Theories of Attachment Parenting

Attachment parenting is a phrase that was originally coined by Dr. Sears. His description of this style of parenting was based on the principles of attachment theory. According to this theory there is a strong emotional bond between child and parent in early childhood. This secure attachment is a precursor to empathetic relationships in adulthood. Dr. Sears believed that a lack of this secure attachment in early childhood would result in a reactive attachment disorder as the child matured.

Theories and practice of attachment parenting has been studied extensively for the past 60 years by psychologists, child development professionals and researchers studying the activity of the brain. All of these studies have pointed to one specific factor which is that the infant brain is ‘hard-wired’ with strong needs to be nurtured by a physically present and emotional close primary caregiver.

All of the baby’s activities of crying, clinging and sucking are early techniques the baby uses to keep their mother or caregiver close by. The emotional needs and neurological development of a newborn is improved when the child’s basic needs are met. Then as the child grows older and is more secure in their relationship with their caregiver they are able to explore their environment and develop strong bonds with other people in their life.

Although there are several goals or rules that have sprung up since the initial description and encouragement of this type of parenting style, Dr. Sears didn’t require parents to follow strict rules. Instead, Dr. Sears encouraged parents who were working with him to focus on being creative in their responses to their child’s needs.

There are a number of goals or basic principles of attachment parenting that have grown around the initial development. The first of these principles are that the mother will prepare for the developing pregnancy and ultimate birth of the child. When mom has researched what will really happen she’ll be better able to set realistic goals for herself and her partner.

The second principle is to feed the child with love and respect. Functionally this means making the best possible food choices for the infant. Although breastfeeding is the optimal way to feed an infant to meet both neurological and nutritional needs bottle feeding can also be adapted to help initiate a secure attachment. Taking the cues for feeding infants and children will help them to learn to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full.

When infants are born their neurological system isn’t fully developed. Because their brains and peripheral nerves don’t function fully they need help to self-soothe or calm down from patient and empathetic parents. Responding sensitively to an infant or child who is hurt, hungry or upset will help them to learn how to calm themselves as they develop and grow.

Nighttime parenting may be tough and tiresome but it also some of the best moments to bond strongly with an infant. Infants have needs at night just as they do during the daytime. They get lonely, cold, hungry or get too hot. Using some of the more popular sleep training techniques can have a detrimental effect on the later development of a child. While these techniques may not be the answer, young children are also able to manipulate their environment well so parents must be sensitive and empathetic addressing the child’s needs while being firm if these nightly outbursts become more of a habit than a need.

Infants have a need for consistent care giving, primarily from a parent. If another care giver must be used, then try to introduce them to the baby slowly so a relationship may develop between the child and the care giver. Ensure positive discipline between all care givers. One strong principle of attachment parenting is that the parent provides positive discipline. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t any discipline but rather that the discipline that is applied is done so in an empathetic and loving manner that respects the strengths and weaknesses of the child. While infants should never be disciplined, children require communication and discipline that will help them change behavior while keeping everyone’s dignity in place.

The last principle of attachment parenting is for the parents to keep a balanced personal and family life. It is much easier to emotionally responsive to an infant or child when the adult feels balanced and emotionally fed. Ways to accomplish this goal is to create a support network of friends. Set realistic goals for yourself and the family and don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ when the commitment will take away from your ability to care for your family.

These values are interpreted by parents in a variety of different ways. Some parents include natural childbirth, home births, co-sleeping, natural health, homeschooling, or organic foods as falling within the parameters of these principles. But they weren’t designed to justify behaviors. Rather they were guidelines to help parents understand how becoming emotionally attached to their child could help to improve the child’s ability to relate to people as they grew.

In fact, the theory is based on the needs of people to be in relationship with other people. And because children are people, albeit little people, they also benefit from being in secure and stable relationships with their parents.

Discover more great articles on parenting advice on Dr. Swanson’s website. And while you are there, get signed up for his FREE Newsletter on child behavior!

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