The term attachment parenting is becoming a lot more mainstream today. More and more parents realize there are great benefits in listening to the real needs of our young children. You may already practice attachment parenting without even knowing it. You may wear your baby in a sling. You may be breastfeeding and sharing a bed with your infant. You may get down to your toddler’s eye level and speak softly to them to get a point across. These are the more obvious examples of attachment parenting.
But what about other real situations where you can listen to the needs of your child? Here are four specific examples with explanations of how an attached parent may respond and how a conventional parent may respond to their child or take advantage of the moment to benefit the child. Of course, not all conventional parents respond the same way, so do not take offense. You may be someone that may be intuitively practicing attachment parenting without even knowing it.
Nighttime Fears: Your child is afraid of the dark or unwilling to sleep in his room by himself. A conventional parent may leave the child to cry until he or she falls asleep. The parent may say “Look, there is nothing to be afraid of, things are the same in the dark as they are in the light [cue light switch]!” This approach usually doesn’t alleviate the fears, but leaves the child to hopelessly cope with his fears himself and to lose trust in the protection of his parents. If the child learns he can’t trust his parents with his fears, that surely will not change in the teenage years and will bite back. An attachment parent may see this as an opportunity to connect and build on the trust of the child. The parent may take the child into his own bed for the time being, after all – parents always emphasize how fast kids grow up! The parent may lay down next to his child in his room, tell him a story, and stay with him until he falls asleep. An attachment parent doesn’t leave the child to cry, acknowledging that the child’s fears are very real to him and when ignored will undermine the trust between parent and child.
Household Activities and Chores: A conventional parent may sit their baby down with some toys for the sake of getting work done around the house. An attachment parent may wear an infant in a carrier while cleaning or with older children, engage them in chores as play. This may mean the toddler is mixing the cookie dough, helping mom ‘sweep’ the floor or vacuum, or dusting with her very own rag or dust cloth. The attachment parent realizes that even though this kind of ‘help’ may temporarily hamper getting chores done effectively, it can help the child learn, bond with the parent, feel needed and helpful, and have fun at the same time. This cannot be said for a child who is left alone to himself because he is a ‘burden’ to the conventional parent. I think many parents do a little bit of both. Personally, on a daily basis I mostly have my toddler engage in chores with me, but of course there are moments I just need something done when company is coming – that’s when she is welcome to
Toddlers Being Slow: You know what I’m talking about? Your kid stops to smell a flower, to look at a bird, to listen to music coming from somewhere, or he needs that extra moment to finish what he is doing. A conventional parent may tug at his arm and say “Let’s go, we don’t have time!” or “We’re going to be late!” If you practice attachment parenting you may stop with your child and smell that flower with them or tell them about that bird. You might say “Another minute sweetie and we have to go, okay? Grandma is waiting for us.” One minute may not make much of a difference at how late you are, but it will make a world of a difference to your toddler when they aren’t hurried and when they feel that their interests are important.
Disobedience: Something toddlers are very good at, right? How do we react when boundaries are broken by our child? Most parents may raise their voice or even yell. They may think of punishment right away. An attachment parent may feel this is a great opportunity to teach cause and effect without resorting to harsh punishment at that moment. First, an attachment parent may examine what just happened to make sure he wasn’t the cause of the child’s disobedience. How often does it happen that our kids disobey because we demand something from them at the most inconvenient moment? You would throw a tantrum too if say you were wholly absorbed in doing your taxes and your wife or husband said “Come to the dinner table right this minute!” I’ve noticed many times that my toddler disobeyed me not because she wanted to, but because of the way I disrupted an activity she was genuinely interested in. So much conflict can be avoided if you just give them a minute to finish what they are doing or thinking. An attachment parent may talk to the child more than punish, asking questions like “Do you know why you were angry with me?” or “Can you tell me what made you upset?” Punishment is reserved for the time after a child fully understands the reason why what he did was wrong. Of course if your child is running across the street without you or reaching for a hot burner, it calls for immediate reaction. But we are talking about moments when the child just wants someone to acknowledge his or her feelings because he doesn’t yet understand them himself.
Do we spoil our children by practicing attachment parenting? Of course not. How else would you teach a child? To teach them to love you have to be loving. To teach them empathy you have to be empathetic. To teach them trust you have to show them you are trustworthy. To teach them balance in life, you have to display it yourself. We cannot expect our children to behave if we ourselves display behavior we wouldn’t want to see from them. A child is spoiled by possessions and having their way, not love and attention. I find that children who grow up having their feelings ignored and not understood, are lost as adults. They continue through life seeking approval from people around them and not knowing what they want or realizing their own potential. Children who are listened to and who are close to their parents tend to grow into more independent adults who know their potential and follow their dreams without constantly seeking approval from society.
We practice attachment parenting on one income, but even with both parents working it is possible if loving childcare providers are available. What is your parenting style?