Category Archives: The Editor’s Desk

Modeling Attachment Between Parents

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

Marriage, Partners & Parenting - API Forum Chat, April 6-10Q: Why doesn’t my partner love me a better?
A:
In our dreams, maybe we imagine the perfect partner to be the one who we fall in love with, and it really is “happily ever after!” Why couldn’t we find that perfect partner?

There’s a reason why we fall in love with the partner who doesn’t seem quite able to match our dreams. We see in them an ability to love us, in a way that we learned from people who loved us in our earliest years. We recognize that kind of ability to love in the partner we choose.

But however strongly we were loved, there was always a little bit of love we didn’t get. And it turns out that this partner we choose isn’t very good at providing that bit of love either, just like those who loved us when we were children. That bit of love we didn’t get as children often goes back to some painful memories from childhood. When our partner can’t love us that way either, it touches some tender spots inside and can bring out some of our deepest fears that we may have tried for years to hide away.
**From GettingTheLoveYouWant.com

There is no doubt that parenting is the most fulfilling job in the world. But, it’s also hard work. While Attachment Parenting gives parents that warm, fuzzy feeling of following our instincts — not to mention, the wonderful emotions of having a close attachment bond with our children — it does require parents to be “on call” all day and all night. It feels good to fall into a full schedule of caretaking of our children, but we need to make sure we’re also taking time to care for ourselves and our partners. Continue reading

When ‘D’ Meets ‘S': The Role of Personality in Parenting

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

Mother and sonThrough Attachment Parenting, we learn how truly powerful a close emotional relationship with our children can be. But even with the strongest of bonds, conflict will arise between parents and their children. As children grow, AP focuses more and more on how we, as parents, resolve conflict — in a gentle, positive manner that promotes influence, guidance, and teaching rather than control.

Much of the root of conflict resolution resides in our own selves – in dealing with our own unresolved hurts and biases, as well as finding personal balance, so that we can control the urge to jump to conclusions and react without thinking. And so that we can have the courage to stop in the moment, take a deep breath, and think about how to control our default thinking to be able to react with compassion instead of anger and defensiveness.

Another important piece of this puzzle is understanding how personality differences play into both conflict and conflict resolution. Think about what is most likely to create conflict between you and your spouse or partner: Often, isn’t it because you two do the same thing in different ways? My husband and I encounter this all the time. I am much more detail-oriented than my husband and sometimes don’t understand why he doesn’t see the crumbs on the table, while he wonders why I care so much about the crumbs. The same situation can happen between you and a child who doesn’t see the world in the same way.

Personality Assessments as a Way to Get to Know Your Child Better

The point of discovering your child’s personality traits is not to put a label on him, or to try to compartmentalize the reason behind his actions. Instead, it is another way for parents to get to know their child more — to discover what makes him tick. Continue reading

“Giving the Love that Heals,” an interview with attachment therapist Harville Hendrix

Happy Valentine's DayDear Readers,

Click here to download your free gift from API.

As promised in the Winter 2008-09 Healing Childhood Wounds issue of The Journal of API — as a followup to the article “The 11th Commandment” — this free audio download is the full version of API Co-founder Barbara Nicholson’s interview with Imago Relationship Therapy Founder Harville Hendrix.

The author of Giving the Love that Heals, Harville’s words are inspiring and motivating — a true reminder that everyday should be Valentine’s Day. You do not want to miss this interview!

Happy Valentine’s Day from API…

~ Rita Brhel, editor of The Attached Family publications

(If you have trouble downloading the file, contact me at editor@attachmentparenting.org.)

The Role of Attachment in Healing Infant Depression

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

HeartDepression — a mental illness marked by unrelenting sadness and hopelessness that permeates the lives of an estimated one in 18 people — is among the most prevalent medical disorders in today’s world, affecting 12 percent of women, 7 percent of men, and 4 percent of adolescents in a given year. Eight percent of adults will develop depression sometime in their life, and women are most prone — their lifetime risk is 20 percent.

Depression is a devastating illness. In its mildest form, it drains the happiness out of a person’s life. In its most severe form, depression kills. It can lead to suicide or, in cases where depression symptoms manifest as anger and rage, as assault or worse.

Treatment of depression, overall, is usually complicated. There are many severities of depression, from mild but chronic to seasonal affective disorder to anxiety to major depressive episodes. Chemical imbalances in the brain often contribute to the development of depression, but that is rarely the only cause. Additional contributing factors may include recent events such as a death in the family or a job loss; a traumatic upbringing, such as a childhood marred by abuse; low self esteem; major life changes, such as a new baby or moving to a new city; natural disasters; physical illness; and others. Therefore, treatment often includes not only medication but also long-term counseling; very severe forms of depression can also lead to hospitalization. Continue reading

AP from a Preemie Mom’s Perspective

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

**Originally published in the Spring 2007 annual New Baby issue of The Journal of API

Rita doing Kangaroo Care with Rachel
Rita doing Kangaroo Care with Rachel

It was a big day for me, my husband, and my daughter. In mid-January, seven months after Rachel was born, when she had reached 18 1/2 pounds and 26 inches long, her pulmonologist told us she was ready to come off the cardio/respirations apnea monitor that had been a constant part of her life since she left the hospital five months earlier. I was nervous, but her doctor told me that it was OK – in all his many years of practice, he had never seen a healthier looking preemie than Rachel.

It was a great compliment. My daughter was born in June at 30 weeks gestation, due to a significant placental abruption, a serious pregnancy complication in which the placenta prematurely separates from the uterus. Weighing three and one-half pounds and measuring 16 inches long, Rachel was nearly three months early.

A Traumatic Start

I had been planning a drug-free childbirth, but what I got was anything but easy, natural, and beautiful. It was traumatic for me, both emotionally and physically. I had been in the hospital for four days after hemorrhaging, and I was being treated with several anti-labor drugs, one of which (magnesium sulfate) left me so weak that I required oxygen. I was given an epidural in case I needed a C-section, and I had an episiotomy that became a fourth-degree tear and later acquired an infection. This was not the childbirth of my birth plan. Continue reading

Speaking Out About Postpartum Depression

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

**Originally published in the Spring 2008 New Baby issue of The Journal of API

Postpartum DepressionSo many first-time moms are caught off-guard by their emotions after giving birth to the baby they’ve been waiting for months, even years, to join their family. It’s completely normal to feel a letdown after the big day. After all, childbirth is a life-changing experience in every way. What new moms and their partners need to do is understand how to recognize the “baby blues” and what can help until they go away…usually in a couple weeks.

If not – if the symptoms are lasting much longer, are just plain overwhelming, or are accompanied by feelings of hurting the baby or yourself – see your doctor immediately. Mothers with intensely sad or angry feelings could have postpartum depression, or the more serious postpartum psychosis. These symptoms are very serious and can even be classified as medical emergencies. But they are very treatable; it doesn’t take long until you’re feeling back to yourself again and are able to enjoy the bonding time with your new baby that both of you deserve.

I know this firsthand. Continue reading

Sibling Spacing: One Year Apart, Too Close or Just Right?

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

**Originally published in the Spring 2008 New Baby issue of The Journal of API

Rachel and her doll
Rachel and her doll

I love babies, especially the newborns. I love breastfeeding, babywearing, co-sleeping, the whole shebang. When other mothers can hardly stand to get through those first couple months of irregular schedules and sleep deprivation, of crazy diaper explosions and unpredictable spit-up sessions, I am soaking it all in – the comfort of knowing that I am all my little one needs, at least for a little while. For all the challenges my oldest daughter, Rachel, threw my way during her first year of life, the joys and amazement of becoming a parent far outweighed the negatives.

When Rachel turned eight months old, I turned to my husband Mike and said that I thought it’d be fun to have a baby every year. The next month, we found out I was pregnant. It wasn’t planned, but it was wonderful news. There was a problem, however, in that Rachel was far too young to comprehend what it meant to have a new baby brother or sister. Throughout the pregnancy, I tried to introduce the concept of a “baby” to her. I pointed out babies in books and on the TV. I wrapped up one of her stuffed animals in a diaper and blanket. We visited a friend with a newborn baby.

Reality Sets In

In my ninth month of pregnancy, I began to worry about how bringing home a new baby would affect my 16-month-old daughter. How would Rachel handle living with Grandma in an unfamiliar house while I was in the hospital? How would she deal with me being unable to lift her and hold her for eight weeks after a medically necessary cesarean section? How would she cope with not being the sole center of my universe? Continue reading

Considerations of Sibling Spacing on the Family Dynamic

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

**Originally published in the Spring 2008 New Baby issue of The Journal of API

childrenOne year, two years, five years, ten years – just what is the ideal spacing between siblings?

Every mom contemplating their second child wants to know the answer. But just try to look up an exact answer on the Internet, in a magazine, or in a book. Most of these resources, if they choose to pinpoint an age gap, promote anywhere from two-and-one-half to five years as the best range, but no one can say for sure just what is best when it comes to the appropriate spacing between brothers and sisters.

The answer from many experienced parents is it all depends on what you think you’d like. Some say that closely spaced children, those with only a couple of years or less between them, will be more work in the early years but give siblings a playmate. Others claim that widely spaced children will give parents a break from the energy-intensive early years, but the siblings may not be as closely bonded. Continue reading

Discipline Begins at Birth

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

Rita's oldest daughter when she was a year old
Rita’s oldest daughter when she was a year old

My youngest daughter is turning one year old this month. It’s amazing how much she’s changed since she was born – she’s learning to walk, waves bye-bye and says “yeah,” and is getting her fingers into everything! She’s also learned how fun it is to pull her sister’s hair.

Each time my two-year-old cries from the hair-pulling, I come over, gently pry the baby’s hands out of her sister’s locks, and say, “No, no…We don’t pull hair. Pulling hair hurts.” Does it work? No. But that’s OK because she’s only a baby. She isn’t old enough yet to know what “no” means, to know the difference between yes and no, to know what it means that something hurts.

The best way to get the baby to stop doing something I’d rather her not do is to remove it from the picture – if I don’t want her to take all the DVDs out of the cabinet, I put a lock on the doors, and if I don’t want her to mess with the on/off button on the TV, I tape a piece of cardboard over that button and rely on the remote.

The difference here is that I can’t remove her sister from the picture. I also need to remember that I’m teaching fairness. I want my two-year-old to see that I’m treating her and her sister fairly when it comes to hair-pulling, even if her baby sister is just a little too young to know what “no” means. I don’t want jealousy brewing, and I don’t want my toddler to resent her little sister. What is she learning if I say “no” to her when she pulls someone’s hair but not do the same when the baby is the one pulling her hair?

Changing the Spanking Mindset

When my toddler was this age, I was struggling with whether to begin discipline or what kind of discipline I should do. I grew up in a household with spanking. I didn’t know that spanking wasn’t really a form of discipline until I found Attachment Parenting International.

Before, I thought discipline and punishment with synonymous, and I thought spanking was a normal reaction of angry and frustrated parents. That was something I didn’t want to do, but yet, I didn’t want my children to be spoiled and selfish, either. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to spank, but I didn’t know any other way.

It took a lot of willpower and a lot of studying and reading, before I found my “brand” of discipline, what I call the individual way each parent disciplines (within the parameters of positive discipline, that is). I learned that discipline and punishment were two very separate things: that discipline was meant to be loving while teaching the child, even when children push the limits and do hurtful things, and that punishment didn’t really teach the child to do anything but fear his parents and fear “getting caught.” I didn’t want my children fearing me; I wanted their respect. There is a difference.

Eliminating Anger

Lastly, I had to go through the very difficult process of removing anger from my life, not only when I needed to discipline but when I was irritated at my husband or frustrated with life in general. Interestingly, it was while trying to apply the techniques from Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish’s book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk that I learned how to take anger out of disagreements with my husband. The skills I was building had spilled over to the rest of my life.

Once I took the anger out of the equation, it was easy not to spank. There was no need! I learned to get my child’s attention in a different, non-violent way. I prefer to have her look at my eyes while I explain why we don’t do what she did, and if I sense a tantrum coming on, I take her to her room to do the same and for her to have a quiet place to release that emotion. Often, when upset or frustrated, she chooses on her own to run to her room and then, in a minute or so, comes out when she’s calmed down. Sometimes, I follow her; sometimes, she seems to prefer to control how she calms down, and that may mean without me.

The Power of Reconnecting

I can’t say I didn’t slip up and revert back to that default playing in my head to spank my child. I did…many times unfortunately during the first few months of trying to change. But I learned a wonderful tool from Pam Leo’s book Connection Parenting that I simply refer to as “reconnecting.” I apologize to my daughter, hug her, and let her know that I know I slipped up and that I am working on it.

Reconnecting allowed me a way out, so that I didn’t become consumed by guilt and frustration. Then I regrouped myself and started over.

Another interesting note: My husband and I have started to do the reconnecting in our relationship by holding hands and looking at each other to block out distractions, including our children at those times, to take the time to apologize and say “I love you.” This technique has greatly improved our connecting during tense moments.

Understanding the Real Reason for Acting Out

I have also found that many of the most challenging times occur when either my toddler or I need a nap. Dirty diapers, late lunches, illness, boredom, and not enough one-on-one time certainly can play a part, too. This was an eye-opener for me: My toddler wasn’t acting out because she was intentionally trying to push my buttons, but because she was physically or emotionally uncomfortable. She tends not to tell me that her diaper needs changing until it’s very full, and at the end of the day, she gets anxious for her daddy to come home from work, and sometimes, she just wants to go run in the backyard instead of playing in the living room.

Baby See, Baby Do

Learning how to change my discipline-oriented programming wasn’t easy, but it was well worth it. Discipline is no longer stressful, and deciding when to begin disciplining my second child really isn’t even a question.

Since discipline isn’t punishment and is actually teaching, we’ve all been disciplining since birth – by teaching what to do or not do by how we live our life right from the beginning. Teaching by example is the most powerful discipline tool I’ve come across, even more so than positive reinforcement.

My toddler hugs and kisses the baby like Mommy does, and she plays with the baby like Mommy does. Both of my children are learning what is normal from what I do, and if I handle my frustration in a way that promotes attachment, they surely will learn that, too.

Since discipline isn’t punishment and is actually teaching, we’ve all been disciplining since birth – by teaching what to do or not do by how we live our life.

Battling the Monsters

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

As a child, I was terrified of the dark. I still am, to a lesser extent. In order to move around my house at night, I must turn a light on in whatever room I’m in, even if I’m just going the 10 feet down the hall to the bathroom.

I shared a bed with my sister when I was younger, and even though she was always near, I would lay in bed listening to the hangers in the closet banging together or stare at the unrecognizable blobs made by familiar toys in the dark. My feet always had to be covered up with a blanket, even on the hottest nights, for fear that something would reach up from the end of the bed and “get them.”

I remember one night, when I was about seven years old and my five year old sister woke up screaming about an alligator living under the blankets and that it had come up and bit her on the finger. Even though our parents assured me it was a nightmare, I was sure that the ghost of a very mean alligator was living in our room. After having a similar nightmare myself, involving a python wrapping itself around my wrist and trying to pull me underneath the bed, my parents bought us a night light.

A Common Sleep Issue

Being afraid of the dark is a common sleep problem of young children, even those raised with AP.

The article “Seven Ways to Help Your Child Handle Fear” on www.askdrsears.com explains what is so frightening for preschoolers: “Children do not think like adults. Most of the world is unknown to the child, and children, like adults, fear the unknown. The preschool child cannot reason through each new experience and decide what’s OK and what’s threatening. As if the real world were not scary enough, the ability to form mental images, which develops from two to four years, opens the world of magical thinking with its consequent fearful fantasies.”

These fantasies can turn real things into scary creatures.

“The ability to imagine monsters without the ability to reason them away as imaginary creatures results in a developmental stage where little persons are likely to have big fears,” according to AskDrSears.com.

Help Your Child Handle Fear

Helping your child cope with his fear of darkness may be stressful to parents, especially if the child was previously sleeping soundly through the night. But, this challenge also provides opportunity for parents to strengthen their child’s trust in their relationship, by helping them to accept their changing world and overcome their fears.

“Fear is one of the earliest emotions, and with a little help from caregivers, the child can turn this unpleasant feeling into an opportunity for emotional growth,” according to AskDrSears.com. “Learning to deal with fears is one of the child’s earliest lessons in dealing with emotions and using outside help. Understand and support your child during these times, and the closeness between you will grow.”

Here are some ways you can help your child overcome her fear of the dark:

  • Help your child explore her fear – On The Parent Report Radio Show’s article “Fear of the Dark,” at www.theparentreport.com, psychologist John Munn suggests asking your child questions to help her understand her fear on her own and to let her know that you care about her feelings.
  • Help your child understand the real root of her fears – As explained on AskDrSears.com, one case of fear of the dark was “cured” by explaining to the child that his imagination was growing. Once he learned that there was a reason for his sudden fear of the dark, it seemed to help him relax at night and work through his fear.
  • Co-sleep with your child, or have your child sleep with her siblings – Just having another person nearby can help make the night less scary.
  • Lead by example – According to AskDrSears.com, young children learn how to be afraid of something just as they learn how to do everything else: By watching you. If you act afraid of the dark, so will your children tend to.
  • Use a night light – Because the fear of darkness is actually the fear of what can be imagined is out there when we can’t see, a night light lessens the engulfing feeling of a pitch black room.
  • Give your child a flashlight – Empower your child to conquer the darkness by giving her a way to shine a light on a scary object or a dark corner anytime during the night.
  • Play night games – AskDrSears.com advises parents to play games at dusk and in the dark, like tag and hide-and-seek, to help lessen children’s fears through exposure.
  • Help your child explore the dark during the day time – Keyes advises parents to talk with the child about her fears when it’s daylight and what in their room looks scary at night. Parents might want to consider moving furniture, large toys, or other items that create frightening objects in the dark. Let your child help to “redecorate” her room; children who are more comfortable with their surroundings have less fear of the dark.
  • Turn off the TV – Get rid of scary images for a preschooler’s imaginative mind by limiting your child’s exposure to television shows and videos, especially any program or movie rated for older children and adult viewing.
  • Watch out for phobia – Most children are afraid of the dark, but this fear doesn’t turn into a phobia. Signs of a phobia, say Munn, include: increasingly being afraid to go into their bedroom at night, with the lights turned off; increasingly being afraid to go into a darkened basement or outside in the dark; if their bedtime fear of the dark becomes increasingly more difficult for the child; or if the fear of the dark doesn’t go away as the child grows old enough to be able to understand what goes on in his world.

Helping your child cope with his fear of darkness provides opportunity for parents to strengthen their child’s trust in their relationship, by helping them to accept their changing world and overcome their fears.