Much of what may be labelled as a ‘discipline problem’ or a ‘behaviour problem’ has its genesis in the attachment stage. Children who have spent so much time away from their parents that they have become insecurely attached tend to be less compliant with their parents. On the other hand, a number of studies show that children who are emotionally secure are more cooperative and develop a stronger conscience. Findings such as these are forcing us to reappraise our views on ‘good behaviour’. They suggest that the most important ‘discipline’ method is to ensure that our babies benefit from secure attachment; if we want ‘good’ children, we first of all must fulfill their dependency needs.
Security of attachment is also relevant to the issue of sibling rivalry. Children who are emotionally secure are more likely to comfort distressed younger siblings, and less likely to get into conflicts with them. This is not surprising, since empathy arises out of emotional security.
The effects of early attachment are long-term. Studies show that ten year olds who were treated with acceptance and sensitivity as babies tend to be more self-confident and less hostile. Teenagers with a secure attachment history are better able to handle conflict, are more assertive, less angry and more admired by their peers. There is an increasing sense that many psychopathologies in teenagers - such as depression, or anxiety disorders - may be traceable to their attachment history.
Insecure attachment also makes us more vulnerable to stress-related problems as adults. For instance, survivors of trauma who have had a stable attachment history are less likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorders, but if early attachment relationships are seriously disrupted, this can contribute to depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, agoraphobia and even eating disorders. Insecure attachment can also foster a range of anti-social behaviours, contributing to the incidence of violent crime and delinquency.
For human babies, there is evidence that the natural weaning age is probably well over two years, and anywhere up to six or seven years. Certainly we know that breastfeeding affords a vital psychological and immunological sustenance which goes on long after it is nutritionally necessary. We also know that it is one of the main sources of security and emotional wellbeing for babies and toddlers - suckling stimulates the secretion of oxytocin, a hormone associated with peaceful contentment, and this is passed directly to the baby through the mother’s milk. Our early weaning standards certainly warrant revision.
The old practice of schedule-feeding babies has been officially rejected in favour of demand-feeding, an important measure for babies’ physical and emotional health. In a 1998 media alert, the American Academy of Pediatrics stated: “…the best feeding schedules for babies are the ones babies design themselves…Scheduled feedings designed by parents may put babies at risk of poor weight gain and dehydration”. Babies signal their hunger to us quite clearly before they begin to cry. They turn their heads toward the breast, they extend their lips, they become agitated, or they begin sucking their hands. These are the kinds of cues that pediatricians now urge mothers to respond to as promptly as possible. A baby’s cry is usually a late indicator of their hunger. And babies hunger for more than milk, they hunger for intimacy; to drink in maternal love.
Many paediatricians, psychologists and other child health experts now advocate co-sleeping, a foundation method of attachment parenting. The sleep patterns of infants who sleep apart from their mothers have been observed to be fitful and restless, with frequent awakening. They tend to suck more on their thumbs or inanimate objects, a sign of increased stress. Their core temperature drops, and they suffer an increase in stress hormones. Infants are sensitive to both the sound and the rhythm of their parents’ breathing and they are directly pacified by the sound of their parents’ heartbeats. There is also a growing consensus that co-sleeping, putting the baby to sleep on his or her back, and night-time breastfeeding can reduce the risk of SIDS. (Please note that families with problems such as alcoholism, obesity, drug or tobacco dependency or psychological instability are not advised to sleep with their babies.)
Attachment parenting is the antithesis of ‘controlled crying’, which has been a controversial technique used by many parents to train their babies to fall asleep by themselves. The Australian Association for Infant Mental Health (AAIMHI) has issued a position statement regarding this practice, which is unequivocal and unambiguous. Part of this statement says: “AAIMHI is concerned that the widely practised technique of ‘controlled crying’ is not consistent with what infants need for their optimal emotional and psychological health, and may have unintended negative consequences.”
If at night, babies feel more secure when they can sleep near us, in the daytime they also want regular body contact. Typically, babies who are carried in a sling, or somehow on the body tend to be more placid and content - as long as the parents are relaxed about it.
Although it will take a few more years for ‘attachment parenting’ to become the norm, attachment thinking has become mainstream among academics and health professionals. Far from being a fad, it is standard practice for child psychiatrists and child psychologists who are up-to-date with new developments, and it is central to paediatrics. Nowadays, formal training in any profession related to child development involves learning attachment theory. Practitioners who qualified before this body of knowledge was established are even being re-trained, so that child health services can more uniformly reflect the findings of this new science.
World conferences on attachment and infant mental health take place every year and provide a forum for disseminating ongoing research. The most recent (2004) World Association for Infant Mental Health annual convention took place in Melbourne, Australia.
Let us always remember that our children will behave as well as they are treated. In a world in which all children are treated with dignity, respect, understanding, and compassion they can grow into adulthood with a generous capacity for love and trust.
A book called "The Baby Book" is all about attachment parenting. My son was an evening fusser so I learned to carry him during those hours. He didn't get as fussy and irritable and now he's 100% better. Also, this book made me feel better about not letting my baby CIO or letting me know it was ok to have my baby sleep with me. I completely agree with it. So many people have this feeling like they are spoiling their children. I don't believe you can hold a baby too much, it's showing comfort and love.
Oh, I agree completely. I was battling this "spoiled" theory for a while and feeling like a wimp of a parent because I wanted to cuddle, nurse on demand and sleep with my baby and didn't feel comfortable letting him cry to "soothe" himself alone in his crib. Now, I have let go and I am a much more confident, peaceful parent and no more battles (:
My 6 month old (I can't believe she is 6 months already! eek!) barely ever cries. I have learned to "read" all of her cues long before she has to cry. I know exactly when she is hungry, when she wants to be cuddled, when she wants to be put down, etc. She is the most easy going baby I know, and I do think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I make sure all her needs are met as quickly as possible. If she cries, I am right there to figure out why. I don't feel like I am spoiling her, and don't really care when people tell me I am. I know my baby is happy and well cared for, and that is all that really matters. I'm not sure why other people feel the need to make us mothers feel bad about taking care of our babies.
Thanks, Jen, for sharing this article. I, too, have fought the battle (on here frequently) about the concept of CIO or spoiling a baby. And I,too, learned to turn the other cheek and parent the way that works best for my kids. They are not being endangered, but quite the opposite. They have developed a sense of security that cannot be replaced.
I tried for a long time and went through a lot of losses to have my kids, I'll be damned if I am going to leave them to cry or ignore their needs. My kids can certainly soothe themselves, but when they need me, I am always there.
Again, thanks Jen for sharing the article.
Maybe i am on the other side my son cries all the time and sometimes i don't know what for and the other thing i can figure is that he is sick or hurting - he has reflux and teething - he cried off and on all night last night i picked him up cried he cries when he is tired he is fussy all the time is there something wrong with me i hold him and walk and that seems to work
There is nothing wrong with you kris. We do what we can as mothers. We won't always have an answer, your son is just a fussy baby. They cry if something bothers them and it seems like he has reflux or his teeth are bothering him. By you walking and holding him even if he is unable to be settled means that you are comforting him just by being there with him. This is attachment parenting, even if they cry, as long as you are there with them and not leaving them alone in a room to cry, they know that you are there.
Some babies just have different temperaments. It doesn't mean you are a bad parent when you can't always calm your baby as long as you are trying (:
He is just like my daughter was i though oh i had a fussy baby and the next will be calm boy he is more fussy then her but i love him he seems to be attached to me and my sister we seem to be the only two who can calm him she takes care of him during the day he hates his sister because she is such a butthole to him and i think he can sense her not wanting to hold him he always cries when she holds him she is such a butthead to him and it makes me so so mad she is 12
That's too bad. Maybe she is a bit jealous. I have gotten lucky with my girls-they are all very loving to their little brother. But maybe it's because he had troubles in the beginning.
very interesting article. i do not breastfeed or co-sleep, but i DO NOT believe there is such a thing as "spoiling" a baby. when i was pregnant i heard everyone's opinions on what to do and what not to do with my baby, as every mother does, im sure. my son was NOT an easy baby. he did not sleep a lot and required a lot of attention. i fed him when he was hungry (on demand) and wasn't crazy about getting him on "a schedule". i carried him around a lot. he never slept through the night until he was almost a year old and although he slept in his own bed, whenever he woke up during the night, i went in and picked him up. i fed him. i rocked him back to sleep. after having to rock him to sleep with a bottle every night since his born, one day at around 10 months or so, he decided he didnt want to be rocked anymore and squirmed out of my arms again and again. that was the first night he fell asleep in the crib on his own and he's been doing it every night since. just the other night i rocked him back to sleep for the first time in a while. he had a rough night, and needed to be babied a little :o) i spent many a day as a zombie from having not slept the night before, but when he was ready, he adjusted to his own "sleep schedule". i carried him around most of the time when he was a newborn and for a long time after that too. at 1 year old, he doesnt cry to be picked up unless he's really tired or hurt and plays by himself forever without needing me right there standing over him. so, while i am not exactly the type of parent in the article, i do not discourage people who breast feed on demand or co-sleep. i also do not believe in CIO or similar methods. to each his own. every parent usually knows whats best for them and their child. i fall in the category of "a happy medium", i think and so far, seems to me that im doing ok. good article. i read a similar one the other day saying there are studies that show crying it out can affect a baby's brain chemistry and adult social life. would have to research that one a bit more, but the points were similar. thanks for sharing.