Attachment Parenting is the term coined by Dr. William Sears and his wife Martha to describe a highly responsive, attentive style of caring for a child. The essence of Attachment Parenting is about forming nurturing strong connections between parents and their children.
Attachment parenting promotes physical and emotional closeness between parent and child through the eight principles of parenting. All of these principles are aimed at promoting a trusting, intuitive relationship between parents and baby through the physical and emotional closeness that makes it easier to know and appropriately respond to the baby’s needs.
- Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting
The way baby and parents get started with one another helps the early attachment unfold. Start by becoming emotionally and physically prepared for pregnancy and birth. Research available options for healthcare providers and birthing environments, and become informed about newborn care. A close attachment after birth and beyond allows the natural, biological attachment-promoting behaviors of the infant and the intuitive, biological caregiving qualities of the parent to come together.
- Feeding with Love and Respect
Breastfeeding is the optimal way to satisfy and infant’s nutritional and emotional needs. “Bottle Nursing” adapts breastfeeding behaviors to bottle-feeding to help initiate a secure attachment. Follow the feeding cues for both infants and children, encouraging them to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. Offer healthy food choices and model healthy eating behavior.
- Respond with Sensitivity
Build the foundation of trust and empathy beginning in infancy. Tune in to what your child is communicating to you, then respond consistently and appropriately. Babies cannot be expected to self-soothe, they need calm and loving, empathetic parents to help them learn to regulate their emotions. Respond sensitively to a child who is hurting or expressing strong emotion, and share in their joy.
- Use Nurturing Touch
Touch meets a baby’s needs for physical contact, affection, security, stimulation and movement. Skin-to-skin contact is especially effective, such as during breastfeeding, bathing or massage. Carrying or babywearing also meets this need while on the go. Hugs, snuggling, back rubs, massage, and physical play help meet this need in older children.
- Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally
Babies and children have needs at night just as they do during the day; from hunger, loneliness, and fear, to feeling too hot or too cold. They rely on parents to soothe them and help them regulate their intense emotions. Sleep training techniques can have detrimental physiological and psychological effects. Safe co-sleeping has benefits to both babies and parents.
- Provide Consistent and Loving Care
Babies and young children have an intense need for the physical presence of a consistent, loving, responsive caregiver: ideally a parent. If it becomes necessary, choose and alternative caregiver who has formed a bond with the child and who cares for him in a way that strengthens the attachment relationship. Keep schedules flexible, and minimize stress and fear during short separations.
- Practice Positive Discipline
Positive discipline helps a child develop a conscience guided by his own internal discipline and compassion for others. Discipline that is empathetic, loving, and respectful strengthens the connection between parent and child. Rather than reacting to behavior, discover the needs leading to the behavior. Communicate and craft solutions together while keeping everyone’s dignity intact.
- Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life
It is easier to be emotionally responsive when you feel in balance. Create a support network, set realistic goals, put people before things, and don’t be afraid to say “no”. Recognize individual needs within the family and meet them to the greatest extent possible without compromising your physical and emotional health. Be creative, have fun with parenting, and take time to care for yourself.
While some people might see these principles as a set of rules they must follow, they are just recommended tools that can and should be individualized for each family and parenting situation. Parenting is too individual and too complex for there to only be one way. Attachment parenting is the style that many parents use instinctively anyway. The important point is to get connected to your baby and once connected to stick with what is working and modify what is not. Ultimately you will develop your own parenting style.
Compiled by Holly Keich, LSW & Owner of Om Baby Pregnancy & Parenting Center.