Parenting for World Harmony: A Look Back on AP Month 2016

As parents, we’re peacemakers by default. Last October, during Attachment Parenting Month 2016, parents around the globe were celebrated, encouraged, and supported as they discovered ways toward more peace and harmony in their homes, communities, and world.

Attachment Parenting Month is an international, annual observance held each October during which Attachment Parenting International (API), the Sears family, and other prominent supporters come together to raise awareness of Attachment Parenting through a timely theme. During October of 2016, we explored:

Thank you to our Attachment Parenting Month 2016 partners:

Because of the support from these sponsors, October 2016 was packed with inspirational blog posts, daily tips, memes, and articles. Below is a sampling of what the month had to offer:

Parents around the world emailed and uploaded submissions to the Community of Peace photo event, which were featured through October and November. Readers selected their top 10 favorites. The most “hearts” went to Christopher Gardner, photo at right.

Parents and professionals listened in on a special API Teleseminar with Kim John Payne on “Simplicity Parenting.” You can purchase the audio recording for only $9.

There was the always-popular online API Auction, and many local events hosted by API Support Groups.

Nurturing peace and parenting for world harmony continue to be very timely topics. We invite you to continue the conversation!


Mindful Parenting with Inga Bohnekamp

Mindfulness is increasingly venturing out of yoga studios and into mainstream venues, helping people of all ages and all walks of life to reduce and manage stress. Some schools have even replaced detention with mindfulness exercises!

Furthermore, research is showing that children of all ages benefit big time from parenting that incorporates aspects of mindfulness — attentiveness, attunement, nonjudgement, and non-overreacting when in conflict situations. This study, published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, found that children ages 3-17 experienced less anxiety, depression, and acting-out. And this study, published in the journal Mindfulness, found that youth ages 12-14 had lower rates of substance use.

Keeping these benefits in mind, mindfulness may be worth exploring as another Attachment Parenting tool. I asked the fascinating Inga Bohnekamp, founder of the MAPLE MINDS program at the Children’s Hospital in Eastern Ontario and the MindBodyFeel program for the Canadian Cancer Society, to help me explore mindful parenting more in-depth. A native of Berlin, Germany, she is the author of several children’s yoga books, including her latest The Colours of My Rainbow, and has worked in countries around the world, merging her dual careers as a clinical psychologist and yoga teacher to help others benefit from mindfulness.

Q: Thank you, Inga, for your time! To begin, please introduce yourself.

A: I  have been trained as a clinical psychologist in Berlin, Germany, and Montreal, Canada. My focus, psychotherapy-wise, has been on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectic Behavioral Therapy — which merges CBT with mindfulness — and I have mostly been working with children, from babies to teenagers, although I also work with adults and parents.

Q: How did you find your way to mindfulness?

A: My love for all things movement: yoga, dance, walks, really just anything; my personal journey of growing up with an inborn esophageal condition, and all the challenges and pain this has brought up along the way; and my ongoing curious quest for expanding my knowledge and for understanding and treating human conditions, be it mental or physical illness, chronic pain, or simply states of high stress or intense emotions. from a more holistic point of view — have inspired me to pursue 2 yoga teacher trainings in the U.S. and in Germany.

Over the years, this has allowed me to create an unpretentious and down-to-earth therapeutic approach that I call MindBodyEmotion, which merges mindfulness, yoga, breathing, and relaxation techniques with my psychological and psychotherapeutic background.

When moving to Ottawa, Canada, with my family almost 6 years ago, I started designing, teaching, and directing the MAPLE MINDS Program for Babies, Kids and Teens with chronic illness and pain in cooperation with the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (Canada), which has grown into a popular, trusted complimentary care offered to families, helping them cope with illness, anxiety, pain, everyday stress, and intense emotions, and face life’s challenges with more confidence, joy — yes! — and ease. I also have designed a similar program for adults called MindBodyFeel, which I have taught in cooperation with the Canadian Cancer Foundation in Ottawa (Canada). I really enjoy working with groups as well as providing highly targeted individual sessions.

My desire to help others and to spread these helping “vibes” even further — because, hey, I can only see so many people face to face at any given time — has inspired me to start writing as well. I contribute to APtly Said, the blog of Attachment Parenting International (API), and am the author of 4 books, all of which are mindfulness-infused, with the 5th currently in the making.

Q: For parents who are new to the concept, how would you define mindfulness?

A: According Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, being mindful is described as paying attention in a special way, namely purposefully focusing on the present moment without being judgmental about whatever arises. The latter includes thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and so on.

What does this mean? To me, the essence of being mindful is a lot about being connected to ourselves, to our heart, to our core being. It means reflecting on our own behavior, and over and over again doing our best to stay present in the here and now — no matter if we enjoy whatever currently unfolds in front of us or not! It means to be more of an observer and less of a judge — and boy, is our brain good and quick at judging! Most of the time we might not even notice that the judging is happening. And it is to stay focused on the task we are currently performing or on the people we are currently interacting with.

What does this not look like? Furiously racing around like a mad person, trying to get done a gazillion things at a time with our thoughts monkeying around from past to present to future and back again, worrying about work tomorrow to what to cook for dinner to that memory of when we were 5 years old and this mean other kid pushed us off the swing — oh wait a minute, just like this mean coworker who always tries to belittle our work in front of the boss in order to put herself in the spotlight, and oh man, how this actually just makes us so, so angry right now — to trying to remember what we actually wanted to get done in this moment in the first place. Was it locating the car keys, dropping off the mail, picking up the kids from school, buying groceries, checking emails, or — oh gosh, yes — picking up a latte while we are at it?

We’ve all been there, more than once for sure. Is this a pleasant state to be in? Does this behavior allow us to effectively and satisfyingly get anything done or to appreciate the company of the person we might currently be interacting with — our child, our partner, our friend? Not really.

Can we learn to be more mindful? Oh yes!

Is it difficult? Well, let me say it will probably be a challenge at times, but the practice itself is actually very simple.

Is it worth it? You bet! The more often we manage to be mindful, the more often we give ourselves the opportunity to really show up in our lives — for ourselves and for our loved ones — to truly feel connected to ourselves and those around us. Ultimately, it enables us to live our lives with open eyes and a curious, learning, growing mind and heart as opposed to feeling like some disconnected outside observer of our own life, watching it float by like some movie while remaining in a semi-conscious, foggy state — and then maybe waking up one day and sadly realizing that it’s almost over and we have not really, truly participated in it at all.

It’s never too late to get started and you can take baby steps to get there! A couple of minutes on a regular basis of practicing deep breathing, allowing you to feel into your body and connecting to your heart and belly, while letting thoughts and distractions float by like soap bubbles or clouds, over and over again bringing your attention to your breathing whenever it wanders off — it most probably will — are a good start.

Q: That’s a great overview of mindfulness. Now, how would you define mindful parenting?

A: Mindful parenting, to me, means parenting from the heart with open eyes and an ever curious mind — seeing our children afresh every time we look at them, trying to let go of those oftentimes very limiting preconceptions that our brains love so much — from a point of introspection, intuition, inner wisdom, and reflection as opposed to blindly following someone else’s rules or advice, which might or might not be a good fit for your current family situation.

I believe that if we can manage to, over and over, reconnect to ourselves, we can experience parenthood much more authentically and intensely. We will really show up and be there for our children, as best as we can in any given moment.

I also believe that if we parent from this open, connected point of view, that many of API’s Eight Principles of Parenting will come to us very naturally and organically, simply because parenting mindfully will enable us to see our children’s as well as our own needs much more clearly and to be able to easier attune and react to them in ways that encourage nurturing, love, and growth.

Q: How can mindfulness help a first-time parent find their way, especially in those early newborn months as well as other difficult, sticky points in their parenting journey?

A: Becoming a mom or dad for the first, second, third, fourth time can be an extremely challenging, overwhelming, and for many of us, a stress- and anxiety-inducing experience. I mean, all of the sudden there is this tiny human being growing inside our belly and then lying in our arms, and now it’s our job to keep it alive and happily thriving and do the very best you can every single day for the rest of your life. The least we want is to mess this up. But how, oh how, will we manage to do a good job — and for that matter, how will we actually know if we are doing a good job in the first place? Hello challenge!

A regular mindfulness practice can help us stay grounded and develop a sense of trust in ourselves. It will also naturally sensitize us to our child’s as well as our own and our partner’s needs. It will help us understand when something is really not working out or when is a good time to actually reach out for help and support — because, repeat after me, we cannot do it all alone — and when to put all those parenting books and well-meant advice aside and confidently — yes! — trust our inner intuition in order to find answers to the daily arising challenges of parenting, be it in those first few months or anytime when reaching a challenging point on our parenting journey.

Parenting is rarely a matter of one-size-fits-all solutions. There is no manual to go by and simply follow the steps A-Z in order to obtain a “favorable, successful, happy outcome.” We are all unique, and so are our children and their needs, as well as the situations we find ourselves in. I believe the best we can do as parents is to develop this inner trust, this ability to see and reflect — without judging –whatever it is that is currently unfolding in front of us and challenging us, to stay connected to our own inner wisdom.

Many of the answers you will need are already inside of you, somewhere. We just need to uncover them — which might, at times, be scary and require us to face our own childhood experiences; if necessary, with the help of a trusted healthcare professional — and listen. Being mindful will also make it so much easier to tell whose support we need or which advice might be worth exploring further in those extra challenging moments where we might need outside support or guidance.

Q: So, it’s safe to say that mindfulness helps with stress-coping?

A: Yes, definitely!

Q: You mentioned earlier that your interest in mindfulness was inspired by yoga. How are yoga and mindfulness connected?

A: Yoga, when practiced in a mindful way, will help us connect with our body, to feel our breath, to move with our breath through asanas — physical yoga poses — and ultimately find stillness and some form of peace of mind — yes, even if just for a split second! — and access our inner source of trust, wisdom, intuition if we are willing to be quiet, to look with open eyes, and to really listen without a mind clouded by preconceptions.

Q: Are there other activities that are related to mindfulness for parents who just aren’t into yoga?

A: First, let me say that there are many many different forms and styles of yoga and many, many different teachers, so this might be something worth exploring.

However, you definitely do not have to practice asanas in order to practice mindfulness. In fact, every moment — yes! — in your day provides you with the opportunity to practice mindfulness. We can walk and move mindfully, have a mindful conversation, eat mindfully, breathe mindfully, play mindfully, love mindfully, heck we can even do the dishes mindfully by simply focusing on whatever we are doing right in this very moment — feel the warmth of the water, the shape of the dishes, smell the soap — without judging and by over and over bringing our attention and our awareness back to this very moment and very activity whenever it wanders off, which will most likely happen more than once.

More formal options to practice mindfulness, without yoga asanas, could include a breath meditation practice or meditating by focusing on an object — such as the flame of a candle — for a certain amount of time or following a standardized mindfulness program like MBSR.

Q: Thank you so much, Inga, for your insights. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

A: I encourage you to connect and share your experiences and challenges on your mindful parenting journey with like-minded others. Feel more than welcome to reach out to me if you wish for more information or guidance. I will be happy to hear how it goes for you! You can find me at my website, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Interview by Rita Brhel, Attachment Parenting International

Infant Massage with Vimala Schneider McClure

Achieving world peace and harmony is not an easy, straightforward task. There are no quick fixes. There is no silver bullet. Many people consider world peace as a pipe dream. But I choose to believe that each generation moves ever closer to the goal through the individual work of professionals and activists, and of course, parents being intentional in nurturing peace as a family value in their children.

Among the peacebuilders in this collective are infant massage educators. Raising awareness of the infant development need of nurturing touch — as well as teaching parents how to respectfully respond to their baby — goes a long way in teaching families how to communicate and interact with one another and others in ways that nurture peace.

To this end, I’d like to introduce Vimala Schneider McClure, the founder of the International Association of Infant Massage and author of the book, Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents. She developed the original techniques for infant massage, coined the term “infant massage,” and single-handedly began the international infant massage movement.

Q: Thank you, Vimala, for this opportunity. Let’s begin by learning about you.

A: Very early in life, I began to practice yoga. When I was 21, I traveled to India to learn to become a yoga teacher. Being an anti-establishment “hippie,” I didn’t go to college. Much later, in the late ’80s, I went to university and studied psychology with a specialty in infant psychology.

Q: For parents new to the idea, please share about the benefits of infant massage?

A: So many! Generally, we break it down into these categories:

  1. Interaction — Massaging your baby promotes bonding. It contains every element of the bonding process. Infant massage promotes a secure attachment with your child over time. It promotes verbal and nonverbal communication between the two of you. Your baby receives undivided attention from you. He feels respected and loved. It is one of the only times that all of his senses are nourished.
  2. Stimulation — Infant massage aids in the development of your baby’s circulatory, respiratory, and gastrointestinal systems. It aids in sensory integration, helping your baby learn how her body feels and what its limits are. Massaging your baby helps make connections between neurons in the brain, which helps develop her nervous system. It also aids the generation of muscular development and tone, and contributes to her mind-body awareness.
  3. Relaxation — Regular infant massage improves sleep, increases flexibility, and regulates behavioral states. It reduces stress and stress hormones and hypersensitivity. Massaging your baby creates higher levels of anti-stress hormones and promotes an improved ability to self-calm. Because we use a kind of “conditioned response” called touch relaxation, it teaches your infant to relax in the face of stress and upon the voice and touch of parents.
  4. Relief –Infant massage helps with gas and colic, constipation and elimination, muscular tension, and teething discomfort. It also helps with “growing pains,” organizes the nervous system, relieves physical and psychological tension, and softens skin. It helps release physical and emotional tension, balances oxygen levels, and provides a sense of security.
  5. Benefits for the Family — Infant massage encourages the involvement of siblings and extended family in baby care. It promotes a relaxed environment in the home, communication, and respect.
  6. Benefits for Society — Imagine a world where people are trained to be good parents…where newborns, older babies, toddlers, and children were routinely given healthy, loving massages every day…where the entire culture valued positive, nurturing touch, respect, and empathy. There would be reduced infant health care costs, reduced child abuse, reduced behavioral problems in children, and reduced violence. When I founded the International Association of Infant Massage, this is what I imagined: changing the world, one baby at a time.

Q: You mention how infant massage promotes secure attachment Can you expound on how infant massage fits into API’s Eight Principles of Parenting?

A: Beautifully! When I discovered API, I was thrilled. At last there was an organization teaching the same basic things we do. However, it was long past my days as a mother of little ones, and I was so busy with IAIM that I couldn’t get training as an API Leader. If it was there in 1976, I would have been there!

  1. Preparation — We believe in education and preparation for parents. Though we don’t teach prenatal classes, we advocate as much as we can for parents to know and understand the growth and development of their unborn babies, and that massage can begin prenatally.
  2. Feed with Love and Respect — Though we don’t teach anything about feeding in particular, we advocate respect as an important element in a parent’s relationship with their baby. Before the massage begins, parents observe the baby’s cues, and then give a cue that massage might be happening. We teach parents to swish the massage oil between hands, then hold hands up to baby, saying, “May I massage your legs, feet, tummy, etcera,” and observe the baby’s cues. The first time, it often seems kind of silly to parents. But after that, babies understand quickly, and through their body language, give — or not –their permission.
  3. Respond with Sensitivity — Building trust and empathy from the start is very important. Learning their baby’s cues and newborn reflexes helps parents understand their babies and respond appropriately.
  4. Use Nurturing Touch — This is what infant massage is all about. Physical contact, affection, security, stimulation, movement, all of the elements of bonding, which include eye contact, skin-to-skin contact, the soothing sound of a parent’s voice, rhythm, odor, play, are all included in the massage. I advocate carrying as much as possible and cosleeping.
  5. Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally — While we usually do not cover sleep in our classes unless asked by parents individually, I advocate cosleeping. I spend a lot of time researching these things for IAIM. Since my time in India, years before having a family, I planned for us to have a family bed.
  6. Provide Consistent and Loving Care — We emphasize bonding and attachment, and encourage parents to massage their babies every day consistently.
  7. Practice Positive Discipline — Massaging their baby leads to the development of conscience and other important brain functions. Including respect in the massage routine strengthens attachment and shows parents the results of that consistent, loving, and responsive way of being.
  8. Strive for Balance in Your Personal and Family Life — We encourage parents to massage their babies every day. Thus, they develop confidence in their parenting choices and are more likely to keep balance in their family life. We encourage fathers to learn the massage. Infant massage includes fun and play, and parents can take a sigh of relief when they have provided this beautiful, intimate time for their little ones every day. Most often, massage becomes a part of family life, with new siblings learning to help massage their little brother or sister, and receiving a different sort of massage as they grow older.

Q: How do you see infant massage tied into promoting world harmony?

A: Children learn how to be, from their parents modeling that behavior. Infant massage naturally makes for kind parents and children. The daily interaction of loving, nurturing touch affects everybody deeply.

These days, we talk a lot about infant mental health, and the things that go into making sure our children are thoughtful, nurturing, empathic, kind people. Parents tell me about their children who are all grown up and are amazing, thoughtful, intelligent, compassionate people. I can see it in my own kids, now parents themselves, and even in my grandchildren.

There is a kind of automatic generation of warmth, empathy, and kindness in the family, just from doing this seemingly simple practice when the children are babies — and beyond.

Q: So, how did you originally become inspired in infant massage?

A: When I traveled to India, in 1973, I attended a training center for yoga teachers. I worked in an orphanage during the day, and a monk would come at night to teach us. I noticed all the children in and out of the orphanage were friendly, relaxed, inclusive, and responsible. They were always smiling and laughing, and I often saw a small child walking around with a baby on his hip.

One night, after class, I was walking around the inner compound of the orphanage. Through the doorway where the children slept, I heard someone singing. I peeked in, and saw a 12-year-old girl massaging a baby. Intrigued, I went to observe, and I asked her about it — I knew some Bengali, her language. She said it was customary for babies to be massaged every day. She taught me how, and I began to think that perhaps the children were so friendly, relaxed, because they had been massaged like this when they were babies.

It made a great impression on me, and after I returned home, by coincidence, I was given a copy of the late Ashley Montagu’s book Touching: the Human Significance of the Skin.

Q: When and how did the infant massage movement begin?

A: In 1976, I was pregnant with my first baby. I thought, again, about my time in India. I pulled out Montagu’s book and read it cover-to-cover. I saw the amazing research on animals about how nurturing touch completely changed them. I began to be very excited about the prospect of massaging my baby. I started going to the medical library and looking up all of the references in Montagu’s book, copying them and making notes.

I started massaging my baby right after he was born. I used the massage routine I had learned in India. He was colicky and cried all the time. When I started to massage his stomach, he would get fussy. Most people would think, “My baby doesn’t like being massaged.” But something told me to continue.

Using what I knew from India, from yoga, from my friends who were massage therapists and reflexologists, plus my observations of my own baby, I put together a massage routine that was very different from the Indian one. I included Indian strokes, which go from the center outward to release tension, Swedish strokes which go from the extremities to the heart to promote circulation, and yoga movements and massage that help the digestive system and aid in flexibility. I developed a special routine for colic, which resolved my baby’s colic in 2 weeks.

After several months, I decided to share what I knew with other parents and wrote a curriculum for a 5-session course. I designed a small flyer and took it around to stores, asking them to post it on their window and have them available at the check-out counter. My first class was in March 1977 with 5 moms and their babies in my living room.

I continued to teach out of my home, and my classes became larger and larger. Babies of every dimension and age were brought to my classes — newborns, older babies, premature babies, and some with developmental issues. I continued to read and research. I learned so much during that time!

In 1978, I decided to try to make a booklet about infant massage — actually, I was the first person to call it that (infant massage) — for people who came to my classes. I began to get invited to speak at conferences for childbirth educators. At my first talk for Lamaze, after I finished, a man from the audience came to me and asked me if I had thought of writing a book. I told him, yes, and I happened to have a manuscript in my bag. He said he was from Bantam Books in New York, and they had been looking for me. The following week, I received a contract from them, and my book, Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents, was published.

In 1979, I began to get requests from childbirth educators to teach them how to be infant massage instructors like me. Knowing that no such thing existed, I decided to design a curriculum and certification for instructors, and the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM) was born.

In 1982, Bantam sent me on a book tour throughout the United States, and my book really took off. I trained my first large group of instructors and had 501(c)3 nonprofit papers made up for the association. During that time, I began training some instructors to be trainers of instructors — I designed a 4-day training program for them. I wrote A Manual for Infant Massage Instructors, which was published by the organization.

In 1986, we had instructors from other countries, and we moved the headquarters to Sweden.

Q: What a legacy! Did you encounter any challenges?

A: In spite of having severe difficulties with my health, the trainers I had trained and several Certified Infant Massage Instructors, were determined to carry out my vision. The trainers kept teaching trainings, and some experienced trainers took what I had developed to train them and began certifying other trainers. IAIM began having conferences, first in the U.S., then all over the world.

I never went to the medical establishment for recognition or support. I had seen other organizations that were basically swallowed up by all the “rules” of medicine. I had an intuition about this and was very firm about it. Eventually, IAIM became so big and respected worldwide, and medical professionals began coming to us. Now we have quite a number of therapists, nurses, even MDs working with us.

Instructors and trainers got together all over the world and began forming chapters in their countries. Now, we have a circle of trainers of over 50 people, and IAIM is in over 70 countries. My book was eventually published in 14 other languages, and our training materials updated through the years with my oversight and approval. We have a trainers’ meeting, educational conference, and general assembly every other year somewhere in the world.

I am happy to say that I am very healthy and happy and able to work now.

Q: I’m glad your health has been restored. Where do you see your organization going from here?

A: IAIM will continue to grow and be recognized as a leader in nurturing touch for babies and families. Now we have people in IAIM who have the credentials to carry out research for us. We have a specially developed NICU [Neonatal Intensive Care Unit] procedure, which is well accepted and with which we want to do some research.

I was very excited to have the opportunity to write a whole new updated, revised edition of Infant Massage: a Handbook for Loving Parents, released in February 2017 by Random House. It will introduce whole new generations of parents to infant massage.

Interview by Rita Brhel, Attachment Parenting International (API)

Random Acts of Kindness with Brooke Jones

Kindness is underestimated, but as soft as this state of being sounds, it is powerful in its own rite. By practicing kindness in our homes and communities, we are promoting — through our actions and words — what world peace and harmony looks like in human behavior. A really amazing characteristics of kindness is that it benefits the giver as much as the recipient, and it’s contagious!

Here to shed more light on kindness is Brooke Jones, the vice president of the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.

Q: To begin, please share how our society views kindness and why your organization focuses on kindness.

A: Kindness truly is underestimated. People see it as something that’s nice, but they don’t see the true impact one single act of kindness has on others. The ripple effect is real.

We may not always know the impact we have on others, but I would challenge everyone to think of a significant act of kindness in their lives. Perhaps it was a teacher telling them they did a really nice job on an essay and it boosted their self-confidence and stuck with them for years, possibly opening up a career choice for them that they wouldn’t have otherwise considered. Maybe it was the way a grandparent always made time for them when others didn’t. It could be a friend who said exactly the right thing at a very difficult moment.

Kindness is deep. Kindness is transformative. It is incredibly powerful and is a legitimate foundation for true change in this world.

Q: What are the goals of the Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) Foundation?

A: We believe the world will be a better place if we encourage the spread of kindness in schools, communities, and homes. We do this through social media and an evidence-based K-12 curriculum which we offer for free to all schools — English and Spanish.

We focus on the science behind kindness, as well. Science has shown that performing random acts of kindness are good for you. They improve your life satisfaction by increasing your sense of belonging and self-worth, and they improve your health by decreasing your anxiety, depression, and blood pressure. The best part is the benefits apply to the giver of kindness, the recipient, and the witness of the act.

Q: You mentioned RAK’s Kindness in the Classroom curriculum offered at no cost to schools. Please share more about this.

A: We have a real soft spot in our hearts for teachers. They are on the front lines dealing with so much more than any of us know. They often have 30-plus kids in a classroom, many of whom have learning disabilities, come from abusive homes, live in extreme poverty, are under incredible pressure from their parents. Each of those kids has a story and their own baggage when they come into the room.

The teacher has to be a safe haven for these kids, and they don’t have the luxury of managing some of their own personal problems when they are working with the kids each day. They often suffer from compassion fatigue and don’t take care of themselves. We want to help teachers find that passion and drive they had when they first started teaching and encourage and inspire those that adore their jobs!

Our curriculum focuses on the social and emotional development of students through the lens of kindness. Spending 30 minutes, once a week, they walk through the kindness paradigm — inspire, empower, act, share — and build pro-social skills like self-awareness, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, social awareness, and self-management. The kindness concepts make it easy for the class to relate to these skills when they talk about caring, compassion, integrity, gratitude, respect, helpfulness, perseverance.

One example of this is the lesson plan for 4th grade about respecting beliefs and opinions. There are several activities and examples of fairness, integrity, and respect. The lesson is fun and engaging while also teaching valuable life skills.

Q: Among the resources your organization is known for is Random Acts of Kindness Week each February. How did this annual observance begin?

A: No one really knows the origin of RAK Week, but we know that it was the subject of an Oprah Winfrey show back in 1994 and a resolution designating RAK Week was introduced in the House by Rep. Walter R. Tucker of Compton (California, USA).

During RAK Week, we encourage people to be loud with their kindness. We want people to be kind every day of the year, but during RAK Week, it’s a time to really step it up and do something above and beyond. This could be anything from starting a RAK Club at your school to bringing flowers to a coworker. The possibilities are endless!

We are trying to promote the idea of integrating kindness into our daily lives and finding ways to incorporate it into even the most mundane tasks. For instance, we all have to wake up and get ready in the morning. Why not add a moment of kindness into your morning ritual? If you have your cell phone next to your bed, send an uplifting text message to someone you care about.

Interview by Rita Brhel, Attachment Parenting International

Talking Politics with Your Children

I wholeheartedly believe that listening and understanding are key components in creating tolerant and peaceful environments, both at home and beyond — in our communities and nation.

About the Author

Effie Morchi is the Assistant Editor of APtly Said, the blog of Attachment Parenting International. She and her husband have 2 children, a girl and a boy, and live in New York, USA. Being a stay-at-home mother after a career in information technology paved the way for her transformation and growth. Nowadays, she enjoys practicing Reiki and writing about her reflections in finding the profound in the ordinary and her spiritual path.

As a mother and an individual who advocates for peaceful existence for our children, I’m concerned about the inflamed political and social tone our kids are surrounded by.

Since before the last presidential election, I’ve been following the political coverage on TV, reading articles from a variety of sources all across the political gamut, observing and engaging in social media discussions, and interacting with people from diverse political affiliations. Time and time again, I keep thinking in frustration: No one listens to one another! The door to collaboration and cooperation has been shut tight, and worst of all, there is little to no effort to try to understand each other’s point of view.

I would like to state clearly that I believe we don’t necessarily have to agree with one another, but it’s imperative that we at least listen and try to understand one another. Most of us want and wish the same for ourselves, our family, and our nation — though we clearly disagree on the avenues to accomplish it.

It Starts at Home

It feels as though there are two different, opposing camps on opposite sides of our country with the road between them nearly completely blocked. There is minimal communication and flow between the two camps.

As that image made itself into my mind one day, I chuckled because at times I feel like there are two opposing camps in my own house: my 11-year-old daughter and my 9-year-old son. Their personalities, interests, and habits are polar opposites.

Yet, we are a family living under the same roof, and we share a special, sacred bond. To keep the peace and harmony in my house, I have to ensure the road between the two “camps” is wide open and well-traveled.

It has been a challenging task. I have been exploring different avenues to teach my kids to respect one another’s differences, to listen and keep the communication flowing, and to use their differences as a nurturing platform to strengthen one another, rather than diminish each other. We are a family — it’s imperative that we bridge our differences in spite and despite of them. I wish the same for our nation and our children — because at the end of the day, we are one big family.

Attachment Parenting International supports collaboration and cooperation in the parent-child relationship, as well as nonviolent communication, listening, and respect. Following such practices fosters understanding, harmony, and a strong bond — which, in turn, reduce tensions and conflicts within the family structure.

In my role as a parent, I learned the importance of listening and trying my best to understand the true expressions of my kids’ behaviors — what thoughts and emotions are manifested through their behavior.

For example, as I observed my 12-month-old daughter become increasingly irritated and frustrated, I explored and suspected that her inability to verbally communicate contributed to her discontent. Seeking solutions, I embraced sign language to alleviate her inability to communicate effectively, and she transformed and blossomed into a content, happy child.

With my younger son, I needed to understand that his needs and learning habits are vastly different than those of his older sister. Once I understood and accepted that, I was able to explore and implement different ways of approaching challenges that we encountered. Consequently, his schoolwork and overall behavior at home improved drastically.

Striving to understand why our children behave in certain ways and listening to them doesn’t necessarily mean we accept or support certain behaviors. Rather, it means that we are better equipped to diffuse our frustrations and seek effective solutions. For instance, we understand that it is developmentally appropriate for a 12-month-old baby to shriek and throw a tantrum when they are frustrated due to their inability to communicate verbally and be understood. It gets us closer to minimizing conflicts and finding solutions.

Talking To Our Children About Uncomfortable Topics

Conflicts and struggles can present great opportunities for learning and growth. We can seize the political climate as an invitation to open the door to valuable and applicable conversations with our children.

Here are 6 discussion points that can help steer the conversation in the right direction — keeping in mind subject matter and language ought to be age-appropriate:

1) Family Values

Clarify your own family values. It’s a good opportunity to emphasize your belief system, ideals, and priorities.

2) Listen

Sometimes as parents we can get caught up in expressing our own views and feelings and then neglect to ask our children how they feel or think. Just ask them. Make sure to create a comfortable space for them to form and share their own opinions, even if they differ from yours.

3) Bullying

Most kids have likely been exposed to the past election cycle’s political debates, ads, and mudslinging. This type of behavior in the media can open the conversation about how and why some adults and kids mistreat or bully each other. A couple points to consider:

  • What are some constructive ways kids can deal with everyday bullying scenarios at school or the playground?
  • When kids witness a peer being bullied, how can they best diffuse the situation?

4) Honesty

Some delicate and divisive subjects, such as racism, terrorism, war, and poverty, can be challenging to discuss and uncomfortable. Our children expect and deserve our honesty. Children’s books and movies can be helpful tools to aid the conversation.

5) Accept and Respect Differences

Our differences can strengthen or weaken us. It is important that we emphasize to children that different people come from different backgrounds and experiences in life and, as such, their values and points of views may be at odds with our own. A couple points to ponder:

  • What are some scenarios where children encounter differences
  • What are respectful and peaceful ways they can practice to bridge their differences?

6) Humor

Humor and laughter can be beneficial by lightening up the mood and reducing stress and anxiety. Political humor is one of the hallmarks of a free society. You can share with your kids age-appropriate political cartoons and watch comedy together. An important point to highlight:

  • When does funny get to a point of not-so-funny-anymore, harsh, or even abusive?

Our kids observe and learn from our behavior as we are their most significant role models. As such, we ought to engage in introspection and investigate our own conduct — demonstrating to them that we are fostering a tolerant environment for them as well as our nation.

I can think of very few things that are more paramount than nurturing our children for a compassionate world. It’s our responsibility to illustrate to them that when we know better, we can do and be better — individually and collectively — as one big family.

Further Reading:


For Better or Worse, Parenting Changes Your Child’s DNA

Since Attachment Parenting International‘s inception, Barbara and I have believed that Attachment Parenting is a child abuse prevention model and conceivably an overall violence prevention model.

About the Author

Lysa Parker, MS, CFLE, CEIM, is the cofounder of Attachment Parenting International with Barbara Nicholson, MEd. They also coauthored the book, Attached at the Heart. Lysa has dedicated her life to improving the way children are treated and is a recognized authority on parenting. She and her husband have 3 grown children and 4 grandchildren, and live near Huntsville, Alabama, USA.

We addressed this fairly extensively in our book, Attached at the Heart, because as we researched attachment theory and neuroscience, there was a clear connection between the treatment of a child and that grown child’s impact on society. Correlations of a child’s trajectory in school and in life with the child’s attachment security to his or her primary caregiver have been made by researchers as early as 3 years of age.

We should never give up on a child, in spite of their early experiences, because we know that social and relational buffers can help mitigate or overcome their negative early experiences. However, it seems misguided, if not insane, to focus on repairing the damage done when it’s so much more difficult — and costly — than preventing the damage in the first place.

Babies Are Born Wired to Be Loved

When we think about any child being physically or emotionally harmed, it is heartbreaking to hear about or to witness the destruction of their innocence and their open, loving hearts. Every baby comes into this world with the expectation to be loved and to love others.

It’s that simple.

When their environment turns out to be unpredictable, harsh, or violent, their hearts begin to harden and their brains wire in a way that allows them to survive in a world that they view as dangerous and life-threatening. They become, at worst, the teens or adults who beat up their girlfriends or wives, commit date-rape, or kill others out of rage or revenge.

In the very least, they become adults who can’t trust, who are unable to have a deep intimate relationship with anyone, or who use anger to get what they want because they didn’t grow up with a model of empathy.

It’s been said that every child who has been abused doesn’t become an abuser but that every abuser has been abused. When I hear people say that someone chose to harm or kill another person or didn’t have a conscience, I know that is someone who most likely had an abusive childhood, notwithstanding exceptions of brain damage from an accident or disease.

Not Surprisingly, Abuse Rewires the Brain… and Not for the Better

We have long been a fan of Jonathan Pincus, MD, of Georgetown University, a renowned neurologist who, after much research based on brain scans and neurological tests, came to the conclusion that violent criminals had been abused as children and, as a result, had suffered brain damage particularly to the prefrontal cortex. He wrote the book, Base Instincts, about his experience interviewing and researching the lives of hundreds of death row inmates.

Most of them denied ever being abused by their parents. However, after interviewing siblings, relatives, neighbors, coworkers, and teachers, he discovered that not only had they been abused but they were abused the worst in their family. He concluded his book with a call for teaching better parenting skills and providing parenting support.

I don’t necessarily recommend reading his book unless you’re a professional in need of greater understanding, because the stories are extremely disturbing to read. One thing was clear from the stories in his book — a phenomenon known by many psychologists –that abusive parents will often target one particular child in a family rather than abuse all the children.

One prominent example of this was told by Dave Pelzer in his book, A Boy Called It. Dave talks about being forced to live in his family’s garage and fed scraps from the family table, among many other incidents of maltreatment. Thankfully he survived and is able to tell his story and process his experiences in his books and talks.

What we know about the developing brain is that the “seat of the conscience” is in the prefrontal cortex, the forehead area over the eyes. Some refer to that part of the brain as the “brakes,” or the inhibitor. We may think and feel a lot of aggressive emotions, depending on the circumstances — driving in traffic, someone insults you, kids out of control, for example — but we don’t act on them, because our prefrontal cortex is highly developed and it’s telling us not to. We are able use reason to understand the consequences and to have perspective of the feelings of the other person.

Certainly it’s normal that we all “lose it” from time to time, meaning that we do act on some of those aggressive emotions at times and yell, for example. Someone with a poorly developed prefrontal cortex, such as a violent criminal, is more likely to “lose it” and act on those aggressive emotions to more of an extreme.

We often use Dan Siegel, MD’s hand model to describe the parts of the brain, because visuals are powerful. The thumb is tucked into your fist and represents the amygdala and limbic (reptilian) systems that store all our emotional experiences. These systems cause us to over-react to certain situations — the situations when your “buttons” get pushed! On the front of the fist, our fingers represent the prefrontal cortex. When we get triggered by a situation, those front fingers fly up (“flipping our lid”), representing that we are no longer in our calm, reasonable prefrontal cortex but now operating out of our emotional, reptilian centers.

This is why learning to be more mindful and intentional is so important in helping us stay more in our prefrontal cortex and less in our emotional centers. By learning this, we are literally rewiring our own brains, but it takes a lot of time and practice. The beauty of Attachment Parenting is that it is teaching us to fine-tune our empathic abilities and to be more conscious in our interactions.

Nurturing Wins Out

Something that Stephen Bavolek, PhD, cofounder of the Nurturing Parenting Program, has said time and again — that still haunts me –is that “…when a child is not being nurtured, he is being abused.” Dr. Bavolek broke down hours of the day, days of the week, and years into percentages of being nurtured versus not being nurtured, or as he defines it, being abused. It is startling to put it into that perspective and certainly was an awakening for me.

If we look back at our own childhood experiences, even if our parents were nurturing 80% of the time, then we were likely being emotionally abused or, for some, physically abused the remaining 20% of the time — multiply this by 365 days a year, and it adds up significantly!

Thankfully, neuroscientists tell us that whatever a child experiences the majority of the time is what wires the brain. So if it’s nurturing, then that is what gets hardwired. It’s overwhelming to think about, but it galvanizes us even more in our belief of Attachment Parenting — not just for our children but for ourselves and the world. Many of us have experienced the healing that takes place in our own hearts as we nurture our children, giving them the love and respect we wish we had been given as children.

How You Parent Changes Your Child’s DNA

We see more clearly now how our parents tried to do better for us than their parents but, like many, fell victim to the parenting advice of the day whether from religious leaders, psychologists, or medical professionals. We have no idea about the specific experiences of our parents, grandparents, or even great-grandparents, but what we can be sure of is they passed on to us what was done to them.

New research in epigenetics and neuroscience is giving us an incredible window into our past and a new awareness of how we can change our future. In a sense, we all have a new “superpower.” Epigeneticists have found that our cells carry a type of memory of the experiences of our ancestors — not only that, but 95% of our genes aren’t yet coded at birth, dependent on nurturing and the environment to determine their fate. Even as teens and adults, they are turned on or off in large part by our own choices in life.

According to psychiatrist Bruce Perry, MD, PhD, of the ChildTrauma Academy, our brains also contain cellular memories of ancestral experiences. Your brain is an aggregate of as far back as 6 generations!

The exciting aspect to all this is that you can change the trajectory of your family tree, if you want to, by becoming more conscious and intentional in your life and in your parenting. Big or small changes can make huge differences.

The Attachment Parenting journey has been an essential part of my evolution as a woman and as a mother. It has helped me learn so much more about myself and taught me the importance of self-nurturance, self-understanding, and self-forgiveness. I am able to forgive my mother and father for what they didn’t know as young parents. I have empathy for them knowing the pain of their childhood experiences. I am also extremely grateful to them, because I know they were vastly better parents to me and my siblings than their own parents. I know my husband feels the same way about his family.

There is still a lot of work to be done in our family tree, but we made the conscious decision years ago that we would do our personal best to nurture its roots and strengthen the branches for our grandchildren and future generations. That’s all we can do, and the rest is up to them.

Further Reading:

From this Parenting for World Harmony issue of Attached Family:

  • “New Parents Need Attachment Education” by David Stimson
  • “Nurturing Doesn’t Spoil Kids” by Rita Brhel, BS, CLC, API Leader

From the Attached Siblings issue of Attached Family:

From the Inspired Parents issue of Attached Family:


New Parents Need Attachment Education

Nearly 4 years ago, I became a father. We became a family. The next few lines, you may think, should be “It’s the best thing that has ever happened to me” and “Now I understand the purpose of life,” but in truth, it’s been hard.

About the Author

David Stimson is a registered therapist, assessor, clinical supervisor, and occasional speaker in England. He the cofounder of Child & Adolescent Therapy Solutions based in the United Kingdom, and has been working with children, adults, and families for more than 14 years. After qualifying as a child and adolescent therapist, he began a journey to gain as much information as possible about how to understand how people think and feel, and what motivates us to feel and behave in the way we do. This journey steered David into further training in attachment science, the EMDR and NLP trauma therapy approaches, clinical assessments, and dissociation. He blogs at Helping Folk.

My little girl is now my world, and she’s given me the privilege to witness love and attachment develop from the inside-out. With a sly smile on my face, I can happily write that my world is now very colorful and my energy much less!

The reason I reflect on my experiences is because it’s important that you understand that — although I am a “professional” and have “read all the books” — parenting has been extremely challenging and emotionally demanding for me. Everything in the books has not always worked and is sometimes impractical. Some so-called parenting guidance is frighteningly outdated, and some of it is, to be frank, destructive.

The Undereducation of Attachment

The basis of human nature is attachment. Without attachment, we simply do not survive as a species. Attachment is a major factor and influence in all of our relationships, trust, self-worth, and world-view.

If you ever catch my presentations, I often reflect on the time just before my daughter was born. We attended an organized visit to the hospital alongside many other parents to-be and had the opportunity to see the wards, ask questions, and get some information about the delivery experience. Although it was useful to see the place and be able to visualize how the big day might unfold, I saw the event as a missed opportunity to help many soon-to-be parents understand some basic fundamentals of child development.

While the word, “bonding,” was used twice — in regards to “breast is best” and immediate skin-to-skin contact between parents and a newborn — the word, “attachment,” was mentioned not once!

Throughout the years of working with adults, parents, children, social workers, school staff, and others, I have come to the conclusion that attachment and the parent-child relationship is one of those taboo subjects that we dare not comment upon due to the risk of upsetting or offending someone.

Possibly even more emotionally provocative, we are highly resistant toward looking at our own early experiences and how our own parent-child relationships have been, or still are. Valuable questions all parents must ask themselves are:

  • How have my early attachment experiences influenced my sense of who I am, what I believe, and why I do what I do?
  • How have my early attachment experiences influenced the way I parent and respond to my children?
  • How will my children experience their world though me, and then pass this information onto their children when the day comes?

What’s the Big Deal About Attachment?

Attachment is complex and comes in different “styles” that fall into 2 basic categories: secure and insecure. Attachment security is not guaranteed, very easily compromised, and widely misunderstood. There is no universal parenting course on attachment, yet there is a “pass it on” effect for both security and insecurity within ourselves and those to whom we are closest.

As babies, we are all born premature — we can only mature so much in utero in that we have big skulls to hold our big brains, and if we grew much bigger, we’d be too large to escape our mothers’ wombs. Unlike many other mammals, we are pretty useless once born. Due to our “prematurity,” we can’t stand, walk, run, or hide if a hungry predator should pay a visit. We absolutely must depend on the others around us for protection and security. Without this protection, we are lunch. This is why we attach to our primary caregiver, our mother.

In order for attachment safety to become internalized and “secure,” we must — as parents — meet the needs of our young children as consistently as possible.

Without consistent and repetitive reinforcement that our needs will be met, attachment security is unlikely to occur. Signs of insecure attachment in young children:

  • Inability to settle, overly demanding, hyperactive, and/or clingy behavior;
  • Controlling behaviors;
  • Anxious behaviors;
  • Anger, aggression, and poor self-regulation;
  • Avoidant/distant behaviors, such as not seeking comfort from parents when upset/hurt;
  • Distress at parental separation but not comforted by parents’ return;
  • May have no preference between parents or strangers.

Society’s Barriers to Secure Attachment

An eye-wateringly high proportion of children within our society are not securely attached to their primary caregiver. The reason for this, in my opinion, is that the modern capitalist world is simply not designed to support the needs of young children and their parents. We live in a world where work, economy, adult needs and careers, shortcuts, and convenience trumps the neurobiological needs of our future generation.

Parent-child attachment is a process that starts pre-birth and is not secured until approximately the age of 3 — yes, 3!

Rarely is a mother supported to take the necessary time from work in order to help establish the consistent, repetitive experiences our children need to establish attachment security. Within the United Kingdom, mothers are usually expected to return to work within 1 year — if their lucky — with many returning at 6 months and some much sooner, even within weeks of the child being born. This makes for a confusing and complicated dilemma for a child who will actively seek his or her mother for nurture and comfort. Although a young child can clearly survive without the mother being with him or her round-the-clock, it does come at a price and this price is often attachment security.

Equally important is that a mother is not only physically available to her child, but she must also be emotionally available. Many of our new moms and dads feel unsupported, lost, and may struggle with postnatal issues, including the under-recognized postnatal post-traumatic stress from the birth experience itself.

As a result, insecurely attached children fill our schools, nurseries, and playgroups. Yet, it seems that very few of us are either able or willing to recognize this.

Total Dependence Must Come Before Healthy Independence

Despite what we might like to think, we humans are not totally independent, self-focused, and “individual” creatures. We rely on each other and have needed to do so for our species’ survival.

Young babies cannot “learn” to self-soothe, and in order for healthy independence, we must first master total dependence. This dependence allows us to internalize that the world is safe, our needs will be met, and that other people are available to us. If we can master these basics, then we can carry this information into adulthood and repeat them with our friends, our relationships, and our families.

Further Reading:

From the Nurturing Peace issue of Attached Family:


Nurturing Doesn’t Spoil Kids

“There is a sensible way of treating children. … Never hug and kiss them, never let them sit in your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say good night. Shake hands with them in the morning. Give them a pat on the head if they have made an extraordinarily good job of a difficult task. Try it out. … You will be utterly ashamed of the mawkish, sentimental way you have been handling it. …” ~ Psychological Care of Infant & Child by James B. Watson, Norton Press, 1928

Reading this excerpt of a wildly popular parenting book from 1928 — as you breastfeed your baby or cosleep with your toddler or cuddle with your preschooler or hug your preteen or put your arm around your teen’s shoulders — how do you feel it was like for your great-grandmother to be admonished for instinctively loving her child, only to be told that her instinct is exactly what would damage that child?

About the Author

Rita Brhel, BS, CLC, API Leader, is the Executive Editor and Publications Team Coordinator of Attachment Parenting International. She has a dual career as a writer/editor and a peer counselor, working primarily with nonprofits that serve at-risk families. She and her husband, Mike, a retail sales manager, have 3 children: Rachel, 10; Emily, 9; and Nathan, 5. They live near Hastings, Nebraska, USA.

Parenting has come along way since 1928. By the time our grandparents were caring for their babies in the 1950s, psychoanalyst John Bowlby was making great strides in scientific circles with research demonstrating the enormous impact that nurturing — and lack of nurturing — had on child development. This important body of research has since greatly influenced parenting advice.

Eventually Bowlby’s work would be integrated into the ever-expanding domains of research, including breastfeeding science, that has sent a shock wave of nurturing-oriented parenting around the world.

In 1994, as our parents were caring for us at home, La Leche League Leaders and schoolteachers Lysa Parker and Barbara Nicholson cofounded Attachment Parenting International as a way to educate and support parents in raising children with abundant warmth and nurturing. The tide was still changing then, but today, we are free to nurture our children without a feeling of shame. We can kiss and hug them. We can let them sit on our laps.

The Fear of Spoiling Hangs On

The child-rearing “experts” just a few generations ago would be appalled at how today’s parent educators encourage affection, nurturing touch, and comforting of our children. Research has since established how incredibly beneficial — in fact, absolutely critical — to child development that we are nurturing toward our babies and children.

But the impacts of the hands-off approach to parenting that our great-grandmothers experienced has had far-reaching effects. Remnants survive still today. They’re there whenever someone asks us if our baby is sleeping through the night yet, or suggests we try “cry it out” to teach our baby to self-soothe, or warns us that holding our baby too much will spoil her, or insists that babies be weaned by their first birthday, or maintains that children be spanked, or advises any parenting approach that promotes so-called early independence and obedience over normal, healthy child development and sensitively met needs.

We hear it from our family members, our schools, our pediatricians, our politicians, and parenting books that continue to be published…influenced by this old-fashioned thinking despite the mountains of research to the contrary — ideas of how children should be raised, based on personal opinion rather than research-backed fact, subtle revelation of how our society is still scared of giving “too much” nurturing to our children. It’s a pervasive situation that still needs to be addressed.

Babies and Children Need Nurturing

The fact is, nurturing isn’t damaging. Babies and children need nurturing like they need food or shelter — nurturing is an essential basic need — and they are biologically designed to expect and receive nurturing.

Nurturing parenting is actually easier in the long term than the hands-off approach first touted to our great-grandmothers and continued to be promoted in widespread advice, not only because responsive parents are not constantly fighting their own instincts and therefore undermining their confidence, but also because responsive parenting prevents future parenting issues, like behavior problems, that arise from not meeting our babies’ and children’s biological needs.

A child who grows up learning that his biological needs for nurturing will go unmet or be misunderstood is a child who will increasingly develop ways of communication and interaction that are less healthy in future relationships.

Nurturing parenting is an early investment whose payoff continues well beyond the short term. When a child’s biological need for nurturing is consistently met, positive discipline naturally emerges. The trust that children develop as a result of having their emotional needs met sets a foundation of parent-child interaction that doesn’t have to rely on threats, shame, punishment, rewards, or other forms of coercion for behavior control.

Research and children unanimously agree that warm and nurturing parenting is not only optimal, but required for healthy development.

What Happens to Children Not Nurtured?

The child’s brain develops in response to the care received, so children with less optimal caregiving are more likely to experience challenges not only in their childhoods but across their lifetimes.

Reams of research tell us the obvious — that high levels of family stress can contribute to profound effects on a child’s ability to learn, remember, emotionally self-regulate, and succeed in adulthood.

Many parents carry with them the unaddressed traumas of childhood with limited nurturing or harshness, passed down through the generations since their great-grandparents’ time. This trauma legacy may show up in subtle, or obvious, over-reactions or under-reactions to normal, healthy child behaviors. We silently pass the legacy to our children and their children when we fail to observe the effect on our families and instead find confirmation and justification in the surviving remnants of 1928 child-rearing advice still popular today.

Research is continually finding new ways to illustrate the impact of abundant nurturing on our children. Brain scans show physical differences between the shape and connectivity of different areas of the brain involved in socio-emotional and cognitive functioning. Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) studies outline shockingly common, everyday interactions and events that are processed, but remain unrecognized, as traumas that can increase risk of not only mental but physical illness. Tests on heart function and hormone levels reflect how the body reacts to emotionally stressful events that were previously assumed limited to our thoughts.

Increasingly, we are learning that our emotional psychology has as physical roots as our bodily health — and how much our experiences as babies and young children, especially, form a foundation that can either be stable and secure, or predispose us to a susceptibility of lifelong difficulties.

Parents Must Choose to be Intentional

Attachment Parenting International works to bring a wide body of authoritative, decades-worth of scientific evidence, as well as emerging research, to support parents and influence professionals and society. The common theme of this research clearly points to the critical importance of nurturing our children and describes behaviors that can provide this type of caregiving.

The research calls for parents to examine their assumptions, expectations, and thoughts regarding child-rearing and to then make changes to how they view themselves, children, and parenting to better reflect their goals, values, and healing. Many parents choose not to do this — to instead parent on autopilot, which is easier than parenting with intention — but our unexamined, default modes of parenting are how family legacies of pain pass silently from one generation to the next.

Our children are worth the effort to do the best we can. They’re our future, and we want them to be ready and excited for that future, free of emotional traumas borne of parenting ideas of nearly a century ago.

Further Reading:

From the Parenting Without Shame issue of Attached Family:

From the Nurturing Peace issue of Attached Family:


From the Family Bed to the Peace Corps

Tuesday, August 16, 2016, was an emotional day for my family. Our 22-year old son, Lorenzo, departed for Namibia, a country in southwestern Africa.

About the Author

David J. Smith, MS, JD, is a peacebuilding educator, trainer, and consultant. He is president of the Forage Center for Peacebuilding and Humanitarian Education, a not-for-profit that advances experiential-based humanitarian training. He is also adjunct faculty at George Mason University. He and his wife, Lena Choudhary, a nurse educator, raised their children with Attachment Parenting. Their daughter, Sonya, is a high school senior, and son, Lorenzo, is serving in the Peace Corps in Namibia. David and his family live in Rockville, Maryland, USA.

After several months of language and cultural training, our son will spend 2 years as a Peace Corps volunteer teaching mathematics to young people, living in a village with a native family, and having little contact with other volunteers and limited access to the greater world — and, most certainly, limited contact with his parents.

From David J Smith – Lorenzo in Turkey

We are very proud of Lorenzo. He graduated from the University of Maryland-College Park a year ago with a dual degree in mechanical engineering and government. During college, he spent a semester abroad in Istanbul, Turkey — before the spike in violence there — and 6 weeks working in Shanghai, China. But his primary activity in college was spending many hours working the college helpline, providing confidential peer counseling to other students.

Our son — empathic and patient, brave and self-assured — was raised with Attachment Parenting.

Our Attachment Parenting Journey

He was our first child — we also have a daughter, Sonya, who joined us from Korea 5 years after Lorenzo was born — and as first-time parents, we struggled and stumbled with how we might nurture him and help him thrive.

My own upbringing was disruptive, to say the least. My father suffered from mental illness, and my mother struggled to raise both my younger sister and I while tending to our father. Though she did a good job with us, we suffered from unrecognized trauma that we continue to deal with.

My wife’s situation was much better. Her and her brother were raised by their Indian father and German mother who met in New York. Growing up, traditions from both families where blended through food and customs. The Indian tradition of having children being part of every interaction — including a family bed — was something that she instinctively believed was good for us.

I had my doubts. Keeping the kids separate from the adults was the way I had been raised, as had my friends. Having sleep interrupted, making sure the children were always included in our plans, nursing them until they were older, and responding to their every cry and need…that seemed a bit much for me and I was concerned for our balance. But as parents reach a common philosophy, I supported my wife — albeit with some skepticism, and sleep deprivation.

Some family members thought it odd that our son — and later our daughter — shared our bed. Would all of this attention make them overly dependent on us? Maybe they would never have the confidence to leave home? Or be unable to manage in the “real world”?

But we managed well. In fact, we flourished as a family. Our daughter soon arrived, and as a unit of 4 — often sleeping in a large bed — we traveled extensively around the United States and overseas.

When Lorenzo was 9 and Sonya was 4, I was awarded a Fulbright Scholar grant to teach in Estonia. We packed up ourselves and spent 6 months living abroad with our children in international schools. For Lorenzo, living overseas was both maturing and liberating. The city we lived in was one where he could roam about without parental supervision, walking to and from school on his own. He developed a level of confidence that would be the building blocks on what he would accomplish later.

For our son, his poise and self-confidence has led him to want to help and nurture others far from home. His attachment to us has resulted in his attachment to others who are in need and to a world that can benefit from his patience, empathy, and generosity. I’m sure he has attached to his Namibian family and the children he is teaching.

Why Attachment Parenting Works

There is dichotomy in the idea of Attachment Parenting. On one hand, there is the misguided thought that Attachment Parenting creates over-dependence and a lack of self-reliance. On the other hand, there is the concern that a broken attachment puts a child at mental or physical risk.

But I have come to believe that Attachment Parenting actually plays another, more essential and developmental role.

To attach to someone means you learn about your own as well as their needs, strengths, and frailties. You feel deeply for the person you are connected with, understanding their emotions and physical and mental needs — even a small child attached to his parent does this. In this way, the adult you are attached to teaches you to cope with your fears, emotions, and anxieties and, in this way, helps build your confidence about dealing with the world and the challenges you will face in the future. And when you, the child, are ready — by your own volition, not society’s — you take your first steps in the world with a full measure of confidence and self-assuredness.

It is a natural evolution, not forced by imposed cultural norms.

My wife and I are now at the other end of parenting. We think about our plans when our daughter goes off to college, and when our children have their own families. They will make their own parenting decisions, of course. We have done our part for them — and, yes, lost some sleep in the process! — but we have confidence in their abilities to face the challenges they might meet.

If you are reading this after a sleepless night where you were kicked much, or had to get up to comfort your child, rest assured: Attachment Parenting will be worth it in the end.

Further Reading:

From The Attached Family blog archives:

Youth Empowerment as Peace Education

I am fortunate that my career allows me to work with young people promoting peace education, especially at the high school and college level.  Though peace education can take place with any group or in any setting, it is often a focus in primary and secondary education. In these settings, a major emphasis is promoting emotional and social development.

About the Author

David J. Smith, MS, JD, is a peacebuilding educator, trainer, and consultant. He is president of the Forage Center for Peacebuilding and Humanitarian Education, a not-for-profit that advances experiential-based humanitarian training. He is also adjunct faculty at George Mason University. He and his wife, Lena Choudhary, a nurse educator, raised their children with Attachment Parenting. Their daughter, Sonya, is a high school senior, and son, Lorenzo, is serving in the Peace Corps in Namibia. David and his family live in Rockville, Maryland, USA.

Though there is no single definition, many working in the field would say peace education aims to:

  • Promote a culture where citizens understand global problems,
  • Have the skills to resolve conflict constructively,
  • Know and live by respecting human rights,
  • Appreciate diversity, and
  • Respect the integrity of the planet.

Peace education is a natural fit for those engaged in Attachment Parenting in that it centers heavily on promoting learning that is individualized and takes into consideration the learner’s learning style. It is no wonder that peace education often flourishes in Montessori education and other places where the setting is child-focused. Maria Montessori’s famous quote — “Establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war” — is well known by those teaching peace education.

If you are a parent interested in understanding the theoretical dimensions of the field, I would recommend Ian Harris and Mary Lee Morrison’s Peace Education (3rd edition). Another resource is the Global Campaign for Peace Education, which is an international effort to promote the teaching of peace.

Having said this, Attachment Parenting by the nature of the approach is already engaging in peace education by emphasizing cooperation, interdependency, self-awareness, and respect for others. It is amazing how these basic notions of human relations are often missing in our society.

I’ve taught at the higher education level, especially at community colleges. I’ve also taught at liberal arts institutions and overseas in the Fulbright program. Currently, I teach at the graduate level at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. But most of my time is spent traveling around the U.S. advancing peace and conflict resolution education. I’ve recently written a book on careers in peace for undergraduates, Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace.

I wanted to share 2 recent experiences I’ve had, both demonstrating the ways in which we can support young people in their aspirations for peace and a society that is violence-free:

1) Empowering High School Students to Build Peace

The Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR) is the largest association of conflict resolution practitioners and educators in the United States. I’ve been a continuous member of ACR since its formation. At its annual conference, ACR hosts a workshop for youth. For this year’s conference in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, I was invited to work with high school students. I strongly believe in youth empowerment, but more over, I’m a Baltimore native and wanted to contribute in any way I could to foster peacebuilding.

My workshop was titled “Building a Future Through Building Peace.” Working with about 40 Baltimore high school students, I engaged them in 2 activities: the first focused on having them consider their values and expectations for work; in the second, they worked in groups to consider ways to bring peace to their community.

The first activity was called “What Am I Seeking in a Career? Bingo.” Here, students worked with a bingo sheet where in the blocks I indicated a range of interests that students could engage in: “Help people in need,” “Work to end poverty and suffering,” and “Try to end violence against women” are examples. Students could ask another student only 2 questions. If the interest of the student being asked corresponded with the question asked, the student wrote their name in the box. Once the student asking the questions got 5 across, 5 down, 5 diagonal, or 4 corners and the center, they won! (I actually kept the activity going until every student had won). The objective was to get students to not only consider their own interests, but learn about other students’ interests, as well. In this way, they can find others to work with.

The second activity was called “Peace Entrepreneur.” Here students role-played as members of a design/manufacturing company called “Make the Peace, Inc.” In teams, they were asked to come up with a product or service that might be used to increase community peace. Each team also made a poster and, at the end, gave a pitch to the other teams on their product or service. One team did their pitch in rap!

Students often have important insight as to what their community needs. As adults, we often make assumptions that are not accurate. Young people are living day to day in communities where violence, injustice, and deprivation are the norm. Youth are also incredibly creative and can come up with ideas that will directly improve their condition. They often see the connection between peacebuilding and community wellness that adults don’t see.

The products and services that the students came up with were wide-ranging. One group recommended that a youth center would provide opportunities for young people to gather together, play sports, engage in out-of-school activities, and build community. Another team recommended a trauma-healing center. One member of that team talked about the trauma that exists in his community and how it wasn’t being addressed. Another team recommended something that I didn’t expect: making sure that all schools had air-conditioning (AC). This team argued that without AC, students are unable to feel comfortable and therefore learn. The heat creates more tension…and potentially, more violence!

As parents and educators, we must include youth in considering strategies for building peace in communities, ensuring social justice, fostering development, and overall, improving the quality of life. Adults don’t have all the answers. By working with young people, we let them know we value their insight and knowledge, thereby empowering them to make change.

2) Redesigning Peace Awareness with Younger Students

The second experience I want share took place with youth when I was visiting Penn State last spring. This was a chance to work with with elementary and middle school students, which I don’t do often. Working with this age group can be very rewarding, but also at times challenging. Developing an activity that is engaging for them, as well as meaningful from a learning standpoint can be frustrating.

The peace sign, or symbol, is an iconic symbol that represents a variety of movements and causes.

Michelle Rivera-Clonch, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Antioch College, wrote about the symbol in my book, providing background on the event that the symbol was created for. In 1958, an anti-nuclear protest march was planned from London to Aldermaston, England, during Easter weekend. The organizer of the march, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), was looking for a symbol that could be used to represent the march. CND approached designer Gerald Holtom who came up the symbol we know as the peace sign.

Holtom described the image as having 2 parts — first, a “little man in despair” with his arms out; second, the semaphore signal for the letters N and D, standing for Nuclear Disarmament –drawn in a circle.

Because it has never been copyrighted, this symbol has been adapted and applied in a countless ways.

After a talk at Penn State, I was invited to work with a group of 5th graders at State College Friends School. I often encourage students to use their creative processes to consider their views of peace. I asked students to consider what the peace symbol might look like today if they were asked to design it. In the activity, the class was a design firm and had been asked to come up with a new peace symbol that represented today’s challenges and hopes.

Peace Education, a Timeless Need

In the 1950s, the paramount global issue was nuclear war. Today, we are facing a myriad of challenges: global warming, extremism, domestic and gun violence, and war, to mention a few. Understandably, these are difficult issues to talk about with students, but even at the upper elementary school level, they know about the world around them.

As parents, it is not surprising that there is anxiety in considering the world that our children will enter. This can result in transferring our anxiety to our children. This is natural and probably inevitable today. But I have come to believe that by empowering with confidence-building skills and tapping their creative energy, they can and will thrive as adults and, in the process, advance values that create a safe, nurturing, sustainable, and peaceful world for all.

Further Reading:

From the “Nurturing Peace” issue of Attached Family: