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By Alexis Schrader

Again and again the articles pop up in parenting magazines and blogs- sleep training your baby is fine, they say, because there is no proven medical harm. While you can point to studies’ failed methodology (http://evolutionaryparenting.com/no-stress-in-sleep-training-a-response/), and argue that other studies (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/moral-landscapes/201112/dangers-crying-it-out)  and medical associations (https://www.aaimhi.org/key-issues/position-statements-and-guidelines/AAIMHI-Position-paper-1-Controlled-crying.pdf) say otherwise, I don’t bother. The truth is, there are so many articles out there, parents will always find something that says sleep training isn’t harmful if that’s what they want to do.

While I disagree that there’s no risk of harm, frankly I don’t care whether there is or not. Sleep training could be the safest thing in the world, but it’s still not how you treat a person. Especially a person you love, who is completely helpless without you, who didn’t ask for you to bring her into this world.

To quote my pediatrician friend, “if it’s not acceptable parenting during the day, it’s not acceptable parenting at night.” Crying is how babies communicate distress. We know that during the day. I don’t know a single person who thinks it’s ok to let a newborn cry for hours on end in the afternoon because the caregiver is tired. But parents proudly recount sleep training tales of babies crying for 3 hours straight like they are swapping war stories. In an article where a mother recounts locking her child in her room overnight (https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/07/well/family/our-sleep-training-nightmare.html), she seems surprised that the locksmith showed no concern for the fact that he was installing a lock on the outside of a child’s bedroom. I worked with foster kids long enough to agree with the author- that should definitely raise alarm bells. But somehow it’s ok, because she was only going to use it at night.

The way you respond to your baby sets the tone for your relationship with your child. Ignoring their night time cries says to your child that your threshold for meeting their emotional needs is proven medical harm. Rather, be the type of parent who responds to your child’s distress, even when it would be easier not to. We create secure attachment when we show our babies that–even in the absence of quantifiable harm–they are our priority.

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The Science of Attachment Parenting

by Samantha on March 3, 2019

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By Judy Arnall

What is the scientific purpose of attachment parenting? In short, attachment parenting provides the child stress relief. Every child experiences stress and it impacts the body by triggering a stress response. Emotions such as fear, loneliness, sadness, frustration and unhappiness are present in children as young as babyhood. Children’s response to those emotions is usually crying in babies and “acting out,” crying or screaming in toddlers. Young children do not have the executive functioning to “self-sooth” or regulate their own stress response because of the immaturity of the brain’s pre-frontal cortex. They need external “scaffolding” help from an adult. When a caring adult responds to the situation promptly and with warmth, the stress is soothed and the calmness of the child resumes. Eventually, children grow to an age, usually in the teen years, where their self-regulation skills are developed enough so they can help themselves to “self-sooth,” and the scaffolding may be removed although comfort and parenting is nice to have all through childhood.

There are three kinds of stress; positive, tolerable and toxic.  Positive stress is good and everyone needs some of this kind. Positive life challenges in the form or people, events or places, create positive stress. When the child faces the stress and overcomes it, often with caregiver support, (and as they get older, with peer support in addition to adult support); the child builds resilience to adversity and it creates a feeling of accomplishment for them. It encourages the child to meet even greater challenges as they grow because it builds their self-esteem and confidence. When a school child makes a class presentation, or a baby is left with a new loving, supportive caregiver, or a toddler faces new playmates at a new daycare, their accomplishment of managing the positive stress builds their resiliency.

Tolerable stress is caused by negative events in a child’s life.  A parent’s divorce, an unwanted move, or the loss of a childhood friend are examples of tolerable stress because they are temporary, and supported by a caring, loving, warm attachment adult who can help steer the child through the stressful time.  The adult responds to the child with active listening, lots of hugs, immediate problem-solving and being available for continual help. Even when the child “acts out” their stress by exhibiting bad behaviour, a caring, warm response from an adult will help the child regulate his emotions, return to a calmer state and eventually resolve the problem.

Toxic stress is also caused by negative events although these events tend to be on-going and the one pervasive factor that moves tolerable stress into toxic stress is the lack of a supportive caregiver or attachment parent. On-going, unaddressed bullying at school, or a baby being left to cry it out most nights, or a toddler that is spanked every day for touching items, are examples of toxic stress. In the first example, the bullying is on-going and pervasive. In the last two examples, the adult caregiver no longer is the supportive, caring person, and instead, becomes the source of the toxic stress as in the spanking and leaving to “cry it out” example. When the child has no other adult support resources, they are left to manage the adverse experience on their own.

Of API’s 8 Principles of Parenting, the principles of responding with sensitivity (and not anger), practicing respectful sleep habits (not leaving children to cry-it-out alone) and using positive discipline (non-punitive guidance) are the most important attachment parenting principles to ensure toxic stress does not occur.

Children do not need toxic stress. Ever. The full onslaught of toxic stress stimulates the production of cortisol and adrenaline, which in turn is good in short doses to motivate the body into flight, freeze or fight mode, but bad for the body when it is produced in large ongoing doses. The constant production of these hormones can damage developing brain architecture in children and may produce lifelong consequences later in life in the form of eventual physical and emotional health problems and propensity to addictions.

No one lives a stress-free life, but adults who practice attachment parenting principles can buffer the negative effects of toxic stress in order to turn the stress into tolerable stress and grow healthy, happy children. Loving, caring support is never spoiling a child. It is crucial for a child’s healthy emotional, physical and social development.

Judy Arnall is the past president of Attachment Parenting Canada Association and bestselling author of Attachment Parenting Tips Raising Toddlers To Teens, www.attachmentparenting.ca

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Some winning tips to connect and reconnect with children – at the holidays and all of the time

December 21, 2018
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Making time to share time and interests with your child refills the love-tank and lets you bounce back after struggles.  Small moments in every day, every week, keep us connected. Small moments mean the connections do not have to be complicated to be powerful; they can be something like: Stop and make eye contact over […]

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Celebrating and Navigating the Holidays

December 20, 2018
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This Attachment Parenting International post was compiled from some APtly Said contributions that help AP parents navigate holiday challenges in the midst of celebrations: co-sleeping while traveling, maintaining balance with so much going on, nurturing a new baby, and much more. Enjoy this helpful series and your holidays–and search APtly Said and AttachmentParenting.org for even more […]

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Love Collective—Sharing experience and making parenting sweeter

October 24, 2018
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Modern parenting is both dramatically different from just 10 years ago – and surprisingly unchanged over eons. What constitutes our “local” community has been slowly changing as the internet and other technologies have allowed us to become individual nomads. We regularly transplant ourselves outside of traditional, geographically convenient support networks. Online parenting resources help us […]

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Naming Changes and Changing Names this AP Month 2018!

October 6, 2018
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API is a hub of information and a community of support to advance Attachment Parenting practices–a collective advocating compassion. After nearly 25 years, API is expanding how it operates so that it can provide support and information to even more families. We will be sharing updates all month long and we invite you to join […]

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Welcome to AP Month 2018

October 1, 2018
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Welcome to AP Month 2018! This AP Month 2018 “Love Collective” theme reflects the possibilities we envision for Attachment Parenting in our society. Working as a collective–where we have a shared passion that we join together to address–is fitting for both AP Month 2018 and the new API we are excited to present. This month we […]

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“What Are You Thinking?”

May 7, 2018
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Reading Time: 2.5 minutes “You are not a good mother. You are not doing a good job. You are messing her up.” These are words I hear too often. No, not from others, but from myself. These words are my thoughts, or my negative self-talk. We all have self-talk. The lucky among us experience a […]

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