Attachment parenting is a parenting style that believes a child’s need for attention and closeness to their parents must be completely fulfilled in the first six years of life in order to keep it from becoming a disruptive preoccupation. In other words, if a child is given attention freely from the start, they will not spend time seeking it out. Parents who form a strong bond with their children in their earliest years set a foundation for independence, because a child who trusts in their parental attachment will feel safe enough to branch out on their own.
“If a child is deeper attached through sameness, through significance, through a sense of belonging, of loyalty, emotionally through intimacy, or feels known, they have many ways of holding on when physically apart,” says Dr. Gordon Neufeld, a renowned developmental psychologist and author. The term “attachment” in this instance means an intimate bond, fostered through physical, emotional, and psychological closeness. Attachment parenting operates on a six stage framework, where the parent must achieve a new type of closeness with their child each year. These stages correspond with the level of physical and emotional development that the average child is expected to reach as they grow from infant to toddler to kindergartner.
Principles of Attachment Parenting
Over these six years, an attachment parent will, in theory, form a bond with their child that fully satisfies their need for attention. A child that trusts that their parent is attached to them, even if not physically close at the moment, will not spend all of their time seeking attachment, attention, and closeness.
Stage one of the attachment theory focuses on physical proximity and closeness during the first year of life. This can be achieved through being in the same room, babywearing, co-sleeping, or simply holding your baby. Attachment parenting’s stance on breastfeeding is to feed your baby “on need” as often and as soon as they signal for it.
Around the age of two, your closeness with your child evolves into his or her desire for “sameness.” At this stage, your child begins to emulate your behavior, from language to mannerisms.
“By the third year, a child becomes preoccupied with belonging and becomes preoccupied with loyalty, to be ‘on the same side as,’ which is a different way of closeness,” says Neufeld.
They recognize attachment in this stage as a parent who demonstrates loyalty by showing they are aligned with them.
The fourth stage is the need for significance. The child need to know at this point that they matter to the parent and “are cherished for who they are, as is,” says therapist and author Susan Stiffelman, MFT.
The fifth stage of attachment comes in the form of emotional connectedness. Around age five, the child needs to feel “the unadulterated love that we have for them that is not attached to accomplishments or achievements or behavior,” Stiffelman says. This becomes a major factor in the formation of trust in the parent.
The final stage is where the child and parent develop a psychological closeness. The child wishes to be known, and desires to confide in the parent. If achieved in childhood, this stage is one which can definitely be maintained throughout their entire life.