Deciding on the best parenting style is one of the most important choices you will make before the arrival of your new baby.
However, there is a lot of debate amongst child psychologists and parents regarding the best strategy for bringing up healthy children. One of these long standing debates is that around attachment parenting.
Many parenting strategies that have become commonplace over the course of history have, in recent years, been proven to be ineffective and even damaging to a child’s development and wellbeing.
For example, experts have recently declared that forcing babies to self-soothe when crying (a strategy that many parents adopt with the aim of helping their children to become emotionally intelligent and independent) can be very harmful.
This is because babies do not actually have the ability to truly self-soothe, so trying to impose this can have negative psychological and even physical consequences.
As this example demonstrates, even parenting decisions that are made with the best of intentions can ultimately hinder a child’s healthy development.
Following the rise of Attachment Theory in the 1950s, a form of parenting known as Attachment Parenting gained popularity in the United States – although the foundation of this parenting style dates back to the work of British psychiatrist John Bowlby in the 1930s.
Attachment Parenting aims to understand a child’s needs and respond to those needs from a place of emotional connection between parent and child. But what exactly is Attachment Parenting, and is it right for you? Read on to find out.
What Is Attachment Parenting?
At its core, Attachment Parenting is a parenting method that centralizes the importance of a strong emotional bond, communication, understanding, and respect between parent and child.
While Attachment Theory and Attachment Parenting are not one and the same, Attachment Parenting is based on the psychological principles of Attachment Theory.
Attachment Theory states that there are various attachment styles, and that these attachment styles stem from early childhood experiences.
The four main attachment styles are Secure, Anxious (or Preoccupied), Avoidant (or Dismissive), and Disorganized (sometimes also referred to as Fearful-Avoidant).
Research into Attachment Theory suggests that an Anxious or Preoccupied attachment style is caused by a fear of abandonment, which can be the result of feeling abandoned in childhood.
Meanwhile, a Dismissive attachment style is thought to be the result of repeated rejection and insufficient comfort as a child – possibly from emotionally unavailable parents.
Disorganized attachment is most commonly caused by inconsistency in parenting. For example, if a child has one very affectionate parent and one extremely detached parent, Disorganized attachment may occur.
Psychologists have theorized that Secure (healthy) attachment is more likely to occur in children (and adults) whose parents are consistently responsive, attentive, and both physically and emotionally present.
Proponents of Attachment Parenting suggest that this parenting style is the best way to achieve Secure attachment.
One of the main premises of Attachment Parenting is that physical closeness between parents and their children helps to create a stronger bond while allowing parents to be more responsive to the child’s needs due to increased physical proximity.
In Attachment Parenting, a baby or child’s cries are not seen as misbehavior or a problem to be ‘fixed’. Rather, parents who practice Attachment Parenting view their child’s cries as a method of communicating a physical or emotional need.
Instead of focusing on stopping the crying, Attachment Parenting encourages parents to seek out the underlying cause of the crying and address the unmet need.
Attachment Parenting has become more popular in recent years, with groups such as Attachment Parenting International gaining more members every year.
Features Of Attachment Parenting
We’ve covered the basic principles of Attachment Parenting, but what does this parenting style actually look like in practice?
It’s important to note that Attachment Parenting can take many different forms, and it may look slightly different from one parent to another. However, there are some behaviors and parenting techniques that Attachment Parenting experts widely recommend:
1. Skin-To-Skin Bonding
This is one of the first Attachment Parenting techniques used by many parents practicing this type of parenting. In fact, parents all over the world engage in skin-to-skin bonding with their children without recognizing it as a form of Attachment Parenting because it’s an incredibly intuitive and natural experience.
Skin-to-skin bonding time encourages children to bond with their parents through physical closeness and promotes feelings of safety and security.
2. Unscheduled Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding (if you are able to) is a great way to bond with your baby through skin-to-skin time while physically nurturing and nourishing your child.
It is even better if you can breastfeed on demand rather than adhering to a strict schedule. On-demand breastfeeding centralizes the baby’s needs and encourages responsiveness from the parent, which is one of the cornerstones of Attachment Parenting.
However, if you are not able to breastfeed or simply do not feel that breastfeeding is the right choice for you, that’s okay! There are plenty more Attachment Parenting techniques you can employ to help your child feel safe and loved.
Baby-wearing is another Attachment Parenting method that encourages physical proximity.
Carrying your baby against your body when going about your day-to-day life (running errands, for example) allows you to keep your child close so that you feel more connected to them and they feel safe knowing that you are near.
If breastfeeding is not for you, baby-wearing is an excellent alternative when it comes to providing comfort and nurturing your infant through closeness.
4. Co-Sleeping / Bed Sharing
Many parents who engage in Attachment Parenting also choose to co-sleep or bed-share with their baby.
This is a divisive method, as we’ll explain later, but the purpose of sleeping with your baby in the same bed is to lessen the child’s anxiety while making it easier for the parent to notice and be responsive to any issues that arise during the night, such as respiratory problems.
5. Responsiveness To Crying
Parents can often become overwhelmed when dealing with a baby that cries a lot, but it’s important to remember that crying is a way for babies and children to express their physical or emotional needs.
‘Excessive’ crying is not the problem – it is a symptom of an underlying need that needs to be addressed.
Therefore, being responsive and attentive when your child cries is an important part of Attachment Parenting.
Of course, when a child reaches a certain age, they should learn to communicate their needs using their words. However, until a certain age, this is not possible. Additionally, older children model their communication methods on their parents.
This means that healthy emotional communication is created by the parents setting this example themselves rather than leaving an infant to ‘self-soothe’ (which experts have confirmed is not possible in newborns).
6. Emotional Sensitivity
Attachment Parenting also involves being emotionally sensitive and supportive when it comes to your child’s feelings and needs in general – not just when they are crying.
This means listening calmly when your child communicates their emotions to you and empathizing with them. Attachment Parenting supports validating a child’s feelings, even if the way in which they are expressing them is not ideal.
Reassuring your child that their feelings are valid and working together to find better ways of expressing that feeling in the future (as opposed to imposing harsh punishments or telling the child that they are wrong to feel a certain way) is a better method of improving behavior while strengthening the parent-child bond.
Remember, while some parents who use the Attachment Parenting method will adopt all of these strategies, others might only make use of two or three.
There is no right or wrong when it comes to how many of these practices you choose; the important thing is that your child feels connected, safe, and nurtured.
The Benefits Of Attachment Parenting
There are so many benefits to Attachment Parenting, which is why it has become so popular over the years.
One of the major advantages of Attachment Parenting over many other parenting methods is the fact that experts consider it an effective strategy for developing a Secure attachment style in childhood.
Secure attachment is characterized by a child who may well show some distress when separated from their parents but will be able to calm down quickly when reunited.
In adulthood, individuals with a Secure attachment style are more likely to have healthy, trusting relationships in all areas of their lives. Securely attached people have better self-awareness, higher levels of empathy, stronger relationships, and respond better in stressful situations.
Studies have shown (contrary to what some opponents of Attachment Parenting believe) that children who grew up with Attachment Parenting are less likely to display behavioral issues.
This may be because Attachment Parenting encourages healthy emotional expression through communication.
Attachment Parenting also results in better emotional regulation and healthier stress responses. Children parented using this method tend to score more highly in tests of intelligence and are usually more cognitively engaged.
Interestingly, children raised with Attachment Parenting also tend to be more independent later in life.
This is likely to be because when a child knows that their parents are a safe, secure, and consistent presence in their life, they feel more confident to venture out and explore the world.
Criticisms Of Attachment Parenting
Despite the numerous proven benefits of Attachment Parenting, there are still those who criticize the method and question its validity.
Perhaps the biggest criticism of Attachment Parenting is the idea that this parenting style will lead to anxious, overly dependent children because they are used to being so close to their parents.
However, as we outlined above, studies have shown that Attachment Parenting actually leads to more independent children thanks to a strong foundation of safety and security.
Specific practices that fall under the umbrella of Attachment Parenting have come under scrutiny. For example, some people question the safety of co-sleeping, wondering if it might increase the potential of injury or accidental suffocation.
However, research has shown that co-sleeping actually lowers the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and makes it easier for parents to notice if their child becomes ill or stops breathing during the night.
Another criticism of Attachment Parenting, which is sometimes valid, is that it’s easy to ‘overdo’ this parenting method. New parents often experience a lot of anxiety and put too much pressure on themselves.
These parents may, therefore, take it upon themselves to maintain near-constant contact with their baby, exhausting themselves and potentially emotionally smothering the child in the process.
With that being said, it’s also totally possible to practice Attachment Parenting in a way that is not excessive and maintains healthy boundaries between the parent and child.
For example, in a two-parent household, one parent could practice breastfeeding while the other commits to baby-wearing outside of the house. This allows each parent to bond with the baby without taking on all of the responsibility for physical closeness and affection all the time.
Even in a single-parent home, Attachment Parenting does not have to be a tiring, all-consuming experience. Simply being as responsive as you can to your child’s emotions and expressions and choosing a bonding method to commit to (for example, co-sleeping) constitutes Attachment Parenting.
Is Attachment Parenting Right for You?
Attachment Parenting has been known to produce excellent results in terms of mental health, behavior, and emotional intelligence in children. However, as with any parenting method, it won’t be for everyone – at least, every aspect of it won’t be.
If, for example, you are unable to or don’t want to breastfeed, know that you don’t need to do so in order to practice Attachment Parenting. You can pick and choose aspects of Attachment Parenting that seem right for you and your child – don’t listen to the scaremongers.
Ultimately, Attachment Parenting is about making sure that your child knows they are safe and loved through physical proximity and emotional responsiveness. If this is central to your parenting style, then congratulations, you are an Attachment Parent!
Attachment Parenting is a parenting style that focuses on understanding and meeting a child’s emotional and physical needs by prioritizing closeness and attentiveness early on.
It is thought that Attachment Parenting is one of the most effective methods of ensuring that a child develops a Secure attachment style, which leads to healthier relationships and better stress management.
Attachment Parenting often involves practices such as baby-wearing, co-sleeping, and breastfeeding, but it’s important to note that Attachment Parenting will look different for everyone and that there are no mandatory practices.
The important thing is to maintain emotional and physical closeness and attentiveness with your child.