Guide to Attached Parenting

Can you imagine nursing a child until the age of 4 or even 5? What about having a child sleep in the same bed with you and your spouse for equally as long? Does a baby sling seem normal? These are all questions that bring up concept of the attached parenting lifestyle. Attached parenting is not a new concept. In fact, many of the techniques and methods used in attached parenting have been used in various cultures for centuries. The attached parenting movement states that these techniques and methods are normal and allow nature to take its course. The problem is with society as a whole and advanced technology taking over natural human instinct.

This guide will discuss the basics of attached parenting. We will cover what attached parenting means, attached parenting techniques, controversial topics in attached parenting and the various layers of attached parenting.

Facts About Attached Parenting

Attached parenting is a fairly new concept for many parents. It is catching on with parents who are just starting a family and may want to take a different approach with raising their children than traditional methods. When you are first introduced to attached parenting methods, some may seem odd. You may also be confronted with several issues and myths about attached parenting that could turn you away from the concept altogether. In order to help you with the idea of attached parenting, here are some facts regarding the technique.

Breastfeeding is Key

This fact has a few variations. Breastfeeding is key in attached parenting. The reason is due to parents seeking the natural bond between the mother and child. There are different variations of this depending on the parent and child involved. Regardless of the variation, which will be discussed later in this guide, the concept is centered around the health and mental benefits of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding not only allows the natural bond between mother and child, but the concept goes a step further in attachment parenting by allowing the child to determine when breastfeeding or nursing will stop.

Gentle Discipline

A gentle form of discipline is used in attachment parenting homes. This means that spanking is discouraged and options are given for various issues. For example, if a child wants a particular snack and cannot have the snack at a time, many parents will simply tell the child no. There are other parents who may go into longer explanations as to why the child cannot have the snack. Attachment parenting takes a different route. Instead of giving the child too much information about the situation or to concise of an answer, attachment parenting says to give options. These options could be for another snack, a snack when the child returns home or something else that relates to the original desire. If the child is being disruptive, the same theory applies. Instead of a “use your words” method, many attachment parenting methods will discuss that what the child is doing is wrong and what will happen if they do not stop their behavior. Stronger discipline is only an option when other methods do not work.

Involvement of the Entire Family

Attachment parenting takes on the concept of the entire family being involved in raising the child. In fact, this is why many families turn to attached parenting techniques to begin with. In an attached parenting household, it is not the sole duty of the mother to take care of the child. The father and siblings help. It nurtures a family environment as well as a small community style environment. Everyone takes part and everyone bonds as a family unit rather than separate units living in one home.

The Child is the Manual

We often here that there is no manual for being a parent or that children do not come with manuals. The attachment parenting concept states that the child is the manual. Children should be allowed to decide when they no longer require the bond that is brought on through breastfeeding. They also may determine when it is time to potty train, move to solid foods, sleep and other aspects of their life. Though there are guidelines to this, the concept of the child being the manual is key to the attachment parenting lifestyle.

Myths About Attached Parenting

For as many facts regarding attachment parenting, there are hundreds of myths. These myths are spread through miscommunication, misinterpretation or ignorance to the concept of attached parenting itself. The following are just a few of the myths you may have heard about attachment parenting and the truth behind these myths.

Children are Allowed to Run Free

This is a huge misconception of the attachment parenting concept. Many parents outside of the lifestyle will hear statements such as “the child is the manual” or “the child will tell you when” and automatically assume the child is in full control with no discipline or guidelines from the parents. This is far from the truth. Though the lifestyle does state that children should be allowed to determine when they are ready to move to another stage in their development, there are still guidelines. Each family sets certain guidelines that help the child move into the next stage of development or recognize the next stage of development. The child may be the manual, but the parents help the children understand the manual.

Children are Breastfeed Too Long

Unfortunately, magazines and media outlets such as Time have put a misconception in the minds of thousands. This misconception is that all parents who are part of the attachment parenting lifestyle breastfeed their children well beyond the age of 3 and sometimes to the age of 5 and beyond. The truth is there are many attachment parenting families that do not breastfeed past the age of 2. Other families may switch from nursing to offering breast milk or may mimic the actions of nursing, but have the child drink the milk from a sippy cup or bottle. It is different for every household and there is no set time frame put into place. The belief is, children will self-wean and move to the next stage of development when their bodies are ready for solid foods and other nourishment that breast milk no longer provides.

There is No Discipline in an Attached Parent Home

This is another misconception about attached parenting. This misconception may stem from the fact that attached parenting homes try to offer solutions to an issue rather than immediate swift discipline to what is perceived to be a problem. For example, attached parenting homes generally offer an option at first. If the child does not want to do something or wants something they cannot have, then options are given to the children. If that does not work then softer discipline is offered. Traditional spankings are a last resort and may not be necessary in some homes. The belief is that, if practiced properly, attached parenting will lead to a bond between the child and the parents that will allow for the child to understand the softer forms of discipline and choice to the point harder forms are not required.

Co-Sleeping and Sling Wearing is Required

The wonderful thing about attached parenting and the techniques involved in the lifestyle is there are no requirements. Co-sleeping is discussed as something that helps bond the family, but if the child does not take to the method, the method is not required. Sling wearing is another technique used to help bonding and help the child feel secured. However, some children do not enjoy the idea or the feeling of a sling or even body pack. If the child is not comfortable and the child is the manual for their development, then no requirement is put into place to make the child do something.

The Nursing Debate

The biggest debate surrounding the attachment parenting lifestyle concerns nursing and breastfeeding. This is probably because that is the focal point of most talk shows and broadcasts concerning attachment parenting. It is the most talked about and widely criticized aspect of the lifestyle. The following are some reasons the concept of nursing in attachment parenting lifestyle is so controversial.

Children Should Only Be Nursed for Certain Spans of Time

There is a common belief that children should only be nursed for 6 months to 1 year and not beyond that point. This is the base for most debates dealing with breastfeeding in the lifestyle. The belief is children should be on solid foods by a specified time and everything should be scheduled. If your child is not eating solid foods by a certain time or is not off of breast milk by a certain time, then they are not developing properly.

The flip side to this argument is found in the research showing benefits of longer term breastfeeding or at least offering breast milk to children. Parents who live an attachment parenting lifestyle will cite that the benefits of long term nursing are mental, emotional and physical. They will also cite that discontinuing breast milk as an option to early, may cause health issues with the children that could otherwise be prevented. Allergies in children who have been breast feed or receive breast milk are considerably less than those who have been formula fed or who have been taken off breast milk too soon. There are also signs that a child who has nursed longer displays more independence than a child who has not.

Breastfeeding Past a Certain Age Can Cause Sexual Issues

There is a small school of thought in the nursing debate that if a child is nursed after an “appropriate” age, they will develop sexual issues. There is an even smaller school of thought that believes if the child is nursed beyond a certain age it becomes an issue of sexual child abuse. These two schools of thought, though ever present in the attachment nursing debate, have no basis in fact. They are only theory based and based on miscommunication and misconception of the nursing concept.

The flip side to this portion of the nursing debate comes with the benefits that nursing beyond a certain age can provide. First of all, there is no evidence to suggest that a sexual issue or that sexual issues later in life come from a child that has been nursed past a certain age. Secondly, the purpose of allowing a child to nurse past a certain age and into a point they are ready to advance to the next level of nutrition is to allow bonding. Many children will move on to the next level of nutrition within 1 year while others may take to 2 years. However, few children actually still find the need breastfeed after that point. It should also be considered that most families who choose to continue nursing past 6 months to a year will begin offering other options such as expressed milk into a bottle or sippy cup or nursing times only at night before bed or early morning to help the child wean itself from the breast to regular food.

Child Wearing or Slinging

Child wearing or slinging is another aspect of attachment parenting that has seen some controversy. It is a widely accepted myth that child wearing is a requirement, there is no other solution to bonding and security and that if a child is uncomfortable the sling will be used anyway. These are huge misconceptions that deserve some sort of response. Here are some facts and reasons why child wearing is done in attachment parenting circles and what is done when a child does not take to the sling as well as another child may.

Child Wearing or Slinging for Security

Security and bonding with your child is the main reason that parents may choose to use a sling or the “child wearing” technique. The sling is usually used from newborn through early toddler years and can be worn by either parent. The concept is the child will be close to the parent at all times just as they were during prenatal development. It allows the child to develop their own sense of security and move forward in an independent manner rather than relying on the parent 100%.

Child Wearing or Slinging is a Requirement

There is a misconception that child wearing or slinging is a requirement in attachment parenting. This is not true. As with any aspect of the attached parenting lifestyle, the child decides if this aspect works for them or not. If the child is not comfortable, at any time, with the concept then parents will defer to the child and allow the child to choose what is best for them. There are no requirements, guidelines are hard fast rules to the lifestyle of attachment parenting or attachment parenting households.

Benefits of the Attached Parenting Lifestyle

Through the controversy and the debates, there are still some shining benefits of the attached parenting lifestyle. These benefits can be seen in not only the children, but in the family bond that is developed within these lifestyles. For those who are considering an attached parenting lifestyle, here are a few of the benefits that you may gain through various aspects of the lifestyle.

Family Bonding

One of the key benefits of the attached parenting lifestyle is found in family bonding. The entire lifestyle is centered around this one concept. Breastfeeding, co-sleeping, family time, slinging or child wearing and many more aspects of the lifestyle are all part of family bonding. Many parents who have chosen the attachment parenting lifestyle have found that children will have fewer disciplinary issues, higher respect levels for their parents and be able to cope with situations better than other children. The family bonding plays a huge role in this.

Improved Development

Attachment parenting works with the children to allow the child to be the manual for their life. Rather than sticking with prescribed scheduling and notions that every child develops at the same rate, attachment parenting believes the child will move forward at their own pace. This view has lead to improved development in children of attached parenting homes. Children are allowed to move through various steps in their development at their own rate which allows for development to fully occur rather than be rushed based on a scheduled concept that may or may not work in the long run.

Improved Health

Many of the aspects associated with attached parenting lifestyles are health based. They are designed to help children receive a full range of emotional, physical and mental development. Breastfeeding offers the most advanced improved health for children with benefits of fewer allergies, higher immune systems and brain function. Co-sleeping, child wearing and other forms of bonding and security options offer improved emotional and mental health. These combine to an improved state of overall health and well being and a calm environment that transfers with the child to other aspects of their life including school.

Improved Social and Coping Skills

Attachment parenting helps teach children how to deal with various situations. This is done through offering options rather than flat out no answers or over discussions of topics. Children learn to cope with issues, deal with the options before them and communicate their needs. They also learn what needs they have rather than guessing at what they think they might need at any given time. This makes it easier to deal with conflict and easier for a child to adapt to various social environments.

Levels of Attached Parenting

In closing, we would like to discuss the different levels of attachment parenting. The reason for this is due in large part to the myths that surround the lifestyle. In fact, even after reading this guide you may still find there are myths about the lifestyle that leave you confused or unsure of what to expect. There may be some aspects that you feel have to be done or have to be done on an extreme level. This is the beauty of attached parenting. There are various levels of the lifestyle and families can choose which works best for their situation.

Full Attachment or the 100% Dedicated Attached Parent

A full time attachment parent or attachment parents will live the lifestyle in every aspect possible. They will generally co-sleep, participate in child wearing, breastfeed until the child is ready to stop and so on. They are considered to the most extreme of the attachment parenting group. However, they will not force a child to participate in attachment lifestyle choices if the child is uncomfortable. If a child does not participate or take to a certain choice, the parents will generally move to another option that closely resembles the first choice. Options are key and the more options the better for the child and the parents.

Selective Attachment

Selective attachment is a level of the lifestyle that incorporates certain aspects of attached parenting in a way that works with everyone involved. For example, a mother may not be able to get her child to latch during nursing. She may opt to still provide breast milk and somehow mimic the way nursing occurs to give the child the same closeness and bonding as they would have with normal nursing. They may be against co-sleeping, but choose to have the child sleep in the same room as the parents. This level of attachment parenting is not just selective for the various aspects of the lifestyle, but also for individualized methods within that aspect.

Attached but Removed

Attached but removed parents are those that participate in many aspects of the attachment parenting lifestyle, but may let certain aspects go. These aspects may be let go due to the children or due to the parents not wanting to add a particular aspect to their lifestyle. This is the most relaxed view of attachment parenting. In fact, when asked about the different aspects of attachment parenting many families will fall into this category. They may not align themselves with the attached parenting concept though they do participate in several aspects such as breastfeeding, self-weaning, co-sleeping or child wearing.

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