Why attachment parenting is over the top

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baby-wearingAttachment parenting extremists believe that in order for a mother to form a strong bond with their child, they should co-sleep, breast feed exclusively, never use timeout as a method of discipline and carry their baby around with them all the time.
They cite psychological research as the basis for their beliefs but is this a distortion of the actual research?
Attachment research has found that for a secure attachment to form, mothers need to be responsive to their babies’ needs, provide social stimulation (talking to and playing with the infant) and express lots of affection. This is called sensitive responsiveness. Most mothers find it easy to communicate with their babies and fine tune their responses to the babies’ actions and expressions so secure attachments are formed relatively easily.
John Bowlby was the founder of attachment theory and he found that children who had experienced prolonged separation from their mothers in the early years had less capacity to empathise with others.
Chugani et al. (2001) used brain scans to study Romanian adoptees who had been left in their cots without love or stimulation for an average of 38 months before being adopted. He found that the adoptees showed significantly reduced brain activation compared to controls in the parts of the brain associated with emotion. This research highlights the importance of the mother-child bond but it does not mean that parents need to go to extremes to form a secure attachment with their child. Bowlby and Chugani were looking at children who had been deprived of their attachment figure.
Brazleton and colleagues (1979) found that it is instinctive and natural for mothers and babies to imitate each other’s movements and take turns to initiate new movements. In their study they asked mothers to ignore their babies’ signals for a short period of time. The babies quickly became concerned and some curled up and became motionless. This shows that it easy to see when there is a communication problem between a mother and baby.
What is not needed to form a secure attachment?
There is no evidence to suggest that for a baby to feel securely attached to their mother, they need to be held all the time or fall asleep on their mother. Although this is not to say a newborn infant does not need some help falling asleep. Babies also do not need to be played with all the time. In fact, babies will show clear signs when they want to just look around rather than be stimulated. Parents just need to be sensitive to their baby’s needs.
A mother has no reason to be unduly worried about forming an attachment with their baby as it is likely that their baby would be showing them distress signals if there was a problem. There are a number of studies, which show how distressed babies become when their needs are not met. Murray and Trevarthen (1985) set up interactions between mothers and their babies via a video link. They found that the babies became very distressed if the live link was replaced with a replay of the recording a few minutes later. This is because the mothers’ interactions were no longer synchronised with the babies’ actions.

Does breastfeeding affect attachment?
From a health point of view, breastfeeding has lots of benefits in terms of increased immunity for the infant and less likelihood of obesity later on. However, there is a question over whether breastfeeding affects a mother’s attachment to her child. Some breastfeeding advocates say that not breastfeeding your child may lead to a weakened emotional bond with your child but is this really true? Many mothers who give up breastfeeding early on or are unable to breastfeed from the start may feel guilty enough about it and this is compounded if they are told that it leads to worse bond with their child.
Britton et al. (2006) found no direct link between breastfeeding and the security of attachment (the strength of the emotional bond between a mother and child). However, they did find that the more responsive and sensitive a mother was to her infant, the more securely attached the infant was later on. Interestingly, although the study did not find the actual act of breastfeeding led to the secure attachment, it did find that mothers who chose to breastfeed were also more responsive to their infants.
This relates to an old study by Harlow (1959). He took baby monkeys and raised them in a lab, giving them a wire monkey to feed from and a cloth monkey to get comfort from/hold onto. The monkeys formed strong attachments to the cloth monkey, but not with the wire one. He concluded that the monkeys needed comfort more than food for a secure attachment.
One of my friend’s who was in real pain from breastfeeding persevered with the breastfeeding as long as she could bear it because she was worried that if she stopped it would weaken the bond between her and her baby. In the end she gave up after lots of tears and guilt. I don’t think that mothers should breastfeed under these circumstances. When I did move from breastfeeding to bottle-feeding at 5 months, I could actually see my son’s face while giving him his milk and it allowed more interaction not less. Therefore, I don’t believe that mothers need to punish themselves unnecessarily about giving up on breastfeeding despite their best attempts.

Does sleep-training psychologically damage your child?

Some people refer to crying down as just shutting the door and allowing your baby to fall asleep by itself. However, many people now use the term ‘crying down’ to refer to a sleep training method introduced by Dr. Ferber, where parents leave their child for increasing amounts of time e.g. 5 minutes, 10 minutes building up to 45 minutes on the seventh day, before going back to reassure them. This method is also referred to as graduated extinction and controlled crying and is controversial. Advocates of attachment parenting suggest that co-sleeping is a much better way to get your child to go to sleep and leads to lower levels of stress in both parents and child. However, it is important to look at the evidence when making a judgement and to understand why good sleep patterns are so important.
Touchette and colleagues (2005) found that many children, who did not sleep six consecutive hours at 5 months old, still had problems at 29-months-old sleeping six consecutive hours. They found that putting children to bed already asleep or staying with them until they were asleep rather than letting them fall asleep alone was a major factor in whether the children slept less than six hours in a row at 17- and 29-months-old. Rocking children or bringing them into the parent’s bed was also associated with less sleep as was co-sleeping. One example given in their report is that the risk of being a poor sleeper is 4.6 times greater at 17-months and 2.1 times greater at 29-months when children are lulled to sleep or had parental presence until asleep, compared with children who fell asleep on their own. They concluded that the ability to sleep through the night was learnt very early on and that parental behaviours could have a negative impact on a child’s ability to sleep. Parents should be concerned about this as research suggests that children who have problems sleeping early on are more likely to have behavioural difficulties later. Other studies show that sleep problems affect performance at school.
The way parents deal with their children’s night-time wakings is important. One study found that parents who comforted their toddlers out of bed at night-time or who gave their young children (not babies) food in the middle of the night were more likely to have children with sleep problems and behavioural difficulties later on. They also concluded that co-sleeping had a negative impact on the future sleep patterns of children (Simard et al, 2008).
Mindell and colleagues in a study for the National Sleep Foundation (2009) found that a late bedtime and a child falling asleep with their parent present had the most significant negative effects on sleep. A late bedtime led to children taking longer to fall asleep and sleeping for a shorter period of time. Parental presence led to children having more night-time wakings. Having a poor bedtime routine and having a television in the bedroom was also found to cause sleep problems.
Some of you may argue that good sleep patterns are all very well but not important relative to the possible psychological harm caused by leaving a baby to cry. Hiscock and colleagues (2008) looked at the long-term effects on both mother and child mental health of using Ferber’s graduated crying down method. They study recruited 328 mothers of 7-month-old babies who reported that their child had a sleep problem. Half of the mothers were taught a sleep training method (with more mothers choosing Ferber’s controlled crying method than other sleep training methods). The other half of the mothers were placed in a control group and not taught any method. The key findings were that the mothers who had been taught a sleep training method were less likely to have depressive symptoms and by the time their children were two years old, there were no differences in behaviour between the sleep-trained children and the non-sleep-trained children. This study suggests there are no long-term consequences of sleep-training your children. France (1992) studied the behaviour characteristics of babies who had been sleep-trained using Ferber’s extinction method. She found that the sleep-trained babies were just as secure as the control group babies at 24-months-old and their tension levels and likeability scores improved. However, even the proponents of sleep training recommend that a baby under 6-months-old should not be allowed to cry for long periods of time. Instead they suggest that parents need to look for cues suggesting their baby is ready for sleep and to let the baby settle themselves to sleep in their own cot or moses basket. Parents need to allow their baby to cry for brief periods whilst they are settling down as this develops the baby’s ability to self-soothe. Parents are also advised to establish a bedtime routine and when feeding in the middle of the night, to keep lights low and stimulation minimal. The experts advise parents not to over-stimulate their tired baby by rocking or holding them until they fall asleep as this can cause long-term sleep problems (France and Blampied, 1999).
More research still needs to be done on the subject of sleep-training and the long-term impacts. However, I would recommend looking at the ample research carried out by Mindell if you are sceptical about sleep-training. I am a strong advocate of being sensitive and responsive to you child but I also think it is important to teach your child to sleep well. Winnicott said that a good-enough mother is one that gives their child the attention they need but also allows their child to experience some frustrations. Sleep-training is hard to do as a parent and tugs at your heart-strings but I believe it has long-term benefits. Most sleep problems are a result of children being unable to self-soothe themselves to sleep and the need to have the parent present to sleep (Blunden, 2012). If parents find the graduated extinction method too difficult to implement, they may prefer the method of gradually moving further away from their child so that eventually they are outside the room when their child falls asleep. Initially, you can pat your child a few times every few minutes before sitting on chair nearby. This method is better if you think you are unable to deal with your child’s crying.

Does using discipline methods such as timeout destroy a child’s self-esteem?

Research suggests that parents should not dismiss or play down their children’s feelings or displays of anger and jealousy. If parents accept their children’s strong emotions, children feel validated. However, this does not mean that parents should not discipline their children for poor behaviour.

Authoritative parenting is considered to be the optimal parenting style for children. Authoritative parents set clear boundaries for their children and do not accept hitting or rudeness. They also give consequences such as timeout when their child does not follow the rules. However, they do not expect their children to accept all their values and goals without questioning and they listen to and consider their children’s views. Authoritative parents also encourage their children to do well at school whilst providing a warm and supportive home environment. Research suggests that children who have authoritative parents tend to be more socially secure, independent, achievement-orientated and adaptive (Baumrind, 1991).

If parents avoid giving consequences for poor behaviour as attachment parenting proponents suggest, the outcomes are worse for children. Parents who allow their children to make their own choices entirely and avoid confronting their children for lying, cheating or being rude are setting themselves up for trouble later. Children with permissive parents tend to perform and behave worse at school (Baumrind, 1991).

Attachment parenting is extremely hard work for parents and it plays on parents’ guilt. However, it is an extreme method of parenting and is not necessary to form a strong bond with your child. Children will become securely attached and empathic individuals as long as parents are loving and sensitive without the need for baby-wearing, co-sleeping, breastfeeding or avoidance of discipline methods.

Related articles:

The importance of family meals http://wp.me/p29Oas-nG

How to deal with tantrums https://psychologymum.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/how-to-deal-with-tantrums/

Choosing a nursery http://wp.me/p29Oas-mF

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Protecting your child or teenager on Facebook and Twitter

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child on facebookThe vast majority of children use social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. However, many children do not realise how public the photos and comments they put on Facebook and Twitter are. They may make comments on these sites that can get them in trouble. For example, some children may be rude about other children, parents or teachers on Facebook and Twitter, without realising who can see their comments. Parents should explain to their child that when they put a comment on a social networking site that all the friends of friends can see their comments. For example, if they make a comment on their friend’s Facebook page and their friend has made their parent a Facebook friend, then their friend’s parent can see this comment too.

Another more worrying concern is that many children have given out personal photos of themselves and physical descriptions to people they don’t know on Facebook. This can put children at risk. Furthermore, some children will post embarrassing photos of themselves on Facebook or spread rumours about other people, without realising the full consequences of their actions. Parents can discuss the dangers of social networking with their children as a preventative measure.

Geotagging enables your geographical location to be added to photographs, videos and websites. This means that if your child uploads photographs of themselves onto Twitter or Facebook, then a complete stranger can pinpoint the exact location of where the photos were taken. Therefore, it is a good idea to disable geotagging on your child’s mobile. Explain to your child what geotagging means and tell them never to click “allow” when geotagging-enabled mobile apps ask for permission.

Instagram is a photo-sharing application, which allows any photograph uploaded to be viewed by anyone, anywhere. It is also possible to include the location of the photograph. Parents can make sure their child adds privacy settings before using the application to at least ensure that the location of the photograph is private. Children under 13-years-old should not be allowed to use Instagram as they may come across disturbing or pornographic images.

Although there are dangers in using social media, it is probably not a good idea for parents to over-react by banning its use. Parents just need to make their children aware of the dangers. However, it is sensible to turn off the internet when your child is doing homework on the computer so that they aren’t constantly bombarded with messages from their friends.

Suggested Links:

What is the best parenting style for teenagers? http://wp.me/p29Oas-lG

Should I let my child bring his teddy to school?

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My friend’s 4-year-old son had his first induction day at his new school recently. He was reluctant to go into the classroom and things seemed to get worse from there. The teacher told him that he was not allowed to bring his beloved teddy ‘Mr. Snuggles’ into the classroom. My friend felt that this would only make things more difficult as she was struggling already to get him used to the idea of starting school in September. When she relayed the story over coffee to me, I felt that the teacher was probably misguided. Many people believe that when children start school, they need to leave their teddies at home as this is part of growing up. However, starting school is an important transition for children and teddies and security blankets can help children manage that transition more easily.

Parents may worry that if they allow their child to bring their teddy or other favourite toy to school in the first few weeks that their child will never be able to leave it at home. However, your child will realise at some point that they don’t need their special comforter with them at school anymore. On the other hand, in the early days of settling into a new school, comforters are useful items to help your child deal with the changes and increasing independence. Litt (1986) found that children who used security blankets or teddies were more independent and more self-confident. Children use these objects to soothe themselves when they are feeling anxious and upset, which can only be a good thing. Security blankets and teddies also allow children to comfort themselves when separated from their parents.
I am pleased that the new school my son is going to go to in September is having a ‘bring your teddy day’ at the beginning of the year. They obviously don’t feel that it is a problem for children to bring their teddies to school when they start. Another friend of mine said that they even have a special teddy corner at her daughter’s new school. So it seems that some schools do recognise the importance of transition objects but unfortunately not every school.

Should we allow children to play with guns?

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Kid with gun

Kid with gun (Photo credit: World of Oddy)

Whether it is okay for boys to play with toy guns is a controversial topic. Many parents may feel uncomfortable about their young child wielding a gun and going around shooting people even if it is a toy. Other parents may think that it is all part of being a boy and that a boy’s natural aggressive tendencies should not be suppressed. So who is right? The research on whether toy guns make children more aggressive is contradictory. What is interesting is that play therapists, who use play to help children work through anxieties and issues, include toy guns for the children to play with.

After some initial reservations, I have decided to be reasonably relaxed about letting my son play with toy guns as he was making guns out of Lego and cardboard anyway. One of his best friends has a nerf gun and they seemed to have so much fun playing with them at his friend’s house, I decided to buy one too. I also want my son to feel that he can play whatever games he likes within reason.

One problem I have encountered so far is the consternation of some of my friends for having toy guns in the house. Some of them have said that they would never have a toy gun in their house and they try to stop their son’s playing shooting games. This has allowed me to discuss and debate the research regarding aggression and toy guns with them.

Although it is unclear whether children should be allowed to play with toy guns, what is clear from the research is that aggressive play should not be stopped. Landy and Menna found that mothers of aggressive children were more likely to stop aggressive make-believe play. They were also more likely to say things like ‘That’s not nice’ or ‘That’s unkind’. In contrast, mothers of non-aggressive children would play along with the
aggressive play, taking on the voice of certain characters and pretending to be scared, killed or eaten by crocodiles and dinosaurs. Landy and Menna found that mothers of aggressive children were more likely to stop aggressive make-believe play. They were also more likely to say things like ‘That’s not nice’ or ‘That’s unkind’. In contrast, mothers of non-aggressive children would play along with the aggressive play, taking on the voice of certain characters and pretending to be scared, killed or eaten by crocodiles and dinosaurs. Landy and Menna suggest that children become more aggressive if they cannot act out their aggression during play. If aggression is not released during play, then it ends up being acted out physically through hitting, biting and pushing.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon, Smashwords.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks, Sony ebookstore and Apple ibookstore.

‘Should aggressive make-believe play be discouraged?’ http://wp.me/p29Oas-7A

“Playing with Toy Guns Desensitizes Children to Using Real Guns…” Uh, Sez Who? (freerangekids.com)

Should all children get a prize on sports day?

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egg and spoon race

egg and spoon race (Photo credit: shingleback)

The summer term is almost at an end and many schools are holding sports days. Traditional egg and spoon races, beanbag races and sack races are being held across the country all in the name of fun. However, sometimes what should be a fun competition can also bring tears and frustration to young children. Nowadays in some primary schools, all the children are given a prize for taking part and the emphasis has been taken away from winning and losing. Many parents say that it makes a mockery of a sports day for everyone to win. They argue that children need to learn that they can’t win all the time and to deal with failure.

So should schools being giving prizes, medals and certificates to all the children on sports day? Or is a little competition healthy for children?
Research shows that competition can cause arguments between children and lower self-esteem whereas cooperation tends to build relationships. So perhaps schools are right not to emphasise winning and losing. However, schools would benefit from introducing cooperative games on sports day where teams of children have to work together to achieve a task such as building a den. Team-building exercises build relationships, which is one of the reason why companies spend so much money on these kinds of days.
If traditional competitive races are to be used on Sports Day, teachers and parents should prepare children better for winning and losing. Even if the teachers give prizes to everyone, the children often know themselves whether they have won or lost, which can sometimes result in tears. Lessons can be given on how to be a good sport, for example, children should be taught not to boast when they win a game. Young children need to be taught that everyone wins and loses sometimes and that the most important thing is to be a good sport. If children are prepared in advance for what they might feel when they lose and how to manage those feelings then they are less likely to feel anger and resentment if they do lose a race.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon, Smashwords.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks, Sony ebookstore and Apple ibookstore.

Evidence based parenting book

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Diana MacNamara reads to children at Fort Brag...

In the past, mothers often lived near their own parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents who were readily available with parenting advice. Nowadays, people tend to live further away from where they grew up and may not have family around to help them make childcare decisions. Therefore, many parents turn to parenting books for guidance. However, as the number of parenting experts out there rises, so does the amount of conflicting advice, which creates confusion. Parents may worry whether they should or should not sleep train their baby or whether they should be following a strict routine or not. At one extreme there is the rise of attachment parenting books, which suggest that parents should carry their baby around at all times and sleep with their child. At the other extreme, there are books telling parents to get their baby into a routine straight away.

Psychology for Parent: Birth to teens’ tries to cut through the conflicting advice offered by parenting experts by presenting psychological research on parenting issues in an accessible way. It aims to plug the gap between child psychology textbooks and ‘how to’ parenting guides.

One controversy, I feel strongly about is whether breastfeeding affects the mother-baby bond. I know that breastfeeding has important health benefits for babies but some mothers are made to feel awful if they can’t breastfeed and that is wrong. Many of my friends had problems breastfeeding their first child for various reasons, having a premature baby, having a baby with tongue-tie (a condition where the underside of the tongue is too tightly bound to the floor of the mouth for the baby to breastfeed easily), getting mastitis (inflammation of breast tissue) or not producing enough milk. I heard many comments when my son was a baby about breastfeeding leading to a better bond with your child but I was pretty sceptical about them. ‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ presents evidence, which shows that breastfeeding does not affect the mother-baby bond.’

Another topic that leads to heated debate is whether parents should smack their children or not. Gershoff (2002 ) examined 88 studies looking at the effects of physical punishment on children and found that it led to more immediate compliance but also more aggressive and anti-social behaviour later on. The children also had worse mental health and had an increased risk of being a perpetrator or victim of physical abuse. Another study found that children who had been physically punished by their parents were far more likely to be aggressive as adolescents (P. Cohen, Brook, Cohen, Velez, & Garcia, 1990). Therefore, the research suggests that smacking is not the most effective form of discipline. However, there are lots of other discipline techniques, which have been shown to be effective.

Have you asked yourself the questions: Is it better to be too strict or too lenient with my child? What should I do if my child is being bullied? How can I get my teenager to talk to me? What should I do if my child has dyslexia? If you want answers to these questions grounded in psychological research, then ‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ may be the book for you.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon, Smashwords.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks and Apple ibookstore.

#Silent Sunday

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