Attachment parenting 'leads to more independent, healthier children'

You don't have to babywear and breastfeed to practice attachment parenting – responding to infants sensitively is a big part of it too, as Lisa Salmon finds out

'Wearing' a baby in a sling is among the practices those who support attachment parenting advocate but simply responding to young children sensitively and consistently works too

ALL parents are attached to their children, so isn't attachment parenting just what everyone does already?

To some extent, yes. But attachment parenting (AP) experts believe many parents don't give natural, bond-led child-rearing enough attention, so they're urging mums and dads to think about trying the parenting method.

The idea behind AP is that, as a child's first few years of life are so important to their development, the best way to meet their needs is to form a secure attachment with them.

Some of the basics of AP are natural childbirth, responding immediately to crying, breastfeeding when the child desires it, holding and carrying the baby or wearing it in a sling, and co-sleeping.

However, if parents can't do all, or even one of these things, they can still practice attachment parenting stresses Michelle McHale, founder of Attachment Parenting UK. She suggests that, simply responding to young children sensitively and consistently, using positive discipline, and following their instincts, all counts.

The mother-of-two says she first discovered AP when her eldest daughter, Izzy, was ultra-attached as a baby. Michelle dealt with her daughter's behaviour by raising her in a "very natural" bond-focused way, and discovered years later that Izzy had two rare heart defects, which may have explained her strong need for constant touch and closeness.

Here, Michelle outlines three reasons to try AP:

1. It can boost a child's ability to communicate

When parents are sensitive and consistent – key aspects of AP – their children are primed to become naturally independent, self-motivated and are more likely to cooperate and communicate in positive ways.

"The child's earliest attachments help build the foundations for trusting, healthy adult relationships," says Michelle.

2. Closeness can help development

Research shows being touched and loved is essential to a baby's healthy brain development. A 2014 US study found infants learn language more rapidly when caregivers are very responsive, and further research has concluded that young children develop better problem-solving abilities, attention skills and school-readiness when their parents are sensitive and responsive.

"Through nurturing touch and sensitivity to verbal and non-verbal cues, parents can support the development of their baby's prefrontal cortex – the area of the brain responsible for empathy," says Michelle. "This neurobiology influences future mental health."

3. Positive discipline can improve behaviour

With specific praise and rewards, children can be more adventurous in their learning and develop sound judgment rather than unquestioning obedience, explains Michelle.

Positive discipline also recognises that when children feel good, they behave well; punishment is often considered counter-effective. AP is based on the principle that parents treat children the way they would want to be treated, with the ultimate aim of children developing a conscience guided by their own internal discipline and compassion.

Michelle says: "Children who aren't physically punished are far less predisposed to addiction, antisocial behaviour or abusiveness in later life."

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