematurity. In fact, she’s in a special school program designed to teach her social skills such as initiating interaction and maintaining conversation with peers. Some progress has been made, with much more to be done before she goes to Kindergarten.

Some people don’t understand why I put such emphasis on her social development, especially since academically she is well above her peers. But I remember having a tough time in school because of my lack of social skills, and I want my children to avoid that by learning all they can when they’re young. The ability to make and keep friendships is a life skill that will go on to determine part of their adult happiness.

Research (Hartup, 1990) shows that friendship serve many purposes, including:

Respectful Potty Training

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

Q: I have read about raising babies without diapers, or getting them out of diapers by two. I am pregnant and would like to do that with my second baby. However, I did not do that with my first child, and now my daughter is three-and-a-half and still in diapers. How can I help her to toilet-train, and how do I start it better with my second baby?

A: Human beings of all ages must be the sole owners of their bodies. Like you, your toddler wants to make her own bodily choices and timing. It is very crucial never to “train” or entice a child to get out of diapers. It is her body. You don’t want to teach her that someone else can decide things about her body.

Any attempt to toilet-train can slow the child down. In addition, many children develop inhibition and emotional discomfort with their own bodies due to pressure to get out of diapers. If you have used disposable diapers, it will take the child longer to change a familiar habit that has little consequence for her.

I suggest that you change to cotton diapers and drop the subject completely. In cloth diapers, your daughter will fully feel her own eliminations. Without pressure, she will eventaully want to stay dry and she will use the toilet of her own initiative. Being autonomous, she will be emotionally healthier and self-reliant.

Infants are aware when they eliminate and can indeed grow without diapers or with a minimal need for them. In natural societies, a baby is often carried naked on her mother’s body and when she needs to eliminate, the mother knows it and holds the baby away from her body above ground or a container. In his book, Magical Child, Joseph Chealton Pearce tells of a doctor who visited a natural tribe and was perplexed by mothers’ ability to know when the baby has to eliminate. “How do you know when your baby needs to go?” this doctor asked a mother whose naked baby was snuggled against her bare body. She looked puzzled and said, “How do you know when you need to go?”

The first lesson most babies receive in Western civilization is that elimination occurs in the privacy of their own clothes and is then ignored some of the time. They learn to become unaware of their bodily functions because we don’t respond promptly. The child is so comfortable with these familiar sensations that giving them up may not be so easy. You are asking her to change what she assumed was part of life and of herself and is very convenient.

Babies Know Their Bodies

With your next baby, try using elimination communication and/or cloth diapers with communication. The following are guidelines on how to nurture natural elimination awareness, followed by ways to recognize babies’ elimination cues.

Nurturing the baby’s awareness of her own body functions:

When your baby is eliminating, acknowledge what is going on with a sound or words — With delight and ease, let him know what he is doing and change his diaper as soon as he is done (or take him to the sink or toilet to eliminate without a diaper.) An aware baby wants to be dry because that’s what he is used to.

For faster growth out of diapers, use cotton ones — With cloth diapers, the baby is instantly aware of his own experience. Your prompt removal of the diaper brings that awareness to a sharp focus. All-in-one cloth diapers are as or more convenient than disposable and they are better for your baby’s skin, her health, and the environment. Clear the soiled ones into the toilet and put all the dirty diapers in a pail with water and vinegar till you launder them.

Have your baby and toddler watch you on the toilet — Acknowledge what you are doing with the same sounds as you make when she eliminates.

As soon as your baby crawls or walks, put a potty next to the toilet — Just have it available without an agenda. Your wee one wants to be like you. With autonomy and self-awareness, she will take the initiative when ready and will become more independent by learning to rely on herself.

While I am diving into the details of moving from diaper to toilet, I would like to suggest that, as parents, we have the opportunity to bring to an end the habit of males who pee standing and leave a mist of urine all around. I have raised three boys who sit while they pee and so does their father. It seems much more civilized and makes the bathroom a nicer place for all.

Here are some typical cues babies and toddlers give when they are about to eliminate:

Timing — Many babies go at specific intervals and times. Notice if the baby eliminates at a set number of minutes after nursing, specific times of the day or fixed intervals.

Facial expressions — Babies give us cues like tensed face, raised eyebrows, frowning, concentrating, pausing as though listening, becoming motionless, squirming, fussing, making specific sounds and/or movements, sudden increase or decrease of activity, stirring or waking from sleep, looking intently or reaching for you.

Movement — For an older baby, signals could also include moving toward the bathroom, holding the genitals, grunting, struggling to get out of a car seat or a snugly, or trying to get off padded places.

Intuition — You may find that you develop intuitive recognition of your baby’s physical need to eliminate even before they occur. Your mind may actually tell you that your baby needs to go. Listen to it. If you need to pee, it is possible that your baby needs to as well. One mother told me that she gets the sensation of warm wetness on her lap while the baby is still dry and the baby pees shortly after.

When using diapers — When you know that the baby is going to eliminate, say, “You are going to pee now” and as soon as she does, add the sounds of whatever the event is and promptly change her diaper. After she has cleared her bowel, let her walk around naked as much as possible. If she ends up peeing when nude, give her the same verbal feedback; she sees, feels, and hears you and her awareness will grow.

Using the sink or toilet — With your baby, you may be able to get to the bathroom before the diaper is soiled. However most babies, once they start to crawl or walk, are too busy to bother with the bathroom and you may have to use cotton diapers. Respect the baby’s or toddler’s choice, but if she is inclined to try the potty, let her. Respond to the child’s preference not as the director, but as the nurturer of her path. If the child senses that you want her to go in the potty, she may resist doing so and stay in diapers for a longer time; it must be her own desire.

No cheerleading — Stay neutral in your attitude. If your child senses that you are invested in her choices, she will either back off and delay getting out of diapers, or become dependent on pleasing and seeking approval. Children who are in diapers for longer are often waiting for parents to get out of the way so they can be in charge of themselves.

Have you noticed that when you are with your adult friends, you cannot tell when each one of them got out of diapers? If you already used manipulation and your child is resisting the toilet, make peace with reality and stop showing any interest. Enjoy every minute of surrender and delight. Early toilet training does not mean anything, and it often makes life with wee ones more difficult as you have to stop the car, interrupt dinner, and take junior to handle his business.

If you do elimination communication from early on, your child maybe a reliable user of the toilet. Or, she may pee on the floor sometimes. Living mostly indoors, I find that providing a child with cottom diapers is more respectful of her than having her pee on the rag. Trust your child’s inner guidance. It is reliable. Everything unfolds right on time as long as we understand the cues and respond to them.

Routines for Preschoolers

By Kelly Bartlett, certified positive discipline educator and leader for East Portland API, Oregon USA

Many parents fall into a routine with their new baby sometime in the first few months of life. Eating and sleeping habits go from having almost no predictability to settling into some level of expectedness. Over the first few years, with the addition of family activities, classes, friends, and preschool, parents and kids must somehow find a way to fit everything efficiently into their busy days.  Establishing routines helps with this.  Routines add comfort and security to families’ lives. Parents are able to feel more prepared in caring for their children, and kids can depend on the familiarity of “how things go.”

Dr. Jane Nelsen, author of Positive Discipline for Preschoolers, says that with routines, children have an opportunity to learn to focus on the needs of the situation: doing what need to be done because it needs to be done. “Children learn to be responsible for their own behavior, to feel capable, and to cooperate in the family. The parent doesn’t continually have to demand help,” according to Dr. Nelsen.  Continue reading Routines for Preschoolers

When Daddy Goes Away

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

Q: My husband will be going away for eight weeks in the near future. I am wondering how I can ease the stress of this separation on my 20-month-old son. My son is quite verbal, very sensitive, and very spirited. He is aware that Daddy is going to work, and has shown signs of stress already (potty training regression). What can I do to help my baby?

A: A baby who is loved and cared for by his mother and expresses his feelings fully can handle a lot more than we realize. Instead of wanting your baby not to experience anxiety, be present for his emotional expression. Children constantly heal themselves if we don’t get in their way or try to stop them.

Let your toddler go back to wearing diapers fully if he needs to, and support any crying, whining, and self-expression. He must go through the experience of missing dad, not avoid it. If you try to cheer him up and “avoid” the feelings, he learns that feelings are scary and that it is horrible to feel them. What heals him moment by moment is fully expressing himself.

To validate without drama, be sure that you don’t make up ideas that he is not feeling. If he cries and asks for his daddy, validate and reassure. He may be afraid that you would go, too. You can say things like, “You want Daddy to be here. Mommy knows,” and, “Mommy will never go. Daddy goes and come back.”

Drama is when you say things like, “Oh, you miss your daddy so much, poor thing, what a bummer…” Drama scares children. You want to give your toddler a sense of peace so he learns, “I have the power to be without daddy.” He does have that power because he is loved and has you always with him.

Be careful not to plant your anxiety in your baby’s mind. At this age, the child is present moment by moment and feels happy in the moment. It is possible that what you see is a response to your anxiety more than to dad’s trip. So, keep your attitude positive and powerful. He can handle daddy being away if you can handle what he feels about it.

As for technical ideas to ease separation, try video chatting and phone calls even before the trip, to get him used to seeing daddy on the screen and hearing his voice. However, some babies are better off not being reminded about the person they don’t get to see, so try and see how he reacts.

How much your baby anguishes over his dad’s absence is a reflection of your attitude. It is the same as when the toddler falls without injury. He will look at you to check what he is supposed to feel. If you rush toward him alarmed, he will cry. If you smile and do nothing, he gets up and keeps going. Be at peace and open to his emotions, and your baby will learn from you that he can go through this experience powerfully and joyfully.

Spotlight On: Camp Common Ground

API: Tell us, exactly what is Camp Common Ground?

CAROLE BLANE: I am a Leader of an Attachment Parenting International group in New Jersey and also the Program Coordinator at Camp Common Ground in Vermont. I was not always the program coordinator, however. Long ago I was just a practitioner of Attachment Parenting seeking a vacation spot for my family where we would be welcomed and embraced.

I don’t know about those of you who have little children now, but when ours were little we always found it difficult to take vacations with our three extended-nursing, cosleeping, and attached children. So many places in our culture are not actually all that family-friendly. I felt so lucky when I stumbled on Camp Common Ground, a family camp for adults and kids complete with arts and crafts, swimming, campfires, hiking, and cabins. Instead of sending your children away to camp, you get to go with them. What a unique idea! Continue reading Spotlight On: Camp Common Ground

The Best Time for Bilingual Education

By Emily Patterson and Kathleen Thomas,

Traditional wisdom has been to start teaching a second language in middle school, or even high school. Yet numerous research studies clearly demonstrate that the optimal period in a child’s life for multilingual education is during the preschool years — at exactly the same time they are learning their first language. Yes, it is possible to learn a second and third language later in life, but it is more difficult, because that neurological “window of opportunity” — when the brain is most malleable — has passed.

According to Dr. Fred Genessee, Professor of Psychology at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, it’s as easy for young children to learn two or three languages as it is for them to learn one. He’s not alone; educators throughout the world (in countries that often have two or even three official languages) have understood this for decades.

The way a child learns a second language is by actually speaking it in a total immersion environment. You may recall an episode of the animated series The Simpsons in which young Bart gets trapped on a farm in France — and by the end of the episode, finds he’s actually speaking the language. While this was a fictional scenario, the phenomenon is real; anyone who has taken young children abroad to stay with relatives in a foreign country for any length of time has observed this happening.

Enrollment in a preschool program that offers immersion in other languages is the best way to get your child started.

What’s the Big Deal with CIO?

By Margaret Chuong-Kim, MA

Among parents of infants these days, there is constant debate about how to respond to a baby’s cries. On one hand, there are proponents of the “cry it out” method, where the baby is left alone to cry in the hopes that he or she will eventually stop. On the other hand, there are the attachment parents who respond immediately to their crying babies and attempt to soothe them using various methods including holding and cuddling. While the cry-it-out (CIO) method has been popular in previous years, Attachment Parenting (AP) is gaining a foothold among new parents today. Results of studies in psychology indicate the AP approach to crying is most likely to result in an emotionally and physically healthy child.

The Origins of AP

Attachment Theory originated in the late 1960s, when psychologist John Bowlby postulated that a warm, intimate relationship between caregiver and infant is necessary for optimal health as well as for basic survival. As such, each individual is born well-equipped with reflexes and instincts for interacting with a primary caregiver, which is often the mother. For example, infants quickly learn to recognize and prefer both their mother’s voice and smell. As babies develop some locomotor control, they display their desire to be close to their caregivers by reaching toward their mother or father to be picked up or by crawling toward them. From an evolutionary perspective, these behaviors have survival value. Babies who lack such attachment behaviors will stray from their caregivers and are more likely to get lost, attacked, and perish. An infant’s cry is also intended to increase the likelihood of its survival, as a mother’s instinct is usually to go to her child at the first sign of distress.

We live in an age where we can know that the baby is safe in another room, despite the loudness of his cries. Does this mean we should leave babies to cry on their own? CIO proponents often advise that babies left to cry will eventually stop, and the duration of future crying bouts will decrease. What are the emotional consequences of crying for the infant when she is left unattended? Bowlby and colleagues initiated a series of studies where children between the ages of one and two years old who had good relationships with their mothers were separated from them and left to cry it out. Results showed a predictable sequence of behaviors:

  1. Protest consists of loud crying and extreme restlessness.
  2. Despair consists of monotonous crying, inactivity, and steady withdrawal.
  3. Detachment consists of a renewed interest in surroundings, albeit a remote, distant kind of interest.

Thus, it appears that while leaving babies to cry it out can lead to the eventual dissipation of those cries, it also appears that this occurs due to the gradual development of apathy in the child. The child stops crying because she learns that she can no longer hope for the caregiver to provide comfort, not because her distress has been alleviated.

AP and CIO Effects on the Amount of Crying

Do babies cry more when they are attended to? A 1986 study concluded just the opposite: The more a mother holds and carries her baby, the less the baby will cry and fuss. Cross-cultural studies also show that parents in non-Western societies are quicker than parents in Western societies to respond to their crying babies, and babies in non-Western societies cry for shorter spans of time. Caregivers in 78% of the world’s cultures respond quickly to an infant’s cries. For instance, Efe caregivers in Africa respond to a baby’s cries within ten seconds at least 85% of the time when the baby is between three and seven weeks old, and 75% of the time when the baby is 17 weeks old. !Kung caregivers respond within ten seconds more than 90% of the time during the baby’s first three months, and more than 80% of the time at one year old. In contrast, American and Dutch caregivers have been found to be deliberately unresponsive to an infant’s cries almost 50% of the time during the baby’s first three months. Infants in non-Western societies have been found to fuss just as frequently as those in Western societies, but due to the prompt response of caregivers in non-Western societies, the overall cumulative duration of crying is less than what occurs in Western societies.

How AP Works

According to Attachment Theory, many babies are born without the ability to self-regulate emotions — that is, they find the world to be confusing and disorganized, and do not have the coping abilities required to soothe themselves. Thus, during times of distress, they seek out their caregivers because the physical closeness of the caregiver helps to soothe the infant and to re-establish equilibrium. When the caregiver is consistently responsive and sensitive, the child gradually learns and believes that she is worthy of love and that other people can be trusted to provide it. She learns that the caregiver is a secure base from which she can explore the world, and if she encounters adversity, she can return to her base for support and comfort. This trust in the caregiver results in what is known as a secure individual.

Children who do not have consistently responsive and sensitive caregivers often develop into insecure individuals, characterized by anxious, avoidant, and/or ambivalent interactions. Long-term studies have shown that secure individuals, compared to insecure individuals, are more likely to be outgoing, popular, well-adjusted, compassionate, and altruistic. As adults, secure individuals tend to be comfortable depending on others, readily develop close attachments, and trust their partners. Insecure individuals, on the other hand, tend to be unsettled in their relationships, displaying anxiety (manifesting as possessiveness, jealousy, and clinginess) or avoidance (manifesting as mistrust and a reluctance to depend on others). North American parenting practices, including CIO, are often influenced by fears that children will grow up too dependent. However, an abundance of research shows that regular physical contact, reassurance, and prompt responses to distress in infancy and childhood results in secure and confident adults who are better able to form functional relationships.

The Dangers of CIO

It has been suggested in the past that CIO is healthy for infants’ physical development, particularly the lungs. A recent study looking at the immediate and long-term physiologic consequences of infant crying suggests otherwise. The following changes due to infant crying have been documented:

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Reduced oxygen level
  • Elevated cerebral blood pressure
  • Depleted energy reserves and oxygen
  • Interrupted mother-infant interaction
  • Brain injury
  • Cardiac dysfunction.

The study’s researchers suggested that caregivers should answer infant cries swiftly, consistently, and comprehensively — recommendations that are in line with AP principles.

CIO or AP as a Matter of Perception

CIO supporters tend to view their infants’ cries as attempts to manipulate caregivers into providing more attention. Holding this view can be detrimental to the immediate and long-term health of the baby. In the field of cognitive psychology, there exists the premise that our thoughts underlie our behavior. Thus, if we think positively about an individual, our behaviors toward them tend to be positive as well. Conversely, if we think negatively about an individual, we will behave correspondingly. Consider people in your own life whom you consider manipulative — how does that perception influence your behavior toward them? It is unlikely that the interpretation of a manipulative personality will result in the compassionate, empathetic, and loving care of that individual. Infants, quite helpless without the aid of their caregivers, may suffer both emotional and physical consequences of this type of attitude.

When faced with a crying baby, it may be prudent to ask yourself the following questions: Why am I choosing this response? Do I want my baby to stop crying because he feels comforted and safe, or do I want my baby to stop crying for the sake of stopping crying? What is my baby learning about me and the world when I respond in this manner? If I was a baby and was upset, how would I want my caregivers to respond?

Reprinted with permission from

Healing Birth, The Second Time Around

By Heather Spergel

Heather during her daughter's water birthHow do you heal from a traumatic birth experience? How do you put it behind you and find the inner strength to not only move on but to decide to do it all again? Could I and should I risk another traumatic birth? I asked myself these questions so many times. After watching the mothers at the mall with their new babies and toddlers running around, mommyhood the second time around seemed like the most wonderful and amazing next step to take in my life. I pushed the memories of my son’s difficult posterior birth to the back of my mind and decided it was time.

I became pregnant in November 2008 and happily began our second pregnancy. My husband Drew used chiropractic and craniosacral therapy with me to help balance my body and keep any pains to a minimum. I also saw massage therapist and craniosacral therapist Maureen Murray to assist with healing my tailbone injury from Nathan’s birth. Carrying a big belly on my small, barely five-foot-tall frame was not easy. I had forgotten how hard it was to function with a pregnant belly! As the months went on, I became increasingly excited and anxious about the eventual birth of our second child, a daughter we would name Gabriella Faye. We prepared her room, prepared our son for the addition of another child in our lives, and happily bought up all the pink and lavender booties and onesies we wanted. Continue reading Healing Birth, The Second Time Around