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What is Attachment Parenting?

There are probably as many styles of parenting as there are parents. But there’s one parenting movement in particular – called attachment parenting – that’s gaining in popularity around the country. But what is attachment parenting, and is it right for your family?

At the heart of attachment parenting is the word and concept of attachment. Attachment parenting seeks to develop a strong and secure bond between parents and their children through physical closeness. It’s believed that this bond will facilitate the child's growth physically, emotionally, and intellectually, and help the child develop effective relationships as they mature. Attachment parenting is more than a set of activities – it’s a way of looking at the process of parenthood.

The term “attachment parenting” was first coined by Dr. William Sears, a noted pediatrician and author of a number of books on children, covering everything from pregnancy and breastfeeding, to discipline, nutrition, and vaccines. He proposed a series of behaviors that would facilitate the development of this strong bond, calling them the 7 Bs. Since his original work, a number of books have been written on the subject of attachment parenting, and several organizations supporting attachment parenting have been formed.

Attachment parenting is more than a set of activities, but there are certain activities which go along with this way of looking at the role of parenting. Attachment parenting begins with developing an emotional connection with your child as soon as possible. For many parents this process begins even before birth, when they prepare for a birth that will be as healthy for the baby as possible. Immediate bonding after delivery is a common goal, as is breastfeeding on demand for a minimum of one year.

Perhaps the most visible aspect of attachment parenting is “baby wearing,” or using a sling to keep your child as close to you as possible. Research has shown that when young children are “worn” in a sling, they cry less, spend more time being alert and attentive, and, because of increased stimulation, develop more neural pathways in the brain leading to greater intelligence. Using a sling also facilitates breastfeeding and helps soothe high-need babies and those with colic.

Co-sleeping, or night time parenting, is another practice commonly used by attachment parents. Sleeping either in the bed with their parents or alongside them, infants are comforted by their parents' presence and develop improved breathing habits. While co-sleeping occasionally is reported as being unsafe or dangerous, when practiced responsibly, the practice is safe for the baby.

Attachment parents respond to their infant's cries, in direct opposition to parenting styles that encourage letting the baby “cry it out.” Attachment parents don’t believe that their babies cry in order to manipulate them, but rather to communicate. When a baby learns that her needs will be met, she will develop a sense of trust and security and will, consequently, cry less.

Spanking is generally not considered appropriate by attachment parents. They prefer using discipline that’s more instructive than punitive, and don’t believe in corporal punishment. This isn’t to say that attachment parents don’t practice discipline – merely that they strive to model respectful attitudes and behaviors as they instruct and correct.

A final behavior recommended by Dr. Sears is balance. A child shouldn’t run the family, but rather, should be a part of the family. Carving out time for the parents to strengthen and maintain their relationship as a couple is also an important part of attachment parenting.

Not every attachment parent practices each of these behaviors – most families choose the behaviors that work best for them and their particular situations. At the very core of attachment parenting is the attitude that being connected to your child and being responsive to your child is the best way to help them grow into well-balanced, emotionally and intellectually healthy adults.

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