We were first introduced to attachment parenting when my oldest daughter was an infant. It was such a relief to have official permission to follow my instincts and do what felt right for our family. She is nearly nine now, and has three siblings. As our family has grown in size, we have not outgrown the principles of AP.1 Instead, they have stretched and adapted right along with us. Here is our take on what those mean for older children:
- Prepare for Parenting. During pregnancy, I devoured everything I could to help me learn about my baby. Now I love to read things that will help me to learn about child development in my older children, and helpful tools for our relationships. Finding out that six year olds were like double three year olds in many ways, that seven is often a time of deep sensitivity and a preoccupation with fairness, and that eight year olds often use drama and exaggeration to convey the depths of their emotions, all helped me to have better insight into my children.
- Feed with Love and Respect. When my children were breastfeeding, I learned to trust them to eat as much and as often as they needed. Confidence in their own recognition of when they would be finished nursing allowed us to continue breastfeeding until they chose to wean. That trust is still important. As much as possible, we have them listen to their own bodies so they will know what makes them feel good, when they are satisfied and when they need more. We also involve them in cooking and choosing food, which means that I can respect their desires without being a short order cook!
- Respond with Sensitivity. It is so tempting to brush off their upsets and disappointments. Instead, we need to give thanks that they trust us enough to share their feelings. How many adults don’t even bother to let those close to them know what is going on inside because they don’t believe anyone will care? Our children’s cries are still attempts to communicate, and while it is important to give them words, sometimes words aren’t enough. They still need comfort, not impatience.
- Use Nurturing Touch. Just because they are walking on their own and they may not ask for hugs as often doesn’t mean that their need for nurturing touch is less. Wrestling and playing, hugs and snuggles are what my daughter calls “cuddle-leche”: all of the warm fuzzies, connection and security that they once experienced while nursing. Loving touch nurtures the heart.
- Ensure Safe Sleep. Cosleeping is not just for infants. As long as it works for your family, it is OK, even if your child is no longer a toddler. If you and your children are more comfortable in separate beds or rooms, that is OK, too. As Dr. Sears says, wherever you all get the best sleep is best. Remember, if it isn’t working, you can change it.
- Provide Consistent and Loving Care. Having four children has taught me clearly that kids need our undivided attention, especially when they aren’t asking for it. It is easy to dismiss their need for time with us as they grow and become involved in more activities, but they need to touch base with us emotionally just as much as they would touch base physically with us as exploring toddlers. If we wait for them to initiate time together, we may miss the ways in which they ask for it.
- Practice Positive Discipline. When they are babies, it is pretty easy. However, as they grow older, many parents lack tools for teaching their children, and fall back into punitive methods out of fear and frustration. The good news is that positive discipline is actually easier in some ways when your children are more proficient at communicating. The good-but-uncomfortable news is that most of us find that we have to re-parent ourselves and deal with old hurts or insecurities or unhealthy patterns. Becoming healthier is possible, and it is worth it.
- Strive for Balance. Our job as parents is to show our children how to be healthy adults. What we model to them in terms of self-care and care for others is what they will internalize. They need to see our needs getting met as well as theirs. They need to see us getting help when the needs are too great for us to fulfill on our own. They need to learn the process of problem solving and collaboration to work for the best for the entire family, and it takes practice.
The principles of attachment parenting are principles, not rigid rules, and they grow and evolve as our children grow. However, the core goal of healthy attachment and connection remains, and it is beautiful to experience.
Dulce is learning to walk in grace with her amazing husband and four wonderful kidlets. She is a perpetual provider of magic mami milk who practices gentle discipline, shares a family bed, homeschools, teaches Spanish, and blogs at Dulce de leche. Each day brings plenty of iced coffee and a fresh lesson in trusting her children, herself and the Love that surrounds and fills us. Sometimes it feels like livin’ a vida loca, but overall, life is incredibly sweet.
Attachment Parenting, Balance, Breastfeeding Past Infancy, Consistent Care, Cosleeping, Feeding With Love, Gentle Discipline, Healthy Living, Nighttime Parenting, Parenting Philosophies, Preparing for Parenting, Responding With Sensitivity, Safe Sleep, Starting Solids