Attachment parenting isn’t just a new age parenting choice. It is no more tree hugging, chai-sipping, or mungbean eating than any other parenting style. It doesn’t have to translate to baby wearing 24/7, tandem feeding, co-sleeping, or breastfeeding to the age of five. Put simply, attachment parenting really refers to the mother’s ability to consciously follow and respond to her baby’s cues accordingly. Otherwise referred to as emotionally available parenting, natural/instinctive parenting, secure attachment, or attunement.
When a mother pays attention to their baby’s expressions, they communicate their understanding and acknowledgment of their child’s feelings, thoughts, and actions, strengthening the mother-baby bond. This assists brain development and creates the foundation for emotional intelligence and the negotiation of all social interactions in later life.
It has been proven that children feel more secure, and grow up to be more emotionally and socially stable when they are understood as infants and have established a secure attachment with their mother – or main caregiver. Contrary to popular cultural beliefs, close attachment to the mother remains crucially important to children through the toddler and early childhood years.
Fostering healthy attachment is the key to healthy babies, and healthy babies are the key to healthy adults. And don’t we all want to bring our kids up to be healthy, happy, well-adjusted individuals?
Some examples of how we can encourage secure attachment include:
- Acknowledging your babies need for a fourth trimester during their first three months of life
- Connecting with age-appropriate play to help your child explore and learn
- Plenty of eye contact, and warm attention
- Regular quality time and listening to encourage safety and security
- Responding (in a timely manner) to your child’s cries and efforts to communicate
- Meeting your child’s primary needs promptly and appropriately e.g. hunger, holding, warmth, clean nappy*
- Acknowledging your baby’s tired cues and placing them to sleep accordingly
- Being sensitive to your baby’s emotional, physical and developmental stages and responding to their needs accordingly
- Offering comfort and safety when your baby is fearful or in pain
* Following the fourth trimester (three months onward), it is important that we do not fall into the pattern of feeding or “pacifying” our child every time they grizzle or cry. When we have met their primary need for hunger and holding – among others – children have an innate need to cry in order to release stress and tension and recover from hurts and early trauma (e.g. birth trauma, hospitalisation, surgery, parental separation).
For example, some children may cry to express their frustration associated with being unable to effectively grasp and object, or move their body from “A to B”. As parents, we can nurture our child’s independence whilst respecting their need for learning and emotional release by validating their experience e.g. “I can see you are trying so hard to crawl darling. You are doing so well, you will get there. I am here for you, and I love you”. Pay attention to what your child needs in that moment. Are they crying because they are hungry? If they trying hard to crawl in the moment to no avail, then probably not. Acknowledging – and listening to – our children instead of instinctively distracting them. feeding them, or placing a dummy in their mouth when they start to become upset is the very true definition of attunement and “attachment parenting”. This is not only essential for obtaining emotional equilibrium – but is the most effective antidote for ongoing sleep regression and behavioural difficulties – especially during times of developmental change and transition.