The sweetness of Attachment Parenting

Have you ever tried to explain to someone what attachment parenting is? Parenting is very personal, and it’s not so easy to describe any approach to raising children given the amount of emotional baggage, future hopes, joys, and trials there are wrapped up in that one word, “parenting.”

But as I was contemplating today about how much Attachment Parenting International and attachment parenting means to me and my family, how it literally changed the very direction of my life — personally and professionally — not to mention, given my children the quality of lives they enjoy, I came up with a word that sums up what attachment parenting is in my home: “sweetness.”

It really is just about treating my children with the sweetness of attachment.

I received one of those fun challenges on Facebook a few days ago where you ask your children a series of questions and then post exactly what they say. The first question was, “What do you hear me say the most?” Other Facebook friend’s posts had responses like “clean your room,” “dang it,” or “supper’s ready.” More curious of what my kids would say, rather than posting their responses on Facebook, I decided to ask them the questions.

And here’s what they said:

  1. What is something I say a lot? I love you
  2. What makes me happy? When we make you food and give you wildflowers (Nathan, 6), When we don’t yell and we follow the rules (Emily, 10), When we give you hugs (Rachel, 11)
  3. What makes me sad? When you’re sick and you want to do something excited that day (Rachel), When you have to postpone something because it just won’t work out and it was going to be really fun (Emily)
  4. What’s my favorite thing to do? Spend time with us (Nathan), Pet the cat (Rachel), Cuddle with us (Emily)
  5. Do I have a favorite child? No! But if you did, it would be Rachel-Emily-Nathan-Kate (Kate is my angel baby)
  6. If I could go anywhere, where would it be? To a chocolate factory made of chocolate in a chocolate land in a chocolate world
  7. Do you think you could live without me? No! Well, I guess we could, but it would be really, really sad (Emily) Yeah, it’d be a sad life (Nathan) I mean, we could still be alive but it wouldn’t be a really happy life (Rachel)
  8. How do you annoy me? By yelling, screaming, or interrupting you when you’re doing work
  9. What scares me? If we’re quiet in the bath tub and you hear no splashing or rippling or anything
  10. How do you describe me? A nice mom, the best mom in the world! With dark hair, dark curly hair, dark short curly hair. A person who likes being warm.

Now, isn’t that sweetness? And you may think that all children would say nice things about their parents, and gosh, I hope so!

But my point is, the overall atmosphere in my home is sweetness and peace and love. My oldest is now 11, and my youngest is 6. I’m well past the early years of attachment parenting, but for all the intensity of breastfeeding, cosleeping, responding sensitively, and learning gentle discipline, attachment parenting has since become a lifestyle.

Attachment parenting has become a mindset that directs my thoughts and actions with everyone, not just my kids and husband but my friends, coworkers, and strangers. In all my interactions with others — and with myself — I strive for the sweetness of attachment.

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

Cuddling therapy, anyone?

Babies are born with needs for physical contact, affection, security, stimulation, and movement — urgent and intense — and yet, depend completely on others to meet them.

Nurturing touch is a way to meet all of these needs at once.

Mothers and fathers are encouraged to provide ample nurturing touch from birth on to promote the healthiest child development. But what about newborns born premature or ill, who must remain in the hospital long-term?

Some hospital units, like St. Michael’s in Toronto, Canada, featured in the video below, train and provide volunteers who hold, sing to, and love on in-patient babies. These volunteers are aptly called Cuddlers.

The newborns may have been born premature or have medical needs that require them to stay in the NICU. Or, these babies may have been born to mothers with mental health or addiction issues. Some of these babies may be suffering from drug withdrawal or fetal alcohol syndrome.

But all of these babies benefit from nurturing touch and affection. The medical community notes that hospitalized babies gain weight faster, have improved infant mental health, and typically shorter hospital stays.

Why it matters how we are born

“The beginning of life is a very normal and natural, yet specific, event.” ~ Bettina Breunig, TEDx Talk

Much of Western society chooses to view childbirth differences as merely a matter of personal choice. Rather, Attachment Parenting International (API) encourages us to recognize this important beginning in both our child’s life and our relationship with our child. Keeping this in mind, the first of API’s Eight Principles of ParentingPrepare for pregnancy, birth, and parenting — is a critical investment in our roles as mothers (and fathers).

In this TEDx Talk video, German midwife Bettina Breunig discusses the role of a birth professional during labor and childbirth — to empower the woman to give the best possible beginning to her baby’s life outside the womb.

Join us as we explore this Everest of a challenge for every new mother:

Core beliefs and parenting

Editor’s note: Today, April 30, is SpankOut Day — an annual observance founded by the Center for Effective Discipline, working to eliminate physical punishment of children and to promote nonviolent discipline. This can be a different change in perspective for parents accustomed to spanking their children. It can be tempting to shift from hitting to other shame-based forms of punitive discipline. This post explores the beliefs and thoughts behind motives for human behavior and subsequent discipline of our children:

Shame was a mainstay of parenting in past generations. Many of us parents can remember feeling shame, probably often, while growing up — along with threats, intimidation, and other forms of coercion. Although parenting trends have made great strides to align with what research shows to be the healthy way to discipline our children, remnants of shame-based parenting still remain.

Shame-based parenting behaviors may be subtle, hidden in seemingly innocent messages meant to encourage cooperation from our children, like “You should know better than that,” “Nice girls don’t do that,” “Good boys do this,” or “You already had enough; you shouldn’t want more.” But if you were to turn these phrases around, how would you feel about yourself?

These phrases, while not abrasive, are still implying that a child is having thoughts that are “wrong” or “bad,” when actually, anyone can have whatever thoughts they desire — what we as parents really want is for children to be able to discern which behavior would be more aligned with the values we hope to be passing down to them.

Attachment Parenting International‘s Eight Principles of Parenting guide parents in setting appropriate limits on behavior while promoting a secure parent-child attachment, empathy and emotional literacy, and peaceful conflict resolution.

It’s important for parents to continue working toward knowing themselves better and how this affects their parenting and relationships with their children. Especially for those who were raised themselves with a shame-based parenting approach, becoming stagnant in personal growth can cause regression back to the parenting behaviors they were raised with.

Without intentional parenting, the shame-based parenting we experienced as children will be reflected in how we relate to and discipline our children, even if only through words we intended to be gentle reminders or even through expectations we have in mind of how our children are “supposed” to be behaving.

While shame, as a normal emotion, is felt from time to time by everyone — being the result of conflicting interactions within a social group — it generally doesn’t have long-lasting effects on a child’s self-worth as long as the child is able to lean on a supportive, unconditionally loving parent to help him process his feelings.

However, there is a distinct difference between a relatively fleeting feeling of shame from unconnected incidences and the long-standing, pervasive feeling of shame at a child’s core that is the result of shame-based parenting. Shame-based parenting instills a pattern of thinking in the child that she is unworthy and, inflicted by the parent, there is no unconditionally loving support person to help the child process her emotions and be able to see herself as separate from the ongoing messages of shame.

Many parents who grew up in a shame-based home may worry that they are inadvertently instilling shame in their own children, despite their best efforts to not do so. It’s understandable where this concern comes from — a parent who is conscious of the emotional wounds in his or her life is also conscious to not want to pass down this family legacy.

Examining Shame-Based Core Beliefs

Healing from a shame-based view of oneself is best done with a professional counselor, but there are various ways that adults can help the healing process along. One way is to examine their core beliefs.

Core beliefs are the messages our brain tells us about our self-worth. Core beliefs “color” how we think about ourselves, how we think about others, and even how we react to situations in our lives. Think about core beliefs as the color of who you are:

Negative Core Beliefs —
I am unlovable
I am not good enough
I am a bad person
I am stupid
I am ugly
I am abnormal
I am boring
I am worthless
I don’t deserve love or good things in my life

Positive Core Beliefs —
I am lovable!
I am good enough
I am a good person
I am smart
I am beautiful
I am extraordinary
I am very interesting to be around
I have a lot of worth
I deserve to be treated with respect, dignity, and love

When you have the same situation as someone with the other color of core beliefs, you actually both look at the same situation in different ways. For example, let’s say you meet a mother at the park and think about asking her to go with you to your local API Support Group.

Negative Core Belief: I’m boring, I’m not good enough, I’m worthless.

  • Thought: “Why would she ever go to the meeting with me?”
  • Behavior: You don’t ask the mother to go with you.

Positive Core Belief: I’m very interesting to be around, I’m good enough, I have a lot of worth.

  • Thought: “We might have fun together.”
  • Behavior: You ask the mother to go with you.

The behavior that results from your core belief reinforces that core belief. If you think the other mother wouldn’t want to be friends with you, and then you don’t ask her to come with you to the group meeting, you will then feel even more like you’re not worthy of having friends.

Of course, there is a possibility that if you do ask the other person to go to the group meeting with you, that she will say no or she may say yes but you find that you two don’t click. This may stir up more core beliefs, but it can also empower you to ask the next person you meet that might be a better fit.

How Core Beliefs Affect Parenting

Likewise, when you encounter the same parenting scenario as someone with the other color of core beliefs, you both look at and react to the same scenario in different ways. However, there is a complicating factor in the case of parenting. It’s all too easy to unconsciously transfer your core beliefs about yourself to your child. People who grew up in shame-based homes, who haven’t addressed their emotional trauma may unknowingly project what they see as the “bad” qualities of themselves on others. This natural act of self-protection is the emotional brain’s way of avoiding the original, unaddressed issue — that the parent himself is “bad.” It’s much easier to continue not feeling the pain of this “realization” by passing the blame onto someone else.

For example, let’s say your 6-month-old baby just started waking up at night several times after previously sleeping through at least 6 hours.

Negative Core Belief: I am not confident in my parenting ability.

  • Transferred Core Belief: My baby is manipulating me.
  • Thought: “My baby should be sleeping through the night.”
  • Behavior: You try cry-it-out with your baby. Your baby may be very distressed, and you may react with anger or anxiety, reinforcing the core belief.

Positive Core Belief: I’m a good mother and a good problem-solver.

  • Transferred Core Belief: My baby must be waking at night more because of a developmental need.
  • Thought: “I need to learn about why my baby is waking more at night and what to do about that.”
  • Behavior: You learn that your baby may be going through a growth spurt, teething, or otherwise needs your comfort at night and adjust your expectations to continue providing a sensitive response.

Let’s look at another example: No matter how many times you have talked to your 2-year-old toddler about “gentle hands,” she still hits when she’s upset.

Negative Core Belief: I am not confident in my parenting ability.

  • Transferred Core Belief: My toddler isn’t learning from this discipline approach.
  • Thought: “I need to be more forceful to teach my toddler to not hit.”
  • Behavior: You yell at or hit her when she hits. She may feel angry and act-out by hitting more, or she may be confused and hurt. You may then react with anger or guilt, reinforcing the core belief.

Positive Core Belief: I’m a good mother and a good problem-solver.

  • Transferred Core Belief: My toddler’s hitting frustrates me, but there must be a reason for her behavior.
  • Thought: “I need to learn more about what to expect developmentally at this age and what to do about the hitting.”
  • Behavior: You learn that your toddler is acting very age-appropriately and is still developing her impulse control. The best way to address this is to continue telling and modeling to her to not hit, while teaching her other ways to express her anger.

With this final example, let’s look at a teenager who has side-swiped a mailbox with his car, breaking a headlight and scratching the paint.

Negative Core Belief: I am not confident in my parenting ability.

  • Transferred Core Belief: Teenagers are careless, rebellious, and irresponsible.
  • Thought: “He doesn’t care about anything. He thinks he can get away with anything.”
  • Behavior: You take away his car keys, demand that he pay for the damages, and punish him by taking away privileges. He may act-out. You may then react with anger or guilt, reinforcing the core belief.

Positive Core Belief: I’m a good mother and a good problem-solver.

  • Transferred Core Belief: Teenagers sometimes make mistakes, as we all do.
  • Thought: “He needs to learn from this situation, but he also needs understanding and help with problem-solving of how to address it.”
  • Behavior: You talk with him about what happened and his feelings, and help him problem-solve what his next steps are.

Whether you have negative or positive core beliefs, the thoughts that come from these will transmit to how you feel toward your child and her behavior. Negative core beliefs are linked with shame-based responses.

Turning Negatives Into Positives

If your core beliefs tend to fall in the negative list, remember that each negative has a positive option. If you encounter a situation where you don’t feel worthy, you need to get into a practice of positive self-talk and coming up with positive options other than the negative default that may naturally arise in your mind.

Here are 3 ideas of how to begin turning your negative core beliefs into positives:

  1. Tell yourself that you are awesome! Start repeating positive statements, like “I am smart” or “I am a good mother (or father),” to yourself many times a day. You can try writing them on sticky notes and stick them to your bathroom mirror, your desk, or other places around your house, vehicle, or work space to give you reminders throughout the day.
  2. Turn the negative into a positive. When you begin thinking negatively, take a deep breath and intentionally turn the thought around to a positive. If you make a mistake, when the thought “I am so stupid” or “I am such a bad mother (or father)” comes to mind, tell yourself: “No, I am smart. Everyone makes mistakes, and I can learn from this.”
  3. Join an API Support Group. It is incredibly empowering to be surrounded by like-minded, supportive parents who are all working toward the same parenting goals as you. The opportunity to ask questions to a nonjudgmental group and to receive ideas that are in line with your values and that can apply to your parenting situation is invaluable. There is great positive power in a parenting support group when they can be both a sounding board and a source of validation, while encouraging your personal growth.
  4. Respond to yourself in the way you would ideally want to sensitively respond to your child in the same situation. Since negative core beliefs are often grounded in thought patterns from our childhood, such as from shame-based parenting or another emotional trauma, it’s not such a stretch to address the “child you” in your mind — the emotional part of you that is trying to protect itself with the negative core beliefs. That “child you” has to heal for the “adult you” to be able to move forward — toward a healthy self-worth and more confident, positive parenting.

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Get outside and get into nature

Tomorrow, April 22, we celebrate Earth Day. As you renew your commitment to care for our planet, keep in mind that the absolutely greatest contribution we can make toward Earth’s stewardship is to raise children who care.

Children raised in a caring family environments have greater capacity for empathy not only toward themselves and others but their communities and world. Children tend to care more deeply about what their parents hold and express as family values. To nurture their interest in nature, children need a parent or another caring adult to take them outdoors and share in their curiosity and wonder.

It’s not enough to say you care for the planet — you got to live it and model it to your children.

So, get the whole family out into nature. Plant a tree. Pick up litter in the park. Construct bee, bat, and bird houses. Participate in citizen scientist pollinator or toad counts. Watch nature documentaries. Visit your local natural history museum. Go camping. Turn over a log to discover insects underneath. Go to the zoo. Watch the birds and squirrels. Take a walk. Go cloud-watching. Pick wildflowers. Wade in a creek.

Need more inspiration? Children who get unstructured playtime outside are healthier, earn better grades, and receive other benefits — learn more in this video from the Nature Kids Institute:

Why Kids Need Nature” from Kenny Ballentine on Vimeo.

The power of nurturing touch on child behavior

When we think of providing nurturing touch, what most often comes to mind may be skin-to-skin with our newborn, babywearing, or infant massage.

Nurturing touch continues to be a critical need for children (and adults!) of all ages. We just have to be more intentional to make time for cuddles, hand-holding, hugs, massage, and other forms of nurturing touch with our walking, talking toddlers, busy school-agers, and autonomy-seeking teenagers. (you can discover vitamin c serum amazon, when you need to reduce expression lines).

This video, featuring London massage therapist Carol Trower, discusses her work in using massage in UK schools to reduce bullying and problem behaviors. Not only are these goals met, but the children who receive massage are also reportedly more connected to one another, express more empathy, and have improved academic performance.

It’s an inspiring message of the power of nurturing touch for child well-being:

Understanding sensory processing difficulties in our children

Many families discover Attachment Parenting in their quest for how to raise their “spirited” children.

All children, evident from birth on, have their own unique temperament. For some children, their temperament traits may be challenging for their parents or teachers. Common among these possible traits are sensory processing difficulties.

Children with difficulty in processing sensory experiences — sight, sound, touch, taste, or smell — connect to regions in their brain and/or nervous system that may be overly or under-sensitive to that particular sense which you can learn how to deal at the foster care training process. For example, my daughter has great difficulty with the feeling of water — her nervous system is hypersensitive to certain touch experiences. I even have sensory difficulties with certain sounds, touch experiences, and light brightness.

In my family’s case, our sensory processing difficulties have likely a genetic component. But children can also develop sensory processing difficulties from sensory deprivation experienced early in life, especially those in the foster care training process for the foster care system, those who’ve been adopted, and those who’ve experienced a traumatic early childhood such as in cases of overt abuse or neglect.

However your “spirited” child came to develop sensory processing difficulties, this video from Empowered to Connect gives an excellent overview of what sensory processing is and how difficulties with sensory experiences can impact child behavior:

 

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