What Is It About AP?

by Kelly Bartlett on December 20, 2010

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I’ve recently been working with some moms who are going through some difficult behaviors with their children.  I enjoy doing this; as a parenting educator, I like helping moms and dads understand their kids’ behaviors and help them find new tools–respectful, empathic, emotionally connective parenting tools–for approaching them.  Although I don’t always have Answers for them, I like knowing that I’m helping people create stronger relationships with each other; we need more emotionally secure people in the world, and it starts at home.

It is hard, though, when I work with a family who has older children and they’ve never parented with attachment parenting or positive discipline…never even heard of attachment parenting, and don’t understand what makes positive discipline “positive”.  These families are not very receptive to new parenting ideas because they think, “that’s not what’s going on,” or, “that will never work.”  They want to continue with their same ways, just find different same ways of doing things.

It makes me wonder what is it about attachment parenting that allows our family to avoid common behavioral issues, or at least respond and recover fairly quickly from them.  Why don’t we have serious behavior problems with our kids that permeate our lives and overall happiness the way some families do?  It’s because from the very beginning of our parenting journey, understanding attachment theory has shaped the way we view our relationships with our kids.  An AP philosophy is the foundation for how we relate to our kids, and therefore how they relate to the world.

So, what exactly is it about AP?  Attachment parenting is about…

Listening.  Active, engaged, responsive listening.  Repeating back back what you are hearing.  Verbalizing the emotions you’re hearing in their thoughts.

Connection. Physical connection; lots of touching, hugs, and cuddles.  But probably the most important form of connection: emotional.Genuine empathy, understanding, and acceptance.

Availability. Being physically and emotionally available as often as possible.  Personally, I don’t take off evenings to do girls’ nights.  I don’t go away for weekend getaways.  I am not looking for my next “mommy break.”  And I also don’t feel like I’m making huge sacrifices to do this.  I enjoy being with my kids, and I make it a point to be there for them; with them.

Common attachment parenting practices for parents of very young babies (such as breastfeeding, babywearing, and co-sleeping) are great for creating a strong early attachment, but what’s most helpful about AP in the early years is that it establishes a strong foundation for a lifetime of positive relationships between parents and children; attachment parenting sets up a positive-parenting-frame-of-mind.  The actual AP methods themselves are certainly healthy for a baby’s development, but they’re not necessarily essential, as it’s the effort and intent behind them that’s crucial.  They establish a philosophy and approach to parenting that parents will use throughout the rest of their experience raising kids.

Attachment parenting is not a checklist of dos and don’ts, it’s about the understanding that with a strong relationship, overcoming any parenting hurdle is possible.  AP is different.  It’s not common, mainstream, or “normal.”  But it’s more about thinking differently thandoing things differently.

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Kelly Bartlett (36 Posts)

Kelly Bartlett is the author of "Encouraging Words For Kids" and "Help! My Child is Addicted to Screens (Yikes! So Am I.)" She is an API leader and Certified Positive Discipline Educator in Portland Oregon.


{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

mamapoekie December 20, 2010 at 9:27 am

Great article. You are completely right in saying that it is in the way we view our children instead of in what we’re doing… Our children might experience the same ‘problem’ behavior other kids do, but in not seeing them as problematic and in treating them as humans instead of burdens or chores, we turn the situation around.
Thanks for a nice post, will be using it in my next Sunday Surf

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carolb December 20, 2010 at 12:45 pm

How simply and perfectly put.
AP is a state of mind…a different perspective on the same situations.

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kayris December 20, 2010 at 1:30 pm

I never saw taking an ocassional break from my children as a bad thing. As a serious introvert, if I don’t get time to myself, I’m exhausted emotionally and can’t connect to my kids, no matter how much I want to. AP doesn’t meen tending to your children’s needs at the expense of your own. Nor does AP mean children can only be attached to their mothers. We have a large extended family that are all very involved in the lives of my kids. If they are not with me, they are with someone who loves and cherishes them. It’s win-win IMO.

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Emily @ Crunchyish Mama December 27, 2010 at 11:09 pm

I’m with Kayris. I need a few hours a week by myself to recharge my batteries and reconnect with myself. I know it makes me a much happier, more patient and better mommy. I didn’t expect I would need that time before I had kids, but it turns out I do. It helps me find balance. I could go without that time, but then I’d be a marter and no one wants a mommy like that. My husband and I arrange our schedules so that either one of us or a grandma is with kiddo. I like that my child knows that other people in the world love and care for him.

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Miranda December 20, 2010 at 7:39 pm

Yes I don’t leave my kids with my mother or other family members much but I do get 2-3 hours a day twice a week to go do appointments, errands or shopping or lunch with a friend on my own. And I believe my kids are better off at home than being dragged through my errands. AP doesn’t mean 24/7 kids! And I certain don’t feel bad about it.

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Janine December 20, 2010 at 8:17 pm

Given my son is only 3 months old, but I don’t feel any need for a “mommy break” either, and I know some people that recommend it within the first six weeks (!). I do enjoy having some non-baby time but being away from my kid is something that deters me from leaving the house, not drives me out. Perhaps the people who don’t ‘get’ AP are the ones who always knew they would have a family and got caught up in the way society told them to approach parenting. I didn’t grow up thinking about how I would parent because from the time I was a teenager I had ‘decided’ that I didn’t want children. I think that freed me up to just follow my instincts when I met my husband and changed my mind.

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Kelly December 21, 2010 at 11:31 pm

“Perhaps the people who don’t ‘get’ AP are the ones who always knew they would have a family and got caught up in the way society told them to approach parenting.”

Janine, that is a really good point! I had never thought of it that way before, but I think you’ve hit on something here. Thank you for that perspective!

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Kayris December 23, 2010 at 10:08 am

I think it totally depends on your baby. I didn’t feel the need for a break at 3 months either, but I had easy babies. A friend of mine came over once with her colicy baby and she screamed for 2 hours straight and by the time she left, *I* was feeling a little crazed. From 2 hours on ONE day with this child. Everyone has their own limits for what they can handle, AP or not AP. I think it’s irresponsible to infer that mother who needs to take breaks is doing something to feel guilty about.

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Kelly December 23, 2010 at 10:42 am

I agree, I don’t think there’s anything “non-AP” about taking a break when you need one. After all, one of the core principals of AP is to “Maintain Balance”! Some people just genuinely don’t need as many breaks from their kids as others…it absolutely depends on each individual parent, child, and family. Nothing to feel guilty about! :)

The reference in this piece stems from the example of the “mainstream” parent who doesn’t get AP…the one who, as Janine pointed out, always said she wanted kids but then looks for every opportunity to take a break from them. What allows AP to be so successful for family relationships is that AP parents fundamentally understand the need to be available for children…though certainly with sanity breaks as needed! :)

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Desiree December 22, 2010 at 8:15 am

I agree with your article totally BUT I also enjoy the odd night out…after the kids have already gone to bed…I also enjoy some activities outside of the home that my kids are too young to participate in or do not enjoy doing yet(geocaching). I love every minute with my kids but also need extra physical and mental exercise alone.

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Emily @ Crunchy(ish) Mama December 22, 2010 at 12:20 pm

My son is almost year and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what AP and natural parenting will involve for an older child. As a baby we’ve done all of the common AP things – breastfeeding, babywearing, co-sleeping, etc. (and will continue to do those things as long as possible) but when it comes to things like discipline, education and other topics that come up with older children I feel a bit lost. I understand and am VERY into parenting with respect and empathy, but I wish there was an actual list of suggestions or common AP practices with older children (like the breastfeeding, babywearing and co-sleeping for babies).

As far as mommy breaks go, I’m one of those mothers who need them. I feel guilty about needing them because some mothers don’t, but I’ve just had to come to terms with it. I’m a much better mommy after a little time to myself to read or write or even clean the house! I think I get overwhelmed easily, and a little time to step back, reevaluate and readjust helps me.

Thanks for the post!

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Kelly December 30, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Hi Emily, keep in mind that the same 8 Principals of AP apply to both older children as well as infants, and it’s the *principals* that are most important. But I agree that just being aware of the principal “Use Positive Discipline” is not the same as knowing what to do in specific situations. API offers some helpful information on the practical application of these. For older children, most of these tools fall under the principals of “Respond with Sensitivity” and “Practice Positive Discipline”. They are also mostly proactive, rather than reactive, which is what AP and positive discipline is all about. For example:

The Importance of Scheduling One-on-One Time:
http://theattachedfamily.com/membersonly/?p=2578

Positive Timeouts: Time to Feel Better
http://theattachedfamily.com/membersonly/?p=2562

How to Use Family Meetings:
http://theattachedfamily.com/membersonly/?p=2620

There is also an article coming out in the next issues of The Attached Family magazine about the use of physical touch/ affection with older children and developing self esteem in older children.

Other great resources for AP/ PD with older children are “How to Talk so Kids Will Listen,” by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish, and “Positive Discipline,” by Jane Nelsen. They focus on the specifics of effective communication and how to develop respectful relationships with older children.

I hope that gives you at least a starting point! :) I’d recommend a subscription to The Attached Family Magazine so you’ll get future articles & info on this topic. You can always to go online to http://theattachedfamily.com/membersonly/ to search archives (they are searchable by age group) anytime!

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Debbie December 22, 2010 at 7:13 pm

Janine, that is exactly my experience too! It always makes me scratch my head that I, who didn’t conceive intentionally and avoided it for a decade of.marriage, am willing to make the sacrifices necessary for this kind of intensive parenting, while the always -wanted -ten -kids types happily cry it out etc…

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