It’s not called permissive parenting

The Leader
The Leader

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on Sept. 23, 2008, but it serves to remind parents how Attachment Parenting differs from permissive parenting.

The world is full of followers, but you’re not one of them. ~J.L. Glass

I recently attended a seminar taught by motivational speaker J.L. Glass — a very funny, charismatic speaker at that — and he mentioned that he tells his kids that. It got me to thinking about all of the messages we give our children, both verbally and through our actions, and how much of our parenting, good and bad, we inherited from our parents.

Growing up, we may have thought that we would do things way different than our parents. By the time we become parents ourselves, we realize that our parents had reasons for the way that they did things.

And now we raise our own children in our own home with our values and morals, and then they go out into the world and we hope for the best. They are exposed to many things outside of the home that we would not necessarily choose for them: maybe it’s popular music, or fashion, or junk food, or the desire for more consumer goods, or whatever.

Part of parenting is letting go and trusting them to make decisions for themselves.

So how do you get to that point of trust?

Well, to generalize, there seem to be two main parenting styles:

  1. Controlling everything, and
  2. Letting the child control everything.

Some parents decide everything for their child, from their food choices to their friends and activities. I grew up with some of that, and I resented not being able to choose.

But I’ve also seen some parents that let their kids choose anything, and the parents get run all over by them. In my humble opinion, giving a child free rein doesn’t seem to be very effective in the long run.

I think there’s a middle ground that is respectful to the parents and the child, and that effectively teaches the skills for family living and future involvement with the rest of society. And this is where Attachment Parenting fits.

Some of the parenting guidelines that have worked for my family include:

  • Our actions must be in line with our words — If we tell a child one thing and then do another, what do they learn from that? I got called on this by my daughter recently, and I learned something from her. Imitation is how children learn almost everything, and their sense of integrity comes from our own.
  • Our children must know that they are loved — Distinguishing between your child and your child’s action is super important. A child is never bad. They may misbehave or make mistakes, but they are still our beloved child, doing the best they can. And they need to hear that they are loved, often.
  • Our children must have some choices — They do need to be able to control a tiny part of the universe, even if it’s only choosing which plate to eat from. Being able to make compromises so that everyone’s needs are met is a cornerstone of a strong family.
  • We must openly communicate about our expectations — If they don’t know what is not acceptable, children can’t be held accountable for their actions. We are the parents. It’s up to us to teach them.
  • No bribery — We don’t bribe our kids or offer them rewards for promising “good” behavior.
  • Setting clear boundaries is also freedom — It’s kind of like baby-proofing a room. When children know their boundaries, they are free to explore in a safe environment. We also have time limits for things like movies or internet access, so they get some of what they want, while we get some of what we want, like no couch potatoes.
  • We must stand behind our words — If we have clear expectations for behavior, and clear consequences for misbehavior, then we need to be firm in administering them. No free passes… One of the consequences in our family for disrespectful behavior is doing extra chores. Our reasoning is, if we want to be able to enjoy all of the good things as a family, we all have to play our part and help out. If we have a child throwing a tantrum about not getting their way, then our whole family is affected by it. Pitching in to help with the not-so-fun stuff works for us. Usually they calm down about halfway through the chores, and they realize that they actually have it pretty darn good most of the time.
  • Speak positive words and give kudos for good behavior — Just acknowledging the tiny bits of growth that happen everyday is uplifting to kids. A kind word is a powerful thing. We internalize the messages we get, so let’s help by spreading more love and less criticism. Praising the positive and encouraging it in our children ultimately takes way less energy than focusing on the negative behavior.

All you need is love…well, and some positive discipline.


Image: Hamed Saber at Flickr under Creative Commons

Transitions in Attachment Parenting: Infancy to Toddlerhood, Part 2

We are continuing this series with two more of the most common challenges of transitioning from infancy to toddlerhood as your baby grows. Here is what parents had to say …

imgp1215What do you find most challenging about transitioning from using AP in infancy to using AP in toddlerhood?

Challenge: Criticism and lack of support

  • Outside influences concern me, as well as feeling the pressure in public when maintaining boundaries.
  • Other people’s comments!
  • Simply having to deal with others’ reactions to various principles of AP. People are much more vocal with their opinions when you use gentle, positive discipline as opposed to physical punishment with a toddler. It becomes less acceptable to be responsive and sensitive to a child’s needs.
  • Realizing that for the most part, we don’t live in an AP-friendly society. Support and encouragement can be hard to find if you are doing everything quite differently compared to the majority of people in a community.
  • Not having a partner who embraces positive discipline.
  • Enacting positive discipline and feeling the distinct difference in parenting choices with peers.
  • Outside opinions
  • It’s hard to explain to people that you ARE teaching your toddler right from wrong; that it just might not look like it because you aren’t using traditional discipline and punishment.
  • Spousal and family support

Tip: Find a network of support.
Being able to connect to a group of like-minded parents is invaluable. Whether it’s online, in person or some combination of both, make sure you have someone you can turn to when you need a boost of encouragement. API offers a variety of way to connect with attachment-minded moms and dads, so you can always find a source for support. Many API leaders have started groups in their hometowns precisely because they are the ones looking for support! Local AP chapter meetings, telephone leader support, online forums, social media groups … API has places you can turn for help, advice or just to vent. Support is crucial in parenting; if you’re not getting it, seek it out!

Challenge: Perceived entitlement

  • I find it hard to discipline gently and not let my kids walk all over me.
  • I feel like my kids have a sense of entitlement, but it could just be that they have a heightened sense of confidence. But sometimes I have a “parent fail” when they seem out of control.
  • The attitude! Little babies just have needs. Toddlers want it all right this second, 24/7.
  • Teaching my toddler to wait when she has never waited for anything since birth.

Tip: Set limits with a balance of kindness and firmness.
It’s OK to say no. Toddlers will be upset about that—and that’s OK, too. Don’t confuse poor brain communication with entitlement. With their developing senses of autonomy and initiative, toddlers are hard-wired to explore their environment, discover boundaries and act with purpose. They just lack sufficient neural pathways to help regulate feeling and doing. So when we set a limit, tell them to wait or respond with a “No,” the emotions of their midbrain take over, and they communicate and act in the most effective way they know how—whining, yelling, crying and a general lack of patience or understanding.

Responding with sensitivity by setting limits with kindness and firmness will help children develop the neural coordination in their brain that will (eventually) allow them to respond with patience and understanding while still experiencing those necessary boundaries you set for their for health and safety. However, this takes years! Toddlerhood is only the beginning of neural development. You may see the beginnings of a child’s development of patience, understanding or self-control in one moment and in the next moment “entitled” behavior. This is normal. Children have years to go before their development reaches full maturity, and that growth is non-linear. There will be times of progression as well as regression.

The key is to consistently respond with kindness and firmness throughout their development, so children are able to form those neural pathways between feeling and doing.

Kindness: acknowledge and accept the child’s emotions.

Firmness: hold your limit.

I love you and the answer is no.
You really want to ___. It’s so fun! And it’s not safe.
You’re angry I won’t let you ___. It’s OK to be mad about that.
I’m sorry you have to wait; I know it’s hard!

Developing understanding, self-regulation and self-control will happen; it just takes time for the neural connections to develop and for the child to move forward from parental regulation. But every time you respond with kindness and firmness you are helping this process.

Don’t miss Part 1 of this series, and watch for Part 3 coming soon!