How Attachment Parenting Found Me

 

I had always planned to parent similarly to the way I was raised but with more structure, like the southern baptist families that populated most of my schools growing up. I would have strict curfews, rules, dinner at the table, yes sir and no sir and my children would do as they were told. I saw plenty of children around me raised this way…then I saw them grow up. I wasn’t so sold by the time we were late teens and college age, many of them had rebelled and were left to face difficult consequences.

Over my first few years in the north I began utilizing another system in my role as a nanny, it was very popular in the area, I call it the rewards and reinforcements method. This style focuses on sticker charts, marble jars, chore sheets and other behavior incentives to train children to respond appropriately to expected tasks so you don’t have to punish them and when you do you typically do so by withholding a reward. I would soon see both in childcare and soon in my classrooms that this can breed a dependency on external motivators and in the worst cases students/children who know where the line is and will tiptoe until touching it as many times as possible, knowing they are invinceable if they stay just this side of the carefully outlined rule.

By the time I stepped into my first developmental pyschology class I was pretty sure neither of these two very common systems worked and I wanted something more for my future students and children but wasn’t sure what. When we reached attachment theory a lightbulb clicked and while I wouldn’t really think to label it such for years, my journey with attachment parenting began.

Attachment parenting is an oft abused and misused term. It is frequently misapplied to what is, in reality, permissive parenting. In some circles it is synonomous with hippie/granola/crunchy parenting and in others with certain choices like breastfeeding, babywearing or cosleeping. All of these things miss the mark of attachment parenting though. Attachment parenting is parenting with the goal of creating a secure attachment for your child and it can be achieved in many different ways but one thing is consistent throughout: Responsiveness. Attachment parenting might better be termed responsive parenting.

The eight principles of AP are:

  • Prepare for pregnancy, birth, and parenting.
  • Feed with love and respect.
  • Respond with sensitivity.
  • Use nurturing touch.
  • Engage in nighttime parenting.
  • Provide constant, loving care.
  • Practice positive discipline.
  • Strive for balance in personal and family life.

NOWHERE does it say that you must breastfeed, extended cosleep, cloth diaper, etc, etc, in fact that wouldn’t be AP if it was wrong for your child because AP is about RESPONDING to YOUR child.  Don’t get me wrong these things can be part of the journey for some families, I have nursed each of our children to 2+ years old and we had a family bed until our preschooler was old enough to feel comfortable in his own but that was what was right for us and it might not be for you.

The first few years of my oldest’s life I could feel the hesitancy from those around us about our choices, were we babying him or spoiling him? Wouldn’t nursing him that long hurt his growth or something? When was he going to sleep in his own bed? Why won’t you make him interact with people he doesn’t know, that’s what is normal. Then my child passed the attaching phase (typically from 6 months – 2 years) and the seeds we had been toiling diligently to plant in his life began to sprout. Those same people began to see that indeed he was more independent and capable than his peers in many areas and the questions changed in tone from judgment to advice, how can I get my daughter in law to try X, would my child benefit from Y. I responded to where he was and waited patiently for him to be ready for each skill and as such prevented the typical cycles of regression so many struggle with.

I’m not saying there is only one right way to parent but I do think that responsive parenting would be beneficial to every child. What it looks like varies widely based on the child’s needs though, even in the same family, because it is responsive! For example I would have never put my oldest child in a “time out” it was not necessary and would not have been effective, instead he and I cuddled and talked over the situation and it worked everytime. If I tried that with my daughter it would only escalate the situation as she does not like touch or affection when upset, so with her I simply remove her to comfy place, usually her room and tell her I will see her when she’s done crying and ready to talk.

Our journey is still in progress and I assume there will be many bumps in the road to come but I have no doubt that responding to my children’s needs and meeting them where they are will always be a positive choice.  As a Christian I have a Father who is always available, always willing to listen and guides my life through prayer, scripture and the Holy Spirit and I think that being a constant, loving, stable place for my child is one of the many ways I can model that relationship.

If you want to learn more about attachment theory there is a helpful summary here on Attach from Scratch and if you would like to know more about Attachment Parenting you can check out the AP International site.

Preschoolers, Sensory Issues and Play

When I was teaching Kindergarten many parents would stress about the Kindergarten readiness test and I would reassure them with the truth, few kids “fail” the test, it is more about giving me a baseline on where they are coming in and to give the parents time to help them work on any area they might be “behind” typical.

I would also tell them the truth: I would rather have a student who can play well with other kids at playtime and recess and knows proper bathroom behavior than one who can read, add or recite the Gettysburg Address. Why? Because you can teach most “school” skills to kids at very young ages if you try but when you do you are taking time away from the skills they should be naturally developing. Kids need to be able to deal with their own emotions, share, take turns, maintain self control long enough to use a bathroom unsupervised, eat a food that isn’t their favorite, wear clothes that feel a little funny occasionally…in short to deal with life. They should have learned to bounce back from little unpleasantries (not getting picked first or having to wait for a toy another child has) and be able to use their imaginations, initiate basic problem solving and they should know how to fail sometimes.

When I went into education had a wonderful resource in my Nanny who taught headstart for years, raised 5 boys and helped with a dozen or so grandkids and 9 great grandkids to date. She used to tell me that the older 6 of us grandkids (we are in our 20-30s while the younger half are still kids in elementary-high school) were very different, that she had to “relearn” alot to babysit the younger set because kids today are different. She would explain how different play was for them but until I began teaching it wouldn’t full hit me.  Now I understand because play looks very different than it did for my generation or those before us. I spent many hours at my nanny’s as a child happy with 3 main “toys”: my cousins, nature and crayons (and the occasional nickolodean show when it was time to cool off inside;)). We climbed trees, explored creeks, fished, chased lightning bugs and played “bad guys” and “school”. Kids now want devices, toys, items and specific activities to play so even somewhere as untouched by some changes as Sardis, Alabama… kids are different.

This all came into play when my own son was born, I knew what kids used to be like and I knew what they are like now and I wanted him to be like I was…but can you control society’s impact? We would see. He was in daycare for the first 3 years of life and he did it very well, in fact, in very structured and routine environments he flourished. He was a model student who never got sent to the calm down spot and always got rave reviews from the teachers…but outside of “school” he struggled with free play environments. He had difficulty knowing how to play with other kids, make his own games and overcome small obstacles without a teacher there feeding him the “right” responses. I will never know how much that environment, which had lots of play but was still too academic for 18-36 month olds, combined with my mommy guilt inabling, played into his social and sensory issues because I can’t go back in time but I do know that the issues developed while in daycare and with a few years at home many are gone or minimal now.

At one point I considered having him seen for an official diagnosis due to societal pressure to “explain” his atypical behaviors, off the record a friend who specializes in this told me he would most likely recieve a diagnosis of sensory processing disorder but since it is not recognized as a stand alone disorder he would get slapped with something like anxiety then the diagnosis of SPD could be attached as a “rider”. I know my child though and I knew that even if he met all the criteria in the world he doesn’t have a “disorder”, he has some sensory issues (or quirks as I call them) but he is a perfectly healthy and functioning little boy and instead of getting him “help” to “accommodate” his issues I wanted to deal with the cause of those issues where possible and teach coping skills where not. I had a feeling this was stemming from unrealistic expectations and the lack of authentic opportunities to develop naturally occuring developmental skills.

I thought about my Nanny’s stories of how children have changed in the last 50 years and began a combination of occupational therapy based activities designed to help remediate his specific sensory quirks that my friend had recommended AND a change in what play meant to our family. I like reading to him, I like making him happy which, when I was working and filled with mommy guilt, meant playing board games with him when he asked…and blocks and cars and…everything I could find time to. No more. When I began staying home I stopped scheduling him in classes, activities or even library storytimes. I stopped taking him to museums or the zoo every single week. I started taking him outside…for hours…even when he got bored, while I did other things in the yard. He had to entertain himself. We would go to a nearby creek bed so he could throw rocks and build stuff with sticks. I would set aside hours each day for him to entertain himself while I cleaned, read or even watched tv (guilt free yo!) in the other room. I stopped giving him “craft” projects and started dumping the art supplies on the table and walking away so he could figure it out himself. I had friends bring their kids over for playdates and then we’d happily chat in my front room and ignore the crap out of the kids unless serious crying broke out so that they could spend time figuring it out themselves; no tvs, no adults, no direction.

It worked by the way. The kid I took out of daycare at 3 had enough overwhelming sensory issues to interfere heavily with his daily life; dressing, eating, changes in routine, it was all difficult and cause for a meltdown. I no longer have to spend 2 weeks of my life getting my child to transition to shorts for summer and then 2 more to get him back in pants during fall because the feeling and sensation of the material on his legs is so jarring. I no longer have to worry if he’ll ever make friends because he has lots and talks a mile a minute with adults (once he feels comfortable, he is still a shy guy but that’s just part of him!). I don’t miss having to stress over the temperature and texture of food because the wrong one can make him cry and gag. These things were part of my life for 2 solid years (from the time he left the “baby” room at daycare and went to a “classroom” to the time I quit my job) and I am so glad I didn’t give into the fear and have him diagnosed because there was never anything wrong with him. He might always hate the feelings of “sticky” or “messy” things, he might never enjoy certain types of foods or clothes but now when he has an issue he has the problem solving skills to work past it and if I had labeled him as broken and went around preparing everything to match his brokenness then he may never have learned those skills.

I’m not the only one to notice that sensory issues and the lack of true play in our society might be linked though…countless articles like this one “The decine of play in preschoolers – and the rise in sensory issues” are being written now that research is coming out to suggest that the two just may be linked.

[Despite the fact that Sensory Processing Disorder is one of the most “overdiagnosed” labels out there right now I am not downplaying that it is real and that for a very small minority of kids the symptoms could not be overcome without alot of therapy but the medical world would agree those children are the very rare exception (and typically have a diagnosis such as autism or adhd that might contribute to their issues). Since I know dozens of kids in my local area with the diagnosis that…well they can’t all be the exception, i’d say some of them just need the chance to fail and play and get messy and for the adults in their life to stop expecting them to sit still and be quiet and “behave” so much.

TRUE SPD is a neurological disorder that impacts the way the brain processes sensory information not just kids who haven’t learned to deal with certain things yet, every human has sensory preferences and left to our own devices we could easily take those preferences to a place that resembles a “disorder” it doesn’t mean we actually have one. ]

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Stop Overthinking Kindergarten.

*This blog is a letter about me, to me but it might apply to you too*

I’m a former Kindergarten teacher. I have a 4.5 year old. People started asking me about his school plans when he was 3. I’ve been stressed out everytime I think about it for a full year and a half.

The way i’ve been stressing about this you would think that when you choose a Kindergarten you are signing a contract to remain there for the rest of their school career and it will directly impact all areas of their future.

I went to public school most of my education career. I taught at a Christian school. I have friends who do both, I’m home preschooling. My son would likely qualify for a tuition free gifted school nearby. Then there is full day, half day, affordability, maturity, convenience.

I’ve driven myself crazy…

We’ve thought he’d need an extra year because of his social anxiety..but then I watch him in his classes at church where he loves his peers and teachers and learning and fits in just fine….

I’ve thought about homeschooling his first year and putting him in in first grade but I also think about the experiences he might miss and the relationships he could be building…

I know all about Kindergarten readiness testing, i’ve performed a hundred of them at least.

I know about the pros and cons of public and private and classical and montessori and young fives and older fives…

I’ve looked at the budget and made fearful plans toward homeschooling because the school I feel God leading us too just doesn’t seem to fit in those numbers.. I can’t see the math. But then my husband reminds me that literally every good, God led decision of our marriage has been that way. God knows my weakness and tendency to want to plan and control and handle it all. He grows me by showing me situations I can not figure out, things I see as impossible and then time and time again making it possible. Making it beautiful and glorifying to Him.

So guess what.

I don’t know.

I’m an educator with a 4.5 year old and I think we know what school he’s going to because we feel like God has drawn us there.

But I don’t know when for sure. Will we delay him or homeschool him or just put him in in the fall? I don’t know.

I also have realized that’s ok.

Just like everything else I try to rush God into revealing for me so I can feel in control, I need to let go.

I am letting go.

God will direct out path.

He will make the timing clear.

He will provide the finances we need.

I just have to stop overthinking it and remember that it’s just Kindergarten.

So I am.

 

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Starting a Preschool Co-op

So a few weeks ago we started our own little preschool co-op. I knew that staying home meant preschool really wasn’t in our budget anymore but I also feel like it is beneficial to most children so I found some like minded friends!

Myself and two fellow moms got permission to use our churches 2s & 3s classroom two days a week for two hours (that’s alot of twos!) then split up the curriculum responsibilities, outlined a basic schedule and chose some monthly themes. It takes less than hour of prep work for my teaching portion each week and I get to be involved in my son’s education! I get to have a say in what and how he is learning, I control how discipline and reward are utilized and I can guarantee that what he’s being taught is in line with the values we hope to instill, best of all it’s free!

I have to say that I thought it would go ok or I wouldn’t have tried to do it but I have still been pleasantly surprised! Jidge LOVES it! He can’t wait for Daddy-O to come home on ” friends preschool” days so he can recap everything we did and learned. I still have to “home preschool” him some because his appetite for knowledge is at that incredible preschool level that wants to devour all but it has taken alot off my plate in that respect and added an invaluable social component! Plus, having two other moms teaching means more teaching styles, more creativity and fresh ideas and more practice with non-familial authority. We have the ability to plan field trips and playdates, even spontaneously, if something cool comes up that would interest the children or if they just need a change of pace.

I worried about taking this leap, that maybe it would be to much work or the kids wouldn’t like it or no one else would want to,etc but I am very pleased we did and I think my son is benefitting in ways I couldn’t have predicted! As a bonus baby sister is along for the ride and while she may spend most of the time playing she sometimes pulls a chair up to the circle for storytime and tunes in too :).

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