Tag Archives: responding with sensitivity

API Reads September 2014: Parenting from the Inside Out and Parent Effectiveness Training

This is an exciting month for API Reads in which you, the reader, get to choose which direction you’ll go in your reading.

We are still reading Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel J. Siegel, MD, and Mary Hartzell for the general audience and for those with children under the school-age years. We will also be reading Parent Effectiveness Training by Thomas Gordon for those with children who are in the school-age years and above.

For Parenting from the Inside Outwe have read the Introduction, Chapter 1 and Chapter 2. For the month of September we will be reading Chapters 3 to 6. The topics for these chapters will be:

  • Chapter 3 – How We Feel: Emotion in Our Internal and Interpersonal Worlds

  • Chapter 4 – How We Communicate: Making Connections

  • Chapter 5 – How We Attach: Relationships Between Children and Parents

  • Chapter 6 – How We Make Sense of Our Lives: Adult Attachment


For Parent Effectiveness Trainingwe’ll be reading Chapters 1 to 4. The topics for these chapters will be:

  • Chapter 1 – Parents Are Blamed but Not Trained

  • Chapter 2 – Parents Are Persons, Not Gods

  • Chapter 3 – How to Listen So Kids Will Talk to You: The Language of Acceptance

  • Chapter 4 – Putting Your Active Listening Skill to Work

Our discussions happen on GoodReads,  so don’t hesitate to join in the conversation. We read a chapter a week, and sometimes you can’t get through the chapter and yet may find that you will still be able to participate in the conversation. So come join the other 400+ members who are already part of the conversation!

download (1)

pet image


Different, Not Disordered: An Interview with Dr. Barbara Probst

By Rita Brhel, API’s publications coordinator, managing editor of Attached Family magazine and an API Leader (Hastings, Nebraska, USA). Originally published in the 2013 “Loving Uniquely” issue of Attached Family magazine (available free of charge to API members–and membership in API is free).

Headshot_(2)_copyWe often hear the importance of treating children fairly, but at Attachment Parenting International (API), we advocate rather to love each of our children uniquely. Because every child—just like every adult—is one of a kind, each individual parent-child relationship forms to the distinctive shape of each other’s differences in temperament, interests, opinions, aversions, conversions and other subtle nuances of what makes each person and their interactions unique.

API celebrates every person’s unique traits, but some children’s differences set them apart from societal expectations enough that daily interactions—whether at home, childcare or school—can be challenging. Rather than viewing our children through the lens of understanding, however, our society’s response is often to see these differences as “symptoms” of a disorder and to follow up with treatments that may not resolve the problem.

I am excited to share a discussion with Barbara Probst, PhD, LCSW, author of When the Labels Don’t Fit, on her approach to facilitate understanding among parents and teachers in order to discover a new relationship with sometimes-challenging children based on appreciation and respect instead of illness.

RITA: What inspired your alternative approach to “treating” children whose differences often lead them to being diagnosed with disorder?

DR. PROBST: I feel quite strongly about the way our culture seems to be viewing every difference, difficulty, struggle and quirk—every extreme or unusual behavior—as a disorder, especially when it comes to kids!

The idea for When the Labels Don’t Fit really grew out of my experience as a clinical social worker. So many parents were coming to me with kids who were intense, complex, confusing, rigid, provocative, volatile, inconsistent—challenging children who had either been given multiple diagnoses and treatments, none of which really helped, or whom no diagnosis seemed to fit.

These parents were understandably looking for some kind of explanation, some way to make sense of their child’s behavior. Yet the only thing they were offered was a negative framework, a way to categorize their child by what was supposedly wrong or missing.

There was no framework that also took into account a child’s strengths, talents, affinities, needs, style, temperament—the things a child loves and gravitates toward—as tools for understanding how that child responds to the world and who he or she really is. There seemed to be an assumption that “naming the disorder” was the key to assessing what was going on and making it better—as in the medical way, “fixing the problem” by diagnosis and cure—but it was obvious that this narrow approach wasn’t really helping anyone, neither kids nor their parents.

I got curious and started to investigate the whole “diagnosis explosion”—more and more kids receiving psychiatric labels, at younger and younger ages, for fewer and milder symptoms. The statistics are pretty staggering! For instance, one in every five American children meets current criteria for a psychological disorder, with three times as many kids now being diagnosed with emotional or behavioral disorders than were diagnosed 15 years ago. It makes you wonder if there’s really something wrong with 20% of our kids or something wrong with our definition of “normal.”

As a culture, we’ve pathologized a whole range of traits and ways of interacting with the world that used to be part of the variety of human experience. Some of the difficulties come from a poor fit with the environment, some from the struggles that are just part of living and growing up, and some are from unrealistic expectations and intolerance for kids who push the envelope or make us uncomfortable.

It’s not that a child’s struggles aren’t real or that some kids aren’t truly hard to raise. Certainly, there are kids who do things that seem odd or excessive at various points in their development, and of course it’s painful for parents when they can’t seem to reach or handle a child they love. And it’s not that “anything goes” or that kids don’t need to understand limits and develop empathy. But finding a disease-based category for the child’s problems isn’t the answer either! Just because a child has difficulty managing stimulation or frustration, hates change or needs to ground herself through touch, it doesn’t necessarily mean that those difficulties are indicators of an underlying pathology.

RITA: This is what many parents refer to as “spiritedness” or “high needs.”

DR. PROBST: I knew there had to be a better, more direct way to understand and help these challenging kids and their parents. I began focusing on the specific issue or trait, rather than the label that “explained” the trait as a symptom of one or another disease, zooming in to the feature, like perfectionism or impatience, that lay behind the problematic behavior. I wanted to understand who a child is, not what disorder he or she has—to be truly solution-focused and figure out why the roof was leaking instead of how to reward the child for mopping the wet floor.

RITA: That’s a great analogy. How did this approach work in the field?

DR. PROBST: I began to apply this new approach in my work, looking for a “difficult” child’s core features as the key to what made that child tick. Again and again, this new approach brought practical and positive results where nothing had helped before—in an amazingly short time!

I began to give presentations and workshops to parents, educators and mental health professionals, showing them how to use the temperamental map I’d developed to figure out how unusual or extreme traits interact with elements of the environment, and then how to target strategies—concretely and proactively—to a child’s specific features. It was so empowering! It gave parents real hope.

They began to see their challenging child as someone intriguing instead of someone to control or fear. What a great experience!

RITA: What temperamental differences do you find create the most friction? How would you define a “challenging child”?

DR. PROBST: Let me start by saying a word about temperament. Temperament is your essential nature, your innate way of being in the world. The early view of temperament, however, like the model Chess and Thomas developed in the mid-1970s, tended to present temperament as a series of good/bad polarities: attentive or distractible, adaptable or inflexible, and so on. I find that quite biased and value-laden, to be honest, like another set of pejorative labels.

It’s really about the fit between traits and context, not about some traits being intrinsically better than others. After all, a highly tenacious child who won’t cede her turn at the kindergarten easel until she’s satisfied with her painting is seen as resistant and antisocial, but she’s seen as admirably persistent in the science lab.

More broadly, if we lived in a culture that valued curiosity and responsiveness instead of order and self-restraint, we’d think that a child who could sit still for an hour, ignoring all the interesting people and impressions around him, as having “attention surplus disorder”!

So it varies, and traits that seem to be problematic in one situation or at one age can be an asset in another, the seeds of a child’s authenticity and fulfillment.

In addition, temperamental traits exist on a continuum, like a high need for stimulation or a low tolerance for change. Although traits in the middle may make you more mellow and adaptable to a wider range of contexts, no trait is inherently “better” or “worse” than another.

Think of it descriptively, rather than judgmentally: Some kids go off on tangents, some can’t bear to leave something unfinished, some find comfort in order and repetition or, on the contrary, always want change. Some like to plunge right in while others take time to warm up and then need to disengage slowly. Within each dimension, there’s a range, with a child tending toward the high or low end when he’s stressed.

Friction is more likely to arise, then, when a trait or its manifestation is at one of the extreme ends of the continuum, especially when the environment has a narrow zone of tolerance. A fixed time schedule—“It’s 10:00, put away your journals and get ready for recess”—can cause a shrieking tantrum in a child who has to “complete his mission” or needs to stop incrementally. A classroom full of stimulating choices can make a perfectionistic child, overwhelmed by all the roads not taken no matter what she chooses, highly anxious or irritable.

RITA: What about temperamental difference between a child and an adult?

DR. PROBST: By “environment,” I also mean the people in the child’s world. If you’re a parent who thinks spontaneity is fun, for example, and you have a child for whom that’s distressing and who really needs to know ahead of time exactly what to expect in order to feel safe, or vice versa, you’re more likely to encounter misunderstanding and conflict. For example, does your child prefer to know what she’s getting for her birthday, or does she want to be surprised?

So it’s often the mismatch, rather than the trait itself, especially when a child hasn’t matured enough to develop a repertoire of coping strategies or is blamed by adults who expect him to be the one to do all the adapting, rather than being curious and open to small changes in the environment that might create “wiggle room” or a “margin of tolerance.”

It’s also important to remember that different traits can lie behind the same challenging behavior, so you need to step back and figure out why your angry child won’t go to bed. Is it because of an irregular inner rhythm or pajamas that “don’t feel right”? Does he need to disengage a bit at a time because of high intensity and focus? Does she need to finish her game because she’s a perfectionist who can’t bear to leave something incomplete? Does he need a set of tactile markers to anchor the verbal instructions?

Threats, logic, cajoling, even offers of kindness and generosity—“how about an extra story?”—may have nothing to do with the reason your child refuses to go to bed. It’s like throwing solution darts at a situation in the hope that one will somehow stick! It’s not a matter of changing the exterior result—getting the child to “behave” and go to bed—but of understanding the interior cause and the child’s interaction with elements of the environment, including space, timing, tempo and sensory factors.

So a “challenging child” is one whose unusual, extreme or erratic traits have been misunderstood and mishandled, often due to a poor contextual fit. Your child’s need for movement or silence or control still must be met proactively, but a need that’s been respected and met, even partially, tends to lead to far less “challenging behavior” than a need that’s been ignored, denied or shamed.

RITA: What steps would you suggest for a parent seeking to learn a different way to look at and act toward their child?

DR. PROBST: One of the most powerful things parents can do is to change their language. Describe your child, to yourself and to her, as organized rather than obsessive, curious about life rather than distractible. Instead of calling her picky, tell her: “You sure do know what you like!” Instead of stubborn: “You’re not a quitter!” That helps her feel she’s not fundamentally defective and helps you feel more open and positive, which results in a less tense relationship that benefits everyone.

You can also use language to put borders around troublesome behavior. “You’re the kind of person who has a tough time with disappointment (or waiting, feeling rushed or feeling there are too many rules for how to do something).” That gives a precise, bounded and concrete place to begin, rather than making a child feel globally wrong or defective.

When a trait like low adaptability, for instance, is likely to pose a problem, talk about it in advance. Name it, predict and use respectful curiosity to help your child make a plan: “It really bothers you when kids change the rules for Capture the Flag. Variations aren’t fun to you; it just feels like they’re ruining the game. So what’s your plan if that happens today? Any ideas about what you can do?”

If your child has had a successful experience of managing a similar situation in the past, remind him of his past success and let him be the expert: “Remember how well you handled things that time the pizza place turned out to be closed? What was the secret of your success?”

If he’s not yet been able to handle it well, offer a suggestion in the spirit of experimentation. Collaborate with your child as detectives or scientists on a quest for data: “Well, I know something that tends to help people who like things to stay the same. Are you game to try and let me know if it helps?”

Tell your child: “I see that you really like to make your own decisions.” Include that feature in advance, rather than punishing your child afterward for asserting her desire to be in control. Give her a way to be involved in the decision about how to clean up, for example, before it’s time to clean up.

This kind of practical, respectful approach is so much more effective than trying to maintain complicated systems of points and penalties! Remember that your child is doing the best he can under the circumstances, given his limited resources. It’s not about reward and punishment, but about the power of self-knowledge. Your goal, in the end, is to help your child be happy and successful because of who he is.

RITA: Some parents still struggle to set limits with their children. It’s as if they and their child aren’t talking the same language.

DR. PROBST: A few core principles lie behind the more than 60 practical strategies in When the Labels Don’t Fit. One principle is to proactively and concretely match the strategy to the feature. For instance, a child who has difficulty feeling time needs a way to organize externally what she can’t organize internally. Tell her: “Two more times going down the slide,” (a unit of action), rather than, “Five more minutes till we have to leave the playground.”

A child who can’t bear disappointment needs a backup plan that’s already in place right from the beginning. For example: “My Plan B is chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream if they don’t have rocky road.” Your child can figure out his backup plan before getting in the car to go out for ice cream, then write it on an index card and put it in his pocket. Unexpected let-downs are harder, but the Plan B approach will be more likely to be accepted if your child has already practiced it in other situations.

A child with a ten-minute attention span needs a planned break after eight minutes.

A child who needs to control and becomes angry at not being in control needs a safe avenue to express power with temporal and spatial boundaries. What can she control? Can you give her a Magic Coin that she can “spend” each day on something where she can be the “boss”? That helps her learn to make and live with choices. Remember: If the only power you give a strong-willed child is the power to refuse, she will surely use it.

And so on. Once you get the idea that it all stems from “the kind of kid this is,” it becomes so much easier to be effective.

Another important principle is to show your child that you “get it.” Don’t try to make your child feel better by telling him that “it’s not a big deal”—to him it is—or that he doesn’t really feel what he feels. A child who’s hurt or angry at being rejected needs you to respect his reality and his temperament. If you deny or dismiss his experience, he’ll think you’re lying or don’t care or both. It’s better to say, “I get that it really hurts.”

Then think about his temperament. Is he the kind of person who feels better when he plunges into a new activity or when he has a quiet space to be alone? Does he tend to ruminate and thus need diversion to interrupt the cycle, or does he lock his feelings away and need help bringing them to the surface?

Too often, unfortunately, we end up rewarding a child for not being himself. A child who needs to touch or move, for instance, gets praised for not touching or not moving, rather than being given a safe way to meet his temperamental need for touch or movement. Then we’re surprised when that child becomes depressed or anxious or hostile.

Begin at the level where success is possible and build from there. Lowering the necessary dose gradually can be an empowering way to help a child manage her need for movement, praise, control and so on.

RITA: How do parents know when they may need more help, when a child should be evaluated for ADHD, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, et cetera?

DR. PROBST: Certainly there are children whose difficulties go beyond an unusual temperament or poor temperament-environment fit. It would be just as wrong to dismiss a serious condition as it would be to over-diagnose a minor one. When we call every moody adolescent “bipolar” or every fidgety preschooler “ADHD,” we trivialize the very real suffering of those who truly do merit the label.

Deciding if a child may have an enduring problem beyond a quirky temperament is a complex process. It’s important to remember, however, that there’s no objective test for any of these diagnoses like there are for medical conditions like asthma or diabetes; the determination is always a subjective one. The criteria rely heavily on words like “frequently” and “often” and on checklists completed by adults rather than on a child’s self-report.

But if difficulties persist despite strategies to reduce stress and maximize adaptation, are present under a wide range of circumstances and cause significant impairment, then it may be wise to seek an outside evaluation.

It’s also important to remember that a child may still need help, even if she doesn’t necessarily meet the criteria for an official mental health diagnosis. The way our insurance reimbursement system is set up requires some diagnosis in order to justify the need for treatment under the principle of “medical necessity.” So the mental health clinician may select the label that seems the closest match, the least stigmatizing or the most likely to get the child the services he needs.

Yet in working with the child, what’s often more significant than the formal label are the specific impairing traits, which may or may not correspond to items on the official symptom list. For instance, “doesn’t feel time” and “is a perfectionist” aren’t on the list for any of the educational or mental health categories, even though they’re common problems.

RITA: Thank you so much, Dr. Probst, for your time and insights! Can you share any final thoughts on this topic?

DR. PROBST: It’s vitally important for us to keep questioning the idea that “difficult” or “different” means disordered! We need to reject the idea that every child who’s hard to handle or doesn’t fit in has a psychiatric disorder.

Many children go through tough times or seem extreme, eccentric, provocative or immature at various points in their development. But that doesn’t mean they have a disease that needs to be cured, medicated or taken as the most important aspect of who they are.

We need to ask the right questions. Instead of trying to figure out if a child has ADHD, Asperger syndrome or bipolar disorder, we need to take the labels apart, zoom in to understand each feature and find specific places where change is possible.

We need to identify the source of a problem—usually in unmet needs, discord and imbalance, not from something inherently wrong or missing in the child’s makeup—before trying to solve it by generic approaches. We need to tailor every strategy to fit a child’s specific traits and needs, and to take responsibility for how we, too, need to adapt. We can’t ask our kids to do all the work.

TAF2013lovinguniquelyYou can read more in the “Loving Uniquely” issue of Attached Family magazine, in which we delve into temperament and how it intersects with parenting and the development of attachment style, and we challenge the notion that every hard-to-handle child needs a diagnosis. The magazine is free to API members–and membership in API is free! Click the link above to access your free issue or join API.

Separation Anxiety?

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

Photo credit: Helene Souza
Photo credit: Helene Souza

When my children were young, it was common for me to take them when I traveled for speaking engagements. At their stages of development, they still wanted and needed to stay close to me.

I recall a psychologist friend of mine doubting my decision to take my then two-year-old with me. “If he cries it will help him to recover from past experiences of separation,” she said. She felt that the best way to get over separation anxiety is to encourage separations.

However, my child had no past experiences of separation to overcome, and I wanted to keep him free of such experience as long as he needed my uninterrupted closeness.

By nature there is no such a thing as “separation anxiety.” Instead, there is a healthy need of a child to be with her mother. Only a deprivation of a need creates anxiety. If we honor the need for uninterrupted physical closeness as long the child needs it, no anxiety develops. The concept “separation anxiety” is the invention of a society that denies a baby’s and child’s need for uninterrupted connection. In this vein, we can deprive a child of food and describe her reaction as “hunger anxiety,” or we can let her be cold and call her cries “temperature anxiety.”

My son, Lennon Aldort, says it well: “Our modern society and the nuclear family are large-scale experiments in extreme deprivation of the needs of both children and parents.” Parents are doing their best to move away from denying children their needs. Yet sometimes even the most securely attached parents, under pressure from extended family and friends, expect a child to live up to external expectations.

Some parents feel pressure to compare their children to others: “How come the other child is willing to be without his mother?” I always reassure parents by pointing out that the other child is a different person, and it is possible that the other child has, unfortunately, given up on what is best for himself. If your child is insisting on what is best for her, it is a reason to rejoice and to know that your parenting approach is empowering her self-confidence.

Stages of development

The confusion starts when we see a child as seemingly regressing. She was happy to stay without you at age two, and is suddenly back to needing you all the time at age three. But should we call this a “separation anxiety?” Or is it our own “intolerance for changing back and forth anxiety?”

Children try new things for a while only to recapture their old “baby” ways with gusto a year later. These changes are part of their steps forward. There is no rule that says that once a child achieves something, she must stick to it. In fact, observation tells us that most children go through such changes. They sometimes return to a former familiar stage to establish more confidence and gain a new momentum. Normal development in the early years may be two steps forward and one step back, a balance between exploring autonomy and feeling the need for security. They must feel secure and know that the door behind them never shuts, or they will not dare to try new territory.

Another reason children try things and then retreat is precisely because they become more aware. The world appears quite simple and safe to a toddler: Mommy, Daddy, couch, kitchen, doggy, yard, street, et cetera. As the child’s awareness grows, everything becomes larger and scarier. There is so much more unknown and so much that can happen. The child must be sure that springing out of the familiar doesn’t burn the bridge behind her. Being sure of that, she can try more new experiences with confidence.

Loving solutions

Sonya asked for my advice about her five-year-old child’s “separation anxiety.” “Haya wants to be with me at all times,” she said. “She even joins me in the bathroom.” Such a need can be natural even in a child who was never pushed too soon to be away from mom. But in Haya’s case, there was an early attempt to leave her at a nice, small preschool for half days. She seemed to enjoy the school but was having a hard time departing from her mother in the morning. “She was fearful and clingy, and over time she started to be more whiny at home and less happy,” her mother said.

I suggested stopping taking Haya to preschool. The result was immediate and dramatic:

“I got my child back,” Sonya said. “She is happy again and self-engaged, but she is still unable to be away from me.” Haya will regain her trust and confidence. She needs time in which there is no reminder of her experience of separation. She must know that it is up to her to be without mom. When we respond to the child, rather than try to manipulate her development, she can stay content. Keep a benign attitude of trust and peace with no hints of future expectations. On the other side, stay away from drama about her need for you. With no agenda, the child will act from within.

What if parents work away from home?

In many families, one or both parents work outside the home. Regardless of what options you may have, if you leave the baby or young child before she is ready, she is likely to develop anxiety about losing you. There are ways to alleviate the hurt and reduce the anxiety. If possible, the baby or child could stay in a familiar and loved space, such as at home or in another familiar home, with one or two intimately familiar people who love her, like Daddy, a grandparent or another consistent and loving caregiver.

Breastfeeding is nature’s magical way of telling you to stay close to your baby and toddler. When you go to work without your baby, do express milk for her but also minimize the time you are away. If after you return home your baby cries a lot, or your child is cranky and clingy, give her your full attention, validate her feelings and let the tears flow so she can heal.

Always validate and give outlet to self-expression. “You want mommy to stay with you. I know. I miss you too. I love you so much. Tell me about your day.” Make peace with your child’s anxiety about your absence, so you are not anxious yourself. Your child needs a secure parent who can listen to her.

Denial teaches denial

Some parents believe that by denying the child’s need repeatedly and consistently, the child will develop the “muscle” and learn to be comfortable away from mom. Unfortunately, the child does learn to be away from mom, but in doing so, she must detach emotionally and ignore her own inner voice. The process is not one of developing inner strength, but of resignation and of losing trust.

What we see externally is not always what the child experiences inside. As one three-year-old said to her mother: “At daycare I look smiling outside, but I am crying inside.” The innate drive of the child to please us and seek our approval causes her to comply rather than choose authentically. She learns to deny her own inner voice and follow external expectations instead because she yearns to fit in with our world. In order to do this, she must shut down her feelings and her sense of connection. Training your child to give up on herself and follow others leads to insecure teenagers and adults who, thoughtlessly, follow peer pressure, media and other external influences.

Each family must make the child care choices that they feel are best, and we must learn to love the life we have so the child will develop emotional resilience. But do allow for crying, validate the feeling and know that she may develop a separation anxiety that you will want to keep healing.

Rejoice in your child’s connection

When children rage and refuse to separate, I always celebrate. “Your child is not a tameable one,” I say. “You must have done a wonderful job of protecting her authentic being.” The more the child is rooted in herself, the less you can sway her away from who she is. We call it confidence.

When your child tells you confidently in words or actions, “I want to stay with you all the time,” and you respond to her need, she learns, “I can trust myself. My mom trusts me and takes my cues seriously.” The child who relies on herself and does not deny herself in an attempt to please you is developing self-reliance and confidence. She stays connected not only to you but to herself, creating bridges of love and inner independence.


Spotlight On: The Girl Behind the Door

tgbtd-ebookcov_03-600The Girl Behind the Door by John Brooks chronicles a father’s experience from the adoption of his only child to her suicide in her teen years, including the exploration of the role of an attachment disorder. 

Editor’s Note: This book contains references to parenting practices that are counter to API’s Eight Principles of Parenting but they are not provided as advice, rather as facts as the author reflects back on his personal story. The author also includes ways he could have incorporated the Eight Principles more in his parenting role, as he reflects back on his adopted daughter’s life.

API: Tell us about your book.

John: In 1991, my wife Erika and I adopted our daughter, Casey (née Joanna), from a Polish orphanage at age 14 months. She was weak and sickly from a year of institutionalization. We believe she spent much or most of her time in her crib while her dedicated and valiant caregivers essentially performed triage on the older disabled children at risk for self-harm. But within days in our care, Casey’s developmental rebound was nothing less than astonishing. Over the years, she blossomed into a beautiful, smart, popular young lady living, by most measures, a privileged life in the San Francisco Bay area. But she wasn’t perfect. She suffered violent meltdowns and tantrums, crying jags and hypersensitivity, and seemed completely impervious to discipline, all in a manner out of proportion to age or circumstance. What were we doing wrong? Therapist after therapist, who knew full well about her past, told us “just be tougher with her.”

In the fall of 2007, she accomplished her dream–she was accepted at prestigious Bennington College for the fall of 2008. She never made it. In January of that year, she took our car, drove to the Golden Gate Bridge and jumped. Her body was never recovered.

The Girl Behind The Door is my search for answers to Casey’s suicide. Why did she do it? What did everyone–especially the professionals–miss? What could we have done differently? What could we share with other adoptive families? Through research and interviews with adoption and attachment experts, I learned about the attachment issues and disorders that burden so many adopted children and result in the behaviors we saw in Casey. It explained everything about her. I share with the reader everything I learned about parenting and therapy techniques that have proven effective in helping orphaned children cope with the lasting effects of birth trauma, abandonment and emotional deprivation.

There are numerous books on adoption and attachment from a clinical perspective. Other personal adoption stories seemingly end with wheels up from Moscow or Beijing, implying that the heavy lifting is over when it has only just begun. The Girl Behind The Door integrates a tragic personal adoption story with information from the experts to teach other families what we learned too late.

API: What inspired you to write the book?

John: I think that many parents who’ve lost a child feel compelled to do something to give their life meaning. Parents join grief and advocacy groups, and lobby for new laws to protect others from tragedy, among other things. I’ve joined the fight to install a suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge–the deadliest structure on Earth for suicide. But my journey led me beyond the bridge to determine what led Casey there in the first place. So I wrote a book.

API: How will this book benefit other families?

John: Much more is known today about the effects of abandonment and adoption than was known in 1991, before researchers had an opportunity to study the long-term effects of deprivation on Romanian orphans. Today attachment resources and therapists are still difficult to find, even in big cities. Many therapists are still unschooled in specialized attachment therapies and treat adopted children as they would any other children. While I don’t claim to have uncovered every attachment resource (see my Resources section), I’ve found many that readers can use as a starting point for their own journey in trying to get help for themselves and their children. I’m not a professional, and I don’t diagnose or dispense advice. But by raising awareness to the challenges that adoptive families face even today, I hope to make a difference.

API: Is there any special message you have for parents of children with attachment disorders?

John: It is important to note that not all adopted children and adults suffer the effects of their early life trauma, but many do. Here are some of my lessons learned:

1. Prospective adoptive parents need to be thoroughly schooled by a qualified professional before they get on that plane or head for the delivery room. In all likelihood, that schooling will not come from the adoption agency or facilitator. Even better, these parents should meet adopted adults and hear about their life experiences.

2. Have your child tested and diagnosed by a qualified professional [if you suspect problems]. All too often, attachment disorder or reactive attachment disorder are convenient catch-alls when other disorders may be at work and difficult for the untrained eye to differentiate, such as attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, fetal alcohol syndrome, Asberger’s syndrome and autism. If your child isn’t properly diagnosed, he or she can’t be properly treated.

3. It is absolutely vital to find the right kind of help. A qualified adoption therapist knows what questions to ask and how to ask them.

4. Be prepared for the kind of parenting and family experiences that may not be comfortable for you but are necessary for your child’s well-being.

API: What are your views of Attachment Parenting International and what API is doing? How does your book work within our mission statement?

John: I think that API and the support and practices it promotes for families are exactly what is needed for the adoption community. Not only are its resources invaluable, but providing a sense of community is very important for parents (like us) who often feel beaten, desperate and utterly alone. That sense of belonging to others with a shared experience is a powerful coping tool.

API: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

John: I think the book makes clear that, despite our difficulties, Casey meant everything to us. She was our entire world. And despite her tragic loss and the shards of our broken family left behind, I feel like the luckiest guy in the world to have been Casey’s dad. I could never imagine a more magnificent daughter.

API: Where can people find more information about your book or your work?

John: Readers can visit my website www.parentingandattachment.com.

A limited number of books are also available for purchase in the API Store.


The Chemistry of Attachment

By Linda Folden Palmer, DC, member of API’s Editorial Review Board and author of The Baby Bond (www.babyreference.com).

1402625_19862838Human babies are born helpless, needing to be entirely cared for and protected. Luckily, they are born with all the necessary tools and “instructions” to attain such care for themselves, and to become a loved and loving part of their family and society. The ingrained neural and hormonal interactions provided for parent and child to assist them in this process are among the most powerful in nature. The hormonal cues are clear and compelling, and our instincts can provide us with all the appropriate responses. Without taking great efforts to avoid and ignore such urges, parents will naturally follow the advice of their neurons and hormones, nurturing their babies and maintaining physical closeness with them.

Once born, baby’s hormonal control systems and brain synapses begin to permanently organize according to the human interactions she experiences. Unneeded brain receptors and neural pathways are disposed of, while those appropriate to the given environment are enhanced.

Oxytocin and Bonding

Oxytocin is a chemical messenger released in the brain chiefly in response to social contact, but its release is especially pronounced with skin-to-skin contact. In addition to providing health benefits, this hormone-like substance promotes bonding patterns and creates desire for further contact with the individuals inciting its release.

When the process is uninterrupted, oxytocin is one of nature’s chief tools for creating a mother. Roused by the high levels of estrogen (“female hormone”) during pregnancy, the number of oxytocin receptors in the expecting mother’s brain multiplies dramatically near the end of her pregnancy. This makes the new mother highly responsive to the presence of oxytocin. These receptors increase in the part of her brain that promotes maternal behaviors.

Oxytocin’s first important surge is during labor. If a cesarean birth is necessary, allowing labor to occur first provides some of this bonding hormone surge (and helps ensure a final burst of antibodies for the baby through the placenta). Passage through the birth canal further heightens oxytocin levels in both mother and baby.

High oxytocin causes a mother to become familiar with the unique odor of her newborn infant, and once attracted to it, to prefer her own baby’s odor above all others. Baby is similarly imprinted on mother, deriving feelings of calmness and pain reduction along with mom. When the infant is born, he is already imprinted on the odor of his amniotic fluid. This odor imprint helps him find mother’s nipple, which has a similar but slightly different odor. In the days following birth, the infant can be comforted by the odor of this fluid.

Gradually over the next days, baby starts to prefer the odor of his mother’s breast, but continued imprinting upon his mother is not food-related. In fact, formula-fed infants are more attracted (in laboratory tests) to their mother’s breast odor than to that of their formula, even two weeks after birth.

By influencing maternal behavior and stimulating milk “let down” (allowing milk to flow) during nursing, oxytocin helps make the first attempts at breastfeeding feel natural. Attempts at nursing during the initial hour after birth cause oxytocin to surge to exceptional levels in both mother and baby. Mothers who postpone nursing lose part of the ultimate hormone high provided for immediately after birth. Powerful initial imprinting for mother and baby is intended to occur chiefly so that mother and baby will be able to find and recognize each other in the hours and days after birth.

Yet a lifetime opportunity for bonding and love is not lost if this initial window is missed. Beyond birth, mother continues to produce elevated levels of oxytocin as a consequence of nursing and holding her infant, and the levels are based on the amount of such contact. This hormonal condition provides a sense of calm and well-being. Oxytocin levels are higher in mothers who exclusively breastfeed than in those who use supplementary bottles. Under the early influence of oxytocin, nerve junctions in certain areas of mother’s brain actually undergo reorganization, thereby making her maternal behaviors “hard-wired.”

As long as contact with the infant remains, oxytocin causes mother to be more caring, to be more eager to please others, to become more sensitive to others’ feelings, and to recognize nonverbal cues more readily. Continued nursing also enhances this effect. With high oxytocin, mother’s priorities become altered and her brain no longer signals her to groom and adorn herself in order to obtain a mate, and thus a pregnancy. Now that the child has already been created, mom’s grooming habits are directed toward baby. High oxytocin in the female has also been shown to promote preference for whatever male is present during its surges (one good reason for dad to hang around during and after the birth). Prolonged high oxytocin in mother, father, or baby also promotes lower blood pressure and reduced heart rate as well as certain kinds of artery repair, actually reducing lifelong risk of heart disease.

Although baby makes her own oxytocin in response to nursing, mother also transfers it to the infant in her milk. This provision serves to promote continuous relaxation and closeness for both mother and baby. A more variable release of oxytocin is seen in bottle-fed infants but is definitely higher in an infant who is “bottle-nursed” in the parents’ arms rather than with a propped bottle.

Persistent, regular body contact and other nurturing acts by parents produce a constant, elevated level of oxytocin in the infant, which in turn provides a valuable reduction in the infant’s stress hormone responses. Multiple psychology studies have demonstrated that, depending on the practices of the parents, the resulting high or low level of oxytocin will control the permanent organization of the stress-handling portion of the baby’s brain—promoting lasting “securely attached” or “insecure” characteristics in the adolescent and adult. Such insecure characteristics include anti-social behavior, aggression, difficulty forming lasting bonds with a mate, mental illness and poor handling of stress.

When an infant does not receive regular oxytocin-producing responsive care, the resultant stress responses cause elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Chronic cortisol elevations in infants and the hormonal and functional adjustments that go along with it are shown in biochemical studies to be associated with permanent brain changes that lead to elevated responses to stress throughout life, such as higher blood pressure and heart rate. Mothers can also benefit from the stress-reducing effects of oxytocin: Women who breastfeed produce significantly less stress hormone than those who bottle-feed.

Nor are fathers left out of the oxytocin equation. It has been shown that a live-in father’s oxytocin levels rise toward the end of his mate’s pregnancy. When the father spends significant amounts of time in contact with his infant, oxytocin encourages him to become more involved in the ongoing care in a self-perpetuating cycle. Oxytocin in the father also increases his interest in physical (not necessarily sexual) contact with the mother. Nature now provides a way for father to become more interested in being a devoted and satisfied part of the family picture through his involvement with the baby.

With all of its powers, oxytocin is but one of a list of many chemicals that nature uses to ensure that baby finds the love and care he needs.

Vasopressin and Protection

Although present and active during bonding in the mother and infant, vasopressin plays a much bigger role in the father. This hormone promotes brain reorganization toward paternal behaviors when the male is cohabiting with the pregnant mother. The father becomes more dedicated to his mate and expresses behaviors of protection.

Released in response to nearness and touch, vasopressin promotes bonding between the father and the mother, helps the father recognize and bond to his baby, and makes him want to be part of the family, rather than alone. It has gained a reputation as the “monogamy hormone.” Dr. Theresa Crenshaw, author of The Alchemy of Love and Lust, says, “Testosterone wants to prowl; vasopressin wants to stay home.” She also describes vasopressin as tempering the man’s sexual drive.

Vasopressin reinforces the father’s testosterone-promoted protective inclination regarding his mate and child, but tempers his aggression, making him more reasonable and less extreme. By promoting more rational and less capricious thinking, this hormone induces a sensible paternal role, providing stability as well as vigilance.

Prolactin and Behavior

Prolactin is released in all healthy people during sleep, helping to maintain reproductive organs and immune function. In the mother, prolactin is released in response to suckling, promoting milk production as well as maternal behaviors. Prolactin relaxes mother and, in the early months, creates a bit of fatigue during a nursing session so she has no strong desire to hop up and do other things.

Prolactin promotes caregiving behaviors and, over time, directs brain reorganization to favor these behaviors. Father’s prolactin levels begin to elevate during mother’s pregnancy, but most of the rise in the male occurs after many days of cohabitation with the infant.

As a result of hormonally orchestrated brain reorganization during parenthood, prolactin release patterns are altered. It has been shown that fathers release prolactin in response to intruder threats, whereas childless males do not. On the other hand, nursing mothers do not release prolactin in response to loud noise, whereas childless females do. In children and non-parents, prolactin surges are related to stress levels, so it is generally considered a stress hormone. In parents, it serves as a parenting hormone.

Elevated prolactin levels in both the nursing mother and the involved father cause some reduction in their testosterone levels, which in turn reduces their libidos (but not their sexual functioning). Their fertility can be reduced for a time as well. This reduction in sexual activity and fertility is entirely by design for the benefit of the infant, allowing for ample parental attention and energy. When the father is intimately involved with the infant along with the mother, there should be some accord between the desires of the two, and oxytocin and other chemicals provide for heightened bonding and non-sexual interest in each other, which serves to retain a second devoted caretaker for the infant.

Opioids and Rewards

Opioids (pleasure hormones) are natural morphine-like chemicals created in our bodies. They reduce pain awareness and create feelings of elation. Social contacts, particularly touch—especially between parent and child—induce opioid release, creating good feelings that will enhance bonding. Odor, taste, activity and even place preferences can develop as the result of opioid release during pleasant contacts, and eventually the sight of a loved one’s face stimulates surges. Opioid released in a child’s brain as a conditioned response to a parent’s warm hugs and kisses can be effective for helping reduce the pain from a tumble or a disappointment.

Parents “learn” to enjoy beneficial activities such as breastfeeding and holding, and infants “learn” to enjoy contact such as being held, carried and rocked, all as a response to opioid release. Babies need milk, and opioids are nature’s reward to them for obtaining it, especially during the initial attempts. The first few episodes of sucking organize nerve pathways in the newborn’s brain, conditioning her to continue this activity. This is the reason that breastfed babies sometimes have trouble if they are given bottles in the newborn nursery: Early exposure to bottles creates a confusing association of pleasure with both bottle nipples and the mother’s breast. In fact, any incidental sensations experienced during rocking, touching and eating that aren’t noxious can become part of a child’s attachment and will provide comfort. It could be the warmth of mother’s body, father’s furry chest, grandma’s gentle lullaby, a blanket or the wood-slatted side of a crib.

Prolonged elevation of prolactin in the attached parent stimulates the opioid system, heightening the rewards for intimate, loving family relationships, possibly above all else. Just as with codeine and morphine, tolerance to natural opioids can occur, which will reduce the reward level for various activities over time. But this is not a problem for attached infants and parents, because higher levels of oxytocin, especially when created through frequent or prolonged body contact, actually inhibit opioid tolerance, protecting the rewards for maintaining close family relationships. On the other hand, consuming artificial opioid drugs replaces the brain’s need for maintaining family contacts.

Once a strong opioid bonding has occurred, separation can become emotionally upsetting and, in the infant, possibly even physically uncomfortable when opioid levels decrease in the brain, much like the withdrawal symptoms from cocaine or heroin. When opioid levels become low, one might feel like going home to hold the baby or like crying for a parent’s warm embrace, depending on your point of view. Sometimes alternate behaviors are helpful. For instance, thumb-sucking can provide some relief from partial or total withdrawal from a human or rubber nipple and can even provide opioid-produced reminiscences for a time.

Norepinephrine and Learning

Breastfeeding also causes dopamine and its product, norepinephrine (adrenaline), to be produced, which help maintain some of the effects of the early bonding. They enhance energy and alertness along with some of the pleasure of attachment.

Norepinephrine helps organize the infant’s stress control system, as well as other important hormonal controls in accordance with the nature of the early rearing experiences. It promotes learning about the environment—especially learning by memorization that is carried out by oxytocin, opioids and other chemical influences.

Pheromones and Basic Instincts

How does the man’s body know to initiate hormonal changes when he is living with a pregnant female? How can an infant accurately interpret mother’s “odors” that adults often can barely detect? The answer is pheromones. Among other things, pheromones are steroid hormones that are made in our skin. Our bodies are instinctually programmed to react accordingly when we detect these pheromones around us.

Newborns are much more sensitive to pheromones than adults. Unable to respond to verbal or many other cues, they apparently depend on this primitive sense that controls much of the behavior of lower animals. Most likely, the initial imprinting of baby to odors and pheromones is not just a matter of preferring the parents’ odors but is a way nature controls brain organization and hormonal releases to best adapt baby to its environment. Baby’s earliest, most primitive experiences are then linked to higher abilities such as facial and emotional recognition. Through these, baby most likely learns how to perceive the level of stress in the caretakers around her, such as when mother is experiencing fear or joy. Part of an infant’s distress over separation may be caused by the lost parental cues about the safety of her environment. Of course, the other basic sensation an infant responds to well is touch, and coincidentally, body odors and pheromones can only be sensed when people are physically very near each other.

What the World Needs Now…

Infants universally cry when laid down alone. If we allow ourselves to listen, our neurons and hormones encourage us in the proper response. Babies are designed to be frequently fed in a fashion that requires skin-to-skin contact, holding and available facial cues. Beneficial, permanent brain changes result in both parent and infant from just such actions. Contented maternal behaviors grow when cues are followed. The enhancement of fatherhood is strongly provided for as well. A father’s participation encourages his further involvement and creates accord between father and mother. Frequent proximity and touch between baby and parents can create powerful family bonding, with many long-term benefits.

Sadly, over the last century, parents have been encouraged by industry-educated “experts” to ignore their every instinct to respond to baby’s powerful parenting lessons. Psychologists, neurologists and biochemists have now confirmed what many of us have instinctually suspected: that many of the rewards of parenthood have been missed along the way and that generations of children may have missed out on important lifelong advantages.

API Reads May 2014: Giving the Love That Heals

Giving the Love Book ImageWe’re finishing up talking about Giving the Love That Heals by Harville Hendrix, PhD and Helen LaKelly Hunt, PhD. The  topics we’ll be discussing in May will be:

  • The Stage of Concern

  • The Stage of Intimacy

  • The Possibilities for a Conscious Future

  • Wrapping up the book

Our discussions happen on GoodReads. The next book up for discussion in June, July and August will be Attached at the Heart, 2nd Edition by Lysa Parker and Barbara Nicholson.

We hope  you can join the discussion!

The Beauty of Breastfeeding: An Interview with Photographer Christine Santos

17c07995cc7d8d8c33150a54403b30f1_largeIn May 2013, a Kickstarter campaign was launched to raise funds for an innovative art exhibit featuring the work of photographer Christine Santos: “Nursing is Natural … Naturally Beautiful.” This exhibit was intended to revolutionize and challenge the way Americans view breastfeeding by portraying over 50 nursing mothers, inviting people to think differently about the way our society views breasts. API’s Rita Brhel asked Santos, a doula and birth photographer at Psalm 139 Studios (www.psalm139studios.com), to share more about the exhibit, which took place September 20-October 15, 2013, at the {Tay’-Cho} art gallery in Bartow, Florida.

Rita: Tell us about how the project began. What was the inspiration?

Christine: In February 2012, our La Leche League group sat discussing the impacts of a campaign that had been run in Texas to promote the normalization of breastfeeding and to bring awareness of the stigma associated with this act. The conversation turned to the cultural environment of the area in which we lived. We decided we needed to normalize breastfeeding for our sons and daughters. We needed to do a similar campaign in our county.

Rita: How did you become involved? What inspired you?

Christine: I offered to capture the images and be the liaison between the La Leche League group and the WIC program/Department of Health. After much conversation, it was revealed that WIC/DOH did not desire to utilize images of local women to promote breastfeeding in the area. The project stalled until an alternate option presented itself. I took part in an exhibit called “Trust Birth,” which gave me the idea that organizing an art exhibit might be a viable option for spreading awareness of breastfeeding.

After realizing an art exhibit could be the way to reach thousands of people to promote breastfeeding and challenge viewpoints, I reached out to local motherhood groups for volunteers. I knew if we were going to promote breastfeeding accurately, we would need women of all backgrounds, ethnicities and ages of children. The feedback from this model call was overwhelming.

43306b72fa87a958f96a2d8a94dac7a9_largeOver 30 ladies signed up to be photographed for the exhibit, and many more were turned away. The images and the idea of the exhibit gained momentum, and word spread through social media. It quickly became obvious this was something the breastfeeding community had been longing for. The support was phenomenal.

The event details caught the attention of a local television station, and I was interviewed. That interview spawned others, and the media attention went global. CBS, NBC, Latina magazine, Initiativ Liewensufank and Huffington Post were just a few of the media outlets that carried the story. Funding poured in, and something that began as a dream in a local La Leche League meeting became a reality.

Many local businesses helped with the sponsorship of the exhibit, but three contributed both in time and money: Punger Family Medicine, Effortless IT, and Lorrie Walker Public Relations. Their commitment to the success of the exhibit and to the promotion of the normalization of breastfeeding helped make the exhibit the success it was. Without their hard work and dedication, “Nursing is Natural” would not have been able to happen.

Rita: How will this project contribute to the breastfeeding community, parenting and other segments of society?

Christine: This exhibit has helped promote the normalization of breastfeeding in a big way. It has sparked conversation and caused people to question their previously held views about breastfeeding. It has opened the doors for other artists to promote similar work in their cities, thus opening the door for further discussion about breastfeeding. We have seen heart changes happen as open dialogue occurs between nursing mothers and skeptics. These were the goals of this exhibit, and we see them happening still, even months after the exhibit’s initial opening.   

DSC_0066Our hope is that we will be able to find other galleries in which to show the images. That we can continue to spark dialogue through open sharing and discussion. That we can normalize breastfeeding so our children can one day breastfeed their own children without fear of backlash. That the nursing that was once the norm for the care and comfort of our children will be the norm once again.

Rita: How will this exhibit benefit families?

Christine: This exhibit has benefitted families in that it has helped empower women to take a stand for their babies and their right to feed their babies how they see fit. It has enabled them to find their voices, to speak up for what they believe is the best choice for their babies, and to stand up against those who would shame mothers for making that choice. It has given fathers a voice to stand up for their families’ choices and for their partners’ and babies’ rights. It has allowed dialogue to occur that puts parents and families on the same page, or at the very least with an understanding of where each of them are coming from. This exhibit has fostered solid communication for the benefit of children and families.

Rita: What are your views of Attachment Parenting International and what API is doing?

Christine: There are many organizations that are helping to facilitate this type of communication. We believe Attachment Parenting International is one of those organizations. API works hard to promote the bond between care providers, families, and children. API stresses the importance of family and tribe support, and they encourage parents to take a more active role in their children’s developmental years. These concepts work hand-in-hand with what Psalm 139 Studios is trying to do in the world of bellies, birth and beyond. We are excited to see what the future has in store for both organizations.

Bf 2014 Challenges smAvailable now! The Attached Family magazine “Voices of Breastfeeding” double issue. This fantastic resources is free to API members–and membership is free. Get your copy today!

Pocket Full of Feelings: An Interview with co-creator Dr. Ann Corwin

By Rita Brhel, API’s publications coordinator, managing editor of Attached Family magazine and an API Leader (Hastings, Nebraska, USA).

Karin Lombardo
Karin Lombardo


Ann Corwin
Ann Corwin

Part of the core of Attachment Parenting is teaching our children about emotions—what they’re feeling and what to do about it, as well as how to empathize with others—a skill referred to as “emotional literacy” by parenting consultants like Ann Corwin, PhD, MEd, of Laguna Niguel, California, USA.

We know more than ever that emotional literacy is critical for healthy human development. Unfortunately it’s a skill that was not regularly nurtured in past generations, and many parents are learning about difficult emotions like jealousy and disappointment alongside their children. It was evident as I talked with Ann, mother to two grown children, that her life’s passion is in empowering parents in strengthening their relationships with their children and that emotional literacy is very much central to her work.

RITA: Thank you, Ann, for your time. Let’s start by learning how you came into your line of work?

ANN: I have my master’s degree in education with an emphasis in early child development and behavior. I started out very early in my career with an interest in relationships. In fact, my bachelor’s degree is in sociology. I went on to earn my PhD in marriage, family and child therapy.

I started out as a postpartum consultant in a hospital. I was also a childbirth educator, a Lamaze instructor. It was then when I started to make the psychological connection between birth and biology and neurobiology, and this naturally led to an interest in attachment. I was excited to learn how attachment affects our brain, how the amygdala—which manifests our emotional and relational responses—can regenerate itself, so that even if our attachment is crummy, it can be regenerated.

At the time, I was working with Dr. William Sears [pediatrician, author of the Sears parenting library and member of API’s Board of Directors] as well.

I wrote my [PhD] dissertation on parenting in pregnancy. Basically this is teaching parents how to parent during pregnancy, so while they’re learning about the stages and phases of pregnancy, they can also learn about the stages and phases of child development to know what to expect and what is required for healthy development.

RITA: And then you opened your private practice, The Parenting Doctor (www.theparentingdoctor.com).

ANN: I was inspired by Attachment Theory. I am fascinated by how we establish a relationship and how we maintain it and how you take that long term. For example, I have been married for 37 years to the same man and feel that we both really had to understand attachment to maintain our relationship through the rocky spots.

My whole career as a parenting consultant is driven by attachment.

RITA: And you are supportive of Attachment Parenting International (API).

ANN: I have always admired API and have always kept up with Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker [API’s cofounders]. I see Attachment Parenting as what I’m practicing. I may be on a little different road, but we’re associated—we’re both trying to get emotional literacy, which is steeped in Attachment Theory, rooted in the mainstream.

I don’t think Attachment Parenting is one way to parent—it’s the only way.

I’m eclectic in that I think you can take pieces from any parenting program and those pieces can be useful to parents. But attachment education is needed by every parent.

RITA: You have developed an emotional literacy curriculum called “Pocket Full of Feelings.” Can you share more about this?

ANN: Pocket Full of Feelings started 15 years ago.

The primary question people would ask me was how to help them keep their child from doing something. How can I keep my child from having tantrums? How can I keep my child from getting kicked out of preschool? How can I get my child to warm up to Grandma? Basically, help me with this immediate problem. I always ask them: Would you rather figure out why your child is doing this and how to have a better relationship with him or her, or do you just want to stop the behavior? Fortunately, 99 percent of parents say they’d like to have a better relationship with their child.

I teach how the most powerful part of the brain is the emotional brain, because in all circumstances we feel the feeling first and then act upon that feeling. Because while our number-one need is survival—food, water, shelter—our immediate number-two need is relationship with others. This is our need for attachment. The way we do this—attach to others—is through eye contact, touching and talking.

When we feed a baby, we are making eye contact with our baby, we are touching our baby and we are talking to our baby. If you were to put milk in a bottle, give it to your baby and turn your back on your baby without talking, your baby might begin to suckle on his own but he will stop after a couple of sucks. He needs connection with you or he will suffer from failure to thrive.

We have to have a relationship with another human being or we literally can’t survive.

My daughter handmade me a burlap pocket chart, and I would use little bears to demonstrate how we carry around our emotions and how these drive our behavior. Inevitably, everywhere I went, people would ask me where they could get one of those pocket charts. And they couldn’t get one anywhere because that was the only one there was.

Then, six years ago, I met Karin Lombardo, a mother seeking solutions for an undesirable behavior her daughter was expressing. I pointed out the feeling I thought was the root cause of her daughter’s undesirable behavior (envy), went through the  simple three-step emotional literacy process with Karin, and let her take the pocket chart home with her over the weekend to practice talking about the feeling at large (envy) with her daughter. When she brought it back, she said that every parent should learn this—that instead of saying “don’t be mad” or “don’t be sad,” to tell their child that these feelings are going to come and here’s how to deal with it.

It turned out that Karin has her MA in Narrative Psychology, so I asked her to go into business with me to develop this idea. We cofounded Generation-EQ, a company committed to providing tools and solutions to aid in the development of emotional literacy and home of Pocket Full of Feelings (www.pocketfulloffeelings.com).

Pocket Full of Feelings took several years to develop, as we had to write all of the content and then we had to test it. It’s now available everywhere.

RITA: How do you hope to benefit society?

ANN: Emotional literacy has been around actually for a long time. It’s emotional intelligence, that EQ we hear about. There have been a lot of books written about it, and a lot of people talk about it. But it’s not mainstream.

We hear parents say how they have to teach their child how to read, but we don’t hear how they need to be teaching emotional literacy. We need to make emotional literacy just as much a priority to parents as school readiness. There is absolutely and positively evidence now that kids do better academically if their social-emotional needs are met.

My goal really is for parents like you and me sitting at a park and having a conversation, and maybe we ask each other about preschools. Then, we move on to talk about how our children know their colors, and then how they’re learning what emotions go with those colors and what to do about it when they have those feelings.

I don’t want this to be just some kind of sideline thing.

In this Technology Age, especially with texting, we can communicate with one another without ever hearing tone of voice or seeing facial expressions, which are vital to relationships. I saw a dad and his three-year-old child the other day, and during the entire walk, the father and child never spoke. The child never looked at his dad, because he was looking at a handheld screen. We need emotional literacy even more now than before.

How Attachment Parenting Produces Independent Kids

By Zoe Claire, originally published on www.unnecessarywisdom.wordpress.com. Reprinted with permission.

1095865_74207826Children are in our care for a limited amount of time, generally spanning two decades. During that time, their needs change drastically yet gradually from year to year. I’ve always found it odd that the principles of Attachment Parenting are criticized as promoting dependence in children when, if you analyze the proper development of independence in childhood, the attachment style would be considered the ideal method for raising competent adults.

Attachment style parenting is based on Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting. These principles are designed to guide decision making with a focus on infancy. But the overwhelming theme of the attachment style is the sensitive responsiveness of the parent toward the child. This responsiveness is directed at meeting the child’s needs in a loving and respectful manner.

The meeting of needs is a critical concept.

The end result of meeting a child’s needs is varied yet always positive. A child whose needs are consistently met learns that his voice is heard, his communications are valued, his needs are worthy, he can rely on the world to be a safe and secure place, he can trust his parents both for comfort and guidance, and he is competent.

We are most effective leaders when we teach from a place of love and trust.

Think about a time when someone tried to change you or what you were doing. How did you feel? Now think about how you felt about that person. Did you believe the person had your best interests at heart? If you did, you probably felt positive about the experience, whether you accepted the advice or not. If you believed the person did not understand you, did not care about you, or was only trying to promote their own interests, then you probably felt bad about the experience and certainly rejected the advice. We can only create true change from a position of love and trust. This is a truth of humanity.

Why do so many people worry about Attachment Parenting leading to dependent kids?

Those who don’t understand API’s Eight Principles of Parenting can often confuse meeting a child’s needs with stifling independence. An infant is at the beginning of her experience as a human. She begins her life without the ability to help herself in any way. She is entirely dependent on her caretaker. One aspect of meeting her needs is understanding what her needs are. She has not reached the stage in her development yet where she is capable of independence or desirous of it. The securely attached parent recognizes this need and attends to her accordingly.

The result of this sensitive attendance to the child’s needs is a child who has a secure foundation to begin her journey toward independence.

How does Attachment Parenting foster independence?

The drive for independence is as natural to humans as breathing, sleeping and eating. The securely attached parent is able to recognize when the child needs and wants independence and not only allow him to stand on his own two feet, but encourage him as well.

Independence occurs gradually, throughout the two decades of childhood. We do not need to force it upon a child before she is ready and should not hold her back when she is.

Responsive parents can see when their 2-year-old is demanding to pour her own milk and allow her to so. This is meeting a need. It’s a new need, different from those in infancy, but a need nonetheless. So she is allowed to develop necessary skills as she is ready.

As soon as a child is capable of caring for himself, he should be allowed to do so.

Connected, responsive parents can observe when their child is ready for independence and are able to encourage him. He wants to dress himself? Allow him. It doesn’t matter what he wears. It matters that he is able to care for himself. If he still needs to be close to his parents when he sleeps at night, that’s okay, too. It’s about fostering the child’s desire for independence. It’s about meeting needs. His need for independence is as legitimate as his need for security. Both are met with sensitivity, predictability and love.

What the child learns as she grows is that she is capable and secure. She learns that independence is a positive experience for her, as she masters each new skill. She learns that all of her needs will be met, regardless of what they are or how someone else feels about them.

As the child progresses through childhood, her need for independence will increase while her need for physical closeness to her parents will decrease. But the confidence she has in her parents is what links the two.

What does Attachment Parenting look like in the teen years?

I’ve seen articles proclaiming that parents must detach from their children during the teen years. I believe this is a misunderstanding of what attachment is. The attachment is the relationship, the sensitivity, the unconditional willingness to meet the child’s needs. A securely attached parent is able to recognize that the child’s needs during the teen years have changed and will continue to change to adulthood.

The securely attached teenager has experienced life with his parents knowing that when he speaks, he will be heard. He knows that his ideas, thoughts, opinions, and experiences are valued by them. He knows that he is competent. He knows that he can seek independence and he will be supported in his efforts. He knows that he can go to his parents for emotional support and they will be there for him. He knows that they know him well, they always have, and their primary goal is to support him. He knows this because that has been experience since the day he was born.

Think about this teen for a moment. This is what all parents want. This is a teen who knows when she has a problem, she can trust her parents as a resource. She will talk to them about it. She doesn’t rebel. She has nothing to rebel against. Her parents are allies in her life. They always have been. Nothing magically changes because of her age. They are still watching her, listening to her, anticipating what she needs from them and responding to her with sensitivity. She will take their advice more often than not. She knows that they want the best for her. They don’t disregard her, brush her aside or bully her. They never have. Sure, she might make mistakes. Everyone does and teens are more susceptible due to their inexperience and youth. But she has parents to guide and teach her. And she is still willing to accept their love and support.

We all want the same things for our children. We them to be happy, successful, independent, competent, kind, loving, empathic, responsible adults when they leave to go out into the world. We are not always so sure how to get there. While we all have to find our own way as parents, this I do believe: you can never go wrong meeting your child’s needs, no matter what the needs may be.


An Attached Family in 3 Languages

By Birute Efe, AttachFromScratch.com.

P1070409We speak three languages at home with our two children, aged 5 years and 20 months: English, Lithuanian and Turkish. No, the children are not geniuses or extra-advanced. They are just regular kids with normal developmental milestones.

My husband and I are from different countries with very different cultures, and we live in the U.S. Before we had children, I never even thought about which or how many languages my children would speak. We followed our intuition, as we did with Attachment Parenting. Now we speak English with each other and our own languages with the kids. Mission impossible? Not for us.

I believe that the Attachment Parenting philosophy has greatly contributed to raising trilingual kids. Actually, AP is a perfect setup that allows a child to learn more languages. Here are some tips on how to apply the principles of Attachment Parenting to naturally teach young kids different languages.

1. The most important tip is to be sensitive, caring, responsive and positive. Only when your child’s needs are met will he be able to explore the world and the languages more freely and easily. Secure attachment and strong bonding is the key for a child to feel confident and succeed in his challenges early in life.

2. Start early. Get into the habit of talking in your native language to your baby before she is born. Your partner can do this, too. After the baby is born, stay consistent and talk to her in your language as you go about your daily activities.

3. Learning a new language doesn’t only involve new vocabulary and grammar. It can also include getting to know a new culture with different traditions. Kids can be introduced to this very early. For example, in our family:

  • We cook national dishes from our countries very often, and both kids love them.

  • We celebrate our cultures’ different religious holidays.

  • We often meet with other families who live near us and are from our native countries.

  • We often share stories from our childhoods, which involve some good memories about certain traditions.

4. Never force a child to speak your native language. This includes no bribing to talk to grandparents, no threatening to take away toys or privileges, no ignoring, and no being upset or disappointed with a child when he doesn’t communicate with you in your desired language.

In our family, the communication with grandparents usually happens through Skype. Our kids are not very fond of sitting on the chair in front of the computer to talk to a digital view of Grandma, so we never force it. We just turn the Skype on with video and let the kids play in the room. The grandparents usually comment while the kids play somewhere in the room, or we just talk and let the kids overhear us. Sometimes the kids just run up to the computer to say “Hi” or show their grandparents their new toy.

5. There will be times when a child will reject speaking your language depending on where you live and if there are any other adults or children there that speak your native language. Don’t panic. Make your child feel comfortable and speak to her in her preferred language for a while. Good communication is the key, and it doesn’t matter what language it is in.

My daughter’s first words were in my native language because I used to spend the most time with her while my husband worked a lot. But when she turned 2 years old and we start seeing and playing with a lot of kids of her age, she learned English and preferred to speak English most times.  And I was fine with it because I knew she had to learn English. So for a while we spoke English at home. She still understood what we said to her in our languages, but she would not speak them back to us. And there were days when she would ask us not to speak “your way.”

6. When you don’t get to use much of your language in regular daily conversations, try different methods to use your native language.

  • Our family loves music. We listen to “Mommy’s music” and “Daddy’s music” all the time. We purchased some fun kids’ music in our languages so the kids could enjoy listening to it. One day I was so pleased when my daughter tried to say something in my husband’s language, and she started singing the song to remember a particular word that she forgot. As soon as she got to the part in the song where the forgotten word was, she remembered.

  • We do have one strict rule on our house. It’s the story time. The first story must be in the reader’s native language, then after the first story it’s the child’s choice.  Sometimes if they really like the first story they will ask for a second “non-English” story.

  • When we play, I invite them to start the game in my or my husband’s language, hoping we will continue that way. Particularly we like silly, imaginary games. For example, I start telling them a story in my language, and we all try to become live characters in it. You would be surprised where the story about the talking lizard who only speaks Lithuanian can lead all of us.

  • We love cooking, especially our national dishes. Even if we are on “English-speaking days” we still can use our native words for special ingredients and the names of the dishes because there simply aren’t other names for them.

  • When our daughter was about 3 years old, we made some friends with a family from my husband’s country. It was a big transformation for our daughter because she finally started speaking in my husband’s language. Hearing other kids talking in “Daddy’s language” made it much “cooler.”

  • One of the greatest influences for my daughter in learning languages was when we visited our home countries this year. Spending two months in each country was the best language learning experience for her.

7. For those who don’t speak more than one language, don’t worry, there are some ways to teach your child another language that don’t require you to enroll in a foreign language class. For example:

  • If possible, find friends that are from different countries and encourage them to speak their native language as much as they can or wish with your child.

  • Teach yourself a second language so you can learn with your child.

  • Seek out learning materials, books, music, and shows or videos featuring another language. (Note: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under two years old.)

  • Teach words for objects, the alphabet, colors, animals, family names (such as sister, brother, father, mother, etc.)

  • Sing songs or nursery rhymes, recite poems or play games involving another language. Games may involve the senses, such as tasting and naming new foods, smelling and naming items while blindfolded, feeling and naming items in a sack, or finger games like “Itsy Bitsy Spider” in another language. Young children learn best through positive experiences and play.

  • If you use child care, you may find a caregiver or daycare with staff who can speak a different language with your child. Or you can check for a preschool that offers language education or full immersion in a second language.

I know it sounds complicated and a lot of work. I won’t lie–it’s not always easy. I hear many parents who raise multilingual kids complain that it is hard to constantly switch the “language gears,” especially when they live busy lives. And my husband and I have those days when we sometimes wonder if it’s worth it.

But then again, parenting is not always easy. The joy of hearing my children being able to express themselves in three languages when they were as young as 16 months old allows me to brush off all the trouble we go through.

I encourage you to speak the languages you want your child to speak. Be confident, be proud and most importantly, be aware of your child’s feelings.