AP Research: Nurturing touch changes DNA, Spanking doesn’t work, and more

It’s exciting to see how much research is constantly being churned out that shows just how beneficial Attachment Parenting is to healthy infant and child development! Check out these recent studies that support API’s Eight Principles of Parenting:

  1. Knowing how our eating habits while pregnant may affect the health of our child is Preparing for Parenting 
  2. Waiting to introduce solid foods until at least 6 months is Feeding with Love & Respect
  3. Responding with Sensitivity may involve treating infant colic with probiotics
  4. Using Nurturing Touch changes DNA
  5. Ensuring Safe Sleep means feeding our children fish
  6. A lack of safe childcare options makes Providing Consistent & Loving Care challenging for dual-income and single-parent homes
  7. Practicing Positive Discipline realizes that spanking doesn’t work
  8. Guarding against paternal postpartum depression is an important part of Striving for Balance

What are API’s Eight Principles of Parenting all about?

Learn more about API’s Eight Principles of Parenting here.

My Attachment Parenting support group made all the difference

Editor’s note: Parent support makes a world of difference — when we strengthen families, we nurture and fulfill our children’s need for trust, respect, and affection, and ultimately provide a lifelong foundation for healthy, enduring relationships. Sharing our parenting experiences — the difficult, trying, joyous, and happy ones — with other like-minded parents can help us feel understood and supported. Attachment Parenting International (API) is dedicated to supporting families in realizing the most important job there is –raising compassionate kids who will shape the future of our world. Click here to find an API Support Group near you.  

It was our usual afternoon trip to the library before picking up my oldest son from school. We typically go once a week and bring a large, reusable bag to fill with books — only on that day, I took a smaller bag, which I thought was a really minor change. But when my almost 4-year-old son realized that I’d done something that, in his mind, was completely different from what we always do, he wanted me to go home to get usual bag.

I could tell he was sad and close to tears, but he was trying to manage his emotions and to stay calm as I empathized with him and explained that it wasn’t possible to rectify the situation. After a couple minutes, he started to get sadder and louder.

Still, I managed to stay calm. It felt like a real success for me — completely keeping my cool even in a public setting, responding to him with empathy, staying connected, and not punishing or lecturing him for his emotions. Since we were in a library, I wanted to get out of there quickly so we didn’t disturb people. Unfortunately, trying to make that happen was quite a challenge for me as a mom. My younger daughter was with us and was happily selecting books from the shelf. I had to make the choice of checking out her books while my toddler cried and fought, or just leaving without them, which might upset her as well.

There were several other people around who seemed were watching me, including a few moms who were talking nearby, a mother with a young child playing calmly, a librarian, and an older man. As I struggled to the door with a baby in one arm and a crying toddler in the other, I didn’t worry if they were judging me. I knew I was handling the situation the best I could, and I was proud of that, but I did get upset that no one was able to offer me any help.

I felt that I could barely manage to open the door and get the kids to the car on my own, but somehow, I did. In the car, despite feeling pleased with my patience and ability to remain calm, I felt an overwhelming sense of loneliness. I realized just how alone I had been in that challenging situation, and I couldn’t help but cry.

Afterwards, I reached out to the other parents in my API Support Group about my experience. The amount of support and love I got from the other parents was amazing. Many praised my ability to stay calm in a stressful situation. Several pointed out that strangers are often unsure of how to help or unsure whether help is even wanted. Some shared that they had similar experiences and could relate. And one person also said that she wished she’d been there to help, to hold the door or to put her arm around me for support.

She told me, “You are not alone anymore,” which is something I wish all parents could hear when they’re struggling in moments like this.

Smartphones and parenting


Editor’s note: This week, May 1-7, is Screen-Free Week — an annual observance founded by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. Plan to unplug from digital entertainment this week and instead connect with your family. Need more inspiration? This post was originally published by Attachment Parenting International in 2015, and it is as thought-provoking today as ever:

Instinct tells you it’s been too long. She’s been too quiet. It has only been a few minutes since you held her. Probably all is well, but you can never be sure without checking.

And, even if all is fine, you long to lift her, hold her, gaze at her. You wonder why you didn’t carry her everywhere today as you often do, wearing her and, instead, have put her down across the room. As you look toward her, just out of sight, you consider loading the dishwasher. You walk toward the sink, but mid-stride, that first instinct wins out. You tell yourself it will be just for a minute and then you’ll get back to work. Just a quick check in.

You always have an ear listening in her direction as she often calls for you first.  But this time, you are the one to seek out, lift and hold the rectangular little body of…your smartphone.

Could it be that our smartphones are hijacking our inborn biological systems, the bonding instincts that are activated when we become parents? Are we actually driven by borrowed biological systems to hold these devices, carry them, interact with them and be concerned about “feeding” — aka, charging — them in ways that go beyond our tendencies with other tools?

While pregnant with our first child at age 18, I worried that one day I might forget the new baby in the grocery store. I knew I would love our baby, but what if I became distracted for just long enough to get in the car and drive away? Once our son arrived, I was thrilled to discover that not only was it impossible to forget him, but that it was challenging to leave him home with his dad because he was perpetually on my mind and I felt empty without him in my arms or at least nearby. When I went back to college, I studied maternal attachment in an attempt to grasp the science behind the apparent magic of maternal attachment. I was awed to learn from the research of Klaus and Kennell that mothers of newborns have instinctive ways of touching, holding and gazing at their babies in their first moments. How much, I wondered, did instinct support our roles as mothers and fathers?

kim allsupNow, 45 years later, I am an elementary school teacher. I started to think about a potential link between smartphone addiction and parental attachment systems just after I taught my students about the cuckoo bird. My students had looked curious when I told them how the cuckoo lays her egg in the nests of other birds that, unwittingly, raise the nestling as their own. They grimaced as I spoke about the interloper pushing the natural offspring out of the nest and how the baby cuckoos behave in ways that trigger an instinct to care and feed from their new mother.

I wondered, could our smartphones be like baby cuckoo birds that activate the magical bonding system I experienced as a young mother? Teenagers today certainly appear to be as attached to their smartphones as I was bonded with my baby back in the era when all phones were attached to a wall and did not offer Facebook, Twitter, a camera and a flashlight. Is addiction to our smartphones and their ability to connect to social media rooted in a deeper place than a fondness for cute cat videos?

In the case of the birds that unwittingly become foster parents, the calls and the gaping mouth of the chick automatically trigger the feeding instinct. Similarly, are there features of the smartphone that automatically turn on our biologically based attachment behaviors?

I can hear readers saying, “Hold on there. One baby bird looks similar to other baby birds, but my smartphone looks nothing like my baby!” This is true enough. It seems far more believable that pets, especially dogs, with their expressive faces, hijack our attachment systems. In fact, research highlighted in this April 2015 New York Times article suggests that that our dogs routinely utilize our parental attachment mechanisms, that gazing into the eyes of our own dogs and our own babies both cause a surge of oxytocin.

This bonding hormone that is released in some animals and in people in a variety of pleasant social interactions, oxytocin is especially strong in women during and after childbirth and during breastfeeding, and high levels of oxytocin are found in both mothers and fathers of babies. We are all likely to experience a surge in this hormone that reduces stress hormones when we get and receive hugs. Now scientists are discovering that contact with others through social media or a phone call from a loved one also causes the release of oxytocin.

So, while a smartphone does not look like a baby, it is — like a baby — associated with a frequent surge of this hormone that brings relaxation, reduces fear and promotes bonding. A second similarity between the smartphone and a baby is that they are carried continually or, when not carried, kept in continual awareness. We also maintain an awareness of the need to feed babies and to charge cell phones.

Finally, the classic pose of the phone cradled between the palms of two hands is very similar to the “encompassing palm contact on the trunk” along with “intense eye-to-eye contact” observed by researchers Klaus and Kennell when studying mothers’ first contact with their babies. It is not that the baby looks like a smartphone, but that our inner experience of ongoing awareness along with bursts of the bonding hormone during connection is similar whether we carry and connect with a baby or a socially connected smartphone.

Do you experience your smartphone as a cuckoo in your nest?  Please share your thoughts about the possibility that your smartphone could tap into your instinctive attachment systems.

8 tips to getting in touch with your highest self

One of my favorite expressions in the English language is “beside myself.”

Not because I particularly enjoy being in that frenzied state, but because if you stop and think about it, who is the self you are actually beside? And how is it possible that there can be more than one self lined up in a row?

I get in touch with that second self in the morning when I meditate — alas, not every morning, despite my best intentions. It’s that peaceful, loving essence I call my higher self — and others call their soul, spirit, divine self, or even just their calm center. When I am united with, rather than beside, this higher self as I go through my day, I am happier and more compassionate, especially to my kids. I strongly believe that when parents connect themselves to their higher self, they then naturally parent in a way that aligns with Attachment Parenting International‘s Eight Principles of Parenting.

My children are older now — one has finished college, the other graduates in May — but I still give a lot of thought to Attachment Parenting. This is partly because you never stop doing it even when they move out of the house, and partly because I’ve recently published a book of parenting essays. Loving care, feeding with respect, positive discipline, soothing at night — how can a parent do anything but these things if we are coming from that loving place inside ourselves?

So the question for parents, then, becomes, not “Can I memorize the 8 principles?” — although that’s a good idea, too –but, “How can I boost my connection with my higher self so kindness and sensitivity toward my children naturally flows?” How can I lessen the times I am “beside myself” — being human, you’ll never eliminate them completely –and parent more often from my united center?

Here are 8 approaches to getting in touch with my highest self that have worked for me:

1) Anoint yourself in your morning shower

I’ve found that mornings are the best time to reach for that connection, because I then bring that inner peace to my entire day. With small children, it’s hard to find time to meditate, do spiritual reading, or any of the other morning practices long prescribed by spiritual practitioners. At least sometimes, though, we get to take a shower. Rather than letting your mind race to chores and scheduling, why not use those minutes to treat yourself like royalty?

Mindfully observe the water pouring over your skin, smell the beautiful shampoo and soap – – if you haven’t treated yourself to luscious cleansing products for a few dollars more, consider doing so — and envision yourself being anointed by the streaming water.

Try to maintain that elevated sensation as you dry and dress and begin your day.

2) Take your own timeout as needed

When my kids were younger, I used timeout all the time — but for me, not for them! A timeout is an opportunity to keep yourself from reacting poorly to a situation that spirals you away from your center. Walk outside or into another room for a minute and take some long, deep breaths, or open a spiritual book and read a paragraph.

The beauty of keeping a Sabbath — however and whenever you define it as such — is that a whole day of respite can’t help but give you the reset everyone needs.

3) Learn some quick breathing exercises

Yoga has a whole series of wonderful breathing practices that immediately connect you to your core. The simplest is known as “3-part breathing”:

  1. Slowly breathe deeply through the nose, filling up the abdomen, then the center of the chest, and, finally the collarbones.
  2. Exhale slowly in reverse order.
  3. Repeat a few times.

You can do this with your eyes closed on your couch, or eyes open on the school pickup line or the grocery checkout aisle.

4) Try family yoga.

Doing yoga with your children is different than doing it in a class full of focused adults, but it’s fun and beneficial in its own way, because there’s nothing like mindfully moving with someone you love.

Choose poses — found in books or online– that are age-appropriate for your children: easy animal imitations like cobra and lion if they’re little; more challenging twists and inversions if they’re older.

Make the practice fun, because joy offers another fast path to your center.

5) Envision them as you did at their birth

Remember the first time you held your beloved angel? Close your eyes for a moment and see him or her that way again. Notice how the love pours out of you as you do so. Your child now is still the same beloved angel, and inside you feel the same loving way.

No matter what your child is doing at any given moment — even if he or she just wrote on your newly painted walls or called you an unprintable name — try to conjure that “newborn” feeling as often as you can throughout the day.

6) Pass the pepper with love

If your children were kings or queens, religious leaders, or even rock stars, how would you serve them food, clean their clothes, or pass him or her condiments at dinner? Your children are more important to you than any of these figures, so why is it so easy to take them for granted?

Let that adoration you have for your child show itself in your mundane daily actions.

7) Find a passion that lights you up

“Indulging” your passion is crucial for parents. Doing something we love lights a spark inside of us, the glow from which falls on our family.

Find a passion you can do with your kids — collecting coins or shells, going to a ballet, whipping up an elaborate dessert… — or give yourself permission to occasionally go out solo to satisfy whatever gives you thrills.

8) Accept the perfection of each moment — and of your child

Judging something or someone as “bad” is the surest way to disconnect from our loving essence, but unfortunately our society encourages judgment all the time. “How was the movie?” “How was that restaurant?” Even, unbelievably, “Is your baby good?” — by which they mean sleeping through the night, as if an unhappy, uncomfortable baby isn’t a “good” one.

In truth, every moment — and every person in that moment — is perfect. A seedling frail enough to snap in a strong wind isn’t an imperfect oak tree. And a child who feels angry enough to break something rather than use words to describe intense feelings isn’t an imperfect person. Neither are we if we momentarily lose our cool when faced with such a child.

Accepting the perfection of a moment doesn’t mean we can’t guide our child. But do so knowing you are moving him or her from one perfect moment to another — a stance that shifts us internally from agitation to contentment, from beside ourselves to our united whole.

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Imagine an entire generation of secure attachment