Why I chose an Attachment Parenting Style, and why it matters.
Updated: Oct 22, 2021
As a parent, I have always prioritized my children's health, safety and happiness. You could say, we have a child-centered household. If you came to our home, you would see a house that looks like an explosion of toys and art supplies.
When the weekend rolls around, I am apt to be seen taking my kids to a jumpy castle, the rec center or the park. Or, if we are at home, we might all be swimming together, making a craft or watching cartoons all day.
Why do I focus on my kids? Because I subscribe to the philosophy of Attachment Parenting. I know for some people the idea of Attachment Parenting can sound sort of cringe-worthy because of what we may have heard in the media, but it is actually a very science based approach!
What is Attachment Parenting?
Attachment Parenting, also called Authoritative Parenting in the Child Psychology world, is one of four parenting styles outlined in research by Bowlby and Ainsworth. The four parenting styles are Authoritarian, Authoritative, Permissive and Neglectful. These are all based on a continuum of responsiveness and demandingness.
Responsiveness means that the parent responds to the child's needs. Demandingness means that the parent sets high standards for the child. The Authoritative (Attachment) parent is high in both of these categories.
According to Psychology Today, Attachment Parenting with babies has 4 basic principles:
Co-sleeping - either in the same room as parents or (with appropriate safety precautions) in the same bed. This may involve having bedtime occur on the child’s, not the parent’s, schedule.
Feeding on demand - allowing the child to set the timing of feeding (whether breast- or bottle-fed), along with self-weaning.
Holding and touching - keeping the child physically near, whether through cuddling and cradling, or by wearing on a front- or backpack arrangement.
Responsiveness to crying - not letting the child “cry it out,” but instead intervening early in the crying bout, reacting to the child’s distress before it gets out of control. (The 4 Principles of Attachment Parenting and Why They Work | Psychology Today)
All of these principles of Attachment Parenting are important with newborns, because a child forms the attachment to their caregiver by about 6 months of age. A child who is securely attached to their parent or other caregiver will be more successful in other relationships, than children who are not.
As children become older, they will learn to do more things on their own naturally. Children will feel more safe to explore the world and try new things when they feel safe and sure in their relationship with their parents. These are children who are confident in knowing that they are loved unconditionally.
Fulfilling the needs for Love and Safety
By being responsive to our children's needs, we help them to build trust in the parent-child relationship. Trust that we will always be there when they need us allows children to feel safe. They know that even when they make mistakes, or occasionally disappoint us, we will still love them.
We love our children because of who they are, not what they do.
Conversely, when children feel like they are constantly having to prove themselves to their parents to "earn their love" this can lead to perfectionism, or people pleasing in later relationships. When children are constantly in fear of losing the love and safety of their parental relationships, this can cause a great deal of insecurity and anxiety.
Parents who withhold love from their children create an intrinsic fear in the child that their worth stems only from achievements, and not who they are as a person. This can leave them feeling constantly fearful of other people's opinions, instead of trying to form their own opinions.
One of the reasons that I advocate so much against this type of Authoritarian parenting approach is that it was the type of household that I grew up in as a child. I am a childhood trauma survivor and I have PTSD. Of course this is a very extreme consequence of negative parenting, but the experiences that I had as a child haunt me. I never want another child to go through the fear and sadness that I have experienced. That is one reason that I started this blog!
The need for safety is one of our most basic as human beings, and from an evolutionary perspective we can see this in the fight or flight response.
Small children are dependent on their parents to care for them, and when they can't trust that they will always receive the care they need, they will learn that the world is full of danger. Children who don't feel safe at home can become anxious, because they will have an intensified fight or flight response.
Meeting our children's needs, and making them feel safe, is not spoiling them!
The basic principle behind Attachment Parenting is that the parent becomes a secure base from which the child can move with confidence to explore the world.
Unfortunately in some circles, fulfilling a child's needs for love and safety is considered spoiling them. We provide for our children's needs for shelter, food, and education without question. Yet when it comes to the need for love and responsiveness, it's ok in the eyes of society for that to be conditional.
Attachment Parenting with Older Children
As children grow older, into elementary school, high school and beyond, their needs change. We can still be responsive to their needs as parents.
We can meet our older children's needs for love and safety, as well as their needs for autonomy and growth. As children get older, we teach them how to problem solve and be more self-sufficient. When this happens, they will need us less and less.
This doesn't mean that they don't need us at all.
Needs of older kids are different. They may need us to help with difficult homework problems. Or, they may need us as a sounding board for problems in relationships with peers and teachers.
Being responsive to these needs doesn't mean being a helicopter parent and following them around to fix all their problems. In the context of an older child or teen, being responsive means creating an environment of openness, where they know they can talk to us about anything without judgement.
With teens, sometimes being responsive means just being available to listen and let them vent. This is often true of my older daughter, and if she is telling me about a particularly difficult situation, I will ask her if she wants me to do something about it. Often the answer is no. She is more and more able to solve her own problems, she just wants me to be a listening ear and a compassionate heart.
Impact of Attachment on Later Relationships
When children have a healthy and secure relationship with their parents, they are more likely to have healthy relationships later in life. (Bowlby & Ainsworth: What Is Attachment Theory? (verywellmind.com))
Relationships based on trust are key to our happiness in life.
While looking back at my own childhood experiences, I realized that my relationships with my parents had created an unhealthy template for my relationships later in life. Basically, because I was alternately abused and neglected by my parents, I had found a relationship with my ex-husband that closely mirrored my relationships with my parents.
Victims of abuse often go from one abusive relationship to another.
After suffering multiple traumas throughout my life, I now have cPTSD (Complex PTSD). I had a low self-image, which made me allow people to treat me badly.
I got into bad relationships because I thought I was a bad person.
Conversely, creating healthy attachments in our relationships with our own children, we are able to set them up for success later in life. I have strived to create relationships with my children based on care and trust, because it was so badly missing in my own childhood.
If you haven't already, you can also check out my related blog postings:
Little People Have Big Feelings (millenialmom.net)
Teaching Kids Positive Self Talk (millenialmom.net)
Let me know in the comments what you think about attachment parenting, and how you think these ideas can be used with your kids!