Parents often ask me what they can do to help their children form a secure attachment style. One way to do this is to practice attachment parenting techniques.
Attachment parenting is a style of parenting that fosters healthy attachment within infants and children. The basic idea behind attachment parenting is that the parent-child relationship should feel inherently safe to the child... physically, emotionally, and psychologically. The parent-child relationship provides a "safe haven" from distress of all kinds. The relationship also serves as a "secure base" from which the child will feel free to explore the world. Many writers have described about specific parenting techniques that will help develop secure attachment. One of my favorite attachment parenting experts is Daniel Hughes, who developed the PACE attachment-parenting model in his book, Attachment-Focused Parenting.*
In Daniel Hughes' model, PACE is an acronym that stands for:
Playfulness – The parent is engaged with the child in a way that invites spontaneity, curiosity, and exploration. The parent is able to engage with the child expressively, using facial expressions, voice and body to join in the affective and creative life of the child. A playful attitude implies that the strength of the relationship is larger than any minor irritations. Family members with a playful attitude don’t take themselves too seriously and are able to laugh at their mistakes. The primary intent of a playful attitude is to invite the other into one’s experience - to simply enjoy being together, with no spoken or unspoken goals.
Acceptance - Playfulness is fostered by an attitude of unconditional acceptance. The infant and/or older child’s safety is enhanced when her inner self is never at risk for rejection, ridicule, or disappointment when her parents relate to him. Rather, only her behavior is subject to their evaluations and guidance, judgments, or criticism. The child who feels accepted knows that she is not her behavior. Acceptance, when felt completely and taken for granted, becomes a secure base upon which the child is much more likely to learn from her mistakes and to accept her parents’ decisions regarding her behavior. For true acceptance to take place, it is vital that the parent has a habit of perceiving the individual child beyond the behaviors.
Curiosity – Ideally, parents are very curious to know who their children are from the time they are conceived. From birth, parents are continuously involved in acts of discovery with their child. When an infant senses the impact of his actions and expressions on his parents, he becomes more aware of these actions and more likely to engage in actions that have a positive impact on his parents. Curiosity is important for discipline to be effective.An attitude of curiosity is a “not-knowing” stance that requires that the parent inquire about the child’s inner life that led to the behaviors under concern. When a parent holds this kind of attitude towards the child, the child is much more likely to feel accepted by the parent and subsequently more likely to follow any disciplinary action by the parent.
Empathy- Empathy is a natural response to being with another person. Our brains are wired to experience empathy for others. If we have experienced empathy from our attachment figures, it is easy to access empathy for those who see us as attachment figures. Likewise, it is hard for us to experience empathy for others if we have not experienced empathy from others in the past. Parents often think empathy will not be that helpful, so they try to fix the problem, give advice, or eliminate the problem by dealing with it themselves. It is important that the parent be comfortable with the emotions the child is experiencing. As the parent facilitates her own emotional development, she is also increasing her readiness to experience empathy for the child when he needs it.
To summarize, PACE represents the characteristics of a parental attitude that creates safety and emotional intimacy, openness and delight within the parent-child relationship. It provides a context in which any conflicts or behavioral problems can find an easier resolution. It provides a balance whereby affective and reflective abilities are primed to respond in enjoyable or stressful situations. Most importantly, it enables the parent perceive her child beyond any challenging or worrisome behaviors, and to experience her child’s permanent place in her mind and heart.*
In my next blog post, we will explore ways in which parents can identify and overcome the ways in which they pass along unhealthy attachment styles to their children. Your questions and comments regarding any of my blog posts are welcome!
*You may find more information about the PACE model of attachment parenting in Daniel Hughes' masterful book, Attachment-Focused Parenting: Effective Strategies to Care for Children, (WW. Norton and Company: NY) 2009. I highly recommend this book to parents, teachers, and all others involved in the care of infants, children, and teenagers.