Monday Problem: Nanny not keen on Attachment Parenting
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Dear Nanny X,
I recently began working with a new family who practice attachment parenting which basically breaks down to this:
- Pick baby up when ever he cries
- Wear baby at all times unless he is asleep in his crib
- Feed on demand
- Respond to his every need immediately
- Let him nap no matter what time it is or takes
I have 15 years of experience working with small children and I feel like this type of childcare approach is going to make problems later on. I want to tell the parents that gently introducing structure around meal-times, naps etc will help the baby to self-soothe and gain control over his impulses. How should I approach this subject?
Dear Nanny M.D,
attachment parenting is a childcare choice made by parents and as caregivers we should always defer to our charge’s parents when implementing caregiving techniques.
What is attachment parenting or AP?
“Attachment parenting, a phrase coined by pediatrician William Sears, is a parenting philosophy based on the principles of 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 unavailable 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 (e.g. depression, anxiety and eating disorders). In extreme and rare conditions, the child may not form an attachment at all and may suffer from reactive attachment disorder. Principles of attachment parenting aim to increase development of a child’s secure attachment and decrease insecure attachment.
When parents are taught to increase their sensitivity to an infant’s needs and signals, this increases the development of the child’s attachment security. Sears’ specific techniques of attachment parenting remain under study.
The Baby Book by William and Martha Sears., sometimes referred to as the ‘Bible of attachment parenting’ gives practical attachment parenting advice in the form of the following ‘seven baby B’s of attachment parenting’:
- Birth bonding: The first few hours after birth are regarded as very important to promote attachment.
- Belief in the signal value of your baby’s cries: Parents are encouraged to learn to understand their baby’s cries and respond quickly and appropriately to them.
- Breast-feeding: This is regarded to have physical and psychological advantages to both mother and child.
- Baby-wearing: The term was first used by Dr. Sears and it means carrying the baby in a sling or other carrier, close to the body of the caregiver.
- Bedding close to baby: Sleeping in the same room and preferably in the same bed as the baby is encouraged, as is frequent (breast)feeding at night.
- Balance and boundaries: Appropriate responsiveness (knowing when to say yes and when to say no) is needed to keep a healthy family alive.
- Beware of baby trainers: Instead of taking advice about how to ‘train’ the baby to make it cry less and sleep for longer stretches, parents are encouraged to listen to their own instinct and intuition.
According to attachment parenting advocates this advice helps parents to respond quickly and sensitively to their baby’s needs, thus facilitating development of secure attachment.
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.
From the biological point of view, caregiver and infant have evolved a coordinated relationship in which the infant seeks to maintain proximity to the carer who responds to its overtures and signals of distress or fear and provides a secure base for exploration. The type of attachment formed by the infant and child is influential in the formation of the internal working model and thus the child’s functioning throughout life. The secure attachment, formed when a carer is appropriately sensitive to the child’s emotional and biological needs, is the norm.
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.
While in childcare, children may suffer injuries or traumatic experiences, and this may affect their attachment to the parent. An ‘attachment injury’ may form if an AP is not present for a traumatic or severely physically painful event in the child’s life, or the AP does not partake in the primary attachment recovery process (which takes place immediately after the injury until the child is no longer in pain). Although attachment injuries are hypothesized to increase the likelihood of an insecure and unstable attachment to the parent by proponents of attachment parenting, evidence of the existence of these injuries is scarce. In effect, even researchers that have noted some deleterious consequences of child care note that the most important source of influence on attachment relationships is the caregiver and that child care quality is an important factor to consider.” 1
As you can see it is vital that both the child’s parents and the child’s nanny practice the same type of care-giving and that any deviation from the parents’ techniques might induce unnecessary suffering for the child.