Tag Archives: secure attachment

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

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 Considerations of Sibling Spacing on the Family Dynamic

Postpartum Depression Affects Attachment

From API’s Publications Team

BabyAn article on France’s InfosJuenes.com, “Risk of Maternal Depression on the Infant,” reveals research that shows the negative effects of depression in mothers on their babies.

Compared to children of nondepressed mothers, children of mothers with postpartum depression typically perform worse on cognitive and behavior measures, and exhibit higher rates of insecure attachment. The reason: Depressed mothers tend to be withdrawn and disengaged when interacting with their infants, and to be less attuned to their infants’ needs.

In one study, the age at which these poor cognitive measures become most apparent is 18 months. In another study, depression in parents was the number-one predictor of negative parenting behaviors like yelling, hitting, and shaking once factors for socio-economic status, ethnicity, education level, parent age, and employment status were taken out of consideration.

Research has also found a direct correlation between preventing postpartum depression and prevention of behavior issues, insecure attachment, and decline in IQ in infants.

The Changing Role of the New Father

By Nancy Da Silva

Years ago, a new father had little to do with parenting. The traditional view has him in the waiting room, passing out cigars, and then going off to work to earn money to keep a roof over his new baby’s head and provide the infant with food and diapers. That was the extent of his parenting contribution.

Infant care was left to the mother, the primary caregiver. She was the one who took charge of the feedings, changing the diapers, and suffering through the sleepless nights. As the result, the mother had an advantage in the baby-bonding process.

Times have changed. For the most part, society has evolved its picture of the father’s role. New research comes out regularly explaining the importance of fathers taking an active role in raising and nurturing the new baby, right alongside the mother.

Baby Knows Dad’s Voice, Too

The British documentary series “The Human Mind” suggests that a newborn’s brainwaves respond differently to his mother’s voices versus his father’s voice. This, in turn, leads to different responses by the infant to each caregiver. For example, a crying infant will often be comforted more easily in his mother’s arms than in his father’s, leading some experts to believe that, for the most part, the maternal bond is instinctual.

But others, who challenge those findings, assure new dads that bonding is actually a process that can be developed over time.

The Father-Infant Bond can be Just as Strong as the Mother-Infant Bond

Sonia, a 26-year-old mother of one from Toronto, Canada, explained: “I think the first moment that it actually hit [the father] that this was his little baby was when the nurse pulled her from me, wiped her off, and plopped her into his arms. The expression on his face just changed completely, and I could just see that adoration as he watched her. It’s so hard to describe, but in that instant, something happened. She grew in my body and came out of my body, so I always knew she was a part of me, but I think that when he was able to feel her in his arms for the first time, he knew she was a part of him, too.”

If we were to switch the primary care roles where the father is the one who feeds the baby, plays with him, and shows him affection, the bond between them would strengthen to the point where the mother would have the less intense parent-child bond.

The Long-Term Benefits of a Strong Father-Infant Bond

Babies, whose fathers take an active interest in their development, score higher on mental development tests and are shown to handle stressful situations later in life much better than if the father leaves the bonding and care to the mother. Researchers even suggest that a strong fatherly bond leads to higher academic excellence and improved social skills and self esteem.

“In terms of soothing [the baby] when she’s in pain, [the father] would get so frustrated when she preferred me over him that he began to feel inadequate and just stopped trying, because he didn’t see a point,” Sonia said. “Now, if I’m there, she won’t want him to soothe her. If he had stuck with it, it would be a totally different story.”

Society’s Response to the Changing Father’s Role

How is this father-baby bonding supposed to happen when, in most cases, mothers have the advantage of not only the biological bond but the time afforded new mothers by maternity leave? Some companies now offer paternity leave of up to six weeks for new fathers. While California became the first U.S. state to offer paid leave for fathers in 2004, most of North America is slowly following suit with varying degrees of time and levels of pay offered.

Now what are fathers to do with this extra time they’ve been given?

The Father-Infant Bond Can Begin In Utero

They could take advantage of the prenatal months to start bonding with their child. Mothers have that extra nine months before the baby is born to begin bonding with the child, but expecting fathers can also begin their bonding with the baby at this point, too. Helping the mother-to-be with doctor visits, sharing in her experiences, preparing the baby’s room together, and talking to the baby in the womb are all options that can help the baby become familiar with the father’s voice.

In addition, his willingness to be involved in the pregnancy will make the mother more likely to trust him to take over certain baby care tasks once the infant arrives.

The baby will benefit from getting to know each parent separately, and while it is important that the father take the time to build his own unique relationship with his child, it’s only when parents work together, respectful of those separate necessary bonds, that the child can truly grow into a strong, loving, and well-adjusted human being.

“She grew in my body and came out of my body, so I always knew she was a part of me, but I think that when he was able to feel her in his arms for the first time, he knew she was a part of him, too.” ~ Sonia

Baby Sign Language as an Attachment Tool

By Linda Acredo, PhD, and Susan Goodwyn, PhD, co-founders of the Baby Signs® Program

Lisa Smith, a young mother of two little girls, was at her wits end, and very worried. She knew enough about child development to understand that things weren’t going well between her and her six-month-old daughter, Melissa.

In stark contrast to her experience with first-born Laura, whose sunny disposition made parenting a joy, Melissa seemed to have come into the world with a chip on her shoulder. So easily frustrated was she that much of Lisa’s day was spent trying to figure out how to quiet her crying. It wasn’t colic, according to the pediatrician – just a fussy temperament that Lisa would have to learn to live with, and love. And that’s what had Lisa worried. Instead of feeling unconditional love for Melissa, she was feeling more and more frustration and resentment – emotions that she feared Melissa was feeling, too.

The Very Important First Two Years

The importance of loving your children is not earth-shattering news. What may be news to many parents, however, is the certainty with which researchers point to the first two years of life as especially critical – as the time when a child’s basic outlook on the world is forming. What’s more, research has also shown that, without a doubt, the factor most predictive of a positive outlook is a healthy and happy caregiver-infant bond.

That’s where the word “attachment” comes in. This is the term used by child psychologists to label the emotional bond that forms between children and the significant adults in their lives starting soon after birth. We’re indebted to a British clinical psychologist, Dr. John Bowlby, for discovering the critical nature of this early bond. Based in part on the emotional damage he had seen among refugee orphans from World War II, as well as on children in his own clinical practice, Bowlby became convinced that the first two years of a child’s emotional life were not only relevant, but absolutely critical to future emotional well-being.

When that bond is positive in nature, enabling children to trust a parent as a source of comfort and safety, the attachment is called “secure.” In contrast, when the bond is problematic, when children do not view a parent as trustworthy, the attachment is called “insecure.”

What every parent hopes for is a secure attachment with their baby. But how does a parent go about making sure that happens?

Thanks to Bowlby’s colleague, Dr. Mary Ainsworth, we now know that two of the most important ingredients are “sensitivity” and “responsiveness” on the part of the parent. In other words, the ability to read the baby well (know what he or she needs) and the willingness to meet those needs in a timely fashion.

The bottom line of the attachment relationship: Children fall in love with those who meet their physical needs for food and warmth, comfort them when they are hurt, protect them when they are frightened, and, in general, make them feel respected, understood, and loved.

How Baby Signing Can Strengthen The Parent-Child Bond

Few of these wonderful words described Lisa and Melissa’s relationship. With both mother and baby experiencing daily doses of frustration and resentment, the danger of an insecure attachment was looming large. But that’s not what happened! Instead, the relationship began a dramatic turnaround in a matter of months, a change that Lisa credits to the introduction of signing into their interactions with Melissa.

Specifically, Lisa began modeling signs that she thought her daughter might be able to use to communicate her needs more effectively – that is, without having to resort to crying. And it worked!

The success Lisa had comes as no surprise, given our decades of research on the benefits of signing with hearing babies – research conducted at the University of California with the help of funds from the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C. In addition to data proving that signing accelerates, rather than hinders, verbal development and promotes intellectual progress, we had also uncovered convincing evidence that signing contributes significantly to the formation of a positive relationship between parent and child in the first years of life.

As adults, we tend to forget what a complicated job babies face when they want to learn to talk. Unfortunately, until babies can conquer all the intricate movements necessary for speech, they are literally at a loss for words to tell us what’s on their minds. Learning to use simple signs bypasses all these obstacles, enabling babies to communicate effectively months earlier than would be possible were they to wait for words.

A secure attachment is based on a baby experiencing lots of good times with parents relative to the number of frustrating and anxiety-ridden times. Anything that increases the number of positive interactions and decreases the number of negative interactions is going to help parent and child forge a healthy relationship. And this is exactly what signs do. Here’s how:

  • Because signs make the task of “reading” the baby so much easier, they help parents meet their baby’s needs efficiently, reducing everyone’s frustration and decreasing tears and tantrums.
  • Parents who are watching for signs are paying closer attention to whatever their baby does, thus increasing the chance that even non-sign signals will be detected and responded to appropriately.
  • Signs help parents learn that their baby is fully capable of feeling loved and secure or anxious and rejected. That knowledge leads to the understanding that it really matters what a parent does.
  • Signs enable babies to share their worlds with their parents, thereby increasing the joy that each takes in the other’s company.

Baby Signing Isn’t Difficult to Learn…or to Teach

People who first hear about signing with babies think that it must be difficult to do, that it’s too much to add to a frazzled parent’s busy day. Nothing could be further from the truth. All that’s necessary is to do the same thing parents do to teach their babies to wave “bye-bye”: Simply say the word while modeling the motion as the baby watches. Repeat the pairing of the word and the sign frequently and, after babies have witnessed enough of these episodes, they begin to use the sign themselves.

A Real-Life Example

So, how did signs help Lisa and Melissa? According to Lisa: “As soon as Melissa began to sign, like magic, everything began to change. My husband, Wayne, noticed it, too. Finally, Melissa could let me know what she needed or wanted without crying all the time. She seemed as relieved as we were!

“And beyond that, she really enjoyed letting us know when she saw things she thought were neat,” Lisa continued. “One time in the park. we saw a boy with a big dog. They were playing with a soccer ball. I just assumed she’d be interested in the dog, so I started talking about it. But then she made the sign for ‘ball’ and smiled when I said, ‘Oh! You see the ball!’ When I started talking about the ball instead, she relaxed back in her strolling and really seemed to listen.”

“Things like that happened every day,” Lisa concluded. “Wayne and I were absolutely enchanted and, for just about the first time, we were actually eager to spend time with her. I really hate to think what our relationship would be like today if it hadn’t been for the signs.”


About the Baby Signs® Program
Drawing extensively from American Sign Language (ASL), the Baby Signs® Program teaches parents how to help their babies communicate using simple movements like fingers to lips for EAT, finger tips tapped together for MORE, and fist opening and closing for MILK. With signs like these and many more, babies can let parents know that they are hungry, thirsty, need more of something, or even that they feel feverish (HOT) or are experiencing pain (HURT). In addition to helping babies get their needs met, signing also enables babies to share the joys of their worlds with their parents. Babies are fascinated by what they see and hear as they move through their days and want their parents to share in their discoveries. Having simple signs to point out the BUTTERFLY in the garden, the CAT hiding in the bushes, or the DOG they hear barking outside provides babies a way to do just that. For more information, visit www.babysigns.com.

The Long-Term Effects of Bullying on the Victim, the Bully, and the Bystander

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

Even as late as a generation ago, teasing was considered almost a rite of passage for school-age children. It was seen as the natural establishment of the childhood “pecking order” – either you were teased or you became the bully, at least once.

Within the last decade, more attention has been directed to the severely negative effects of this “normal” part of childhood. Research has found that bullying – which can include name-calling, teasing, spreading of rumors, threats, stealing possessions, and other forms of intimidation, even as extreme as hitting, pushing, and additional physical violence – has long-term effects on the emotional well-being of children and teens, well into their adult years.

The Effect of Bullying on the Victim

In her article “Teasing and Bullying: No Laughing Matter,” published on www.scholastic.com, author Diana Townsend-Butterworth warns of how bullying can distort emotional and mental development, not only through the psychological torture of being a victim but also because the fear of being bullied can take a toll on academic and social success through loss of concentration and reduced class attendance. School becomes a place to be feared for many children who are bullied. Bullying also affects self esteem development and may cause depression, both of which can last well into adulthood, hurting their professional achievements and personal relationships.

The Effect of Bullying on the Bully

Bullies, too, often have difficulty in forming positive relationships in adulthood, reports Townsend-Butterworth. Bullies are more likely to use tobacco and alcohol, to become abusive in their marital and parental relationships, and to engage in criminal activities.

The Effect of Bullying on the Bystander

Even children who are not directly involved, either as bullies or as targets, may be adversely affected, Townsend-Butterworth continues. Academically, these innocent bystanders suffer from disruption in the classroom created by a bully or by the teacher disciplining the bully or attending to the victim. These children can also be traumatized by witnessing the bully in action, fearing that they be the next victim or feeling guilty for not helping the target, according to James Garbarino, PhD, author of Lost Boys and Words Can Hurt Forever.

Bullying Hurtful No Matter the Form…or the Age

Bullying is also not limited to boys or girls, either. It used to be that only boys could be bullied; girls were teased. Actually, teasing and bullying are one in the same. What is different is how they are expressed by the different genders. As Townsend-Butterworth explains, boys are typically physical in their bullying. They might push each other or steal someone’s backpack. On the other hand, girls are usually more subtle and indirect. A young girl may threaten not to be someone’s friend unless that friend gives her something in return, and an older girl will tell other girls not to be friends with someone or say a hurtful remark and then pretend they didn’t mean it.

Incredibly, bullying can begin as early as preschool. Bullying is also common around the world, in all cultures, ethnicities, and socio-economic classes. Townsend-Butterworth reports research that estimates as many as a third of all school-age children are involved in bullying, either as bullies or victims. In some schools, such as those with students of mixed ethnicities or socio-economic classes, this number may be higher. Bullying often intensifies at certain transitional stages, such as starting elementary school, middle school, or high school. While bullying is no longer considered customary, and most schools have adopted some form of anti-bullying policies, children can’t be fully protected since bullying can take many forms and can occur elsewhere.

Where Children Learn to Bully

The goal of Attachment Parenting (AP) is to raise children to be empathetic, compassionate, loving people. Instilling these values in children early, and continuing to nurture these qualities as they child grows, is an inoculation against them becoming bullies. Children learn to bully from their peers, and even from adults and media influences, writes Townsend-Butterworth. Even unconsciously, parents may teach bullying behaviors by the way they speak to or treat their children.

“If children experience put-downs or physical punishment at home or in school, and if they see emotional and psychological abuse go unchallenged, they believe this behavior is acceptable,” Townsend-Butterworth writes. “Bullies like to feel powerful and in control. They are insensitive to the feelings of others and defiant toward adults.”

How Children Become Targets of Bullying

But, what about not becoming a victim? Some AP parents may worry that if their child isn’t aggressive, he will get bullied himself. But, as Townsend-Butterworth explains, children who repeatedly find themselves the target of bullying are similar in that they have a shy personality, low self-esteem, poor social skills, and less physical strength.

“Bullies consider these children safe targets, because they usually don’t retaliate,” Townsend-Butterworth writes. In addition, repeated targets inadvertently “reward” bullies by giving in to them, according to a 1997 article from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, “Teaching Children Not to Be, or Be Victims of, Bullies,” reprinted on the Focus Adolescent Services website www.focusas.com, which works to support families of troubled and at-risk teens.

Unfortunately, as this article points out, targets of bullying are not helped by adults speaking for them; sometimes, this can actually make the bullying more aggressive. The goal for parents is not to teach aggression, but assertiveness. According to Focus, while parents can’t solve the problem of bullying, they do hold the key to teaching their children to avoid becoming victims.

“Children must learn that they have the right to say ‘no,’” according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children article, “not only when they are threatened, but in a wide range of everyday situations.”

While parents can’t solve the problem of bullying, they do hold the key to teaching their children to avoid becoming victims.

Focus on the Simple Moments

By Nikki Schaefer, staff writer for The Attached Family


On a rainy day, I took my three-year-old son to the restaurant with the golden arches, thinking that he would love to go down the big slides. He did…one time…then stopped to take a bite of his apple dippers.

I asked him, “Do you want to go down the slides again?”

“No,” he replied emphatically. “All done!”

He began to gobble down a few more slices. Having trouble believing that a child would not want to play in Playland, I asked him again, “Do you want to go down the slides?”

“NO,” he said, “ALL DONE!”

He began to run around in circles yelling, “Circle! Circle!” His blond curls bobbed up and down with a toothy smile across his face as he continued to run around, over and over again.

Amused, I watched my son closely. “This is why I love being a mom,” I thought. “What a joy it is to watch this little person take such delight in something so simple.”

It was in that instance I was reminded that, it is not in the jungle gyms of life but in the daily cycles of being where the greatest joys are found.

In a culture that teaches that a child needs Disneyland, a dance class, and a soccer team at age three to find satisfaction, my child reminded me that what he needs most is the space to “be.” My call as a mother of a young child is to allow him the freedom to run, spin, laugh, dance, chase a bug, touch the rain, paint a mural, or just “be.” My job is to create the margins in my life to hold him, talk to him, delight in him, mend an ouchie, pour a glass of milk, and share the wonders of God.

Sometimes, the Playlands of life have their place. It is good to get out of the house, move our bodies, change the scene, and experience some of the greater amusements…from time to time. Yet, instead of always ordering the Big Macs, we are called to “supersize the ordinary.” By consciously choosing not to focus on the highs of life, but instead on the simple moments, we as parents choose a love for our families that is extraordinary indeed.

My call as a mother of a young child is to allow him the freedom to run, spin, laugh, dance, chase a bug, touch the rain, paint a mural, or just “be.”