Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Attachment Parenting

I became familiar with Bowlby and Ainsworth's Attachment Theory during my coursework in psychology and researched it in more depth throughout the last year as I was working on my Master's in Counseling. In short, the theory posits that infants (and adults) develop an attachment to their primary caregivers. A "healthy" attachment is generally formed when parents respond sensitively and lovingly during interactions with the child. This is called "secure" attachment. Children who develop a secure attachment to their caregivers are comfortable exploring their environment--they often grow up to be leaders, high achievers, develop a sense of empathy for others, and have a positive self-concept, listing just a few of the many positive benefits.

When parents do not respond or barely respond to a child, the child may develop an "avoidant" attachment, where he or she avoids contact with the caregiver. If the caregiver is inconsistent, being loving at one moment and neglectful the next, the child may develop an "ambivalent" attachment, where he or she is distressed when the parent leaves but then, upon the parent's return, acts angry and reluctant to interact with the parent. Finally, children can have a "disorganized" attachment, displaying contradictory responses to the parent's interactions...children who display this attachment style often have parents who are highly intrusive, frightening, and abusive.

Obviously, most parents would strive to raise a child who is securely attached. While an early insecure attachment does not necessarily mean that the child will never develop secure relationships with others, if this style continues throughout childhood and into adulthood, it is more likely that the person will have difficulty forming healthy relationships, developing a positive social identity, and makes them more vulnerable to high risk behaviors (drinking, drugs, sex). The children with the worst outcomes are those labelled "disorganized." These children are often aggressive or completely withdrawn and are more likely to develop personality disorders and abusive tendencies in adulthood.

Therefore, as parents, Brian and I have decided to do our best at raising a securely attached baby girl. Attachment Parenting has emerged from Attachment Theory and it lists 8 Principles of Parenting (according to Attachment Parenting International), developed to create strong and caring connections between parents and children.

1. Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting
It is important for parents to prepare themselves emotionally for the arrival of their little bundle of joy, as well as to educate themselves on the stages of child development and develop realistic expectations.

2. Feed with Love and Respect
As we all know, breastfeeding is the most ideal way to feed an infant, because it creates closeness and gives the baby "skin to skin" contact. However, as I discovered when I was unable to get Lily to breastfeed, bottle feeding can still meet these needs if the parent holds the child closely and mimics breastfeeding behaviors.

3. Respond with Sensitivity
Develop a strong and trusting relationship with your child early. Listen to what the baby is "telling" you and respond appropriately. Babies and toddlers need to learn how to regulate their emotions properly, and they learn from the way their parents respond. Responding with sensitivity encourages empathy and trust in others.

4. Use Nurturing Touch
A loving touch makes a baby feel loved, secure, and meets a baby's need for physical contact. So, give your baby all the hugs and kisses that you want!!

5. Ensure Safe Sleep, both Emotionally and Physically
Be responsive to your baby's needs throughout the night. This might mean that you need to re-evaluate your sleeping arrangements. Is your baby comfortable in their crib/bed? Are you comfortable with a co-sleeping arrangement?

6. Provide Consistent and Loving Care
Continually show your child that you love them. Keep them on a flexible schedule and, if seeking outside childcare, pick someone who will be able to develop a strong relationship with the child.

7. Practice Positive Discipline
Don't just react to behavior--figure out what is causing it. Work with the child to create solutions to the problem and this will help the child develop a conscience and internal model for behavior while, at the same time, allows the parent to be empathetic and loving towards the child. This is why we choose not to spank...

8. Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life
In order to take care of your family well, it is important to take care of yourself! This will help you respond better to each family members' individual needs and help you be more emotionally responsive.

This is our chosen style of parenting. We realize there are other methods and styles used by people that we love; ultimately, each family needs to discover what works best for them and allows them to become a loving and productive family system.

1 comment:

Marathon Bound said...

Erica, this was really enlightening and interesting to read. Thanks for sharing all that research!
--Natalie Giguere