Tag Archives: secure attachment

When Daddy Goes Away

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

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.

The Daycare Dilemma

By Jan Hunt, founder/director of The Natural Child Project, www.naturalchild.org

Jan HuntIt’s always a dilemma for me to know just how to address the subject of substitute care, because there is such a gap in our culture between the ideal and the possible. Ideally, there would be little need to use substitute care, nor would any mother feel a strong personal need or desire to do so. The reality, of course, is that parenting — the most important job a woman can have — is not valued sufficiently.

No one should ever feel that she is “only a mother” — motherhood should be more highly valued than any other profession. No other job is as critically important; no other job has the potential for improving our world by nurturing the capacity to love and trust others. As Canadian psychiatrist Elliott Barker wrote: “We have to change a lot of established patterns or ways we do things — our priorities — so that nothing gets in the way of attachment in the earliest years. The capacities for trust, empathy, and affection are in fact the central core of what it means to be human, and are indispensable for adults to be able to form lasting, mutually satisfying cooperative relationships with others.”

Our culture not only minimizes the importance of motherhood, it maximizes the desire to consume commercial products, defining success always in economic, rarely in humane or social, terms. There is no question that a mother with a professional career who uses daycare for her children receives far more recognition and respect than the mother who has left a professional job to stay at home with her children — despite the fact that the at-home mom is in a position to contribute far more to society in the long term. If motherhood was valued as highly as it should be, more mothers would choose to stay at home, and more pressure would be put on governments to help provide the means by which this could be done.

Creative solutions can only come about through a deeply-felt need. If everyone understood the critical importance of mothering, there would be fewer daycares and more and better alternative solutions that keep mother and child together. There would be more family centers where mothers with infants and young children could get together with other parents, watching the children as they play together. Families would be given sufficient financial support by the government, and this support would be seen not as a “handout” with all the stigma that welfare has now, but as a wise and critical investment in our future. Everyone would know that motherhood is the single most important profession there is, one that deserves the highest esteem and the highest pay. What kind of society do we have where athletes, movie stars, and CEOs get the highest pay? What kind of society do we have when the professional woman with her children away from her all day enjoys higher esteem than the stay-at-home mother who has the opportunity to nurture a human being, whose personal qualities, positive or negative, will affect all future relationships? Which is the more critical job?

Our vision is too narrow, too immediate, too limited. We see only the present contribution of the professional woman and are blind to the even greater potential contribution of the mother at home. We need to value these mothers now — or our future will look no different than it does at present, with our myriad social problems.

If we really understood the importance of the mother-child bond, we would find those solutions that now seem so elusive and difficult. We would recognize that a young child who has bonded with a particular caregiver, who then disappears from the child’s world, can internalize feelings of rejection and disappointment. We would be committed to finding ways to keep mothers, babies, and young children together. We would provide whatever financial support is needed, and give extensive parenting education to all. We would give greater prestige and sufficient financial support to dedicated stay-at-home mothers. Most of all, we would recognize that repeated separations from the mother can damage the mother-child relationship and create a tragic reluctance in the child to love and trust others in the future. Close bonds of love and trust take time to develop; they take time to maintain.

We would recognize the critical importance of providing paid maternity leave. We would understand that parental care has the most stability. We would build a healthier population and fewer hospitals and prisons. We would strive to learn more about the father-child bond, and give fathers an opportunity to bond early with their child, and to support the mother in the earliest years. We would enjoy a very different and vastly improved society, where compassion and connection were valued and desired more than any other goal or commodity, where a small house filled with love, trust and joy would be valued far higher than the biggest mansion.

What do you think? Weigh in on this Attachment Parenting International poll on the Value of Motherhood

Helping Children Become Independent

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

Shoshana HaymanThere are some things that simply drive us parents crazy: One is when your child insists on doing something that you want to do yourself. You are trying to feed your 1-year-old mashed potatoes and carrots, and he clamps his mouth shut while squashing the mixture through his fingers. You finally finish dressing your 3-year-old so you can make it on time to work, only to find that she has undressed herself 2 minutes later because she wants to do it herself. And as you are carefully unpacking the groceries, your 6-year-old silently volunteers to put the tray of 36 eggs into the refrigerator. (These examples are just for starters. I’m sure you’ll think of many more)!

Another thing that drives parents crazy is when your child refuses to do something you know he can do by himself. Your 3-year-old will only eat supper if you feed her. Your 5-year old will only get dressed if you dress him. And your 7-year-old will only put away his toys if you do it with him. (Yes, there’s more).

Hard as we try to keep our composure, our frustration rises and we lose our patience. When our children need our help, why won’t they let us help them? And why won’t they do things for themselves when they can? Continue reading Helping Children Become Independent

Spirit or Form…Does It Matter Which Comes First?

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

Shoshana Hayman“Say you’re sorry to your brother.”

“Say thank-you to Grandma.”

“Do your math homework now.”

“It’s time to practice the piano.”

Before we try to get a child to behave in a certain way or learn something, we have to ask ourselves if the child himself cares enough to want to fulfill our request or expectation:

  • Does the child actually feel sorry?
  • Does he truly feel thankful?
  • Is he curious and interested?
  • Does he have inner desire?

We can make (sometimes) a child say “sorry” or “thank you” or practice the piano or do his homework. But when we force a child, we are not really instilling within him something that is lasting. We are putting form before spirit. Before a child can learn form, he must have the spirit for this behavior to be true and long-lasting.

Origin of Spirit

Where does spirit come from? What makes a child truly care? There are three ingredients of mature caring:

  1. Right relationships — The child must be securely attached to his parent, in the dependent position. He must feel unconditional love and caring from his parent in order to be fully satiated in his need to be cared for, to matter to someone, to feel important in the eyes of someone. Only then can he feel caring toward others. You can compare this to food. If you were hungry and didn’t know where your next meal was coming from, you would not be inclined to invite others to your table. When a child’s need for unconditional caring is met, he can care for others.
  2. Emergent energy — This comes from the child himself and moves him to learn about what he likes, what interests him, what is important to him, what has meaning and value to him. He can venture forth into the world to discover what he cares about, only if his attachment base is secure and strong.
  3. Integrative thinking, the fruit of a nurtured spirit of caring — The ability to integrate conflicting feelings and thoughts does not even begin to develop until the child reaches five years old. This unfolding process is the root of true caring. True caring means that you remember you care when you are angry, frustrated, tired, or scared. Caring mixes together with other conflicting feelings and results in a tempered response in the child. Caring becomes part of a child’s nature when he can be angry at his brother but remember that he loves his brother and doesn’t want to hurt him. A child is truly a caring person when he doesn’t like the gift he received from his grandmother but will accept it graciously with a thank-you, because he doesn’t want to hurt his grandmother’s feelings; when he is frustrated by having too much math homework, but he does it anyway because he cares about passing the test.

When we put form before spirit, we can crush the spirit. Some of the ways we try to make children act in a caring way, such as rewarding them with prizes, actually create egocentricity in children because they are focused on acceptable behavior rather than on cultivating the desire to give. Ultimately this can create an “I don’t care! It doesn’t matter to me!” attitude.

Children are born with the potential to care deeply. It is up to us, the adults in their lives, to nurture this spirit before we try to add form.

What Attachment Parenting Does for Your Child’s Future

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

Attachment as adults

Especially if you’re new to Attachment Parenting, you may be wondering what does parenting have to do with your adult relationships. Quite a lot, if you understand the impact of healthy and unhealthy parent-child attachments on the child. In fact, you could say it has to do with everything about our adult relationships.

The attachment bond you had with your primary caregiver – most likely your mother – is your model for how a relationship should work for the rest of your life. For some of us, that attachment bond was loving and nurturing and we find our adult relationships relatively easy. For many of us, we may have some difficulties in our adult relationships, mainly in trust issues, indicating that there were inconsistencies in the response by our primary caregiver when we were younger. And for some of us, our childhood homes were downright neglectful and abusive and our natural tendency in our adult relationships is not to have a relationship at all.

Because humans are social beings, having close relationships is an essence of life. Without working relationships, we are at risk for depression and anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, and other unhealthy and risky behaviors that we use to fill a void in our lives left by the needs left unmet in our first loving relationship – that with our parents. The success of this first attachment bond in our lives is what shapes the way our brain works, influencing the way we cope to stress, how we see ourselves, our expectations of others, and our ability to maintain healthy relationships all through our lives. Continue reading What Attachment Parenting Does for Your Child’s Future

What Your Child’s Lovie Says about Your Attachment

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

API's stance on loviesI don’t encourage the use of lovies – blankets, teddy bears, or other objects children can develop an attachment to – in my household but I don’t discourage it, either.

My three year old had earlier attachments to a teddy bear that had to be replaced once, and then we lost the bear somewhere, and for a long time, she didn’t have a lovie. But she also seemed to have more trouble sleeping, even sharing the family bed, so when she wanted to adopt a stuffed toy horse, I let her. Even snuggled up to me in my bed, she has to have her horsey. She also takes her horsey with her in the car most of the time, and when she can’t take it with her — let’s say, out to the garden — she asks me to hold it until she comes back.

Personally, I think her lovie is less for security and more because she’s watched me carry around her little sister the past year and a half. But, even if it is for security, I don’t feel threatened by it. I may not understand why she needs the security of a stuffed toy when we have a very secure relationship, but I would rather fill this need than not.

My 20 month old also has a lovie – her water bottle. Here is another situation that I feel neither threatened by nor any need to “wean” or “break” her of. Around the world, toddlers nurse themselves to sleep or in times of discomfort. My baby prefers to carry her bottle around – always with water – and when she does need to suck, she often wants to do so while sitting on my lap or lying down in bed beside me.

Discussion Continues on What the Use of Lovies Signals in a Parent-Child Relationship

On the API Forum, you can see other attached parents’ views of lovies in such threads as “Blankie or Teddie?” There are some parents who clearly see the attachment between a child and a lovie as a sign that the parent-child attachment is not strong, while other parents don’t see the same threat. Attachment Parenting International advises that parents honor this need in their children should they seem to want to sleep with or carry around a blankie, teddy, or other object. The exception would be if a child is likely to turn to food for comfort, which can set up an unhealthy association between food and comfort.

Weaning children off of pacifiers and bottles can be done similar to weaning a child off the breast – many attached parents let their children self-wean, while others may gently encourage that their children let go. One reader who commented on an API Speaks blog post, “Gently Weaning from the Pacifier,” explains how she poked a tiny hole in her daughter’s pacifier which made it less appealing to suck, and another parent explained to her daughter how the pacifier was broken.

Examine Your Perspective of the Lovie

So, what does your child’s lovie say about your attachment with her? This is still up for discussion and probably has something to do with how you view the lovie. If a parent encourages a lovie because he doesn’t want to focus on forming a strong attachment with his child, this isn’t appropriate. But if a parent honors his children’s need for a lovie while trying to continue strengthening the parent-child attachment — even in instances where he doesn’t understand this need — this would be following the API Principle of Responding with Sensitivity.

API’s Stance on Lovies

Q: What does API think of families using lovies?

A: Certainly we need to stress that a parent or other attached caregiver would be the best lovie a child could have. There is no substitute for the warm, loving arms of a caregiver and the security that they provide for the child. However, we realize that sometimes a lovie (such as a stuffed animal or blanket) can be an appropriate tool, and as long as it is not overused, it can be comforting to some children. Some high-needs children require almost constant contact with a parent or caregiver. Sometimes this level of contact is not possible, especially in a household with multiple children. For instance, if you need to lay the baby down to take a nap, but the baby wants you to lie with him or her and you are not able to, a lovie might be an acceptable fill-in. If the lovie carries the scent of the primary caregiver, it can be that much more soothing to the child. Additionally, for a child who is in a daycare, a lovie can be a comfort from home.

Introducing a lovie to a young infant could be as simple as tucking it into the sling with her while you carry her, or tucking it in with her as she sleeps contentedly in bed (with or without you). This should set up the lovie-sleep association. For an older toddler, introducing a lovie could be a bit more challenging since he will be more resistant to the caregiver substitute. Showing interest in it yourself may be enough to spark some curiosity for your child. Some children might enjoy being surprised with one, while others may prefer going to pick one out.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that the lovie should be associated with positivity to the child. Putting a child in a room to cry it out with a lovie sets up a negative association and is unfair to the child. Try to be understanding in the process of introducing a lovie, and realize that it may take time and gentle persistence for your child to accept one.

From the Frequently Asked Questions for the API Principle of Responding with Sensitivity on the API website

Breastfeeding Helps to Offset Early Disadvantages

From the University of London

BreastfeedingBreastfeeding may be particularly important to the educational and emotional development of children from single-parent and low-income families, new research suggests.

Previous studies have reported that the high nutritional content of breast milk can increase a baby’s IQ. Other research has found that breastfed children are at an advantage because their mothers are, on average, better-off and more articulate.

However, a new study from the Institute of Education, London, which involved 1,136 mothers, strengthens the argument that breastfeeding is also associated with more positive parenting practices that can continue beyond infancy.

Breastfeeding Strengthens Mother-Baby Attachment

Researchers who analyzed the behavior of mothers reading a storybook to their one-year-old children found that, on average, those who breastfed made more effort to engage their infants in the book than mothers who bottle-fed. In general, mothers with more positive attitudes towards breastfeeding also appeared to have a warmer relationship with their babies.

The greatest differences in behavior were between two groups of single and low-income mothers — those who breastfed for six to 12 months, and those who bottle-fed. Poorer women who breastfed interacted with their babies during the book-reading exercise almost as well as more advantaged mothers did. However, low-income mothers who bottle-fed their babies tended to communicate with them much less well than other mothers, the researchers say.

Marital status had no effect on the quality of a mother’s interaction with her child, provided she had breastfed for six to 12 months. In fact, single mothers who had breastfed for this period made slightly more effort than other mothers to explain the storybook to their child.

A repeat experiment four years later found that mothers who had been on a low income when their child was one, but had breastfed for more than six months, had a higher quality of interaction with their five-year-old than other mothers. They also made more effort to engage their child in the book-reading exercise than mothers who had not breastfed. By contrast, breastfeeding appeared to have no lasting effect on the parenting behaviors of married and higher-income mothers.

Study Author: Breastfeeding Especially Important for Single and Low-Income Parents

The report’s principal author, Leslie Gutman, research director of the Institute’s Centre for Research on the Wider Benefits of Learning, says that the age five findings underscore the “protective” influence of breastfeeding for lone parent and low-income families.  Future studies should investigate the processes behind the findings, she suggests. Researchers should attempt to establish, for example, whether skin-to-skin contact forms stronger bonds between breastfed infants and their mothers which, in turn, lead to more positive parenting practices.

Report Indicates a Need for Change in Government Policy, Improvement in Education

Gutman also says that the findings provide support for government policies that encourage breastfeeding, particularly for more disadvantaged mothers. “Mothers in such challenging circumstances may face more obstacles to breastfeeding, especially for a longer period of time,” she points out. “They may lack role models and encouragement, or they may be under greater pressure to return to work when their child is still very young.”

If a mother works on a short-term casual basis, or is an agency worker, she may not qualify for maternity leave, and if she earns less than £90 per week, on average, she does not qualify for Statutory Maternity Pay. This may act as an incentive to stop breastfeeding and return to work as soon as possible, the study says.

“New mothers, particularly in deprived communities, may therefore require more than information leaflets,” the researchers comment. “Rather, interventions that offer early and ongoing support and encouragement to manage breastfeeding may be needed: this may come from financial support in order to enable a delay in return to work and/or workplace nurseries where mothers can visit and breastfeed their babies during the day. Meanwhile, campaigns such as ‘Be a star’, run by Blackpool Primary Care Trust (PCT) and North Lancashire Teaching PCT to provide role models for young mothers, may be a way of highlighting the issue.”

The Institute of Education research, which was funded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, is based on a new analysis of previously unreported data that were originally collected as part of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children in the mid-1990s.

Report Also Shows Social Mothers as Having Stronger Attachments with Their Babies

Gutman and her colleagues also found that mothers with extensive social networks interacted with their infants more positively, on average, than mothers with more limited social circles. “At a community level, the finding implies that the networking and social interactions that go on between parents in children’s centres, early-years settings, community groups and many other community venues,  such as libraries, and health and leisure centres, are of great value,” they say.

Efforts to improve maternal health could also help to build parenting capabilities as postnatal depression impairs communication between mother and child, the researchers add.

For More Information

“Nurturing Parenting Capability: The Early Years,” by Gutman, John Brown, and Rodie Akerman, can be downloaded at www.learningbenefits.net.

Secure Attachment During Preschool Years Predicts Healthier Peer Friendships

Mother and sonFrom API’s Publications Team

A child with a secure attachment to his mother at preschool age is likely to form closer friendships with peers, according to a study published in Child Development. The article, “Bond with Mom Helps Kids Make Friends,” available on LiveScience.com, describes how the mother-child emotionally healthy relationship models what a positive relationship is to look like with others outside this parent-child bond.

Researchers at the University of Illinois also found securely attached children were less likely to form biases toward others. The study included three year olds and four-and-a-half year olds, and assessed how openly the children and mothers acknowledged and communicated their emotions. In addition, the four year olds — and again in first grade — were assessed for language ability and hostile reactions in playground social situations. Mothers and teachers were asked to report on the child’s general peer competence in first grade, and then the quality of the child’s relationship with his closest friend in third grade.

What researchers found were that children who were securely attached to their mothers at age three showed more open emotional communication and language ability at four and a half. Open emotional communication predicted fewer hostile reactions in first grade and greater friendship quality in third grade. These findings suggest that secure attachment teach children how to correctly interpret others’ behavior sooner than children with insecure attachments to their parents, and that they develop comfort in talking about emotions, especially negative, sooner — which leads to closer friendships.

Poor Attachment Leads to Adult Anxiety Disorders

From API’s Publications Team

Adult anxietyA study to be published in the March issue of Behavior Therapy, “Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Connections with Self-Reported Attachment,” credits secure parent-child attachment in lessening the risk of that child eventually developing a severe anxiety disorder as an adult.

What the University of Maryland and Pennsylvania State researchers found was that adults with severe anxiety tended to report experiencing less maternal love in childhood, greater maternal rejection or neglect, and more maternal role-reversal than did adults without severe anxiety. In general, risk for anxiety in adults increased as did the severity of insecure attachment during childhood. Furthermore, adults with severe anxiety tended to report more unstable emotional relationships with their mothers now, and more difficulty remembering childhood experiences.

Separation without Anxiety

By Grace Zell, staff writer for The Attached Family

Grace Zell and her children
Grace Zell and her children

About a year ago, a friend convinced me to do something good for myself and join the local gym. She would leave her two-year-old daughter in the gym’s nursery and enjoy a nice exercise class. Up to this point, I had only left my 18-month-old daughter, Katie, with my mother at our home, or with a trusted babysitter who my daughter warmed up to after a few times with me present. Unfortunately, the babysitter was back at college and my mother lives three hours away, so I figured the gym nursery would be the next best thing to get some “me time.”

I was nervous as I signed up for a gym membership, thinking that this whole enterprise hinged on my daughter being able to tolerate the nursery. The staff of the nursery seemed attentive but not overly warm or concerned about anything other than the safety of their wards. Luckily, on our first day, my friend dropped her daughter off at the same time. Katie was preoccupied with playing with her friend, and I snuck away after telling her that I would return after I was done riding the bike.

Not Yet Ready

After ten minutes, I was paged to the nursery. Katie’s preoccupation with her friend’s presence had worn off, and she noticed that she was alone with a roomful of strange children and adults. She was crying and looking for me at the door. The nursery staff followed a policy of not allowing any child to cry for longer than ten minutes before paging the parent to come, but they advised me to continue leaving her at the nursery while I was exercising — that eventually Katie would be able to stay without crying. Continue reading Separation without Anxiety