Disclaimer: I am by no means qualified to preach about perfect parenting, but I'm trying and I'm learning as I go. It's hard, probably one of the hardest jobs I've ever had, and I'd love for you to learn right alongside me. I've taken the info for this blog post from the Attachment Parenting International website to best explain parenting in a natural and positive light.
I'm so proud of this generation of parents. For too long, children were to be seen and not heard, their emotions didn't matter, and had too high of expectations placed on them. Then, it seems that the next generation of parents decided that they would go to the other extreme and do everything for their children leaving kids helpless, not able to handle their emotions because they never had to feel them, and afraid of the word "no". To me, it seems that our generation is starting to bring back the happy medium. We aren't too harsh, but we aren't pushovers either. It's best to remember that discipline can be done without harsh punishment or demeaning words and that your kids will turn out just fine if you don't spank or yell. But it's just as important to hold healthy boundaries so that kids learn how to function in the world.
Here are a few other pillars of Attachment Parenting to finalize our Natural Parenting Series.
1. Respond with Sensitivity
This begins in infanthood and should continue throughout childhood. The foundation of trust and empathy is built when there is understanding and appropriate response to your infant's needs. Babies learn to trust when their needs are consistently responded to with sensitivity. You cannot spoil a baby. Well-meaning friends and family members may tell you that if you respond to every need of your baby's that you'll spoil them and make them more dependent on you. Science shows otherwise. Studies have shown that the more a baby and child are sensitively responded to, the more independent they become as they grow older. It is perfectly normal for babies to want constant physical contact and more sensitive babies may require more. Just as sleep isn't a one-size-fits-all matter, neither are personalities. Tuning into your baby's unique personality and sensitively offering them what they need in the moment will create strong attachment bonds that will eventually lead them to independence.
For the toddler and older child, it is important to remember that tantrums are their way of expressing their misunderstood emotions. The favorite phrase "be the calm in the chaos" is key to diffusing a tantrum. "They are not giving you a hard time, they're having a hard time" is another good mantra to remember.
2. Use Nurturing Touch
Touch builds brighter brains by stimulating growth hormones. Nurturing touch doesn't only fulfill a physical need, it fulfills affection, security, stimulation and movement as well. There are many ways to offer nurturing touch to a baby, such as:
For the older child:
-Frequent hugs and snuggles
-Wrestling and tickling, as initiated by the child
-Sitting on your lap while reading or playing
All humans - from birth through old age - rely on touch for reconnection.
3. Consistent & Loving Care
This goes beyond parental care, too. Daily loving care and interactions build strong, necessary bonds for the child. Ideally, consistent care will be provided by a parent, but realistically speaking that may not be possible. If so, the caregiver should be carefully chosen so that the child will receive consistent and loving care and build a strong bond with them. Attachment to others, not only the parents, is a great way to teach the child about the world. Expect and encourage your child to form attachment with loving caregivers outside of yourself.
If working outside of the home, you can make sure that your schedule maximizes time spent with your child. Choose the caregiver who most closely aligns with your parenting philosophies and will implement the practices.
For short separations, remember that even older children have a difficult time with separation sometimes. Don't shame or attempt to prevent your child from crying. Make sure the child is familiar with the caregiver prior to asking them to remain with them while separated from you. Respect your child's feelings and follow his lead, always spending ample time reconnecting upon your return.
4. Positive Discipline
I'm not sure about you, but this is THE HARDEST part of parenting for me, especially during these toddler years. The "golden rule" of parenting that "parents should treat their children the way they would want to be treated" is the goal, but boy is it hard mid-tantrum over what is served for snack. Studies have shown that empathetic and compassionate discipline strengthens the bond between parent and child while traditional discipline that is harsh or punitive actually weakens the connection. "Remember that the ultimate goal of discipline is to help children develop self-control and self-discipline." Positively disciplining does not make you a push-over and your child will not "get away with everything". These common misconceptions are what typically drive parents away from positive discipline.
It's best to remember that respect is a two way street and that emotions are ok. That seems like common sense but out society has squashed these two when it comes to parenting. For too long, corporal punishment was expected of parents because if they didn't, then their kids would turn out disrespectful and unruly. The opposite is actually true and has been shown in research. Attachment Parenting International says it best,
"Studies show that spanking and other physical discipline techniques can create ongoing behavioral and emotional problems" and "controlling or manipulative discipline compromises the trust between parent and child, and harms the attachment bond."
So, what to do? First, examine your own childhood experiences and how they may negatively impact your parenting. Addressing your childhood wounds will help you understand why you react the way that you do and will allow you to heal so that you can parent from the heart. Prevention, distraction, and substitution are key in the early years. Learning what is developmentally appropriate can help to keep your expectations of your child realistic. And finally, remember that everyone messes up, but when you do, it's how you repair the relationship that matters.
You matter too, Mom and Dad! Many who practice gentle or attachment parenting place meeting baby's needs above their own. You cannot pour from an empty cup. You MUST put the oxygen mask on yourself first. Let me repeat...YOU CANNOT POUR FROM AN EMPTY CUP. Am I screaming that at you? Maybe, but just trying to say it louder for the people in the back.
Everyone's needs - your baby's AND yours - need to be recognized, validated, and met by any means possible. Having a support system is key but when that's not possible, fueling yourself with healthy foods, exercise, and mindfulness is best.
Know yourself and how to recognize your symptoms of burn out. If you feel feel overworked, under-appreciated, angry, resentful, powerless, hopeless, drained, frustrated, detached, anti-social, unsatisfied, resentful, like a failure, indifferent, or lacking motivation you should get help immediately! Sometimes just having someone to listen to you will do it, so professional counseling is a great option. Remain in the moment and remember that "this too shall pass". You've got this and you matter too!
Parenting is a learn-as-you-go job. It's not easy, but it doesn't have to be hard. All dignities can be kept intact and you can come out on the other side with strong bonds formed with your children. Setting the precedent early on for mutual respect and validating everyone's needs will set you up for a beautiful relationship that will last a lifetime.
I hope you enjoyed the Natural Parenting Series and I'd love to know your favorite part so comment below and let me know!
Allesanda received her Bachelors in Behavioral Science from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in December 2013. She now lives in North Texas with her husband and three children. As a maternal support practitioner and educator of family sleep and eco-friendly living, she blogs about family sleep, wellness, nutrition, pregnancy, birth, postpartum, holistic health, and parenting.