What Is Attachment Parenting and What Are Its Key Principles?


  1. What is attachment parenting?
  2. Attachment parenting vs. attachment theory
  3. Eight principles of attachment parenting
  4. Attachment parenting criticism
  5. Parenting isn’t one-size-fits-all


Every parent wants to see their child succeed and grow into strong, independent individuals. But how do you determine the best way to raise your child? Here, we discuss a common style of parenting - attachment parenting - which involves constant physical closeness and being very responsive to your child.


What is attachment parenting?


The term attachment parenting was first coined in the 1980s by paediatrician William Sears and his wife, Martha Sears. Attachment parenting is based on the idea that you need to be sensitive and responsive to all your young child’s needs in order for them to thrive later in life.

Attachment parenting is an approach to raising children that focuses on nurturing the bond between the parent and child. This gentle parental attachment approach caters to children’s natural need to feel loved and cared for by providing the necessary intimacy to create a strong parent-child attachment. It is believed that a strong emotional and physical connection to a primary caregiver in the initial years of life is the ideal way to raise secure, independent and empathetic children. 

So hopefully now you understand attachment parenting a bit better. However, it’s common to confuse attachment parenting and attachment theory. Let’s take a look at the difference.


Attachment parenting vs. attachment theory


In developmental psychology, parental attachment refers to the bond formed between a baby and the primary caregiver. It is a biological instinct for babies to form attachments and stay close to their caregiver for safety and survival. 

The attachment theory was first set forth by psychologist John Bowlby in 1969, and then expanded upon by developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth. According to the attachment theory, children form distinct attachment patterns depending on how the caregiver responds to the baby’s needs. 

Different styles of parent-child attachment result in different outcomes within children. 

On the other hand, attachment parenting is based on the theory that children who grow up without strong bonds to their caregivers are unable to form a healthy parental attachment later on in life. Babies who never felt a closeness to their caregiver, or felt like their needs were never heard, grow up unable to respect or communicate their needs, and struggle to maintain healthy interpersonal relationships.


Eight principles of attachment parenting


Sears’ attachment parenting can be simplified into 8 key principles, which are considered essential for your child to grow up feeling secure and supported. 

While these principles summarise some fundamental rules associated with secure parental attachment, the specific advice may be slightly extreme or unrealistic in certain situations. You can view these as attachment parenting examples, but make sure to tailor each method as you see fit.

1. Prepare for pregnancy, birth, and parenting

Babies are sensitive; they often pick up on any unresolved resentment you may subconsciously hold about your pregnancy. So, parents should work through any negative thoughts or feelings they experience during or after their pregnancy, and start preparing themselves to be the best parents they can be.

Preparing for your child’s arrival includes being ready to take on the responsibility emotionally too, and parents should spend time reading and learning about effective child-care and parenting techniques. Thoroughly researching children’s needs during different developmental stages will provide important information and suggestions to primary caregivers on how to effectively parent children as they grow. 

2. Feed with love and respect

Breastfeeding is the ideal way to create a secure bond between mother and baby. It shows the newborns that their parents will look out for them and fulfil their basic nourishment needs. The more responsive parents are to their babies’ needs, the quicker children learn that their communications are effective. This will even encourage them to continue communicating in a healthy manner as they grow older.

Feeding your child is about more than just providing nutrients. It is a special time for parents to bond with their babies, and it should be filled with love and respect. As the child grows older and goes to school or university, having meals together can continue to be a means of bonding for your family.

3. Respond with sensitivity

It isn’t easy to deal with a baby’s constant tantrums, but common misconception leads parents to believe that always giving in to your baby’s wants means spoiling or over-pampering them. The fear of doing so often leads parents to ignore their parental instincts and do the right thing, which causes stress for both the parents and child.

Babies often communicate their needs through crying, facial expressions, body movements, and so-called ‘tantrums’. Parents are encouraged to perceive even the most unpleasant tantrums as efforts to communicate, and these efforts shouldn’t be ignored, dismissed or punished.

Tantrums can signal the baby’s emotional feelings, allowing you to engage in an encouraging and sympathetic conversation with them. Children learn to trust and feel supported when their needs are consistently responded to with understanding.

4. Use nurturing touch

The nine months that your baby spends in a womb are like an extended hug from a parent to their baby! But why stop after nine months? The benefits of skin-to-skin contact stand true even beyond infancy. Nourishment and touch strengthen the physical bond between you and your baby, stimulating growth-promoting hormones and improving intellectual and motor development. 

Not to mention, babies need physical contact to feel secure and loved! Skin-to-skin contact helps regulate your baby's temperature, heart rate, and sleep/wake patterns.

Young infants can be carried in a front-facing carrier, and frequent hugs, snuggling, back rubs, and massages can help satisfy your child’s need for touch.

5. Engage in nighttime parenting

Co-sleeping arrangements are a popular method for parents to watch their baby at all hours of the night and be around in case the baby needs them. This is especially helpful when the child is really young. However, as your child grows older, you should teach them to sleep independently without needing you around. 

6. Provide constant, loving care

Building a strong bond with your baby isn’t just about fulfilling their physical and nutritional needs; rather, spending enjoyable time interacting and playing with your baby is essential to cater to their emotional needs.

While sending babies to childcare is a practice that’s becoming more popular by the day, parents must try to minimise the number of hours babies spend away from them, especially if they are below the age of two.

Activities like taking your baby along for walks and letting your baby join on date nights are some attachment parenting examples that can strengthen your bond with your child.

7. Practice positive discipline

While parents are advised to be sensitive to their child's needs and tantrums, they still shoulder the responsibility of teaching their child good manners. This can be done by redirecting the child's bad behaviour and modelling good behaviour for your child to emulate. Parents are encouraged to work together with their children to find a solution and adopt positive reinforcement techniques, instead of simply imposing themselves on their children.

8. Strive for balance in personal and family life

You might have heard the phrase parenting is a full-time job; however, parents must make sure to take time out for their own needs and personal lives to avoid parenting burnout. 

Taking time for yourself encourages you to rejuvenate and check in with yourself, so you can show up recharged and happy for family time, instead of being tired and easily irritable. 

An easy way to memorise these principles is by remembering the “7 baby B’s”:

  1. Birth-bonding (bonding is a constant process)
  2. Breastfeeding
  3. Babywearing (in front-facing carriers, like mentioned above)
  4. Bedding close to the baby
  5. Belief in the language value of your baby’s cry
  6. Beware of baby trainers
  7. Balance between parenting, your family, and your own needs


Attachment parenting criticism


Research on the attachment parenting theory was mainly based on animal studies, and there is some controversy around it. So here are the most common attachment parenting criticisms:

  1. Bed-sharing has been newly linked to sudden infant death syndrome. While Attachment Parenting International is addressing this risk with rules for safe bed-sharing, it’s still a cause of concern.
  2. Research has shown that early childhood experience is not the only determinant of your child’s interpersonal relationships and attachment characteristics. Peer pressure, relationships at school, dating, and marriage will also play a role in your child’s ability to form healthy and intimate parental attachment.
  3. For many parents, staying home to take care of their baby is not realistic as they work to meet the financial demands of starting a family. Attachment parenting theory arose in the 1950s, and the research needs to be updated to reflect the changing dynamics of modern work-life balance.
  4. Constant attention to a child’s every mood and needs can raise over-dependent young boys and girls or can lead to kids trying to control or bully their well-meaning parents into getting their way.


Parenting isn’t one-size-fits-all 


The eight principles of attachment parenting shed light on a loving and nurturing approach to parenting; however, they aren’t rules or strict methods you must follow. They are simply pointers. 

You must allow mistakes and look for healthy corrections to strengthen and maintain the bond between you and your child. There are no quick fixes, and so it helps to simply approach parenting from a place of sensitivity, love, and trust in your own instincts. After all, there’s no greater joy for a parent than to see their baby grow and succeed and know they did their best in raising them.