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What is Attachment Parenting?


What is attachment parenting? Though they sound alike, the term attachment parenting is not the same as secure attachment. Attachment parenting encourages caregivers to connect with their baby or toddler in specific ways during their early years. Through practices like physical touch and bedsharing with the primary caregiver, advocates of this approach suggest children can grow up to be healthier and share a secure attachment and profound bond with their guardian(s). 

As you embark on the experience of becoming a parent, you may consider different parenting approaches to help you establish a connection with your child in their early stages. Whether you’ve just welcomed a newborn into the world or have a lively toddler at home, you may be familiar with the idea of attachment parenting


So, what is attachment parenting? Though they sound alike, the term attachment parenting is not the same as secure attachment. Attachment parenting encourages caregivers to connect with their baby or toddler in specific ways during their early years. Through practices like physical touch and bedsharing with the primary caregiver, advocates of this approach suggest children can grow up to be healthier and share a secure attachment and profound bond with their guardian(s). 


While there may be benefits of some of the steps this approach suggests, there isn’t enough evidence to support the idea that it can lead to a securely attached child. As developmental psychologist Alan Sroufe explains, “Attachment is not a set of tricks…These [attachment parenting principles] are all fine things, but they’re not the essential things. There is no evidence that they are predictive of a secure attachment.”


In truth, there are many different approaches to parenting—and a number of different methods that may help you raise securely attached children. Learning about the benefits and drawbacks of any approach can help you determine which is right for you and your family.


Who Invented Attachment Parenting?

Before we dig into the details of attachment parenting, it can help to understand the facts and research on attachment theory and how it is different. The development of attachment theory is attributed to psychiatrists John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, who explored how a child’s relationship with their caregiver could provide a sense of safety, security, and protection. They believed the way we experience and navigate relationships has to do with our “attachment styles.” 


Among other outcomes, studies have shown that children with a secure attachment style may be better able to:


  • Cope with stress 
  • Regulate their own emotions 
  • Form friendships
  • Have good self-esteem
  • Form better relationships in adulthood

On the other hand, the term “attachment parenting” was officially coined by a husband and wife team Dr. William Sears (a pediatrician) and Mary Sears (a registered nurse). Together, they wrote The Attachment Parenting Book, a parenting book suggesting that children need:


  • Tight, physically-close bonds with their caregiver(s)
  • Prompt responses to their needs in their first months and years of life

While the idea of attachment parenting implies that it may help babies develop a secure attachment style, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to support this. For parents considering this approach, it’s wise to first explore its principles and how it stacks up with other methods.



Principles of the Attachment Parenting Style

Attachment parenting recommends several concrete ways to help infants and young children feel secure and loved. To meet the baby's needs, proponents of this approach say that one should try:


  • Skin-on-skin contact, particularly in the first six weeks of a child’s life. This is called birth bonding.

  • Breastfeeding as soon a child wants to feed (in other words, on-demand) until they no longer want to nurse. Attachment style parenting also recommends against the use of pacifiers.

  • Immediate responses to a child’s needs, such as always responding when they cry.

  • Baby-wearing, like carrying a child in a sling to facilitate that skin-on-skin contact and nurturing touch.

  • Bed sharing to curb a child’s sleeping anxieties and make breastfeeding easier.*Please note that the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly discourages bedsharing with infants and recommends a safe sleep approach instead.

  • Encouraging touch and physical closeness with toddlers.

  • Validating a child’s cues and emotions, whether expressed mildly or in the form of a tantrum.

  • Disciplining a child with gentle parenting rather than harsh scolding.

  • For a primary caregiver, some of these recommendations might come naturally—but some may not, and that’s okay. While loyalists of this approach may aim to stick to these tips throughout the early parenting years, these are not the only ways to help your child develop secure attachment. Primarily, any parenting approach that aims to help children form secure attachments should focus on three core goals:


    1. To provide a sense of safety, security, and protection for the child
    2. To help the child develop emotional regulation skills
    3. To serve as a “secure base” from which the child can explore

    Benefits and Drawbacks of Attachment Parenting

    Advocates of attachment parenting say the method may help to highlight sensitive responses to children’s needs and boost a young child’s sense of security. But as we’ve discussed, these benefits—and their ability to help children form secure attachments—are mostly unfounded. 


    At the same time, some parents find the model too rigid for some common reasons: 


    • It promotes unattainable parenting goals – For some parents, aiming to adhere to Sears’ attachment parenting rules may cause distress in people for fear of not living up to their ideals—those which tout perfectionism, but whose methods have not been proven as a “perfect” approach to parenting. In contrast, research shows that being a “good enough” parent—i.e., not perfectly responding to your child’s needs instantly—can help an infant better adapt to the world around them.

    • It’s not always a possible approach – For some parents, breastfeeding may not be desirable or feasible. For others, steps like baby-wearing and constant physical touch might not be physically possible—and for many, the goal of always providing an immediate response just isn’t realistic.

    Ultimately, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to parenting with confidence. What may work for one family may conflict with your beliefs or cultural norms, and vice versa—and each of these factors is a vital part of deciding what parenting philosophy and style works for you.


    Exploring Parenting Styles: Other Methods

    Every parenting journey is an ongoing evolution that is tweaked frequently (sometimes daily) to adjust to a child’s needs, a caregiver’s needs, and the family ecosystem. And attachment parenting is just one of several models you may be interested in delving into.


    Here are some other methods of parenting you may wish to consider as you explore the possibilities:


    • RIE Parenting – Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) is based on the concept that children have a deeper understanding of the surrounding world than we give them credit for. The approach invites parents to sensitively observe their babies as individuals and perceive them as complete, separate people. Caregivers may show respect and awareness for their children by:
      • Actively communicating to infants about what is happening in their immediate environment and to them
      • Encouraging solo play and trusting the child’s choices while observing, without interrupting
      • Engaging children as active participants in their care, such as during bedtime, mealtimes, and diaper changing, by giving them full awareness and attention

    • Parent-led Parenting – Parent-led parenting is the antithesis of the attachment parenting style. This model encourages caregivers—not their children—to decide on a child’s feeding time, sleep schedule, and more. Habits are generally designed to fit around the caregiver’s life, with a big emphasis on routine. Parents who love this parenting style say the more structure they have in their household, the easier it is to manage their needs and the needs of their children.

  • Positive Parenting – This approach focuses on guiding children with warmth, encouragement, and kindness. Followers of this approach use a number of different techniques to parent with positivity, including:
      • Providing words of affirmation and encouragement
      • Encouraging reflection by repeating a child’s words back to them
      • Supporting a child’s self-esteem through imitation and play

  • Gentle Parenting – In gentle parenting, caregivers support their children’s development by helping them improve their self-awareness, practice empathy and understanding, and set boundaries. This approach is often set in contrast to traditional parenting methods which focus on reward and discipline. 

  • It’s important to note this list is far from exclusive, and there are many more parenting styles out there to explore. And, just like the attachment parenting theory, other approaches can also come with benefits and drawbacks. As you learn more about them, take time to think about what feels right for you and your family. For some, the “correct” approach may not follow one set of guidelines, but combine a number of different approaches that fit you and your child’s needs.


    Find Agency in Parenthood with Slumberkins

    The greatest parenting model of all? It’s the one that helps you and your young child prosper while staying connected. You know your child best and what they require to thrive—and yes, you can make a mashup of whatever parenting styles keep your family healthy and happy.


    Parenting can feel like a rollercoaster. That’s why it’s important to incorporate tools to help manage parental stress and practice moments or activities of self reflection that build on the fundamentals of self care for parents.


    Whichever approach you take to parenting, Slumberkins wants to be your sidekick through it all. From emotional growth books to child-friendly Snugglers, explore our cuddly products to encourage your child to reach their potential while finding the support you need as a caregiver.


    Sources: 


    “The Pros and Cons of Attachment Parenting.” Verywell Family, www.verywellfamily.com/what-is-attachment-parenting-284538#citation-1. Accessed 6 Mar. 2023.


    “What Is Attachment Parenting? Theory, Examples, Pros and Cons.” Healthline, www.healthline.com/health/parenting/attachment-parenting.


    Madigan, Sheri, et al. “Parenting Behavior and Child Language: A Meta-Analysis.” Pediatrics, vol. 144, no. 4, 24 Sept. 2019, p. e20183556, https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2018-3556.


    “What Is RIE Parenting? Method, Definition, Pros, and Cons.” Healthline, 20 Nov. 2019, www.healthline.com/health/parenting/rie-parenting.


    Trust), NCT (National Childbirth. “What Is Parent-Led Parenting (and Is It Right for Me?) | Life as a Parent Articles & Support | NCT.” NCT (National Childbirth Trust), 26 July 2022, www.nct.org.uk/life-parent/parenting-styles-and-approaches/what-parent-led-parenting-and-it-right-for-me. Accessed 6 Mar. 2023.


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