Saturday, January 10, 2009

Thoughts on Attachment Parenting and Spoiling a Baby

Someone on one of the forums I post on a first time mom (FTM) posted very disheartened about her baby. In short, her baby is wanting to be held all the time and will scream if not. She posted asking for ways to break her baby of this manipulative behavior. Her baby is only 10-12 wks old. I posted encouraging her to not try and break her baby, but rather to nurture her in the way that she (the baby) is needing to be nurtured, that it WILL pay off in the long run. So, I thought I'd put my thoughts down here as well for those days that I'm overwhelmed with a screaming infant and 2 small children clamoring for my attention.

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Anyway, here's some of what Dr. Sears says on his site.

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SPOILING

Few parents make it through their offspring's babyhood without being told that all their efforts to nurture and respond to their baby will surely spoil her. And if it's not spoiling that they're warned against, they're told not to let themselves be "manipulated" by baby. Attachment parenting is not the same as indulgently giving your child everything she asks for. We stress that parents should respond appropriately to their baby's needs, which means knowing when to say "yes" and when to say "no." Sometimes in their zeal to give children everything they need, it's easy for parents to give their children everything they want, and this is indeed harmful. Parents must learn to distinguish between a child's needs and a child's wants.
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Yet, telling the difference between needs and wants is not a problem that parents have to wrestle with during their early months of parenting. In the beginning, wants and needs are the same. During the first several months of life, a baby's wants are a baby's needs. A consistent "yes" response teaches babies trust, which will make them more accepting of "no" later on, when they start wanting things they should not have. If you learn to know your baby by responding readily to his needs in the early months, you'll have a good sense of when it's appropriate to say no later on.

New parents often ask, "Won't holding our baby a lot, responding to cries, nursing our baby on cue, and even sleeping with our baby spoil her?" Or they ask if this kind of parenting will create an overly dependent, manipulative child? Our answer is an emphatic no. In fact, both experience and research have shown the opposite. Attachment fosters eventual interdependence. A child whose needs are met predictably and dependably does not have to whine and cry and worry about getting his parents to do what he needs.

Dr. Sears suggests: Attachment parenting implies responding appropriately to your baby; spoiling suggests responding inappropriately.

The spoiling theory seems scientific. At least it seemed logical to the childcare "experts" who popularized this idea, beginning in the early part of the 20th century. They thought that if you rewarded crying by picking the baby up, he would cry more, so that he would get picked up more. It turns out that human behavior is a little more complicated than this. It is true that if you carry a newborn baby in your arms much of the time, the baby will protest when put down in the crib. This baby has learned how to feel right, and she lets you know when she needs help getting that feeling back. However, in the long run, this rightness within her will make her less likely to cry for attention. She gets used to feeling right most of the time, and her parent's responsiveness shows her how to recognize her own needs. Spoiling happens when a child is put on the shelf, left alone, forgotten about--the way that food spoils. There was no scientific basis for this spoiling theory, just unwarranted fears and opinions. We would like to put the spoiling theory on the shelf � to spoil forever.

The attachment style of parenting is not the same as overindulging kids or creating inappropriate dependency. The possessive parent, or "hover mother," is constantly in a flurry around her child, doing everything for him because of her own fears and insecurity. Her child may become overly dependent, because he has been kept from doing what he needs to do. An attached mother recognizes when it is appropriate to let her child struggle a bit, experience some frustration, so that he can grow. This is why we continually emphasize putting balance in your chosen parenting style. Attachment differs from dependency. Attachment enhances development; prolonged dependency will hinder development.

Science Says

Attachment studies have spoiled the spoiling theory. Researchers Drs. Bell and Ainsworth at John Hopkins University studied two sets of parents and their children. Group A were attachment-parented babies. These babies were securely attached, the products of responsive parenting. Group B babies were parented n a more restrained way, with a set schedule and given a less intuitive and nurturing response to their cues. All these babies were tracked for at least a year. Which group do you think eventually turned out to be the most independent? Group A, the securely attached babies. Researchers who have studied the affects of parenting styles on children's later outcome have concluded, to put it simply, that the spoiling theory is utter nonsense.

Pick them up quickly and they'll get down quickly. Or, as one sensitive mother of a well-attached child said proudly, "He's not spoiled; he's perfectly fresh!" Spoiling does become an issue a few years from now, when overindulgence or permissiveness signals a parent's inability to set limits and provide boundaries. This happens most often in children who are materially bonded or whose parents are still trapped in dysfunctional patterns from their own childhood.

http://www.askdrsears.com/html/10/t100200.asp

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THE PAYOFF: OUR 6 OBSERVATIONS ON HOW AP KIDS TURN OUT
Attachment tip: The six baby B's translate into the six childhood C's.
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Note: Parents should not take all the credit or all the blame for the person their child later becomes. You do your best to raise your children with all the tools and resources you have at that time. The rest is up to the child. While there is no perfect correlation between what parents do in those early years and the outcome of their children, in over thirty in pediatric practice, I have observed that AP kids share many of these features:

1. Caring kids. Attachment-parented kids show empathy. These are kids who care (e.g., care-full). From birth on, these children were on the receiving end of nurturing. Someone cared for then. Caring, giving, listening, and responding to needs became the family norm, and these qualities became part of the child. The child went from receiver to giver. When friends are hurting, these children rush to help. These are compassionate kids who hurt when other people hurt.

Studies on troubled teens and psychopaths have shown that these persons have one abnormal feature in common: a lack of caring. They feel no remorse for what they do. They act without considering the effects of their behavior on others. Not so the children who are the product of attachment parenting. These children consider the feelings of others before they act. They care about how their actions affect other people. They have a healthy sense of guilt, feeling wrong when they act wrongly and feeling good when they should. Connected kids care. (For more information see Raising a Moral Child)

2. Compassionate kids. Because these children are on the receiving end of sensitive parenting, they become sensitive themselves. These children grow up with a deep inner sense of rightness. They are keenly aware when this rightness is upset and they strive to bring things back into balance.

I watch these children in playgroups. These early takers have become good givers. They actually share willingly � something that is difficult for many children. In playgroups, they are concerned about the needs and rights of their peers as they've seen that modeled.

These children are more sensitive to their friends and their parents. Attachment-parented (especially high-need) children are supersensitive to your moods. When you feel stressed, they act stressed. Eventually, this sensitivity becomes an asset, so that when you feel bad they act their best in order to help you feel better. I have witnessed our own children and others trying to console their upset parents, "Don't cry, Mommy, I'll help you" or "It's okay, Daddy, I love you." Watching a sensitive three-year-old console the adult she loves is one of the most beautiful payoffs you will ever witness. No adult therapist could ever offer words that have such impact as those that naturally flow from the heart of a sensitive child.

As an added bonus, because you were sensitive to your child, you will find your overall sensitivity to everyone and everything else goes up a notch. The ability to get behind the eyes of your child, to see things from his viewpoint, to think "kid first" carries over to your sensitivity to your mate, your friends, your job, and your overall social awareness.

3. Connected kids. AP kids develop the quality of intimacy . Attachment-parented children have the ability to feel close to another person, because these "Velcro babies" spent the most formative months of their lives in arms and at breast. These kids have learned to bond to people rather than to things. They become high-touch persons even in a high-tech world.

Therapists whose offices are filled with former high-need children who didn't get responsive parenting tell us that most of their energy is spent in helping these persons get close to someone. These people have difficulty getting connected. They do not have the capacity for feeling close. Not so high-need children who are the product of high-giving parents. These children thrive on interpersonal relationships. Being connected is their norm. The AP infant is more likely to become the child who forms deep friendships with peers and the adult who enjoys deep intimacy with a mate. These are deep children, capable of deep relationships. Because they were close to their parents and caregivers, they become capable of strong attachments. Intimacy becomes their standard for future relationships. These children are affectionate. The connected child has learned to give and receive love.

(For related topics, see: unconnected child and growing up connected)

4. Careful kids . Connected kids are less accident prone. Securely attached children do better because they have a better understanding of their own capabilities. In parent parlance, they are less likely to "do dumb things!" The organizing effect of attachment parenting helps to curb their impulses. Even children with impulsive temperaments tend to get into trouble less if they are securely attached to a primary caregiver. A child who operates from internal organization and a feeling of rightness is more likely to consider the wisdom of a feat before rushing in foolishly. They think before they act. This may be because connected kids are not internally angry. Anger adds danger to impulsivity, causing a child to override what little sense he has and plunge headfirst into trouble.

5. Confident kids . Confidence comes from two words meaning "with trust." High-need children whose parents respond freely to their needs grow up as if "trust" is their middle name. They grow up learning that it is safe to trust others, that the world is a warm and responsive place to be, that their needs will be appropriately identified and consistently met. The trust they have in caregivers translates into trust in themselves.

I felt he would never leave my arms, but when he became two, he often said, "My do it." I know this is a phrase that many mothers dread (because it takes five times as long for the child to accomplish a simple task), but to the mother of a clingy baby, this phrase is a joy. Now that Jonathan is absorbed in trying things himself, he is rapidly leaving many of his old baby needs, such as demanding to be carried everywhere and never leaving my lap. I must admit that there are times when I miss being the exclusive interest in his life. But when one of those moments arises, all I have to do is give him a big hug and he stops doing what he is doing and returns to me. Mostly, I am proud to see him growing into a happy, loving, self-confident little person, especially when I realize he has done it on his own. I have simply given him the support he needed.

6. Confident parents. Besides these "C's" for children, there is an important "C" for parents. The attachment parents developed confidence sooner. They used the basic tools of attachment parenting, but felt confident and free enough to branch out into their own style until they found what worked for them, their baby, and their lifestyle. In fact, during well-baby checkups I often asked, "Is it working?" I would advise parents to periodically take inventory of what worked and discard what didn't. What worked at one stage of development may not work in another. For example, some babies initially slept better with their parents, but became restless later on, necessitating a change in sleeping arrangements. Other babies slept better alone initially, but needed to share sleep with their parents in later months. These parents used themselves and their baby as the barometer of their parenting style, not the norms of the neighborhood.

http://www.askdrsears.com/html/10/T130600.asp

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SHUTDOWN SYNDROME

Throughout our 30 years of working with parents and babies, we have grown to appreciate the correlation between how well children thrive (emotionally and physically) and the style of parenting they receive.
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"You're spoiling that baby!"
First-time parents Linda and Norm brought their four-month-old high-need baby, Heather, into my office for consultation because Heather had stopped growing. Heather had previously been a happy baby, thriving on a full dose of attachment parenting. She was carried many hours a day in a baby sling, her cries were given a prompt and nurturant response, she was breastfed on cue, and she was literally in physical touch with one of her parents most of the day. The whole family was thriving and this style of parenting was working for them. Well-meaning friends convinced these parents that they were spoiling their baby, that she was manipulating them, and that Heather would grow up to be a clingy, dependent child.
Parents lost trust
Like many first-time parents, Norm and Linda lost confidence in what they were doing and yielded to the peer pressure of adopting a more restrained and distant style of parenting. They let Heather cry herself to sleep, scheduled her feedings, and for fear of spoiling, they didn't carry her as much. Over the next two months Heather went from being happy and interactive to sad and withdrawn. Her weight leveled off, and she went from the top of the growth chart to the bottom. Heather was no longer thriving, and neither were her parents.
Baby lost trust
After two months of no growth, Heather was labeled by her doctor "failure to thrive" failure to thrive and was about to undergo an extensive medical workshop. When the parents consulted me, I diagnosed the shutdown syndrome. I explained that Heather had been thriving because of their responsive style of parenting. Because of their parenting, Heather had trusted that her needs would be met and her overall physiology had been organized. In thinking they were doing the best for their infant, these parents let themselves be persuaded into another style of parenting. They unknowingly pulled the attachment plug on Heather, and the connection that had caused her to thrive was gone. A sort of baby depression resulted, and her physiologic systems slowed down. I advised the parents to return to their previous high-touch, attachment style of parenting to carry her a lot, breastfeed her on cue, and respond sensitively to her cries by day and night. Within a month Heather was again thriving.
Babies thrive when nurtured
We believe every baby has a critical level of need for touch and nurturing in order to thrive. (Thriving means not just getting bigger, but growing to one's potential, physically and emotionally.) We believe that babies have the ability to teach their parents what level of parenting they need. It's up to the parents to listen, and it's up to professionals to support the parents' confidence and not undermine it by advising a more distant style of parenting, such as "let your baby cry it out" or "you've got to put him down more." Only the baby knows his or her level of need; and the parents are the ones that are best able to read their baby's language.

Babies who are "trained" not to express their needs may appear to be docile, compliant, or "good" babies. Yet these babies could be depressed babies who are shutting down the expression of their needs, and they may become children who don't ever speak up to get their needs met and eventually become the highest-need adults.

http://www.askdrsears.com/html/10/t131200.asp

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WHAT ATTACHMENT PARENTING IS NOT

Attachment parenting is not a new style of parenting. Attachment parenting is one of the oldest ways of caring for babies. In fact, it's the way that parents for centuries have taken care of babies, until childcare advisors came on the scene and led parents to follow books instead of their babies. Picture your family on a deserted island and you've just delivered a baby. There are no books, advisors, or in-laws around to shower you with child baby- tending advice. The baby B's of attachment parenting would come naturally to you as they have other cultures who have centuries more child-rearing experience and tradition than all of us have.
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Attachment parenting is not indulgent parenting. You may hear or worry that being nurturing and responsive to your baby's needs might spoil your baby and set you up for being manipulated manipulated by your baby. This is why we stress that attachment parenting is responding appropriately to your baby's needs, which means knowing when to say "yes" and when to say "no." Sometimes in their zeal to give children everything they need, it's easy for parents to give their children everything they want.

Attachment parenting is a question of balance �not being indulgent or permissive, yet being attentive. As you and your baby grow together, you will develop the right balance between attentive, but not indulgent. In fact, being possessive, or a "smother mother" (or father) is unfair to the child, fosters an inappropriate dependency on the parent, and hinders your child from becoming normally independent. For example, you don't need to respond to the cries of a seven-month-old baby as quickly as you would a seven-day-old baby.

As your baby grows, you become more expert in reading her cries, so you can gradually delay your response. Say, for example, you are busy in the kitchen and your seven-month-old is sitting and playing nearby and cries to be picked up. Instead of rushing to scoop your baby up, simply acknowledge your baby and give your baby "it's okay" cues. Because you and your baby are so connected, your baby can read your body language and see that you're not anxious, so you naturally give your baby the message, "No problem, baby, you can handle this." In this way, you're being a facilitator , and because of your close attachment you're actually better able to help your baby delay gratification and ease into independence.

Attachment Tip:
"It's easier for me to say 'no' to my attachment- parented child when she wants a lot of stuff, because I know I have given her so much of myself."

Attachment parenting is not permissive parenting. not control a child. Attachment parents become like gardeners: you can't control the color of the flower or the time of the year it blooms, but you can pick the weeds and prune the plant so that the flower blooms more beautifully. That's shaping. Attachment parents become master behavior-shapers.

Attachment mothering is not martyr mothering. Don't think that AP means baby pulls mommy's string and she jumps. Because of the mutual sensitivity that develops between attached parents and their attached children, parents' response time can gradually lengthen as mother enables the older baby to discover that he does not need instant gratification. Yes, you give a lot of yourself in those early months, but you get back a lot more in return. Attachment-parenting is the best investment you'll ever make -- the best long- term investment you'll ever make, in your child, and yourselves.
"Won't a mother feel tied down by constant baby-tending?"

Mothers do need baby breaks. This is why shared parenting by the father and other trusted caregivers is important. But with attachment parenting, instead of feeling tied down, mothers feel tied together with their babies. Attachment mothers we interviewed described their feelings: "I feel so connected with my baby." "I feel right when with her, not right when we're apart." "I feel fulfilled."

Remember, too, that attachment parenting, by mellowing a child's behavior, makes it easier to go places with your child. You don't have to feel tied down to your house or apartment and a lifestyle that includes only babies.

Attachment parenting is not hard. Attachment parenting may sound like one big give-a-thon. Initially, there is a lot of giving. This is a fact of new parent life. Babies are takers, and parents are givers. One of the payoffs you will soon experience of attachment parenting is one we call mutual giving � the more you give to your baby, the more baby gives back to you. This is how you grow to enjoy your child and feel more competent as a parent. Remember, your baby is not just a passive player in the parenting game. The infant takes an active part in shaping your attitudes, helping you make wise decisions as you become an astute baby-reader.

Attachment parenting may sound difficult, but in the long run it's actually the easiest parenting style. What is "hard" about parenting is the feeling "I just don't know what my baby wants" or "I just can't seem to get through to her." If you feel you really know your baby and have a handle on the relationship, parenting is easier and more relaxed. There is great comfort in feeling connected to your baby. Attachment parenting is the best way we know to get connected. True, this style of parenting takes a tremendous amount of patience and stamina, but it's worth it. Attachment parenting early on makes later parenting easier, not only in infancy but in childhood and teenage years. The ability to read and respond to your baby, carries over into the ability to get behind the eyes of your growing child and see things from her point of view. When you truly know your child, parenting is easier at all ages.

Attachment parenting is not rigid. On the contrary, it has options and is very flexible. Attachment mothers speak of a flow between themselves and their baby; a flow of thoughts and feelings that help a mother pull from her many options the right choice at the right time when confronted with the daily "what do I do now?" baby-care decisions. The connected pair mirror each other's feelings. The baby perceives himself by how the mother reflects his value. This insight is most noticeable in the mother's ability to get behind the eyes of her child and read her child's feelings during discipline decisions. One day our two-year-old, Lauren, impulsively grabbed a carton of milk out of the refrigerator and spilled it on the floor. As Lauren was about to disintegrate, Martha mellowed out the situation and preserved the fragile feelings of a sensitive child and prevented the angry feelings of inconvenienced parents. When I asked how she managed to handle things so calmly, she said, "I asked myself if I were Lauren, how would I want my mother to respond?"

Attachment parenting is not spoiling a child. . New parents ask, "Won't holding our baby a lot, responding to cries, nursing our baby on cue, and even sleeping with our baby create an overly dependent manipulative child?" Our answer is an emphatic no. In fact, both experience and research have shown the opposite. Attachment fosters independence. Attachment parenting implies responding appropriately to your baby; spoiling suggests responding inappropriately. The spoiling theory began in the early part of this century when parents turned over their intuitive childrearing to "experts"; unfortunately, the childcare thinkers at the time advocated restraint and detachment (i.e., formulas for childcare), along with scientifically produced artificial baby milk � "formula" for feeding babies. They felt that if you held your baby a lot, fed on cue, and responded to cries, you would spoil and create a clingy, dependent baby. There was no scientific basis to this spoiling theory, just unwarranted fears and opinions. We would like to put the spoiling theory on the shelf � to spoil forever.

Research has finally proven what mothers have long suspected: You cannot spoil a baby by attachment. Spoiling means leaving something alone, such as putting food on the shelf to spoil. The attachment style of parenting does not mean overindulgence or inappropriate dependency. The possessive parent, or "hover mother," is one who keeps an infant from doing what he needs to do because of her own insecure needs. This has a detrimental effect on both the infants and the parents. Attachment differs from prolonged dependency. Attachment enhances development; prolonged dependency will hinder development.

http://www.askdrsears.com/html/10/t130400.asp

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1 comment:

info said...

Hi there,
This a great article and I thoroughly endorse your view point. Consistent parenting does take heaps of time and attention but the pay off is wonderfully happy children and calm, contented parents!