Attachment parenting is a style of parenting that fosters the development of a secure attachment style. Specialists in human development point to the parenting behavior of chimpanzees as a model of attachment-focused parenting. Primate mothers tend to "wear" their infants throughout the day's activities. The proximity of the mother's body and the rhythm of her movements throughout the day helps the young chimpanzee regulate his or her central nervous system's responses to the environment. The mother's respiration, muscle tension, heart rate, vocal tone, and facial expressions are constantly helping the infant to gauge whether or not the environment is safe.
Ideally, according to attachment theorists, human parents should follow the example set by primates, keeping infants close to the body and young children nearby at all times. This helps the child develop habitual, self-calming central nervous system responses. You may notice that this is a radical departure from the old "let 'em cry it out" advice given by many well-meaning aunts, grandmothers, pastors, doctors, and friends throughout the last 40 years or so. An infant should never be left to "cry it out." This entrains the developing sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems into an unhealthy rhythm and will have an lasting impact on the child's ability to feel safe in the world, to form healthy relationships, and to regulate responses to stress. While there is much debate about co-sleeping in the therapeutic community due to safety concerns, studies show that simply having the crib in the same room as the parent helps teach the infant's central nervous system to self-regulate.
The basic tenant of attachment parenting is this: respond to your child's needs every time in a way that provides acceptance, nurturing, and safety. This does not mean indulgence. Sometimes, safety and nurturing involves setting clear consistent limits. The key is to provide these limits in a way that allows your child to feel loved, accepted, and safe. Needless to say, following the attachment-parenting model is no small task. The benefits for you and your child, however, can be tremendous.
In my next post, I will describe Daniel Hughes, "PACE" attachment-parenting model and how you can make it work for you.