Attached Babies Grow Into Confident Adults

February 7, 2010
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I often get blank stares when I mention the term attachment parenting. People want to know what it is and how it works.

The simplest way to explain attachment parenting is to describe it as parenting from the heart. At its most fundamental level, attachment parenting means being responsive to your baby’s needs. It means following your baby’s cues and not artificial schedules that have been passed down from detached professionals.

Also called intuitive parenting, instinctive parenting, natural parenting, immersion parenting and continuum concept parenting, attachment parenting advocates keeping baby close to you most of the time, breastfeeding on demand, sharing your bed with baby, holding baby often and wearing baby in a sling.

Popularised in the early eighties by pediatrician William Sears, co-author of The Attachment Parenting Book : A Commonsense Guide to Understanding and Nurturing Your Baby, this parenting style fosters a close connection between parent and baby and produces babies who are securely attached.

However, long before Dr Sears coined the term, many cultures were already practising some variation of it. For example, young infants have traditionally been carried in baby slings and kept close to their mothers most of the time as the mothers went about their daily work.

Attachment parenting is based on the pioneering work of British psychiatrist John Bowlby, whose much studied attachment theory states that a young child needs to develop a secure relationship with at least one primary caregiver for social and emotional development to occur normally.

Researchers SM Bell and Mary Ainsworth have found by tracking two groups of parents and their babies for a year—one group practised attachment parenting and the other did not—that babies who are securely attached grew up to be more independent than those who are not.

Dr Sears believes that every baby has a critical level of need for touch and nurturing in order to reach his full potential physically, emotionally and mentally.

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He says: “We believe that babies have the ability to teach their parents what level of parenting they need. It’s up to the parents to listen, and it’s up to professionals to support the parents’ confidence and not undermine it by advising a more distant style of parenting, such as “let your baby cry it out” or “you’ve got to put him down more”.

“Only the baby knows his or her level of need; and the parents are the ones that are best able to read their baby’s language.

“Babies who are “trained” not to express their needs may appear to be docile, compliant, or “good” babies. Yet these babies could be depressed babies who are shutting down the expression of their needs, and they may become children who don’t ever speak up to get their needs met and eventually become the highest-need adults.”

When my daughter was hardly a year old, a friend’s domestic helper told me that it was a good thing to let babies cry it out and not respond if it was not yet time for their feed. In Indonesia, she said, people believed that crying helped strengthen baby’s lungs and was, therefore, good for baby’s health.

I’m glad I chose to follow my instincts instead.  When our baby’s cries are not answered, they will necessarily cry louder and harder, certainly in a more upsetting way, and collapse into withdrawal when spent. Over an extended period of not having her needs met, baby is likely to get angry and hostile, which makes the job of looking after her an unpleasant one.

Parent and child find no joy in the relationship and this sets up a self-defeating downward spiral into detachment that reinforces itself with each interaction. Unconnected kids tend to be clingy, anxious, angry, dependent and less self-confident.

Connected kids, on the other hand, are generally a joy to look after—they are trusting with an inner sense of well-being, considerate, adaptable, affectionate and confident.

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Just as in the case of breastfeeding and homeschooling, attachment parenting has garnered many supporters and practitioners amongst parents in recent years. But as it has grown in popularity, so has it drawn criticisms from detractors who fear that it may be too strenuous and demanding on parents.

Think about it this way: would you walk away from an aged parent requesting a glass of water at an inconvenient time? Would you ignore a friend’s call for help in the middle of the night?

When we allow our intuition and our hearts to guide our actions as parents, we align ourselves with the needs of our children. We feel connected to them and know instinctively that what we are doing is the right thing.

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