Interview with Attachment Parenting International

Attachment Parenting International is a grassroots, mainly volunteer-run, non-profit organization that educates and supports parents in their effort to raise secure, joyful and empathetic children. This way families become stronger and the world a place with more empathy. We asked API to answer ten questions for the Non-hip Hippies. Take a few minutes to read this interview and let us know what you think in the the comments section!

Could you please introduce yourself?

My name is Lysa Parker and I am the co-founder of Attachment Parenting International (API). I am also a Certified Family Life Educator (CFLE) with the National Council on Family Relations and a Certified Educator of Infant Massage (CEIM) with Infant Massage USA.

1.On we read “The long-range vision of Attachment Parenting is to raise children who will become adults with a highly developed capacity for empathy and connection. It eliminates violence as a means for raising children, and ultimately helps to prevent violence in society as a whole”. It sounds like a wonderful yet very ambitious cause. Is there empirical or scientific data that children that are raised with the attachment parenting principles are indeed more empathetic? If not, do you see such research taking place in the future?

API’s Eight Principles of Parenting that we advocate are supported with strong evidence in and of themselves, from attachment research, neuroscience, anthropology and child development. We feel very confident in these principles and that they provide for the optimal development of children. There is not empirical evidence to support Attachment Parenting (AP) per se and we hope that researchers will become interested in looking at AP families.

2.Parenting starts from the pregnancy and birth. It seems that many people who choose attachment parenting also prefer to have natural pregnancies and home births. Midwifes and doulas often replace the obstetricians. Is this natural approach encouraged by attachment parenting? And is it for everyone?

Absolutely, the natural approach is encouraged by Attachment Parenting International because research has shown that the more medical interventions the greater the risk for complications with the birth, with the mother and/or the baby. Home births aren’t for everyone and we wouldn’t encourage everyone to have a home birth but parents should do what feels comfortable for them and with as much knowledge as possible. Parents have to advocate for themselves and for their baby and often that means hiring a midwife or a doula who will support them in their decisions. A midwife and a doula should be considered a necessity for every birth, in my experience, whether it is at home or in the hospital. What has been lost in the medical model of birth is the sacredness of birth. When experienced as naturally as possible, there is an inherent attitude of sacredness and respect for the process and the baby. For those parents who did not have a natural birth or rather a traditional hospital birth doesn’t mean they can’t practice attachment parenting. AP is a belief in respecting and protecting an infant or child’s needs and innocence.

3.The word “attachment” has a negative connotation for some people, as it is the second part of over-attachment. Is there a danger that children who are raised according to the attachment parenting principles will become less independent or spoiled growing up?

If we stay true to the principles in a way that we are attuned to our child, that we follow their lead with appropriate encouragement and guidance, then no, they will not grow up to be less dependent or to be spoiled. As Drs. Gabor Mate and Gordon Neufeld have said that the real spoiling of children is ignoring their genuine needs. Can AP parents go overboard? Yes, like any other parent regardless of parenting philosophy. We bring into every relationship our fears, our insecurities our hopes and dreams. For some people, that can manifest itself in permissive parenting or helicopter parenting. The essence of attachment parenting is be a conscious parent, opening our hearts to healing our own wounds and making a conscious decision to make every effort not to give our children our baggage from childhood and be willing to work on ourselves.

4.Feeding with love and respect is one of the pillars of A.P.. Breast feeding and feeding the children when they are hungry and not according to a fixed schedule are some ways to practice A.P.. But how is this possible in a world where often both parents work 8 or more hours a day and they are away from home most of the day? How can A.P. Feeding practices be adapted to their schedules?

When parents work outside the home and have hired a childcare provider, it’s important to educate the caregiver about attachment parenting (if they are not already aligned with AP.) The principle of “feed with love and respect” supports respecting a child’s hunger cues rather than relying on a fixed schedule. If a caregiver is feeding breast milk then she should know that breastfed babies need to eat more frequently because breast milk digests fairly quickly, she can learn the signals a baby gives when they are getting hungry like rooting, sucking or putting a hand in the mouth. We strongly suggest that the caregiver use breastfeeding behaviors when feeding the infant in order to provide the closeness, touch and engagement that breastfed babies experience. Toddlers are busy and curious little beings. They burn a lot of calories and need frequent healthy snacks as well as small meals. Parents and caregivers can provide them healthy snacks on a small table or tray that they can have access too when they are hungry. Another aspect of feeding with respect is modeling and teaching children the importance of eating healthy foods. Meals don’t have to be on a fixed schedule either but certainly routines are good. So are family meals. When you are together, mealtime is an important time for reconnecting. Parents can create a strong value and tradition of sharing the family meal, even if that means only one time a week.

5.In attachment parenting crying is regarded as the sign of a need. When a child cries, it needs food, sleep or a diaper change. The traditional approach is that if the child is fed, clean and has a secure place to sleep and is still crying, parents should just let him/her “cry it out”. What is wrong with that?

Leaving a child to cry without trying to comfort would be no different than leaving any other loved one alone to cry. If our spouse or partner ignored us when we were upset, how would it make us feel? It doesn’t model empathy or respect and at worst it stimulates toxic stress chemicals in a child’s brain. Attachment Parenting International recognizes that parents have challenges related to sleep and offers important support and information on crying and sleep in resources and a parent forum, and of course, API support groups are invaluable.

6.Physical contact is also considered of the utmost importance when it comes to the nurturing of emotionally healthy children, according to A.P.. Skin-to-skin contact is a key phrase in all A.P. Websites. Why is that? And how can you make sure that you nurture your child enough emotionally without “suffocating” it with your expressions of affection?

There are other ways we can express affection or provide touch to our children without suffocating them. Skin-to-skin contact usually refers to infants but older children can benefit from massage and play. In fact rough and tumble play is a great way to incorporate touch, stimulate growth and bonding hormones.

7.Attachment parenting is about teaching by example, among other things. This means that if we want the next generation of children to be against violence, it only makes sense to bring them up without using violence. This means excluding spanking, yelling and other forms of verbal and non-verbal violence. What other alternatives are there to discipline a child and teach her/him about limits?

There are no easy answers but one of the best thing that parents can do is understand how their own childhood experiences will have a strong influence on how they perceive their child’s behavior and how they discipline. It requires a new way of thinking about child behavior and what our ultimate goal is for our child. AP encourages positive discipline. The goal of positive discipline is to instill inner discipline and that comes teaching rather than punishing a child. Positive discipline is rooted in respect for the child and seeing the world through their eyes, which means knowing more about normal child development. For instance it’s developmentally appropriate for toddlers to get into everything, even when they know their mom says “no”. They don’t have the ability to put on the brakes, neurologically speaking, so they go ahead and do whatever it is you don’t want them to do because they are driven by curiosity and desire to learn. So the best thing to do is to redirect them, tell them why you don’t want them to pull the cat’s tail and then redirect. Think of discipline as an opportunity to teach valuable lessons about boundaries, about empathy, about family values and about love. The parent-child attachment relationship can be compromised if discipline is harsh and forceful because it breaks down the bonds of trust.

We devote an entire chapter on positive discipline in our new book Attached at the Heart with numerous tips and recommendations for parents. Nonviolent communication is a wonderful strategy that teaches adults and children how to communicate their feelings and needs without over-reacting. Learning a new way to discipline in a positive way is like learning a new language. It takes education, patience and a lot of practice.

8.When a child comes to a family, weather biological or adopted, everything changes. A.P makes it clear that navigating the family through these changing and finding a balance is important. The relationship of the two partners, the relationships between siblings, the work versus free time balance are all issues that need to be handled. Can you choose and give us a top 5 of actions or affirmations that can help the family stay balanced?

  • Set realistic goals
  • Establish routines
  • Put people before things
  • Eat healthy foods and exercise
  • Take time for yourself

When it comes to babies, one popular affirmation is when in doubt “follow your heart and listen to your baby!”

9.Consistency is another key factor of A.P.. Nowadays though many working parents do not live close to the grandparents, who could be this consistent and loving care provider. Additionally, an in-home nanny can be out of the budget. Is there a way to work around such a situation?

You have to be proactive. Network with people with shared values, find an API support group, or become an API Leader and begin a group, or find a La Leche League group in your area. They will be a great resource for parents and they may have leads for local nurturing caregivers or offer such a service themselves. If possible parents can try to rework their works schedules so one parent can be with their child. The key is to avoid caregiver roulette. When checking out childcare providers, ask questions, talk to other parents, find out what is the caregiver turnover rate and the caregiver/child ratio. Parents need to be diligent in selecting a qualified caregiver, one who is willing to learn and follow their attachment parenting values.

10.Can you provide our readers who are interested in exploring attachment parenting with the 3 best books about attachment parenting for beginners?

Of course we would recommend our book,

  1. Attached at the Heart: Eight Proven Parenting Principles for Raising Connected and Compassionate Children and
  2. Hold on to Your Kids, by Dr. Gordon Neufeld and Dr. Gabor Mate
  3. Attachment Parenting by Dr. William and Martha Sears
  4. Nonviolent Communication by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg

Thank you!

If you are interested in attachment parenting, you can get a free membership at attachment parenting international. This way you gain access to many parenting resources and you will also receive weekly and monthly newsletters and invitations to API events.

If you want to use material from the API website, please take a moment to read the Terms of Use page. The API team is very friendly and will help you out.

*You can check out all the “Family and Parenting” posts here*

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