Still Face: A lesson in responsiveness and relationship repair for ALL caregivers

How important is it that we give our infants and children intentional presence?

The third of API’s Eight Principles of Parentingrespond with sensitivity — is one of two common threads that run through all 8 principles. The other is to provide consistent and loving care.

Research that began with the late psychologist John Bowlby’s Attachment Theory back in the 1950s has shown the critical need for consistently loving, sensitive responsiveness to develop a secure parent-child attachment — that component that forms the foundation of how our babies and toddlers go on to relate to others…in all relationships…through the rest of their lives.

“That initial responsiveness, that interaction between the father and baby, are keys to the baby’s success as a child and an adult.” ~ Richard Cohen, PhD, director of Project ABC at the Children’s Institute

So, yeah, it’s important.

Picture Alternatives has partnered with the Children Institute in Los Angeles, California, USA, in replicating the famous Still Face Experiment developed in 1975 by Ed Tronick, PhD, of the University of Massachusetts’s Infant-Parent Mental Health program in Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

This new video is the first-ever application of the experiment on fathers and their babies — clearly showing that infants need sensitive responsiveness from all caregivers:


Just as important as consistently responding with sensitivity is relationship repair as needed:

“The infant can overcome it. After all, when you stop the still face, the baby starts to play again. …When you don’t give the child any chance to get back to the good, there’s no reparation and they’re stuck in that really ugly situation.” ~ Ed Tronick, PhD, featured in this 2009 Zero to Three film:


No parent is perfect, and there will be situations that arise that take our attention away from our children. Life happens, and sometimes we may be less responsive than we wished, but it’s OK. Babies and children can recover quickly when their caregiver works to repair the relationship when needed.

In short: How you respond to your child’s expressed needs when you make a mistake makes a big difference in what they’re learning about with the give and take, and repair, of relationships.

Why not the status quo, and instead Attachment Parenting?

By Lysa Parker & Barbara Nicholson, cofounders of Attachment Parenting International and coauthors of Attached at the Heart

API-Logo-20th-themeIt was 20 years ago when we hatched our idea to “save the world.” We were, and remain, hopelessly optimistic that we can effect change in our society.

Both of us are parents, with six sons between us, and we both were teachers with experience on the front lines, which gave us the perspective, determination and passion to begin a grassroots nonprofit organization called Attachment Parenting International (API).

Why did we do it?

When we were new mothers, we felt so insecure about our abilities. We just didn’t feel knowledgeable or prepared, even though we read just about every book we could get our hands on. We both lived far from other family members.

So, when we became friends, we glommed onto each other for support. We also found support and education from our local La Leche League breastfeeding group. Our experience with La Leche League prepared us in so many ways and provided us with opportunities to learn from other, more experienced mothers. These experiences gave us confidence and skills to be better mothers.

At these monthly meetings, we first learned about Attachment Parenting and read books by Dr. William and Martha Sears. Their books were like a buoy in the ocean — guiding our way, helping us keep our sanity by giving us reassurance that we were doing the right thing.

In time, we learned to trust our own innate wisdom and mothering instincts, which allowed us to connect with our children in ways that we would never have thought possible. Of course, we made a lot of mistakes along the way…just ask our sons. But the fact is that we are better for the experience, and our children are better for our experience.

In the early 1990s, we began to read about kids killing kids and kids killing their parents. What in the world was happening to children that would cause them to commit such heinous crimes?

Then we read a book called High Risk: Children without a Conscience by Ken Magid and Carol McKelvey. This was the first time we learned about Dr. John Bowlby and Attachment Theory, which hypothesized that the lack of emotional connection created all kinds of emotional and social problems, including violence.

The work of Dr. Alice Miller awakened our awareness of the influences of culture on the treatment of children. Until we come to terms with how we were treated as children, we will continue to perpetuate the same attitudes and treatment with our own children.

The culture in which we live has tremendous power over us, and it takes consistent and conscious effort to go upstream against the current of popular opinions. Dr. Miller, who passed away in 2010, made it her mission to abolish corporal punishment in every country because she believes that will be the only way we can begin to move forward in eliminating violence toward children.

Given all this information and from our own experiences, we knew in our heart of hearts that Attachment Parenting was the key to creating emotional connection and making families stronger.

We believed — and still do — that if parents are given good information about why it is so important to nurture children, the tools to do it and parent groups that support them in their choices, then we will have a lot of empowered mothers and fathers.

Renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt a small group of committed people can change the world; it indeed is the only thing that ever has.”

We parents might just create a paradigm shift in child rearing.

We began going to the library and spending hours, days, months and years researching and reading articles, books and magazines from as far back as the 1940s. This was before the Internet was widely used. We called anyone we thought would give us advice or information, and many were more than happy to talk to us. They shared their wisdom and encouraged us all along the way.

Attached at the Heart, 2nd editionOur book, Attached at the Heart, is the culmination of more than 15 years of information gathering, investigative research and practice. We believe that it is critical for parents to have this information in order to make informed decisions for their children in our increasingly complex society.

Until recently, we have heavily relied on and trusted others to know what is best for our children. We need to educate ourselves and rely on our own knowledge of our children.

Since the early 1990s, the world seems to have become worse, not better — even more violent and chaotic. People are looking for answers, for something they can do to change this direction, because we can no longer rely on politics and governments. Many realize that it has to begin with each individual and within each family.

API’s Eight Principles of Parenting are a blueprint for change and are discussed in Attached at the Heart. Rooted in sound science and common sense, these principles provide a framework of an overarching philosophy: Listen to your baby, and trust your instincts!

Every family is unique with unique circumstances, and there is no such thing as perfect parents. We always carry with us the legacy of those generations who went before. The way we were parented and the wounds that we carry inevitably work their way into our interactions with our children, which is why it’s so important to consciously work on those issues.

Please know that API’s Eight Principles of Parenting are not intended to be standards of perfection but rather to be used as guidelines to help you feel informed, validated, supported and confident in your child-rearing decisions.

It’s so important to base your daily decisions on what will strengthen your attachment with your child, given the current circumstances. Ask yourself: “Will this strengthen my connection with my child?”

If the situation is not ideal, but necessary, then ask yourself: “What can you do to minimize the impact of the situation for your child?” And, “What can you do to reconnect with your child?”

Enjoy your baby, knowing that the love you give will come back to you in more ways than you can imagine for generations to come.

Reflecting on 20 years of API

By Barbara Nicholson, cofounder of Attachment Parenting International (API) and coauthor of Attached at the Heart with Lysa Parker

API-Logo-20th-themeOn June 6, Lysa and I celebrated the official 20th anniversary of Attachment Parenting International’s founding, but as we like to say: It took us 20 years of teaching and parenting experience to lead us to a decision to start the nonprofit parenting organization you know as API.

As many of you know, we were special education teachers before we became mothers, then La Leche League (LLL) Leaders, students of Attachment Theory and researchers of the childhoods of all kinds of famous and infamous people.

It became obvious that someone needed to do something to help parents navigate the confusing messages we get from our culture: “If you pick them up, you’ll spoil them.” “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” “They’re only doing that to get attention.” “Break the will of the strong-willed child.”

All of these cultural “truths” are in exact opposition to clear and overwhelming research and biographical data on the optimum care and treatment of children. Yet, despite decades of studies, most parents and professionals are still very confused and misinformed! This is the result of the power of cultural myth, family dynamics and imprinting, and excellent marketing of products including books and magazines that have only profit — not child welfare — as their goal.

The journey to this remarkable milestone has been a long one but full of incredible memories and remarkable people.

api 1st exhibit at lll indiana 1994We had our first official “exhibit” for API at the La Leche League of Indiana conference in 1994. There, we met Edwina Froehlich, one of the LLL founders, who was so incredibly kind and supportive.

We later met all of the founders of LLL, who told us that if they hadn’t been so overwhelmed with focusing just on breastfeeding education and support, they would have loved to do what we were doing: focusing on parent education. It was obvious to them that their model of mother-to-mother support was needed by all parents, whether they were breastfeeding or not, as parenting is so demanding without mentors, peers and listening ears.

early api bodIn the early years, we leaned heavily on dear friends in our Nashville, Tennessee, USA, community to serve on our Board of Directors, staff our little office — which for seven years was in Barbara’s house — and volunteer for fundraising efforts. Many were LLL Leaders and friends, and others were like-minded professionals at local universities like Vanderbilt.

Lysa had a teacher friend in Alabama, USA, that was learning how to put up a website on the then-new Internet. She designed a very simple website for us, forcing us to get up to speed, create email addresses and come in to the 21st Century!

Amazingly we heard from some moms in Seattle, Washington, USA, who wanted to be our first API Support Group. We were off!

Of course, our Board was instrumental in helping us define our Eight Principles of Parenting, mission and vision. It’s an ongoing creative group that serves on our Board and other councils today, from all over the world!

There are too many people to thank here, but we want to mention Dr. Elliott Barker, the founder of the Canadian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the journal, Empathic Parenting. He was an incredible mentor to us as we struggled with the idea of founding a nonprofit. He was instrumental in opening doors to other professionals, guiding us in our vision and mission, warning us of those who might oppose us and even helping us design stationary so we could look professional when we wrote letters! He was so thrilled that our organization had a simple model of parent-to-parent support, which was in his experience one of the most-needed components in society.

Dr. Barker’s work with violent young offenders in the Canadian prison system confirmed what Dr. John Bowlby was seeing in England: These young people were all suffering from the lack of love and affection from a parental figure, and the only way to stem the tide of crime and violence is to support parents in their capacity to give love to their children.

Writing this brings back a flood of memories, reinvigorating why we started API and the gratitude for all the loving people who have given so selflessly of their time and expertise to help families grow strong in love and connection. To all of you who continue to lend your support, we send our love and passionate thanks.

Happy 20th Anniversary, API!