Attachment Parenting and the Link to Childhood Well-Being
What Is Attachment Parenting?
Attachment parenting is a term that was originally coined by American pediatrician William Sears in the 1990's. This term, which has been widely interpreted and sometimes misunderstood, refers to a set of parenting principles that are based on attachment theory, as specifically defined by the field of developmental psychology. In a nutshell, the principles of attachment parenting can be distilled into the basic acts of a parent being emotionally available to her child and sensitive at all times to her child's needs. In addition, the parent-child relationship usually involves much physical closeness and physical contact, which is specifically manifested in "baby wearing" and sometimes "co-sleeping". Though critics of this parental style have remarked that attachment parenting can spoil a child or produce over-dependence on the parent by the child, recent studies have demonstrated quite the contrary.
What Are the 8 Principles of Attachment Parenting?
Dr. Sears, the pediatrician who originally coined this term, also developed eight principles that he felt were necessary for parents to do, in order to secure a healthy bond between parent and child. Dr. Sear's principles are:
1. Adequate preparation for pregnancy and birth of the child
2. Parental feeding of the child that is accomplished with love and respect
3. Responsiveness and sensitivity to the child's needs
4. The use of frequent interactions between parent and child, involving safe and nurturing physical contact
5. Sleeping arrangements for the child that are safe and nurturing
6. Consistent loving interactions initiated by the parent towards the child
7. The use of positive discipline when having to correct a child for his or her behavior (see Alfred Alder)
8. The overall striving for balance and peace within the family unit
As all theories, the theory of attachment parenting is open to broad interpretation, but thankfully, even the founder of the movement, Dr. Sears, encourages parents to follow these principles in ways that are creative and that fit within the current family framework. Attachment parenting is not a rigid system, but rather a set of guidelines, that when followed, have been found to produce happy and securely attached children.
What Are the Alleged Benefits of Attachment Parenting?
The reason I used the word alleged in this article subtitle is because I believe that a healthy dose of skepticism and scientific inquiry is essential to being well-informed as well as essential to making important decisions. Fortunately, there has been scientific research into the benefits that can be gained by using this parenting method. Studies have demonstrated that children who have been attachment parented receive the following benefits. These children, in the short-term, have been observed to be:
2) Able to advance more quickly from a developmental perspective
3) Less colicky and/or able to be comforted more quickly and easily
4) Healthier (with a dramatic reduction in SIDS in this population)
5) To have enhanced non-verbal communication between their parents and themselves
6) Are more independent and self-confident. (That's right, the paradox at the heart of attachment parenting is that children become independent and self-confident).
The long-term benefits of attachment parenting have demonstrated that children who grew up in this type of environment have developed a natural emotional resilience to life's challenges. So, as adults, when life's storms come along and/or an adult faces a great loss, he or she is able to weather the storm more effectively instead of falling into a deep state of anxiety or depression. At its core, attachment parenting is an investment in your child's current and even future emotional well-being.
Finally, if it is still difficult to picture what attachment parenting might look like, let me provide you with an example of children who experienced the very opposite of attachment parenting. (Sometimes when we look at contrasts, we can understand a new concept more clearly.) If you happened to be alive in the late 1980's and early 1990's when the Berlin Wall fell, you likely would have seen the various stories on the news about children who had been in orphanages in the former Soviet block nations. The most poignant example of these children were found in Romanian orphanages. At the time, and due to lack of government funding, lack of staff, and lack of almost everything, orphans (as young as newborns) were placed in solitary cribs in rooms full of other babies. Due to the lack of staff and funding in orphanages, these babies were only attended to very briefly each day and basic needs to food and diaper changes were rarely met adequately. Many children actually passed away due to this, while others did not develop normally. When conditions in these orphanages became apparent to the world, thankfully Westerners came in to adopt many of these children and to relieve burdens on orphanages. Though many of these children were brought into loving homes, the damage in the first months of life had already been done. I know a woman who adopted one of these children, and even after years of therapy, her daughter still suffers reactive attachment disorder and many developmental problems.
The benefits of attachment parenting appear to be many and therefore are too numerous to discuss in one post. Therefore, I will be posting a series of different articles that describe in more detail each element that I have briefly discussed above. Please check back in several weeks as this content is currently being built and thank you for reading.