**Originally published in the Fall 2006 Divorce & Single Parenting issue of The Journal of API
Our children model our behavior. When surrounded by people who love them and respond to them sensitively and empathetically, they learn to respond this way to others. In my view, the API principle of Responding with Sensitivity best illustrates the concept of Attachment Parenting (AP). I may or may not adhere to all the principles of AP, but if emotional responsiveness does not permeate my parenting, then I question whether I can cultivate a strong bond with my children.
What if I am consistently emotionally responsive to my family, but I don’t make the effort to regularly model sensitivity to others outside my family? I can’t help wondering how this impacts my children’s emotional and moral development.
I’m not a die-hard Star Trek fan, but there is an episode that’s my favorite, one that’s always stayed with me: “The Empath.” As a child, I was mesmerized by this being who could feel and absorb other people’s pain. I remember her big, emotion-filled, empathic eyes and imagined that she could curl herself up around me, listen to me, and make me feel loved, drawing from me all my childhood pains. Continue reading Teaching Empathy Through Gentle Discipline→
By Heather T. Forbes, LCSW, founder of the Beyond Consequences Institute
**Orginally published in the Winter 2007-08 Adoption issue of The Journal of API
The typical scenario of a young married couple adopting an infant from birth has changed dramatically and has been redefined. Historically, a traditional adoption was defined as a healthy infant placed with an infertile, middle-class white couple.
Today, adoptions can be characterized from a much broader spectrum. Many children being adopted are not infants, but are older children of various races being adopted from either the public foster care system or orphanages overseas. Often, children in these groups have suffered abuse, abandonment, and/or neglect.
Due to a history of trauma, these children are considered “special needs” and require special parenting once adopted into permanent homes. Many of these children are dealing with mental health issues such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), conduct disorder (CD), reactive attachment disorder (RAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and/or depression. Continue reading Issues Facing Adoptive Parents of Children with Special Needs→
By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)
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.
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.
By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)
Ensuring safe sleep and striving for balance are among the trickiest of Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting to follow, but probably the most challenging in many parents’ minds is practicing positive discipline.
For one reason, many parents are trying to change past parenting behaviors, including spanking and using sarcasm.
For another reason, a parent is never completely sure that how he’s disciplining is “working,” especially when the child is young. Toddlers just have a knack of pushing the limits.
What is the Right Age to Begin Disciplining?
Another challenge many first-time parents encounter is deciding when their child is old enough to begin teaching him not to touch something, rather than just moving it to a higher shelf.
Unfortunately, the advice found in books, magazines, and Internet articles do little to pinpoint this so-called ideal age. Some sources, such as http://kidsheath.org, say crawling babies are old enough to hear “no.” Other sources, such as www.drphil.com, say 18 months is the right age to introduce verbal instruction.
Talking to parents can be helpful, but confusing, too: Tom, a single father of three teens, told me he waited until his children were three or four before setting limits; Crystal, a married and pregnant said she began saying “no” to her toddler at nine months old.
That’s why Attachment Parenting International recommends parents to go to an Attachment Parenting (AP) source, such as an API Leader or an AP-friendly professional, for advice. AP sources are less likely to pinpoint a specific age to begin disicpline; rather they explain how practicing AP since birth gives babies, and their parents, a gradual transition to setting limits.
AP Naturally Leads to Gentle Discipline
In the article “Ten Ways Attachment Parenting Makes Discipline Easier” on www.askdrsears.com, strengthening the parent-child bond is the natural precursor to less stressful discipline because the parent and child know each other so well that they’re able to easily communicate their feelings to each other. So, the parent can be proactive in helping her child redirect behavior and the child knows what behavior the parent wants from him. Through AP, children learn to trust their parents and, from there, to care for his parents. This, in turn, makes the child want to please his parent.
Alfie Kohn, in his book Unconditional Parenting, agrees: “…the kids who do what they’re told are likely to be those whose parents don’t rely on power and instead have developed a warm and secure relationship with them. They have parents who treat them with respect, minimize the use of control, and make a point of offering reasons and explanation for what they ask.”
Interesting, considering many parents’ natural inclination is to use power, such as spanking or timeouts, yelling, and threats. It’s difficult, at first, to reason that to get respect from their children, parents must first give respect through a close personal relationship – instead of by force.
The parent who has a strong connection with her child will gradually begin to discipline as the child grows: As the baby begins biting while breastfeeding, the mother changes her technique to discourage biting; as the baby learns to crawl, the parent baby-proofs the home; as the baby grows into a toddler and begins to have tantrums, the parent learns how to head off these tantrums or how to resolve feelings of frustration in the child. Through AP, the parent gets to know her child as well as she knows her spouse or a dear friend, and to anticipate feelings and reactions from her child to various situations.
The difference between a parent-child relationship and an adult-adult relationship is that limits must be set with the parent-child relationship, which is why it’s even more important for parents to be sure to get to know their child on a deep, personal level.
The True Essence of a Discipline Program
Through discipline, parents are striving to pass down their morals and values, trying to help their child develop self-control, and hoping to give their child skills to succeed in life. According to the article “What is Discipline?” on AskDrSears.com, “discipline is based on building the right relationship with a child more than using the right techniques.”
Happiness in life depends heavily on an adult’s emotional health and to establish and maintain close, loving relationships. As suggested by Robert Karen, PhD, in his book Becoming Attached, the parent-child connection is the child’s first model of what is normal in relationships and therefore the foundation of emotional health development in that child. All parent-child interactions, especially those related to teaching and discipline, work to shape the child’s perspective on future relationships.
The Challenge of Coming to AP Later
But, what if you’re a parent who didn’t AP right from birth? Perhaps, you’re just learning about AP and the Eight Principles of Parenting. You don’t have that security of a bond with your child. Does this lack of a strong parent-child connection change the perspective on discipline?
Certainly at first.
Parents can attempt to discipline without having a secure bond, but for discipline to be effective, the parent-child connection created through AP is essential. So, if a parent doesn’t turn to AP until his child is three years old, the reality is that there are likely to be many challenging moments as the parent and the child re-learn patterns of interacting with one another but the good news is that it’s not too late to develop a strong emotional bond. The wonderful thing about AP is that working to create and strengthen the bond between parent and child can begin at any age.
Limits must be set with the parent-child relationship, which is why it’s even more important for parents to be sure to get to know their child on a deep, personal level.
Connecting with our children for a more compassionate world.