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What is attachment parenting?

By Lisa Poisso

As a philosophy of parenting, attachment parenting almost begs off having a name by its very definition. Also known as “instinctive parenting,” “intuitive parenting” and “natural parenting,” AP is fundamentally a relationship rather than a strategy, an act rather than a style.

“When I first began using the term ‘attachment parenting’ nearly 20 years ago, I felt ridiculous giving a name to a style of baby care that parents would naturally practice if they followed their own intuition rather than listening to the advice of others,” says William Sears, M.D., the internationally known pediatrician who originally coined the term “attachment parenting.”

Attachment parenting is a holistic style of parenting that emphasizes parent-child bonding. AP allows children to move through developmental stages at a natural pace, unhurried by modern pressures for “early independence” or separation from their parents and family. More and more studies are showing that AP strategies maximize children’s neurological and emotional development.

The seven baby B’s
Sensitive, responsive physical and emotional bonds between parents and their babies lie at the heart of attachment parenting. Dr. Sears cites seven basic “B’s” for parent/child pairs just getting started:

· Birth bonding
· Breastfeeding
· Babywearing
· Bedding close to baby
· Believing in the language value of your baby’s cry
· Beware of baby trainers
· Balance

Respecting children’s needs
These practices center on respecting the intense biological and dependency needs of babies and young children. The overall effect is one of mutual trust, respect and deep commitment. AP parents believe that babies cry not to manipulate but to communicate intense physical or emotional needs. By responding quickly, consistently and compassionately, they hope to build confident, kind, emotionally secure children who rely on people rather than things or activities to fulfill their inner needs.

But what about the needs of everyone else in the family? Doesn’t all this intense attention spoil children and chain parents to years of servitude to their babies? In a word, no. Effective AP families are family-centered, not child-centered; they take into consideration the needs of everyone in the family. The key to building a successful family life is to include children rather than focusing on them, avoiding what noted anthropologist Jean Liedloff calls “the unhappy consequences of being child-centered.”

Early patterns of open communication, trust and mutual respect play a vital role in children’s development all the way through the teen years. AP parents trust their children to pass through developmental stages naturally, at their own paces. Older children develop emotional stability and independence naturally, because their childhood needs have been met.

So what about all this other stuff?
Exploring AP resources turns up a host of other topics, some closely related to parenting and others where the connection is not so clear: cloth diapering, herbal and homeopathic medicine, whole foods and vegetarianism, homeschooling and more. Most of these areas can be categorized as “natural parenting.”

Is natural parenting a necessary part of attached parenting? Absolutely not! Many families who are attracted to attachment parenting are also interested in natural, holistic lifestyles. Natural parenting strategies, however, are not irreplaceable components of an AP repertoire. The key to successful attachment parenting is how parents and children actually relate—not how “crunchy granola” their lifestyles may or may not be.

This article originally appeared in the new magazine Momming By Heart.

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Written by Lisa Poisso, Natural Family Online editor. See more about Lisa.

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"The media have become the mainstream culture in children's lives. Parents have become the alternative. Americans once expected parents to raise their children in accordance with the dominant cultural messages. Today they are expected to raise their children in opposition to it."
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