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Attachment Parenting. Erica Jordan, Ph.D. The University of West Florida. Defining Attachment. Strong, enduring, emotional bond Parents often begin to form attachments before the child’s birth Immediately following birth is a prime time for beginning to form the infant’s attachment

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attachment parenting

Attachment Parenting

Erica Jordan, Ph.D.

The University of West Florida

defining attachment
Defining Attachment
  • Strong, enduring, emotional bond
  • Parents often begin to form attachments before the child’s birth
  • Immediately following birth is a prime time for beginning to form the infant’s attachment
  • Bond transcends time, space, and even death
  • Occur on a continuum and secure attachments promote development
what attachment is not
What Attachment is Not
  • Not a new style of parenting
  • Not attachment therapy
  • Not helicopter parenting or “martyr mothering”
  • Not indulgent or permissive parenting
  • Not exclusively child-centered
  • Not only for mothers and not necessarily a badge of being a “good parent”
primed for attachment
Primed for Attachment
  • Work by researchers such as John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth, Harry Harlowe, and Rene Spitz confirmed that infants seemed to be “primed for attachment”
    • Bid for attention by crying, survival mechanism
    • Reflexes
    • Prefer parents’ voices immediately
    • Quickly learn the smell of their mother’s milk
    • Seek to be close to the parent, survival mechanism
    • Drawn to visual objects of “high-contrast”

Parents also had attachment promoting behaviors

    • Baby cries, parent feels compelled to attend to it
    • Mothers lactate when seeing or hearing a baby
    • Baby “smell” and touch is attractive to caregivers
    • Parents typically enter a “falling in love” stage with their infants
    • Parents hold infants close
    • Parents speak in high-pitched, parentese
    • The first 3 years of an infants life have been found to be a sensitive period for developing parent-child attachment
internal working model
Internal Working Model
  • Attachment relationships set the stage for socioemotional development
  • Becomes the framework for other relationships and for regulating negative emotional states
benefits to children
Benefits to Children
  • Have fewer health problems
  • Have better emotion regulation and cortisol balance
  • Are better prepared to explore the world around them
  • Better peer relations in early childhood and adolescence
  • Related to exploration in toddlerhood and IQ in children
  • More positive romantic relationships and more likely to have secure attachment relationships with their own children
benefits to parents and caregivers
Benefits to Parents and Caregivers
  • Find it easier to meet their child’s needs
  • Makes discipline easier
  • Promotes a positive, lasting relationship with the child
challenges to developing secure child caregiver attachments
Challenges to Developing Secure Child-Caregiver Attachments
  • The child’s temperament and individual differences
  • The parent or caregiver’s temperament
  • Lack of education
  • Influences from outside of the family

John B. Watson

    • “Father of behaviorism”
    • Conducted famous “Little Albert” studies
    • Used mass media to influence parents heavily during the 1930s – 1950s
    • Enthusiasm for science existed among parents at that time who sought out a “better” way of parenting
    • Emphasized that infants were “blank slates” and that environment was the sole influence on development

To accomplish this Watson emphasized:

    • Withholding affection to avoid spoiling children
    • Strict schedules for feeding
    • The “cry it out” idea
    • This became the prevailing belief about childrearing in the United States, influence is still see today
    • Popular because of its parent-centered outcomes
putting attachment theory to work

Putting Attachment Theory to Work

Practical Applications for Parents, Caregivers, and Clinicians

strategies for developing positive attachments in infancy
Strategies for Developing Positive Attachments in Infancy
  • The Seven “Baby Bs” (William Sears, M.D., & Martha Sears, R.N.)
  • Attachment Parenting International’s Attachment Parenting Guidelines (
  • Child development and family development research
  • Strategies should be chosen like tools (Sears & Sears) and may be unique to specific families.
developmentally appropriate expectations
Developmentally-Appropriate Expectations
  • One of the best strategies!
  • Having appropriate expectations about parenting.
  • Having appropriate expectations about typical ages and stages and also individual variations.
  • Beware of baby trainers.
  • Be flexible.
prepare for pregnancy birth and parenting
Prepare for Pregnancy,Birth and Parenting
  • Become educated about parenting philosophies and birthing options. Beware of information that is unfounded.
  • Find a good physician who is patient-focused.
  • Recommit the relationship between the expectant parents.
  • Recommit to maintaining supportive relationships with those who are good sources of encouragement.
  • Make peace with your own lingering childhood issues.
birth bonding
Birth Bonding
  • Be alert and active during birth.
  • Hold your baby immediately after birth. Delay routine procedures.
  • Notice baby’s state of quiet alertness.
  • Gaze, touch, talk.
  • Ask for privacy.
  • Room-in.
  • Don’t worry if you don’t feel an immediate connection. Engage in appropriate attachment promoting behaviors anyway.
  • Become educated about the many benefits of breastfeeding.
  • Breastfeed within the first hour.
  • Room-in.
  • Consult a lactation specialist.
  • Nurse frequently and do not make feeding a control issue.
  • Wean gently.
  • Join a support group (ex: “Breastfeeding in Combat Boots” Facebook Group).

Beware of baby trainers and strict schedules.

  • Force feeding an infant (unless under medical recommendation) and restricting an infants feeding is unhealthy and dangerous.
  • If necessary, bottle feed in ways that promote attachment.
    • If possible, use the pump.
    • Feed according to baby’s cues and don’t worry about spoiling a baby by feeding it.
    • Avoid bottle propping.
    • Don’t feel bad about bottle feeding.
becoming an expert on your child
Becoming an Expert onYour Child
  • A major attachment parenting principle. One of the best strategies!
  • Breastfeeding and bottle feeding with attachment in mind helps you to become an expert.
  • Be both sensitive and responsive.
  • Learn the child’s natural rhythm.
  • In cases of infant illness, adoption, foster care, and special needs, be prepared to take extra time.
use nurturing touch
Use Nurturing Touch
  • Be sure to provide lots of skin-to-skin contact.
  • Use infant massage.
  • Don’t overuse technology to babysit.
baby wearing
  • Baby-wearing
    • Eases stress and keeps baby calm.
    • Teaches contentment.
    • Helps babies to learn about their environments and promotes the development of speech.
    • Helps slow-to-gain babies.
    • Makes breastfeeding easier. Makes life of parent/caregiver easier and promotes becoming an expert.
ensure safe sleep physically and emotionally
Ensure Safe SleepPhysically and Emotionally
  • There are benefits to “sharing sleep” and safe co-sleeping.
    • Babies and parents sleep better.
    • Mother and baby have more similar stages of arousal.
    • Breastfeeding is easier.
    • Babies grow better.
    • It helps to make up for daytime separations and promotes the attachment bond.
  • Do not make sleeping a control issue.
  • It may also work to share sleep for part of the night.
  • Co-sleeping is extremely dangerous if safety guidelines are not followed.
safe co sleeping guidelines
Safe Co-Sleeping Guidelines
  • Do not…
    • Allow babysitters and older siblings to co-sleep.
    • Co-sleep on chairs, water beds, couches, beanbag chairs, or with soft bedding or cushions. No pillows near the baby.
    • Wear dangling jewelry or lingerie with strings or ties.
    • Wear strong perfumes, deodorants, hair sprays, etc.
    • Overdress the baby or put heavy blankets or sleepers on the baby.
    • Smoke.
    • Leave babies alone in adult beds (even for naps).
  • Do not co-sleep if…
    • You are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
    • You are extremely obese.
    • The baby is premature, low birth weight or has a high fever.
    • There is an animal in the bed.

When co-sleeping DO…

    • Place the baby on his or her back.
    • Breastfeed your baby if possible.
    • Dress the baby lightly. Keep the room cool (60 – 64 degrees) and well-ventilated.
    • Use a king-sized bed with a firm mattress with no heavy bedding. No cushions or pillows.
    • Place the baby between the mother and a mesh bedrail (not between the mother and the father).
    • Have only one child in the bed.
    • Wean gently.
additional nighttime tips
Additional Nighttime Tips
  • Be sure you are committed to co-sleeping before you choose it.
  • Be sure both parents are in agreement about sleeping arrangements to avoid resentment.
  • “Fill up” the baby during the day and before bedtime.
  • Sometimes you do have to just say no to nighttime nursing as the baby grows older.
  • Make a change if the family is getting less sleep. Co-sleeping is not for every family.
belief in baby s cries
Belief in Baby’s Cries
  • Crying is the baby’s way to communicate that they have a need. It is their primary signal.
  • Over time, distinct types of cries become evident and you can respond more appropriately.
  • Remember that dealing with young children takes patience—with the child and with yourself.
  • Take the “Caribbean approach.” “No problem, Baby.”

Early response means less crying.

  • Intentionally allowing babies to “cry it out” is stressful, unhealthy and can be dangerous for infants.
  • Resist the urge to believe that your baby is trying to control you or that you are not competent.
beware of baby trainers
Beware of Baby Trainers
  • Focus on routines—not rigid schedules.
  • Babies thrive when they are nurtured.
  • Involve others who are willing to help.
balance and boundaries
Balance and Boundaries
  • Sears’ 11 Commandments for Balanced Attachment Parenting
  • Take care of yourself.
  • Delegate to a father or other parent.
  • Avoid the prophets of bad baby advice.
  • Seek out helpful and supportive friends.
  • Have help at home.
  • Get to know your baby.
  • Give children what they need, not what they want.
  • Sleep when baby sleeps.
  • Groom and adorn yourself.
  • Heal your past.
  • Realize that you are not perfect (and don’t need to be).
special strategies for fathers
Special Strategies for Fathers
  • Make time to spend with the child. Take time to learn the tricks of parenting.
  • Be present at the birth.
  • Feed the baby and wear the baby.
  • Play, play, play!
  • Practice the other attachment parenting strategies.
  • Remember that good fathers make a huge positive impact on a child’s life.
strategies for child care settings
Strategies forChild Care Settings
  • Infants can form a few close attachments.
  • Child care settings can promote attachment by…
    • Having low staff turnover and experienced staff who are well-trained.
    • Allowing parents to drop in.
    • Placing photos of the parent in the baby’s napping area.
    • Playing recordings of mother or father talking or singing.
    • Placing t-shirt with mother’s scent in the napping area.
    • Feeding with love and respect. Allowing mothers to come in to nurse if they want.
    • Becoming an expert on each child and responding with sensitivity.
    • Recognizing that separation anxiety is normal and natural.
strategies for maintaining positive attachments
Strategies for Maintaining Positive Attachments
  • Continue to respond with sensitivity.
  • Encourage children to handle what they can handle.
  • Show interest in the child’s interests and activities.
  • Continue to use nurturing touch.
  • Practice positive discipline strategies.
strategies for clinicians
Strategies for Clinicians
  • Inform parents and warn them of problematic parenting strategies.
  • Educate parents about attachment and the benefits of developing secure attachments.
  • Connect to the family’s own values and help parents to develop their own unique plan.
  • Become an advocate for attachment parenting and attachment-friendly policies.
  • Become educated about dealing with special circumstances such as adoption, illness, etc.

Have developmentally-appropriate expectations!

  • Encourage parents to educate themselves about older ages and stages.
  • Can challenge child by promoting some behaviors that might be slightly above the child’s developmental level, but must be done with patience and with the realization that this will not always be possible. Also, avoid exasperating the child to minimize the feeling that they are helpless to succeed.
major sources
Major Sources
  • Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research, and Clinical Applications (by Jude Cassidy and Phillip R. Shaver)
  • Attachment Parenting: A Commonsense Guide to Understanding and Nurturing Your Baby (by Dr. William and Martha Sears)
  • Attachment Parenting International organization (