Attachment parenting

Attachment parenting

Attachment parenting, a phrase coined by pediatrician William Sears, [cite web |url= |title=API: FAQ - General Attachment Parenting |accessdate=2007-05-27 |publisher=Attachment Parenting International] is a parenting philosophy based on the principles of the attachment theory in developmental psychology. According to attachment theory, a strong emotional bond with parents during childhood, also known as a secure attachment, is a precursor of secure, empathic relationships in adulthood. Failure to form this early childhood parental bond will ostensibly give rise to reactive attachment disorder.

Many proponents of attachment parenting as conceived by Sears seek to distance themselves from the attachment parenting that is sometimes used as an adjunct to attachment therapyParker, L., Nicholson, B., Curtner-Smith,M. E., Middlemiss, W., Green,K., Murray,A. D., Barone,M. and Stolzer, J. An Elaboration on the Distinction Between Controversial Parenting and Therapeutic Practices Versus Developmentally Appropriate Attachment Parenting: A Comment on the APSAC Task Force Report. "Child Maltreat 2006; 11; 373" DOI: 10.1177/1077559506292635] .


Attachment theory, originally proposed by John Bowlby, states that the infant has a tendency to seek closeness to another person and feel secure when that person is present. Bowlby had earlier proposed in his maternal deprivation hypothesis published in 1951 that maternal deprivation would not only cause depression in children, but also acute conflict and hostility, decreasing their ability to form healthy relationships in adult life. [Crossman, Pat (2004). [ The Etiology of a Social Epidemic] The Skeptic Report: Pseudoscience] citebook|title=Maternal Care and Mental Health|author=Bowlby J|location=Geneva|publisher=World Health Organisation|year=1951]

In comparison, Sigmund Freud proposed that attachment was a consequence of the need to satisfy various drives. In attachment theory, attachment is considered a biological system and children are naturally attached to their parents because they are social beings, not just because they need other people to satisfy drives.

Developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth devised a procedure, called The Strange Situation, to observe attachment relationships between a human caregiver and child. She observed disruptions to the parent/child attachment over a 20 minute period, and noted that this affected the child's exploration and behavior toward the mother. This operationalization of attachment has recently come under question, as it may not be a valid measure for infants that do not experience distress upon initial encounter with a stranger. [Clarke-Stewart, Goossens, & Allhusen, 2001.]

According to Attachment Parenting International (API) there are 8 principles that foster healthy (secure) attachment between the caretaker and infant. While none of these principles are derived directly from original attachment research, they are presented as parenting practices that can lead to "attunement", "consistent and sensitve responsiveness" and "physical and emotional availability" that research has found to be key factors in secure attachment.

Eight principles of attachment parenting

Per Dr. Sears' theory of attachment parenting (AP), proponents such as the API attempt to foster a secure bond with their children by promoting eight principles which are identified as goals for parents to strive for. These eight principles are:

# Preparation for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting
# Feed with Love and Respect
# Respond with Sensitivity
# Use Nurturing Touch
# Engage in Nighttime Parenting
# Provide Consistent Loving Care
# Practice Positive Discipline
# Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life

These values are interpreted in a variety of ways. Many attachment parents also choose to live a natural family living (NFL) lifestyle, such as natural childbirth, home birth, stay-at-home parenting, co-sleeping, breastfeeding, babywearing, homeschooling, unschooling, the anti-circumcision movement, the anti-vaccination movement, natural health, cooperative movements, and support of organic food.

However, Dr. Sears does not require a parent to strictly follow any set of rules, instead encouraging parents to be creative in responding to their child's needs. Attachment parenting, outside the guise of Dr. Sears, focuses on responses that support secure attachments.


Attachment parenting proponents value secure attachment between children and a primary caregiver, preferably a parent or guardian. Secure primary or secondary attachments may also be formed with other caregiving adults and should be supported by the parents.

Even when engaging non-parental caregivers, Attachment Parents strive to maintain healthy, secure attachments with their children. AP-friendly childcare is a continuation of the nurturing care given by the parents and focuses on meeting the child's needs. Attachment Parents typically work to make caregiving arrangements that are sensitive to the child while balancing their own needs as well.

Examples to help parents and caregivers create healthy attachments with infants

According to the psychoanalyst, Erick Erickson, there are eight stages of social-emotional development across a lifespan. Each stage has a conflict, which needs to be worked through and a functional balance should be achieved in order to have a healthy development. The first stage of psychosocial development is trust vs. mistrust, which occurs during infancy.

According to Gonzales-Mena and Eyer, [Gonzales-Mena and Eyer (2004)] an infant establishes trust through a process of establishing a secure attachment with a parent or caregiver. In order for an infant to develop a trusting relationships with his or her parent or caregiver, the infant must receive consistent and attentive and appropriate care from the same parent or caregiver. The infant will develop a healthy, secure, and satisfying attachment when he or she is receiving consistent and attentive and appropriate care from the same parent or caregiver. A caregiver or parent must satisfy all of the infant's physical, emotional, psychological, cognitive, and social needs. [Gonzales-Mena and Eyer, 2004.]

According to Ronald (1990) a caregiver or parent's job is defined as the following: helping a child feel accepted, assisting children in learning to communicate and get along with others, and encouraging feelings of empathy and respect amongst children and adults.

According to Magda Gerber and Allison Johnson (1998), in order for caregivers or parents to teach infants how to respect themselves and others, it is important for caregivers and parents to respect the infants the same way they would respect an adult or older child. Magda Gerber and Allison Johnson (1998) believed infants need to receive respect from their caregivers in order to develop trust and attachment. Attachment and trust are built through interaction. The interaction between the adult and infant should be respectful, reciprocal, and responsive. The caregiver or parent should interact with the child physically and emotionally. When a caregiver or parent is performing daily routines with the infant, the parent or caregiver should interact with the infant and spend quality time with the infant. Caregivers and parents should treat the infant like a competent human being by communicating with the infant, following the infant's lead and responding to the infant's gestures or reactions. The caregiver or parent should include the infant in the diapering, grooming and feeding routines. For instance, when a parent is changing an infant's diaper, the parent should talk to the infant. The parent should explain to the infant what he or she is doing. When a parent is dressing an infant, the parent can explain to the infant what he or she is doing. Caregivers or parents should not rush the infant when they are performing these routines. [Gonzales-Mena and Eyer, 2004.]

In order for infants to establish trust and develop an attachment with a caregiver or parent, the infants should be trusted by caregivers and parents. According to Magda Gerber and Allison Johnson(1998), infants establish trust with a parent or caregiver when the parent and caregiver gives them the freedom to actively explore their environment with limited restrictions and boundaries. According to Eric Erickson, an infant who develops a healthy balance of trust vs. mistrust, will have an easier time developing an autonomy, which is the next stage of socio-emotional development. According to Magda Gerber and Allison Johnson (1998), it is important for caregivers and parents to use every opportunity as a learning opportunity for infants. Daily routines are windows of opportunities for parents and caregivers to help infants and caregivers establish trust and build attachment with infants.


Attachment parents seek to understand the biological and psychological needs of the children, and to avoid unrealistic expectations of child behavior. In setting boundaries and limits that are appropriate to the age of the child, attachment parenting takes into account the physical and psychological stage of development that the child is currently experiencing. In this way, parents may seek to avoid the frustration that occurs when they expect things beyond their child's capability. According to Arnall, (2007) discipline means to teach the child by gentle guidance, such as re-direction, natural consequences, listening and modelling, and not by punitive means such as spanking, time-out, grounding and punitive consequences. Attachment parenting holds that it is of vital importance to the survival of the child that he be capable of communicating his needs to the adults and having those needs promptly met. Dr. Sears advises that, while still an infant, the child is mentally incapable of outright manipulation. Unmet needs are believed, by Dr. Sears and other AP proponents, to surface beginning immediately in attempts to fulfill that which was left unmet. AP looks at child development as well as infant and child biology to determine the psychologically and biologically appropriate response at different stages. Attachment parenting does not mean meeting a need that a child can fulfill himself. It means understanding what the needs are, when they arise, how they change over time and circumstances, and being flexible in devising ways to respond appropriately. Also their job is to come up with ideas of things to do for their children.

Similar practices are called natural parenting, instinctive parenting, intuitive parenting, immersion parenting or "continuum concept" parenting.


One criticism of attachment parenting is that it can be very strenuous and demanding on parents. Without a support network of helpful friends or family, the work of parenting can be difficult. Writer Judith Warner contends that a “culture of total motherhood”, which she blames in part on attachment parenting, has led to an “age of anxiety” for mothers in modern American society. [ Warner, Judith (2006). "Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety" (ISBN 1594481709)] Sociologist Sharon Hays argues that the "ideology of intensive mothering" imposes unrealistic obligations and perpetuates a "double shift" life for working women. [ Hays, Sharon (1998) "Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood" (ISBN 0300076525) ]

Another criticism is that there is no conclusive or convincing body of research, aside from testimonials from participating parents, that shows this labor-intensive approach to be in any way superior to what attachment parents term "mainstream parenting" in the long run. [Hays, Sharon (1998). [ The Fallacious Assumptions and Unrealistic Prescriptions of Attachment Theory: A Comment on "Parents' Socioemotional Investment in Children] Journal of Marriage and the Family, Vol. 60, No. 3 (Aug., 1998), pp. 782-790 doi:10.2307/353546]

The American Academy of Pediatrics has recently amended its policy statement regarding SIDS prevention, and has come out against sharing a bed with small babies (though it does encourage room-sharing). [ Kemp, James S. et al (2000) [ Unsafe Sleep Practices and an Analysis of Bedsharing Among Infants Dying Suddenly and Unexpectedly] : Results of a Four-Year, Population-Based, Death-Scene Investigation Study of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and Related Deaths. PEDIATRICS Vol. 106 No. 3 September 2000, p. e41] The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission also warns against co-sleeping. [ [ CPSC Warns Against Placing Babies in Adult Beds; Study finds 64 deaths each year from suffocation and strangulation] , Consumer Product Safety Commission, September 29 1999] Attachment Parenting International issued a response which alleged the data referenced in the Consumer Product Safety Commission statement was unreliable, and that co-sponsors of the campaign had created a conflict of interest. [ [ Attachment parenting international calls on government to delay campaign warning parents not to sleep with their babies] ]

Both the attachment parenting methodology based on Sears, and the related methodology based on attachment therapy are said to propagate a pseudoscientific definition of reactive attachment disorder. Attachment Parenting International (API) utilizes an attachment therapy resource (Peachtree Attachment Resources) [cite web |url= |title=API: Parenting Resources - Developing emotional attachments in adopted children |accessdate=2008-06-18 |publisher=Attachment Parenting International] to define RAD, which claims the criteria is "based on the DSM-IV." This claim is false.

ee also

* Breastfeeding
* La Leche League International
* Gentle Christian Mothers
* Affectional bond
* Shared parenting
* Co-sleeping

* Attachment theory
* Attachment in children
* Attachment disorder
* Reactive attachment disorder
* Child psychotherapy
* Attachment therapy


* Gerber, Magda, Johnson, Allison.(1998."Your Self-Confident Baby; How to Encourage Your Child's Natural Abilities From Very Start". NY: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
* Arnall, Judy, (2007) Discipline Without Distress: 135 tools for raising caring responsible children without time-out, spanking, punishment or bribery." Canada, Professional Parenting Canada
* Gonzales-Mena, J. & Eyer, W. D.(2004)."Infants, Toddlers, and Caregivers: A Curriculum of Respectful, Responsive Care and Education" (6th ed.). Boston: McGraw Hill.
* Lally, J. Ronald (Ed.).(1990)."Infant Toddler Caregivers: A Guide to Social-Emotional Growth and Socialization". San Francisco, CA: WestEd.
* Stages of socio-emotional development in children and teenagers, 1-5. Retrieved September 19, 2007,from


External links

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