Attachment Parenting: Responding with Sensitivity

The third principle of AP according to Attachment Parenting International is Respond with Sensitivity.

The basic premise here is that babies communicate with us in the few ways they know how: body motions, facial expressions, and most noteworthy, crying. As parents and caregivers, it is our job to learn how to communicate with them and how we do that, will teach them to trust. As their brain develops, they will learn to understand and communicate their emotions more effectively. It is through trust, not training, that babies learn to soothe themselves.

In addition to responding to cries, playing and interacting with babies allows them to form an attachment to their caregivers. Around six months, they start developing the “stranger danger” instinct and they stop allowing people they aren’t familiar with to hold them. There is nothing wrong with this, it is not a negative behavior, and it is not something to be punished. This is a normal phase of development. When Elisa went through this phase, which really, at two, she is still slowly moving out of, she will happily interact with other adults that are around, but as soon as they make an effort to pick her up, no matter how slowly they transitioned into it, she gets upset. Even when one of us is standing nearby, even if we’re touching her, she will not allow people she does not know to hold her, no matter how much she has played with them. Our approach is that she will not learn to trust people by being forced to endure them when she is scared. This is not a type of manipulation and by teaching her we will rescue her from these scary situations, I trust I am teaching her not that I will rescue her from everything and that she can make demands on a whim, but that her primary caregivers will not allow harm to come to her. By doing this, she has slowly expanded her circle of trust in a way that is not traumatic.

She will also eventually learn that even though sometimes mom and dad are not there, we always come back and separation anxiety will become gradually less traumatic. I have noticed that when we’re in a group of people, she will keep an eye on me to make sure I’m nearby. She’ll occasionally come over and touch or kiss me and quickly return to playing. In the past year, she has gotten gradually more comfortable with other caregivers, although admittedly, we are careful to only leave her with people whom she knows. She has slowly gotten happier when she’s been left with a sitter and now, she’ll fuss only minimally when we leave and when we return. Getting to this point has been a gradual process, but one that I haven’t minded.

With these things in mind, it has not been difficult for me to be respectful if she expresses discomfort with being held or touched by people she doesn’t know, even if they are our friends or family. Most people understand and respect her resistance and are willing to take the time to talk to her or go down to her level to play and make her feel comfortable. When she was little, when I’d come home from work she immediately expected to nurse. If I attempted to go to the bathroom or change my clothes first, she would get very upset and in her screams, I could hear that she thought I had left again. We developed the habit of having her father carry her into the room where I was so she could keep an eye on me. These things aren’t difficult, and they’re allowing her to figure out trust and what makes her comfortable.

I can say that with Elisa, her attachment to her caregivers is very evident, and not just from the examples above. She trusts the people close to her and she is content in her normal routine. On a day-to-day basis, even when we’re away from home, we deal with very little fussiness. Aside from fear, she communicates well and is now old enough to express how close she is comfortable letting someone get, or how far she is comfortable letting us get from her. Little or not, she is and always has been a whole person with her own opinions and preferences and in our house, it is our intention to respect her needs, boundaries, and feelings. We want to nurture her in a way that allows her to discover herself and feel comfortable in the world. Our approach is to include her in our family and take her feelings into consideration as much as we take each others.


May 12, 2014 by Allison Lund
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