Attachment parenting

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]


Attachment parenting, a phrase coined by pediatrician William Sears,[1] is a parenting philosophy based on the principles of the attachment theory in developmental psychology. According to attachment theory, a strong emotional bond with parents during childhood, also known as a secure attachment, is a precursor of secure, empathic relationships in adulthood.


Attachment theory, originally proposed by John Bowlby, states that the infant has a tendency to seek closeness to another person and feel secure when that person is present. In comparison, Sigmund Freud proposed that attachment was a consequence of the need to satisfy various drives. In attachment theory, attachment is considered a biological system and children are naturally attached to their parents because they are social beings, not just because they need other people to satisfy drives. Attachment is part of normal child development.

Developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth devised a procedure, called The Strange Situation, to observe attachment relationships between a human mother and child. She observed disruptions to the parent/child attachment over a 20 minute period, and noted that this affected the child's exploration and behavior toward the mother. This operationalization of attachment has recently come under question, as it may not be a valid measure for infants that do not experience distress upon initial encounter with a stranger (e.g., Clarke-Stewart, Goossens, & Allhusen, 2001).

According to Attachment Parenting International (API) there are 8 principles that foster healthy (secure) attachment between the caretaker and infant. While none of these principles are derived directly from original attachment research, they are presented as parenting practices that can lead to "attunement", "consistent and sensitve responsiveness" and "physical and emotional availability" that research has found to be key factors in secure attachment.

Eight principles of attachment parenting

Per Dr. Sears' theory of attachment parenting (AP), proponents such as the API attempt to foster a secure bond with their children by promoting eight principals which are identified as goals for parents to strive for. These eight principals are:

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

These values are interpreted in a variety of ways across the movement. Many attachment parents also choose to live a natural family living (NFL) lifestyle, such as natural childbirth, home birth, stay-at-home parenting, homeschooling, unschooling, the anti-circumcision movement, the anti-vaccination movement, natural health, cooperative movements, and support of organic food.

However, Dr. Sears does not require a parent to strictly follow any set of rules, instead encouraging parents to be creative in responding to their child's needs. Attachment parenting, outside the guise of Dr. Sears, focuses on responses that support secure attachments.


Attachment parenting proponents value continuous attachment to a primary caregiver. However, many still engage childcare, regardless of whether a parent stays at home. AP-friendly childcare focuses on meeting the child's needs first, but without denying the working parent of their duties outside of the home.


Attachment parents seek to understand the biological and psychological needs of the children, and to avoid unrealistic expectations of child behavior. In setting boundaries and limits that are appropriate to the age of the child, attachment parenting takes into account the physical and psychological stage of development that the child is currently experiencing. In this way, parents may seek to avoid the frustration that occurs when they expect things their child is not capable of.

Attachment parenting holds that it is of vital importance to the survival of the child that he be capable of communicating his needs to the adults and having those needs promptly met. Dr. Sears advises that while still an infant, the child is mentally incapable of outright manipulation. Sears says that in the first year of life, a child's needs and wants are one and the same. Unmet needs are believed, by Dr. Sears and other AP proponents, to surface beginning immediately in attempts to fulfill that which was left unmet. AP looks at child development as well as infant and child biology to determine the psychologically and biologically appropriate response at different stages. Attachment parenting does not mean meeting a need that a child can fulfill himself. It means understanding what the needs are, when they arise, how they change over time and circumstances, and being flexible in devising ways to respond appropriately.

Similar practices are called natural parenting, instinctive parenting, intuitive parenting, immersion parenting or "continuum concept" parenting.


One criticism of attachment parenting is that it can be very strenuous and demanding on parents. Without a support network of helpful friends or family, the work of parenting can be difficult. Writer Judith Warner contends that a “culture of total motherhood”, which she blames in part on attachment parenting, has led to an “age of anxiety” for mothers in modern American society.[2] Sociologist Sharon Hays argues that the "ideology of intensive mothering" imposes unrealistic obligations and perpetuates a "double shift" life for working women.[3]

Another criticism is that there is no conclusive or convincing body of research, aside from testimonials from participating parents, that shows this labor-intensive approach to be in any way superior to what attachment parents term "mainstream parenting" in the long run.[4] </ref>

The American Academy of Pediatrics has recently amended its policy statement regarding SIDS prevention, and has come out against sharing a bed with small babies (though it does encourage room-sharing).[5] The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission also warns against co-sleeping. [6] Attachment Parenting International issued a response which alleged the data referenced in the Consumer Product Safety Commission statement was unreliable, and that co-sponsors of the campaign had created a conflict of interest.[7]

See also


  1. "API: FAQ - General Attachment Parenting". Attachment Parenting International. Retrieved 2007-05-27.
  2. Warner, Judith (2006). Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety (ISBN: 1594481709)
  3. Hays, Sharon (1998) Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood (ISBN: 0300076525)
  4. Hays, Sharon (1998). The Fallacious Assumptions and Unrealistic Prescriptions of Attachment Theory: A Comment on "Parents' Socioemotional Investment in Children Journal of Marriage and the Family, Vol. 60, No. 3 (Aug., 1998), pp. 782-790 doi:10.2307/353546
  5. Kemp, James S. et al (2000) Unsafe Sleep Practices and an Analysis of Bedsharing Among Infants Dying Suddenly and Unexpectedly: Results of a Four-Year, Population-Based, Death-Scene Investigation Study of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and Related Deaths. PEDIATRICS Vol. 106 No. 3 September 2000, p. e41
  6. CPSC Warns Against Placing Babies in Adult Beds; Study finds 64 deaths each year from suffocation and strangulation, Consumer Product Safety Commission, September 29 1999
  7. Attachment parenting international calls on government to delay campaign warning parents not to sleep with their babies