Attachment Parenting 101: Nurturing Strong Bonds With Your Child

by Sarah Perowne
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Attachment parenting, often known as AP, has gained popularity over the last few years as a specific parenting pedagogy that promises a strong bond with children, helping them develop a secure attachment to their parents. Connection is key in attachment parenting, as every one of the 7 practices aims to strengthen security during the first few years of being a parent.

Stay with us, and we’ll discuss the history of attachment parenting, how it differs from gentle parenting, some common concerns many parents have, and how you can implement attachment parenting values at home.

mom breastfeeding baby photo credit: SDI Productions from Getty Images Signature via Canva.com
Photo credit: SDI Productions from Getty Images Signature via Canva.com

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Understanding Attachment Parenting & Attachment Styles

While many have heard of attachment parenting, it can be hard to distinguish between that and gentle parenting. So, what’s the difference? Both styles foster connection and aim to nurture strong bonds through a gentle approach of trust, love, and closeness; attachment parenting is, however, more specific in how to do this when your child is a baby, while gentle parenting is for lifelong use. Many parents who practice attachment principles go on to follow gentle parenting, though this isn’t always the case.

The 7 B’s of attachment parenting were first developed in the 1980s by pediatrician William Sears and his wife and registered nurse Martha. They are birth bonding, breastfeeding, baby-wearing, bedding close to the baby, belief in the baby’s cries, balance and boundaries, and last but not least, beware of baby trainers – i.e., mother’s instinct first.

Attachment parenting is closely informed by attachment theory. You’ve probably heard of the four attachment styles:

4 Attachment Styles

  • Anxious or preoccupied – anxious about being abandoned and needing lots of reassurance.
  • Avoidant or dismissive – may be emotionally distant and find it difficult to express emotions or be emotionally distant.
  • Secure – able to navigate relationships easily with confidence and independence. Is comfortable with independence and closeness.
  • Disorganized or fearful-avoidant – confused and disorganized in relationships, may find it hard to make and keep friends or relationships.

In fact, you may have even taken one of the many attachment style tests to better understand your own relationships. Though many factors contribute to different attachment styles, they are arguably developed and nurtured in childhood through how we are treated by our parents (greatly affecting how we relate and attach to others.)

For example, some argue that when a child is consistently left to cry for extended periods without reassurance, it may contribute to developing an avoidant or dismissive attachment style. This is because they lack the emotional support needed to express themselves effectively. On the other hand, kids given gestures of love and support during this time are more likely to develop a secure attachment to others because their needs were met.

If you want to use attachment parenting principles at home and become an AP, consider the following tips.

Using Attachment Parenting With Your Child At Home

Build a Strong Emotional Connection

A strong emotional connection is the cornerstone of AP.

This means attending to your child, their hunger signals, discomfort, and emotional distress. To further help your child, label their feelings and always validate their emotions by saying something like, “I can see that you feel angry,” this will make them feel understood and learn how to voice their emotions. A strong emotional connection, patience, and observation also help you to become more responsive toward your child’s emotions and needs.

Additionally, try to incorporate tools like a ring sling carrier, which can help facilitate this close bond, allowing you to keep your child physically close while tending to their needs throughout the day.

Positive Discipline in Attachment Parenting

When your child knows they can consistently depend on you to meet their needs, it helps them build a foundation of trust and emotional security. Respectful communication is another layer to this, so be honest and open about why you are upset with a certain behavior or action rather than relying on shouting and punishment.

Nurture Strong Bonds by Fostering Physical Closeness

Physical proximity is a hallmark of attachment parenting. Most AP parents co-sleep with their children until they are secure enough to sleep in their own bed and use baby carriers so babies are physically close to their caregivers. These practices can promote safety, closeness, warmth, and security. If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of co-sleeping, don’t worry; there are many other things you can do to encourage a secure attachment. You could consider skin-to-skin contact, babywearing as mentioned above, eye contact, keeping consistent routines, a fun tummy time, and spending quality playtime together.

Breastfeeding and Attachment Parenting

Breastfeeding has many benefits for both baby and mom; traditionally, attachment parenting is a huge advocate for it, and many AP parents who choose to breastfeed will continue to do so until the infant is a child. While breastfeeding can align well with attachment parent principles, the choice to breastfeed or not is hugely personal, and it’s really important to know that attachment parenting is not exclusively dependent on it. Whether breastfeeding or formula-feeding, your child can still develop strong bonds and a secure attachment with other AP principles.

Balancing Attachment Parenting with Life’s Demands

We get it; life happens, and a lot of the time, the expectations put on moms are hugely unfair and unobtainable. Above all, remember you are trying your best, so put down the banner of perfectionism and take a breath. As long as your child knows they have a secure base from which they can explore the world, they will be fine.

In time, your child will know they have a safe and loving connection with you, so while these tips are attachment-parent-based and can be hugely successful, don’t let them add to your already overflowing list of mom-guilt. Remember, every child and mom is unique, so what works best for one family may not work the same for yours.

What Are Some Common Concerns about Attachment Parenting?

On the whole, attachment parenting is well respected, loved, and followed by many families. However, some common concerns exist, especially regarding co-sleeping and building resilience. So, before deciding if this style of parenting is suitable for you, it’s worth knowing a few of the worries parents and experts have.

One of the key components of this parenting style is responsiveness and being there for the child as much as possible. While this is fantastic and can build strong bonds, it does require a lot of work from the parent. AP believes that kids being separated from their parents too often and early is unhealthy for both the child and parent, as it’s healthy for a child to be dependent on a parent until they feel independent and safe enough to separate, so consistent companionship is crucial.

Another controversial AP practice is co-sleeping or bed-sharing. It’s worth being aware of the potential benefits and risks associated with the practice. If you do decide to co-sleep, it’s worth talking to your pediatrician for advice on doing it safely.

Explore Attachment Parenting Further

Some further resources to explore attachment parenting to see if it works for your family.

Many parents will choose to implement some attachment parenting practices to strengthen their bond with their child and nurture a secure attachment. However, remember, every family and baby is unique. The key is to find a parenting approach that not only aligns with your values but that suits your child’s temperament and family lifestyle.

Ultimately, the goal is to raise a happy, healthy, and confident child who feels deeply connected and secure. Only you can decide if it’s right for you! What kind of parenting styles do you connect with? Leave us a reply. We would love to hear from you.

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