What is Attachment Parenting?

And Is It Right For You?

attachment parenting

As the popularity of different parenting techniques grows, “attachment parenting” is more frequently in the news, and discussions about it can be quite polarizing between those in favour and those against. What’s it really all about? The Attachment Parenting Canada group (a member of Attachment Parenting International) describes it as a parenting style that is warm and nurturing. It “…may involve breastfeeding, co-sleeping, respectful communication, non-punitive guidance of behaviour, and responding to the child’s needs immediately and completely.” 

Psychiatrist John Bowlby introduced the “attachment” theory of parenting in the 1950s. His research showed that responsiveness to a child’s cues was just as important as food and sleep to healthy development. This contrasted greatly with the popular parenting style of the time, one that focused on the following of schedules and a more regimented approach to infant and toddler care. According to his research, between the ages of six months and two years, a child needs to develop a strong bond with at least one parent (or caregiver), so that the child can develop socially and emotionally in a healthy way. This bond/attachment is enhanced by a parent’s responsiveness to his/her child, just as it is lessened by a more scientific approach to parenting. 

Today, William Sears, pediatrician, is the name most commonly associated with attachment parenting. In 1987, his book Creative Parenting was published and it laid out seven “attachment tools,” stressing that they are not rigid rules, but a style of parenting: 

  1. Birth Bonding - The physical connection that is encouraged between you and your baby immediately after birth, or as soon as possible. 
  2. Breastfeeding - To enhance your special connection with your baby, and help you to “babyread,” a term used to describe understanding your baby’s body language. 
  3. Babywearing - Physical closeness, by carrying your child in a sling or soft carrier, to enhance your sensitivity to his cues, and increase your baby’s understanding of his environment. 
  4. Bedding Close To Baby - Sleeping close to your infant or toddler, to further strengthen your connection. 
  5. Belief In The Language Value Of Your Baby’s Cry - Your baby’s cry communicates a real need, and your response builds trust. 
  6. Beware Of Baby Trainers - Watch your child’s cues instead of watching the clock, as baby training or “cry it out” schools of parenting advise. 
  7. Balance - Meeting your child’s needs doesn’t mean sacrificing your needs. Key to attachment parenting is that it encourages an immediate response, e.g. feeding your infant or toddler when his actions show he is hungry, rather than basing feeding times on a schedule. To respond quickly to your child’s cues, attachment parenting stresses the need for physical closeness, e.g. by sleeping near your child and by “babywearing” (rather than using a stroller). This builds your bond and helps you to better understand your child’s body language and what it is telling you. 

What The Critics Say 

Those not in favour of attachment parenting feel it is unrealistic. The immediacy of response – for example, attentive soothing at the first whimper from an infant waking in the night – is just not possible, and can be guilt inducingto parents. Some believe that because of the long-term co-sleeping, as well as putting the infant or toddler’s needs first at all times, the relationship between the parents is strained. It simply leaves no real time for them. Others feel that it creates an unequal relationship between baby and parent. But what’s important is what you think.

Is Attachment Parenting For You?

Because we are all so unique, different styles work for different families. There are many parenting styles and techniques, some very different from attachment parenting, i.e. the “cry it out” (CIO) approach. These infant sleep-training methods – including the Ferber approach, among others – advocate letting babies cry for very short periods of time without responding, so that they learn to self-soothe and get back to sleep on their own.

Many courses and books are available on different parenting techniques, and you may choose to follow one school of thought, or decide on a combination of many approaches. Attachment parenting, CIO methods, or just plain common sense… most important is doing what works best for your family’s needs, and enjoying every moment. 

What do you think about attachment parenting: the answer, or unrealistic?