Attachment parenting: Wikis


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Attachment parenting, a phrase coined by pediatrician William Sears,[1] is a parenting philosophy based on the principles of the attachment theory in developmental psychology. According to attachment theory, the child forms a strong emotional bond with caregivers during childhood with lifelong consequences. Sensitive and emotionally available parenting helps the child to form a secure attachment style which fosters a child's socio-emotional development and well being. Less sensitive and emotionally available parenting or neglect of the child's needs may result in insecure forms of attachment style, which is a risk factor for many mental health problems. In extreme and rare conditions the child may not form an attachment at all and may suffer from reactive attachment disorder as defined in DSM-IV and ICD-10. Principles of attachment parenting aim to increase development of child's secure attachment and decrease insecure attachment.

Although there is research which shows that when mothers are taught to increase their sensitivity to an infant's needs and signals, this increases the development of the child's attachment security, [2] there are no conclusive empirical efficacy studies on Sears attachment parenting.



Attachment theory, originally proposed by John Bowlby, states that the infant has a tendency to seek closeness to another person and feel secure when that person is present. Bowlby had earlier proposed in his maternal deprivation hypothesis published in 1951 that maternal deprivation would not only cause depression in children, but also acute conflict and hostility, decreasing their ability to form healthy relationships in adult life.[3][4]

In comparison, Sigmund Freud proposed that attachment was a consequence of the need to satisfy various drives. In attachment theory, attachment is considered a biological system and children are naturally attached to their parents because they are social beings, not just because they need other people to satisfy drives.

Developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth devised a procedure, called The Strange Situation, to observe attachment relationships between a human caregiver and child. She observed disruptions to the parent/child attachment over a 20 minute period, and noted that this affected the child's exploration and behavior toward the mother. This operationalization of attachment has recently come under question, as it may not be a valid measure for infants that do not experience distress upon initial encounter with a stranger.[5]

According to Attachment Parenting International (API) there are 8 principles that foster healthy (secure) attachment between the caretaker and infant. While none of these principles is derived directly from original attachment research, they are presented as parenting practices that can lead to "attunement", "consistent and sensitive responsiveness" and "physical and emotional availability" that research has found to be key factors in secure attachment.

Eight principles of attachment parenting

Per Dr. Sears' theory of attachment parenting (AP), proponents such as the API attempt to foster a secure bond with their children by promoting eight principles which are identified as goals for parents to strive for. These eight principles are:

  1. Preparation for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting
  2. Feed with Love and Respect
  3. Respond with Sensitivity
  4. Use Nurturing Touch
  5. Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally
  6. Provide Consistent Loving Care
  7. Practice Positive Discipline
  8. Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life

These values are interpreted in a variety of ways. Many attachment parents also choose to live a natural family living (NFL) lifestyle, such as natural childbirth, home birth, stay-at-home parenting, co-sleeping, breastfeeding, babywearing, homeschooling, unschooling, the anti-circumcision movement, natural health, cooperative movements, naturism and support of organic and local foods.

However, Dr. Sears does not require a parent to strictly follow any set of rules, instead encouraging parents to be creative in responding to their child's needs. Attachment parenting, outside the guise of Dr. Sears, focuses on responses that support secure attachments.


Attachment parenting proponents value secure attachment between children and a primary caregiver, preferably a parent or guardian. Secure primary or secondary attachments may also be formed with other caregiving adults and should be supported by the parents.

Even when engaging non-parental caregivers, Attachment Parents strive to maintain healthy, secure attachments with their children. AP-friendly childcare is a continuation of the nurturing care given by the parents and focuses on meeting the child's needs. Attachment Parents typically work to make caregiving arrangements that are sensitive to the child while balancing their own needs as well.


Attachment parents seek to understand the biological and psychological needs of the children, and to avoid unrealistic expectations of child behavior. In setting boundaries and limits that are appropriate to the age of the child, attachment parenting takes into account the physical and psychological stage of development that the child is currently experiencing. In this way, parents may seek to avoid frustration that occurs when they expect things beyond the child's capability. According to Arnall (2007), discipline means teaching the child by gentle guidance, such as re-direction, natural consequences, listening and modeling, and not by punitive means such as spanking, time-out, grounding, and punitive consequences.

Attachment parenting holds that it is vital to the survival of the child that he be capable of communicating needs to the adults to have those needs promptly met. Dr. Sears advises that, while still an infant, the child is mentally incapable of outright manipulation. Unmet needs are believed, by Dr. Sears and other AP proponents, to surface beginning immediately in attempts to fulfill that which was left unmet. AP looks at child development as well as infant and child biology to determine the psychologically and biologically appropriate response at different stages. Attachment parenting does not mean meeting a need that a child can fulfill himself. It means understanding what the needs are, when they arise, how they change over time and circumstances, and being flexible in devising ways to respond appropriately.

Similar practices are called natural parenting, instinctive parenting, intuitive parenting, immersion parenting or "continuum concept" parenting.

Criticisms and controversies

  • Strenuous and Demanding on Parents. One criticism of attachment parenting is that it can be very strenuous and demanding on parents. Without a support network of helpful friends or family, the work of parenting can be difficult. Writer Judith Warner contends that a “culture of total motherhood”, which she blames in part on attachment parenting, has led to an “age of anxiety” for mothers in modern American society.[6] Sociologist Sharon Hays argues that the "ideology of intensive mothering" imposes unrealistic obligations and perpetuates a "double shift" life for working women.[7]
  • Not Supported by Conclusive Research. Another criticism is that there is no conclusive or convincing body of research that shows this labor-intensive approach to be in any way superior to what attachment parents term "mainstream parenting" in the long run.[8]
  • Co-Sleeping. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recently amended its policy statement regarding SIDS prevention, and has come out against sharing a bed with small babies (though it does encourage room-sharing).[9] The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission also warns against co-sleeping. [10] Attachment Parenting International issued a response which stated that the data referenced in the Consumer Product Safety Commission statement was unreliable, and that co-sponsors of the campaign had created a conflict of interest.[11]
  • Non-DSM Definition of Reactive Attachment Disorder. Attachment Parenting International (API) utilizes an attachment therapy resource (Peachtree Attachment Resources)[12] to define reactive attachment disorder, which claims the criteria are based on the DSM-IV. Attachment therapy definitions and symptoms lists of RAD have been criticised as being very different to DSM-TR criteria and as being "non-specific", producing a high rate of "false-positives",[13] and "wildly inclusive".[14]
  • Ambiguities in usage. A form of parenting called attachment parenting is sometimes used as an adjunct to attachment therapy[15]. The term "attachment parenting" is increasingly co-opted by proponents of controversial techniques conventionally associated with attachment therapy such as Nancy Thomas [16], whose AP methods differ from those of William Sears.

See also


  • Gerber, Magda, Johnson, Allison.(1998.Your Self-Confident Baby; How to Encourage Your Child's Natural Abilities From Very Start. NY: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
  • Arnall, Judy, (2007) Discipline Without Distress: 135 tools for raising caring responsible children without time-out, spanking, punishment or bribery." Canada, Professional Parenting Canada
  • Gonzales-Mena, J. & Eyer, W. D.(2004).Infants, Toddlers, and Caregivers: A Curriculum of Respectful, Responsive Care and Education (6th ed.). Boston: McGraw Hill.
  • Lally, J. Ronald (Ed.).(1990).Infant Toddler Caregivers: A Guide to Social-Emotional Growth and Socialization. San Francisco, CA: WestEd.
  • Stages of socio-emotional development in children and teenagers, 1-5. Retrieved September 19, 2007,from


  1. ^ "API: FAQ - General Attachment Parenting". Attachment Parenting International. Retrieved 2007-05-27.  
  2. ^ Bakersmans-Kranenburg MJ, van IJzendoorn M, Juffer F: Disorganized infant attachment and preventive interventions: a review and meta-analysis. Infant Ment Health J 26:191-216, 2005
  3. ^ Crossman, Pat (2004). The Etiology of a Social Epidemic The Skeptic Report: Pseudoscience
  4. ^ Bowlby J (1951). Maternal Care and Mental Health. Geneva: World Health Organisation.  
  5. ^ Clarke-Stewart, Goossens, & Allhusen, 2001.
  6. ^ Warner, Judith (2006). Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety (ISBN 1594481709)
  7. ^ Hays, Sharon (1998) Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood (ISBN 0300076525)
  8. ^ Hays, Sharon (1998). The Fallacious Assumptions and Unrealistic Prescriptions of Attachment Theory: A Comment on "Parents' Socioemotional Investment in Children Journal of Marriage and the Family, Vol. 60, No. 3 (Aug., 1998), pp. 782-790 doi:10.2307/353546
  9. ^ Kemp, James S. et al. (2000) Unsafe Sleep Practices and an Analysis of Bedsharing Among Infants Dying Suddenly and Unexpectedly: Results of a Four-Year, Population-Based, Death-Scene Investigation Study of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and Related Deaths. PEDIATRICS Vol. 106 No. 3 September 2000, p. e41
  10. ^ CPSC Warns Against Placing Babies in Adult Beds; Study finds 64 deaths each year from suffocation and strangulation, Consumer Product Safety Commission, September 29 1999
  11. ^ Attachment parenting international calls on government to delay campaign warning parents not to sleep with their babies
  12. ^ "API: Parenting Resources - Developing emotional attachments in adopted children". Attachment Parenting International. Retrieved 2008-06-18.  
  13. ^ Chaffin M, Hanson R, Saunders BE, et al. (2006), "Report of the APSAC Task Force on attachment therapy, reactive attachment disorder, and attachment problems.", Child Maltreat 11 (1): 76–89, doi:10.1177/1077559505283699, PMID 16382093  
  14. ^ Prior V and Glaser D (2006), Understanding Attachment and Attachment Disorders: Theory, Evidence and Practice, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Series, London: Jessica Kingsley, p. 186, ISBN 1-84310-245-5, OCLC 70663735  
  15. ^ Parker, L., Nicholson, B., Curtner-Smith,M. E., Middlemiss, W., Green,K., Murray,A. D., Barone,M. and Stolzer, J. An Elaboration on the Distinction Between Controversial Parenting and Therapeutic Practices Versus Developmentally Appropriate Attachment Parenting: A Comment on the APSAC Task Force Report. Child Maltreat 2006; 11; 373 DOI: 10.1177/1077559506292635
  16. ^ " Nancy Thomas". Nancy Thomas. Retrieved 2008-11-07.  

External links

Attachment Parenting at the Open Directory Project


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