Attachment Parenting = Attunement + Presence. Sling Optional.

While babywearing is a beautiful practice and highly beneficial for developing a strong caregiver-child bond, I believe we can work around the sling and still create a beautifully secure attachment with our young child even if we can’t be with him 24/7. Here are some insights I’d like to share that can help with this goal in mind.

1.  It helps so much to be sure we’re attuned to our child, his emotions, interests, responses and needs in every situation, at every moment.  This doesn’t mean we hover, or anxiously await disaster, it just means we know what he’s experiencing (feeling, needing, wanting, sensing) and respond with patient, accepting, unconditional warmth with the intention to help him feel safe, loved, happy, and better if he’s feeling out of sorts.

2.   To foster the flow that is the deepest attachment bond between ourselves and our child (and truly, between any two people) we need to fill the child up with our own presence.  This is no small thing.  For the “attached” caregiver that is wearing her baby, she’s not just cruising through the day with her baby in a sling, going about her day on auto pilot.  This caregiver is “building in” very frequent, routine periods of sustained, focused attention given solely to her child, filling him up with her own presence, and letting him often dictate the goals of their shared focus.

One little eight month old I was caring for, Conner, was happily engaged in our story time activity. He sat on my lap while we read together, touching the different materials in the board book, putting the pages in his mouth, and experiencing excitement and confidence as he gained gross and fine motor mastery in turning the pages. He gained trust in me and felt valued as I re-read the story to him over and again at his prompting. Nearby, a television was on and muted. I got caught up looking at some bizarre characters in a children’s show that had come on.  After a few moments, Conner turned right around and looked at me, as if to say, “Hey, where did you go?”   Without seeing what my face was doing, he sensed that I was no longer present for him, no longer focused with him in our shared activity together. I had broken the flow.

Children are that attuned to how attuned and present we are for them. If a child is fussing or crying even though he’s been changed, fed, has his binky, blankets and toys, this may mean that what he craves – needs – is to be held and given his caregiver’s undivided attention. He needs to be filled up with their “fully-present presence”. To experience frequent, routine periods of sustained, physical and focused attention all about him. This can mean simply being held, too. His behavior lets us know when he needs this, and also when he does get filled up at that time (for example, by avoiding eye contact, turning away, seeming bored, moving toward other activities, crying to be fed, changed or repositioned, etc.)

This complete caregiver presence is the core of the bonding that is vital to his healthy development – to his mental, or holistic health. It is vital to the development of his capacity for self-regulation, the foundation for successes throughout life.

When I cared for Conner I used the “activities” of attunement and presence routinely throughout the day. Being attuned to a child’s needs should be happening constantly; but although ideal, our presence does not need to be constant. I got Connor’s needs met and I got done much of what I needed to do, too. It was not difficult because I knew what he needed, and knew to establish this pattern and how to do it – based on his cues, and – based on my pre-empting as many of his behavioral distress cues as possible. For example, I knew when he’d be hungry, when he’d likely need changing, and just as importantly, how often to jump in and be present for him, following his “activity/need lead”.

For example, when I was present with Connor, we spent time doing things that he chose, some of which I initiated. When I sensed he was ‘filled up’ then I’d sit him down on the floor with his toys and books near to where I was working (in the kitchen, cleaning, or on the computer), or he’d bounce and play in his bouncy seat.  If he wasn’t ready to separate he’d cry to let me know and I’d pick him back up and re-engage our bonding time. A little later, I’d set him down again when he was ready to individuate (separate, and experience autonomy on his terms) from me.  During these times he was content to be with himself with me close by.  Always keeping an eye on him, and intermittently talking or singing to him, I kept his needs and cues my priority.

If a child is needy and clingy even though it seems like she is ‘always with’ their caregiver, perhaps it may be that they are only physically with her without being present emotionally and mentally , aka, fully present -with her. When we are truly present for her in a routine like the one I’m describing, after a period of time (days, weeks – it can depend on the details of the situation) we should see a difference in her behaviors.

Connor and I sustained this model of being together without using a sling, and as long as I followed his cues and employed the relational activities of attunement and presence, he was happy.

There is a correlation between letting babies call these shots like Conner does, and the strong theme Jean Liedloff makes in her book, “The Continuum Concept” which was referenced in the May 21st TIME magazine article about Attachment Parenting.  That is that, as in our example with Conner, and within the indigenous cultures Liedloff studied, when the child makes the decision to individuate from the caregiver, and not us, it means he has developed the security and readiness to do so  because of the skills of attunement and presence we bring to the relationship.

To my observations and understanding, and I’m sure to many of yours, the goal of attachment parenting is the same as any other insightful parenting model: to establish and maintain a secure bond between the parent and child so that the infant grows into a trusting, confident, independent, well-adjusted, socially competent, responsible, happy adult.




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