The Natural Child
Parenting And Educating That Respects
What is Attachment Parenting?
by Jan Hunt
Attachment parenting, to put it most simply, is believing what we know in
our heart to be true. And if we do that, we find that we trust the child. We
trust her in these ways:
We trust that she is doing the very best she can at every given moment,
given all of her experiences up to that time.
We trust that though she may be small in size, she is as fully human as
we are, and as deserving as we are to have her needs taken seriously.
We trust that she has been born innocent, loving, and trusting. We do not
need to “turn her around”, to teach her that life is difficult, or train her
to be a loving human being – she is that at birth and all we need to do is
celebrate that, and support and sustain it.
We don’t have to give her lessons about life – life brings its own
lessons and its own frustrations.
We recognize that in a very beautiful way, our child teaches us – if we
listen – what love is.
We understand that if a child “misbehaves”, instead of reacting to her
behavior, we should always examine what has been taking place in her life:
What stresses, frustrations or frightening, confusing, or difficult
situations she has just experienced. We also need to examine whether we have
brought about any of these experiences, intentionally or not. It is our job
to be responsive parents, meeting the needs of our child; it is not the
child’s job to meet our needs for a quiet and perfectly well-behaved child.
We understand that it is unfair and unrealistic to expect a child to
behave perfectly at all times; after all, no adult can do this either. Yet
behind all punishment is the unstated expectation that a child can and
should behave perfectly at all times; there is no leeway. We see that
so-called “bad behavior” is in reality nothing more than the child’s attempt
to communicate an important need in the best way she can, given the present
circumstances and all of her prior experience. “Misbehavior” is a signal to
us that important needs are not being met – by us or by others in the
child’s life. We should not ignore that behavior any more than we should
ignore the sound of a smoke detector. We should instead see “bad behavior”
as an opportunity – an opportunity to re-evaluate our own behavior, to learn
about our child’s needs, and to meet those needs in the best way possible.
As Albert Einstein wrote, “Behind every difficulty lies an
opportunity.” This is true in general, but it is profoundly true in
parenting. For example, if a child chases a ball into the road, there is an
opportunity to teach her safety measures by practising for similar
situations in the future. The parent could ask the child to purposely throw
the ball into the road, then come to the parent and report the situation. In
this way, the real lesson can be learned: It is the parent who needs to
spend more time teaching safety, not the child who should somehow have known
this information, and obviously does not yet know. Punishment is the most
damaging response: it is unfair, upsetting, and confusing, and distracts the
child from the learning that needs to take place. Instead we should give
gentle, respectful instruction at the time the behavior occurs – this is
exactly when the child can relate it to her life. In this way the best
learning can take place.
Through attachment parenting, children learn to trust
themselves, understand themselves, and eventually will be able to use their
time as adults in a meaningful and creative way, rather than spending it in
an attempt to deal with past childhood hurts, in a way that hurts themselves
or others. If an adult has no need to deal with the past, she can live fully
in the present.
As the Golden Rule suggests, attachment parenting is
parenting the child the way we wish we had been treated in childhood, the
way we wish we were treated by everyone now, and the way we want our
grandchildren to be treated. With attachment parenting, we are giving an
example of love and trust.
Our children deserve to learn what compassion is, and they
learn that most of all by our example. If our children do not learn
compassion from us, when will they learn it? The bottom line is that all
children behave as well as they are treated – by their parents and by
everyone else in their lives.
Dr. Elliott Barker is a Canadian psychiatrist and the
Director of the Canadian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty for Children.
He describes attachment parenting as having two facets: Being willing and
able to put yourself in your child’s shoes in order to correctly identify
his/her feelings. And being willing and able to behave toward your child in
ways which take those feelings into account.
In short, attachment parenting is loving and trusting our
children. If we can do that, they will be able to trust us and in turn,
trust others and be trustworthy persons themselves. The educator John Holt
once said that everything he wrote could be summed up in two words: “trust
children”. This is the most precious gift we can give as parents.
Jan Hunt is a deschooling parent and writer who
lives in B.C. Her website, the Natural Child Project, includes articles on
parenting, education, and child advocacy, a parenting advice column, and a
This article was
published in Natural Life Magazine in 1998.