Tag Archives: attachment

How Independence and Maturity Develops

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

A father of an 18-year-old boy recently consulted with me because, among other things, his son had totaled the family’s car. As any parent would be, this father was very worried about his son’s poor judgment, impulsiveness, and lack of consciousness. How could he give him responsibility if his son could not handle it?

As our children get older, we expect them to be able to handle more responsibility and become more independent. We intuitively know whether or not we can count on them to cooperate with us and be able to make commitments in order to achieve a goal. They should also be able to sense danger and exercise caution accordingly. In addition, they should experience the feelings of caring that are needed to temper their reactions and impulses. True independence also requires of them to be able to consider different sides of a situation, different points of view, and different contexts in order to make mature decisions. We also hope that they will be conscious of the values needed to guide them through life.

As children get older and develop these abilities, we naturally and spontaneously live together cooperatively.  It doesn’t even occur to us to ask questions about how much independence to give a child, because we can see that he is moved by consideration and a growing desire to take more responsibility. He is developing the character traits of a mature person. Continue reading How Independence and Maturity Develops

Why Early Attachment Matters for Childhood, and Beyond

By Peter Ernest Haiman, PhD, www.peterhaiman.com

The quality of love a mother gives during her child’s first years of life has a tremendous and long-term impact on that youngster. A life that could be described as emotionally healthy, happy, harmonious, constructive, and productive depends on the quality of maternal love received at an early age. This is a fact well known by psychologists.

Unfortunately, however, many parents remain unaware of the importance of maternal love for the very young child. Nor are they aware of the problems that can result during childhood and adolescence if an infant does not form a proper early attachment.

Here, we look at what Attachment Theory (Ainsworth 1978; Bowlby 1969) tells us about the importance of early relationships for the development of an individual’s basic sense of security in life. By “attachment,” we mean the relationship formed between the infant and the primary caregiver. The “primary caregiver” is the person, usually the mother, with whom the infant most frequently interacts. Through bonding with this caregiver, a child develops expectations about the extent to which he or she can acquire and maintain secure relationships, as well as beliefs about others’ trustworthiness in relationships.

The relationship between an infant and his mother can lead to two possible outcomes: secure attachment or insecure attachment. In other words, the experience can be positive or negative. Let’s look first at the positive outcome:

Secure Attachment

An infant develops a secure attachment when her mother sensitively and appropriately meets the child’s needs. From an infant’s perspective, sensitive and appropriate mean the mother observes and understands her needs. Sensitive and appropriate also mean the mother responds in ways that please and satisfy her child. A mother who fosters her child’s secure attachment meets all needs soon after the child begins to show distress or cries. The mother’s behavior is always tender and affectionate.

Secure attachment is also created when the mother holds or cuddles her infant and toddler in ways that are comforting. The mother reflects the infant’s behaviors and responds in ways the child enjoys. For example, when the baby smiles, the mother smiles at the infant. The infant shows pleasure and interest in the mother’s smile.

The mother who fosters secure attachment is in tune with her child. An ongoing, interactive harmony develops as the mother learns to understand, interpret, and then appropriately react to the child’s behavior. She successfully communicates to her youngster that the child’s behavior is respected, interesting, and significant to her. For example, when an infant babbles, makes sounds or syllables, or begins to talk, the mother notices these new verbal abilities and responds in ways that lets the toddler feel valued. The acquisition of speech is greatly facilitated when a mother holds, smiles at, and talks to her infant (Bus & van Ijzendoorn, 1988).

Infants and toddlers love to explore and play. Mothers who wish to foster security in a young child provide toys and activities in which the child expresses interest. Because infants, toddlers, and preschoolers enjoy making choices, parents who want their child to feel secure provide opportunities to make choices throughout the day. These mothers also allow the amount of playtime the youngster wants. Without interrupting, they allow the child to focus on an activity the child finds interesting and do not distract the child until he or she becomes bored with that activity.

Mothers desirous of having their child form a secure bond with them also evaluate their own childrearing behaviors. They do this by paying attention to the child’s reactions to them. If at any point the child becomes distressed or acts out or displays insecure behavior, the mother does not blame the child. Rather, the mother looks to her own behavior and adjusts it to provide greater security and unconditional love.

The childrearing behaviors described here allow an infant or toddler to feel secure. These behaviors also build a foundation of social harmony between child and mother. The child enjoys being with the mother, and the mother enjoys being with the child. The way an infant reacts to the mother reveals whether the child feels his or her needs have been met in ways that are pleasing. Contrary to popular belief, this kind of parenting will not spoil a child. In fact, spoiled, dependent, misbehaving, and demanding children are created when parents consistently violate these childrearing practices.

Insecure Attachment

When maternal love is not consistently forthcoming, an infant develops an insecure attachment. In this case, the bonding with his primary caregiver is incomplete and unsatisfactory. For example, when the infant cries or shows distress or expresses a need, the mother does not respond, or only responds after a significant delay. The mother may act in loud, abrupt, or exaggerated ways that scare the youngster and cause insecurity. The mother does not spend time holding and cuddling her infant or child. She does not regularly play with, talk to, or exchange smiles with the child. Instead, the mother may attempt to impose her own interests on the child, such as by providing toys and activities of her own choosing. In general, none of the intimate behaviors that occur during secure bonding happen, or these behaviors happen so infrequently that they are not noticed by the child.

As a result, the child becomes frustrated because his or her needs are not being met responsively. The child begins to expect that this will happen whenever a need arises. Thus, the child fails to develop trust in adults and in himself or herself. In short, the child becomes insecure rather than secure.

Many undesirable outcomes can occur when a child forms an insecure attachment. Youngsters who experience insecure attachments at home also form insecure attachments with their preschool, kindergarten, and first-grade teachers. These teachers often have difficulty building a relationship with these young students because these children harbor negative views of adults. The children are not trusting of their teachers and may act out in class. In turn, it is difficult therefore for teachers to learn about these children’s needs and to respond to them in a manner that helps them learn and adjust (Bowlby 1988).

Effects of Secure and Insecure Attachment

The type of emotional attachment established during the first four or five years usually lasts a lifetime. The pattern of early attachment significantly influences the quality of love relationship an individual will have as a teenager, adult, and even as a parent with his or her own children. Let’s summarize what research has concluded about the effects of secure and insecure attachment:

  • Children who experienced a secure attachment at one year are better able to explore on their own than are insecure infants (Waters, Whippman, & Sroufe, 1979). Secure toddlers are more independent than are their insecure peers, and as a result, more curious and interested in exploring the world around them. Secure infants and toddlers develop a sense of agency; that is, the sense that “I am a person” and “I can do.” Insecure infants and toddlers are far less curious, and are far more inhibited and withdrawn (Kagan, 1981; Suess, Grossman, & Sroufe, 1992). As a result, secure children are better able than are insecure children to master the environment using their senses. They are also better able to perform related motor actions than are insecure infants and toddlers (Matas, Arend, & Sroufe, 1978).
  • Numerous studies have concluded a positive relationship exists between the development of secure attachment in the early years of life and later social competence (e.g., Coleman, 2003; Lieberman, Doyle, & Markiewicz, 1999). Preschool children who are secure demonstrate better social skills and school adjustment than do their insecure peers (Sroufe, Carlson, & Schulman, 1993). Elementary schoolchildren who are secure are significantly more accepted by their peers and have more friendships and are less lonely than are less secure children (Kerns, Klepac, & Cole, 1996). The attachment security a child feels throughout his or her early years has been associated with that youngster’s later ability to pay attention, focus, and learn in school. Children with secure attachment histories earn higher grades and are more goal-oriented and cooperative than are students with insecure attachment histories (Crittenden, 1992; Jacobsen & Hofmann, 1997).
  • Insecure children are more likely to struggle academically than are secure children (Wong, Wiest, & Cusick, 2002). Secure children successfully bond with their teacher, view their teacher favorably, have the confidence to succeed, and use the teacher as a secure base from which to engage in academic tasks and challenges (O’Conner & McCartney, 2006). Children who have experienced secure bonding later have high self-esteem and are confident in their ability to excel academically. These children prefer to be challenged in class and are more motivated to learn for the sake of learning than are their insecure counterparts.

According to Attachment Theory, the most essential task of the first years of life is the creation of a child’s secure bond to the mother. Many studies have demonstrated this by examining the interactions of mother and child and by contrasting the long-term behavioral outcomes of securely and insecurely attached children. More recently, research has shown that the type of attachment formed during infancy affects right brain development (Schore 2002). In fact, this biologic foundation can last a lifetime.


Ainsworth, M. D. S., Blehar, M. C., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: Assessed in the strange situation and at home. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss (Vol. 1). New York, NY: Basic Books.

Bowlby, J. (1988). A secure base: Parent-child attachment and healthy human development. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Bus, A. G., & Van Ijzendoorn, M. H. (1988). Attachment and early reading: A longitudinal study. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 149(2), 199–210.

Coleman, P. K. (2003). Perceptions of parent-child attachment, social self-efficacy, and peer relationships in middle childhood. Infant and Child Development, 12, 351–368.

Crittenden, P. M. (1992). Treatment of anxious attachment in infancy and early childhood. Development and Psychopathology, 4, 575–602.

Jacobsen, T., & Hofmann, V. (1997). Children’s attachment representations: Longitudinal relations to school behavior and academic competency in middle childhood and adolescence. Developmental Psychology, 33(4), 703–710.

Kagan, J. (1981). The second year: The emergence of self awareness. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Kerns, K., Klepac, L., & Cole, A. (1996). Peer relationships and preadolescents’ perceptions of security in the child-mother relationship. Developmental Psychology, 32(3), 457–466.

Lieberman, M., Doyle, A. B., & Markiewicz, D. (1999). Developmental patterns in security of attachment to mother and father in late childhood and early adolescence: Associations with peer relations. Child Development, 70, 202–213.

Matas, L., Arend, R. A., Sroufe, L. A. (1978). Continuity of adaptation in the second year: The relationship between quality of attachment and later competence. Child Development, 49, 547–556.

O’Conner, E., & McCartney, K. (2006). Testing associations between young children’s relationships with mothers and teachers. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(1), 87–98.

Schore, A. N. (2002). Dysregulation of the right brain: A fundamental mechanism of traumatic attachment and the psychopathogenesis of posttraumatic stress disorder. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 36, 9–30.

Sroufe, L. A., Carlson, E., & Shulman, S. (1993). Individuals in relationships: Development from infancy through adolescence. In D. C. Funder, R. Parke, C. Tomlinson-Keesey, & K. Widaman (Eds.), Studying lives through time: Personality and development (pp. 315–342), Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

Suess, G., Grossman, K. E., & Sroufe, L. A. (1992). Effects of infant attachment to mother and father on quality of adaptation in preschool: From dyadic to individual organization of self. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 15, 43–65.

Waters, E., Wippman, J., & Sroufe, L. A. (1979). Attachment, positive affect, and competence in the peer group: Two studies in construct validation. Child Development, 50(3), 821–829.

Wong, E., Wiest, D., & Cusick, L. (2002). Perceptions of autonomy support, parent attachment, competence and self-worth as predictors of motivational orientation and academic achievement: An examination of sixth and ninth grade regular education students. Adolescence, 37(146), 255–266.

Attachment Parenting Isn’t Asking Too Much…Our Society Is

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and API leader

There is still a lot of discussion centering on Attachment Parenting, even though the controversial TIME coverage was almost three weeks ago, which is equal to eons away in our instantaneous, cluttered, sensationalism-saturated mass media. You know that something – some issue, some news story – has made it big when it’s still being talked about this long after the buzz first began.

TIME is hardly the first to bring Attachment Parenting into mainstream light and not necessarily in a good light. In all fairness, the articles included in the TIME package on May 21, 2012, were probably the most fair, least biased of any mainstream coverage on the parenting style that I’ve seen. But it still perpetuated a lot of myths: One that particularly irks me is the claim that there is no research to back up Attachment Parenting, when in fact it is very well researched and one of the branches of research where there are very certain results, with studies all pointing in the same direction rather than some studies contradicting one another.

One of the myths that is particularly virulent – but then again, always has been – is that Attachment Parenting equals mommy martyrdom, that it asks too much of parents. I find this a little comical, because what does that say about you if you think that there is a parenting style that asks too much of you? As if your child isn’t worth it. Are there parents who think that way? I hope not.

What the argument is really, is revealing an overall lack of a sense of individual balance in our Western society. Asking us to do a little more for the betterment of our children, whom we love, wouldn’t be such a big deal if the majority of parents didn’t already feel tired and overworked and severely lacking some “me” time. If our emotional cups were already full most of the time. But they’re not. As a society, we seem to be constantly seeking contentment, chasing happiness.

There are plenty of theories abound of why this is, but I see it as our society asking too much of us. Mothers are supposed to work and raise children, and really, there are not many mothers who have a choice between working and staying at home. It isn’t a matter of selfishness but often out of necessity; rising food and fuel costs, access to affordable health insurance, debt, divorce – all these contribute to mothers’ lack of options. And at the end of the day, many mothers feel responsible for the housework as well.

What scares parents about Attachment Parenting is that it’s another thing to do, that it’s something else that they really need to do but just cannot get to, that not doing it could have real and lasting consequences and they already feel guilty of what they perceive to not be giving right now. Attachment Parenting isn’t asking too much of parents but too much of people who already have too much going on in their lives. To give our children as much time and energy that parents are imagining that we “attachment parents” give, well, it would require that they give up on something in their life – and that would probably be the only thing in their life that gives them any sense of personal balance. It would require them to completely overhaul their lifestyles and re-learn how to be content with a slower, simpler life – one where personal happiness wasn’t dependent on more, more, more.

This change in thinking would be daunting in the least – for some, impossible, unless they were willing to face and address their own unmet needs for emotional balance, and change the very way that they strive to meet that unquenchable void: by switching their priority away from materialism and instant gratification to quality relationships that require patience, commitment, sometimes hard work without meaningful results, and character strength.

That’s not the core of Western society, and that’s why Attachment Parenting isn’t yet mainstream. To “attachment parents,” it can be frustrating that attachment-promoting parenting techniques aren’t more widely accepted –shouldn’t love, that emotion that everyone desires to feel authentically, be an obvious way to raise our children? But for Attachment Parenting to become more mainstream, it couldn’t come by force or policy – that isn’t our way as “attachment parents,” anyway. It would have to come by a shift in our societal attitude.

Forget Child- or Parent-Centered…Think Family-Centered

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and API leader

Various parenting approaches are usually categorized as either child-centered or parent-centered, and there is great contention about which is better for both children and parents. Child-centered, critics say, compromises a parent’s sense of balance and may lead to children feeling entitlement. Parent-centered, critics counter, compromises a child’s need for parental attention and attunement.

But is this polarization, this black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking, reality? Should we be debating for which is the better of the two “evils”?

The fear centered on Attachment Parenting is that, because it involves a parent to be attuned to her child around the clock, that it must be synonymous with or at least bordering on permissive parenting. Scary music please… Permissive parenting is that style of parenting that conjures thoughts of dread in as many parents as abusive parenting does. Permissive parenting indicates a seriously imbalanced, child-centered parenting style where parents bend to the will of the child in everything, perhaps out of fear of rejection or out of pure indifference, without setting behavioral limits. It can lead to where the parent has no rights to her own sense of self, because the parent will forgo her own needs to satisfy her child’s wants.

The reaction by critics of Attachment Parenting is – instead of understanding the ins and outs of what it indeed means to have a secure parent-child attachment bond – is often to recommend a complete overhaul on the parenting principles: shut the child in the bedroom and let him cry himself to sleep alone, schedule feedings, punish and shame and ignore requests. As if doing the very opposite of their perceived fears is anymore healthy? Continue reading Forget Child- or Parent-Centered…Think Family-Centered

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.

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 The Invisible Bond Not Limited to Parents

Reflections on Motherhood

By Barbara P. Benjamin, poet and author of Beneath the Surface (as Barbara Scott), children’s author of One White Christmas in Alabama and My Best Friend Millie

I am the mother of a 26-year-old daughter. I received a Bachelor of Science in Marketing from Auburn University in 1979. While my daughter was young, I happily chose to be a stay-at-home mother. When the school days arrived, I became a substitute teacher in the local school system where my daughter attended.

Homeward Bound
By Barbara P. Benjamin

Why, they ask, do you stay at home,

Where no one pays you, where you remain unknown?

Why, they ask, do you waste your degree,

In this world of ours, where knowledge is the key?

It opens the door to success…so they say,

As they rush out the door, day after day.

Looking in their eyes, face to face,

It’s as if happiness left, without leaving a trace.

Why, they ask, do you waste your degree?

If only, if only…they’d see what I  see.

I was raised in a military family. My father was a General and his career took him away from the family unit a lot. In this regard, my mother was my major hands-on parent on a day-to-day basis. She was (is) my complete role model from the feminine side of things. She is 88 and still my very best friend.

My family was (is) everything to me. As an Army brat, you move all the time. The only “constant” in your life is your family. You’re always the “new kid,” so the first friends you have in your new environment are always your own family. My parents were always there for me emotionally and physically (except where the job prevented my father from doing so).

I learned love and nurturing from day one. Our home was always peaceful and loving. There was no shouting or spanking. Friends were always welcome.

My mother was there 24/7…before school, after school, etc. I was a priority, and I felt very secure in that fact. She was a great homemaker and provided a warm “nest” time and time again, with each move we made. Continue reading Reflections on Motherhood

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?

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.

Respectful Potty Training

By Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, www.naomialdort.com

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.