by Cheryl Jackson Tuesday July 10, 2012

Whenever we start talking about attachment in the office, there's a fight. Well, not really a fight, but a debate over terms. Are we talking about attachment theory or attachment parenting? This is an important distinction because they're different. 

Attachment parenting derives from the theory and is a parenting philosophy with recommended behaviours. Dr. William Sears coined the term and proponents have come up with 8 principles:

  1. Preparation for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting
  2. Feed with Love and Respect
  3. Respond with Sensitivity
  4. Use Nurturing Touch
  5. Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally
  6. Provide Consistent Loving Care
  7. Practice Positive Discipline
  8. Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life

I think these are all good ideals. How could you not? The problem is that some more extreme parents have co-opted the term "attachment parenting" to advocate co-sleeping with infants, baby-wearing, homeschooling, unschooling, home births, naturism, etc etc. Once again, I like some of these ideas myself and in fact practised some, but by saying this is what it takes to form secure attachments with your babies, you exclude many parents who can't, won't, don't want to parent this way. Does this make them worse parents? Will their babies suffer poor attachment? Guilt, guilt and more guilt.

So I like to make the distinction between attachment parenting which is a parenting style, and attachment theory which is the science. “We know from the newest science that in fact the early experiences that babies have and the quality of those experiences actually has the potential to change the architecture of the brain,” says Chaya Kulkarni, the director of Infant Mental Health Promotion at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. It comes down to loving your baby, paying attention to her needs, talking to her, listening to her. Here's the importance of attachment explained by Chaya Kulkarni, Dr. Jim Sears (son of William) and Toronto Public Health Nurse Kathy Jacyniak.

If you'd rather listen, we have a podcast.  And producer Sarah Michaelis produced a series of short videos about bonding with babies which you can find in her article.