Sunday, September 21, 2008

AP 101

With Attachment Parenting month approaching, I thought I’d provide an Intro to AP of sorts for those who haven’t been formally introduced to the topic, and as a prologue to posts to come. If you’re already an AP’er, you might be more familiar with Dr. Sears’ “7 Baby B’s” than the eight principles articulated by Attachment Parenting International listed below, but you’ll find the two are consistent, and essentially mirror each other. It all points to the same place: nurturing a strong bond with your baby.

Attachment Parenting (“AP”) isn’t a fringe philosophy endorsed only by the patchouli-wearing hippie set. It’s simply a natural approach to parenting that can be observed across centuries and across the globe. Certainly there are multitudes of people practicing attachment parenting without ever having heard it referred to as such. They’re just doing what feels right for their families - and can often be heard to exclaim “I didn’t know there was a name for it!” when they learn of AP itself.

As discussed in this previous post, the premise of AP philosophy is that children thrive not only emotionally, but physically, neurologically, cognitively, and socially when their innate needs are consistently met by loving caregivers, creating the strong bonds of secure attachment. A nice concept, certainly, but a bit abstract on its own. Fortunately, AP advocates like Dr. Sears and API have broken down the overarching idea of AP into several central tenets. API has identified eight principles of attachment parenting:

1. Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting. Become emotionally and physically prepared for pregnancy and birth. Research available options for healthcare providers and birthing environments, and become informed about routine newborn care. Continuously educate yourself about developmental stages of childhood, setting realistic expectations and remaining flexible.

2. Feed with Love and Respect. Breastfeeding is the optimal way to satisfy an infant's nutritional and emotional needs. "Bottle Nursing" adapts breastfeeding behaviors to bottle-feeding to help initiate a secure attachment. Follow the feeding cues for both infants and children, encouraging them to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. Offer healthy food choices and model healthy eating behavior.

3. Respond with Sensitivity. Build the foundation of trust and empathy beginning in infancy. Tune in to what your child is communicating to you, then respond consistently and appropriately. Babies cannot be expected to self-soothe, they need calm, loving, empathetic parents to help them learn to regulate their emotions. Respond sensitively to a child who is hurting or expressing strong emotion, and share in their joy.

4. Use Nurturing Touch. Touch meets a baby's needs for physical contact, affection, security, stimulation, and movement. Skin-to-skin contact is especially effective, such as during breastfeeding, bathing, or massage. Carrying or babywearing also meets this need while on the go. Hugs, snuggling, back rubs, massage, and physical play help meet this need in older children.

5. Engage in Nighttime Parenting. Babies and children have needs at night just as they do during the day; from hunger, loneliness, and fear, to feeling too hot or too cold. They rely on parents to soothe them and help them regulate their intense emotions. Sleep training techniques can have detrimental physiological and psychological effects. Safe co-sleeping has benefits to both babies and parents.

6. Provide Consistent and Loving Care. Babies and young children have an intense need for the physical presence of a consistent, loving, responsive caregiver: ideally a parent. If it becomes necessary, choose an alternate caregiver who has formed a bond with the child and who cares for him in a way that strengthens the attachment relationship. Keep schedules flexible, and minimize stress and fear during short separations.

7. Practice Positive Discipline. Positive discipline helps a child develop a conscience guided by his own internal discipline and compassion for others. Discipline that is empathetic, loving, and respectful strengthens the connection between parent and child. Rather than reacting to behavior, discover the needs leading to the behavior. Communicate and craft solutions together while keeping everyone's dignity intact.

8. Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life. It is easier to be emotionally responsive when you feel in balance. Create a support network, set realistic goals, put people before things, and don't be afraid to say "no". Recognize individual needs within the family and meet them to the greatest extent possible without compromising your physical and emotional health. Be creative, have fun with parenting, and take time to care for yourself.

No parent is perfect, and no parent can successfuly implement all of the principles, all of the time. But they provide some great guidelines, and remind us of what kind of parents we aspire to be. Look for posts on how the principles are applied in the everyday lives of AP families - including ours - both here on this blog, as well as over on API Speaks. And feel free to share your own!

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