Attached at the Heart
1. Q: What is Attachment Parenting (AP)?
A: Attachment parenting is based on the principles of attachment theory in developmental psychology. According to attachment theory, children are born with the intrinsic expectation of forming a strong emotional bond, secure attachment, with a primary caregiver during childhood. Without secure attachment there can be lifelong negative consequences from poor behavior and failure in school to violence. Sensitive and emotionally available parenting helps a child form a secure attachment that fosters a child’s emotional development and wellbeing. Principles of attachment parenting aim to increase development of a child’s secure attachment and decrease insecure attachment. In many ways it is the practical application of attachment theory.
2. Q: Why is creating a secure attachment so important?
A: A secure attachment is formed when a parent responds to the baby in a sensitive and empathic way, teaching the baby trust and empathy, the foundations for feeling a deep security. Neuroscience tells us that a baby’s optimum brain growth is dependent on feeling safe, protected and nurtured in order to develop emotionally, intellectually and physically. This first environment forms a foundation for all future relationships. Qualities like empathy, understanding and the ability to be responsive to others in adulthood are first learned in infancy by how a baby is treated. Oftentimes this requires changing our perception of children because we know that children are treated in direct proportion to how they are perceived by the adults who care for them.
3. Q: Is there research to support the AP Principles?
A: Our book was written in part to share a portion of the mountains of research in many different fields of study. Other than developmental psychology, there are studies in anthropology, physiology, neuroscience, sociology and even genetics among others. These studies are revealing an exciting trend in cross-discipline research, presenting the interconnections of how brain development, our DNA and human relationships all intersect, giving science a more complete picture of optimal human development.
4. Q: Why is AP considered extreme parenting?
A: Some of the principles of AP are considered unusual in U.S. society because we have come to rely more on technology rather than the human body and human interaction. Many of the AP practices are accepted as the norm in other cultures around the world. For instance, in most Asian cultures, babies and young children sleep with their parents and they would think it very strange to have a young child in a separate room at night. Around the world the average weaning age of breastfeeding is 4 years old, but it’s rare to see a baby nurse past 6 months of age in the U.S. However if we looked at parenting practices in the U.S. a century ago, we would be surprised to see how much we have changed over the years. Affluence created larger homes and separate sleeping spaces, and the burgeoning business of parenting advice has created a gap between what is developmentally appropriate and what is the current fad or trends in parenting.
5. Q: What are some common misunderstandings of AP?
A: Probably the most common misunderstanding is that you can only be an AP parent if you stay home, nurse your babies for years, eat organic food, don’t vaccinate and carry your babies all day long. Yet, it’s amazing to see the wide variety of AP families who have found creative ways to meet their family’s needs, including working parents, adoptive families, foster families and every other combination. The key is to use the AP Principles in doing your best to keep family connection strong, based on the 4 P’s of Attachment: Protection, Proximity, Predictability and Play.
6. Q: Why is play so important in a child’s attachment?
A: A lot of new research is being done on the importance of play for all kinds of things, including depression but when it comes to attachment play this is where most dads are the experts. Play stimulates all kinds of physiological processes and chemicals, such as endorphins and oxytocin. Oxytocin is a major hormone that is often called the “love” or “mothering” hormone but men produce it too. We like to think of it as the hormone of connection. Anytime we feel joy, happiness, and delight with someone we feel more connected.
7. Q: In 2012, worldwide attention was given to AP due to the TIME magazine cover of a young mother nursing her 3 year old toddler. It was reported that AP is basically these three things: Breastfeeding, Babywearing and Bed sharing. You say it’s about eight principles. What are they?
8. Q: You have spent almost 20 years advocating for this style of parenting. Why is AP so important to you?
A: We have experienced first-hand how the skills we learned through AP transformed us as mothers and as women. We have become advocates and activists for children and their families because we believe this is more than a parenting movement; we now have a “big picture” perspective of the effects of childrearing on almost every aspect of the health of a community and society with the research to back it up. We also have been inspired by the work of so many others who were pioneers in attachment and child advocacy. We feel we are following in the footsteps of these role models who have paved the way… we feel we are messengers who have dedicated our lives to sharing their work with all parents and child advocates.
Attached at the Heart is available at bookstores, online or to order directly from the publisher, www.hcibooks.com or (800) 441-5569.
Barbara Nicholson, MEd, CEIM, is a La Leche League International support group facilitator for over 25 years and co-founder of Attachment Parenting International. She is the mother of four sons.
Lysa Parker, MS, CFLE, CEIM, is the co-founder of Attachment Parenting International. She is a writer, speaker and parenting consultant in private practice, and the mother of 2 sons and a stepdaughter.