How Attachment Parenting Produces Independent Kids


Guest Parts By Zoe Claire, The Attached Family, reprinted with permission by Attachment Parenting International.

Children are in our care for a limited amount of time, generally spanning two decades. During that time, their needs change drastically yet gradually from year to year. I’ve always found it odd that the principles of Attachment Parenting are criticized as promoting dependence in children when, if you analyze the proper development of independence in childhood, the attachment style would be considered the ideal method for raising competent adults.

Attachment style parenting is based on Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting. These principles are designed to guide decision making with a focus on infancy. But the overwhelming theme of the attachment style is the sensitive responsiveness of the parent toward the child. This responsiveness is directed at meeting the child’s needs in a loving and respectful manner.

The meeting of needs is a critical concept.

The end result of meeting a child’s needs is varied yet always positive. A child whose needs are consistently met learns that his voice is heard, his communications are valued, his needs are worthy, he can rely on the world to be a safe and secure place, he can trust his parents both for comfort and guidance, and he is competent.

We are most effective leaders when we teach from a place of love and trust.

Think about a time when someone tried to change you or what you were doing. How did you feel? Now think about how you felt about that person. Did you believe the person had your best interests at heart? If you did, you probably felt positive about the experience, whether you accepted the advice or not. If you believed the person did not understand you, did not care about you, or was only trying to promote their own interests, then you probably felt bad about the experience and certainly rejected the advice. We can only create true change from a position of love and trust. This is a truth of humanity.

Why do so many people worry about Attachment Parenting leading to dependent kids?

Those who don’t understand API’s Eight Principles of Parenting can often confuse meeting a child’s needs with stifling independence. An infant is at the beginning of her experience as a human. She begins her life without the ability to help herself in any way. She is entirely dependent on her caretaker. One aspect of meeting her needs is understanding what her needs are. She has not reached the stage in her development yet where she is capable of independence or desirous of it. The securely attached parent recognizes this need and attends to her accordingly.

The result of this sensitive attendance to the child’s needs is a child who has a secure foundation to begin her journey toward independence.

How does Attachment Parenting foster independence?

The drive for independence is as natural to humans as breathing, sleeping and eating. The securely attached parent is able to recognize when the child needs and wants independence and not only allow him to stand on his own two feet, but encourage him as well.

Independence occurs gradually, throughout the two decades of childhood. We do not need to force it upon a child before she is ready and should not hold her back when she is.

Responsive parents can see when their 2-year-old is demanding to pour her own milk and allow her to so. This is meeting a need. It’s a new need, different from those in infancy, but a need nonetheless. So she is allowed to develop necessary skills as she is ready.

As soon as a child is capable of caring for himself, he should be allowed to do so.

Connected, responsive parents can observe when their child is ready for independence and are able to encourage him. He wants to dress himself? Allow him. It doesn’t matter what he wears. It matters that he is able to care for himself. If he still needs to be close to his parents when he sleeps at night, that’s okay, too. It’s about fostering the child’s desire for independence. It’s about meeting needs. His need for independence is as legitimate as his need for security. Both are met with sensitivity, predictability and love.

What the child learns as she grows is that she is capable and secure. She learns that independence is a positive experience for her, as she masters each new skill. She learns that all of her needs will be met, regardless of what they are or how someone else feels about them.

As the child progresses through childhood, her need for independence will increase while her need for physical closeness to her parents will decrease. But the confidence she has in her parents is what links the two.

What does Attachment Parenting look like in the teen years?

I’ve seen articles proclaiming that parents must detach from their children during the teen years. I believe this is a misunderstanding of what attachment is. The attachment is the relationship, the sensitivity, the unconditional willingness to meet the child’s needs. A securely attached parent is able to recognize that the child’s needs during the teen years have changed and will continue to change to adulthood.

The securely attached teenager has experienced life with his parents knowing that when he speaks, he will be heard. He knows that his ideas, thoughts, opinions, and experiences are valued by them. He knows that he is competent. He knows that he can seek independence and he will be supported in his efforts. He knows that he can go to his parents for emotional support and they will be there for him. He knows that they know him well, they always have, and their primary goal is to support him. He knows this because that has been experiencing since the day he was born.

Think about this teen for a moment. This is what all parents want. This is a teen who knows when she has a problem, she can trust her parents as a resource. She will talk to them about it. She doesn’t rebel. She has nothing to rebel against. Her parents are allies in her life. They always have been. Nothing magically changes because of her age. They are still watching her, listening to her, anticipating what she needs from them and responding to her with sensitivity. She will take their advice more often than not. She knows that they want the best for her. They don’t disregard her, brush her aside or bully her. They never have. Sure, she might make mistakes. Everyone does and teens are more susceptible due to their inexperience and youth. But she has parents to guide and teach her. And she is still willing to accept their love and support.

We all want the same things for our children. We want them to be happy, successful, independent, competent, kind, loving, empathic, responsible adults when they leave to go out into the world. We are not always so sure how to get there. While we all have to find our own way as parents, this I do believe: you can never go wrong meeting your child’s needs, no matter what the needs may be.

We live in an age where it’s so easy to judge everything another person does because of the keyboard courage that we somehow garner. The Internet and social media open our worlds up and show us the lifestyles and parenting practices of complete strangers around the globe.

And while there is much we can learn from what we can find online (ahem, cough, cough) we have to learn to develop some thick skin too as attachment parents. The term SanctiMommy exists because people who are brave enough to share their lives are judged by people they’ll never meet in a million years.

All too often, it seems like those who want to practice attachment parenting fall at the brunt of the online bullying and finger-pointing. Share that you practice extended breastfeeding and people think you’re weird, making your child weird, etc. Share that you’re worried about what’s in the shots the government wants to force on your child and you’re clearly anti-science, anti-research, anti-children.

Share that you aren’t okay with your kid getting gobs of toys, candy or other stuff that really doesn’t add quality to their health or their childhood and you’re killing it.

Share that you are worried about the impact we have on our bodies in the foods we’re eating and the way the foods we’re eating are grown and raised and get, “Oh, it’s fine. I ate ___________ and I’m fine.”

Point out the ever-growing research that shows we’re not actually fine at all and get called a know-it-all.

Gently discipline your children with love and logic motivation and be accused of raising brats.

We could go on and on. And, even in attachment parenting communities, we can be judged. We tried breastfeeding and for whatever reason, couldn’t/didn’t continue. Read comments and see that some would say that meant we don’t love our babies. (PS, never read comments!)

Choose conventional foods over organic because you can’t afford organic (which again, is a sin in itself that clean foods are so much more expensive than conventional junk) and clearly, we don’t love our babies.

The point is…there’s always going to be judgement from someone, somewhere just about all the time in all we do.

And why we advocate for attachment parenting, so we raise generations of children who grow up knowing we won’t be able to please everyone all the time, and it doesn’t matter. What matters is that they’re kind, loving, empathetic, secure and empowered humans who contribute to their fellow humans and this world we inhabit in a positive way. Attachment parenting leads the way for those humans, and we’ll continue to stand up for it again and again.


Image: Mateus Lunardi Dutra

12 thoughts on “How Attachment Parenting Produces Independent Kids”

  1. I think it is important to note that since we have a 50% (plus) divorce rate and many people choose parenthood as a single person, the repeated use of the word “parents” is tiresome. Otherwise an excellent article that gives me confidence going into the teen years with my AP’d kids.

    1. Just because the divorce rate is 50% does not mean the children of divorce only have one parent, they still have both parents. If my husband and I were ever to get divorced, our daughter would still need us both as parents, and would still be attached to both of us.

  2. From someone with an outside view if attachment parenting, my sister in law is doing this method with her 2 children, one is 7 months and the other is 3 1/2. My first note is that she has been holding her 7 month old “literally” since the day she has been born, if she isn’t holding her in her arms she has her in a carrier on her back, now when she wants a break and puts her down the baby wails her eyes out to the point of almost passing out, the baby doesn’t know what to do without being held or being on her mother at all times, you tell me, how does this turn into an independent child. My second note being her 3yr old, she can’t leave him alone with anyone because he throws himself in the floor, kicks and screams hissie fits because she can’t be one whole minute without him by her side. This can not be healthy for mom or children. Neither child shows any signs of being independent. What’s going to happen when her 3yr old has to start next year? They aren’t going to tolerate a child who throws themselves in hissie fits on the floor when he can’t get his way. She has given in to each and every thing these children want and not necessarily need….. I on the other hand have a 3 1/2 yr old too and since he was born I have given him his space when he wanted it and been there for him when he needed me, I have not given into his every “want” and he does not always get his way, he is a very independent, confident, respectful, intelligent and a well behaved child. I don’t agree with this “attachment parenting” and this whole article is a contradiction. I think mom’s now days are trying to be this picture perfect, squeaky clean, magazine worthy mother and are scared of being judged by what other people/mom’s say. Quit trying to be your children’s friends and be a parent to them.

    1. Ruth, it sounds like you have been doing attachment parenting without even realising it. The link in the article to API’s principles of attachment parenting explains that:

      The essence of Attachment Parenting is about forming and nurturing strong connections between parents and their children. Attachment Parenting challenges us as parents to treat our children with kindness, respect and dignity, and to model in our interactions with them the way we’d like them to interact with others.

      This sounds exactly like what you’ve been doing. You describe your SIL giving in to her children’s every want – this is permissive parenting, not attachment parenting. They are very different and people often get them confused. The AP model promotes boundaries and positive discipline.
      Also as an aside, it’s not unusual for a 7 month old to scream when out down. The separation anxiety phase starts to set in around that age. My first baby was very chilled out and never really affected by this phase, but my 2nd was a lot higher needs and screamed whenever I left the room. Only now at 18 months will she allow dad to bath her. They were both parented the same (AP style), but were just very different personalities.

    2. I know a very wide range of AP parents and children and have observed that much of the differences in behavior and independence that you describe have more to do with a child’s temperament and natural inclination toward independent behavior than anything that the parents do or don’t do. I firmly believe that there are many reasons to practice attachment parenting, and I chose to do so with my son. But one thing I have learned over the last 5 years of parenting and being very active in my local parenting community is that there is a huge variation in behavior, temperament, and preferences from child to child… even within one family who have used much the same parenting methods with each child, and yet they’ll see a very different behavior pattern with each individual.

      That is because children are whole people with their own wants, needs, desires, personalities, etc. They are not blank slates to be molded. You cannot take full credit for your children’s behavior, nor can you place full blame on your SIL. I am sure she feels your judgement and disdain. If you would really like to support your niece and nephew, you will work harder to find a way to respect and support their mother.

  3. Ruth: Except for being so judgmental, you sound like an Attachment Parent (sorry!). When you says, “since he was born I have given him his space when he wanted it and been there for him when he needed me, I have not given into his every “want” and he does not always get his way.” Perhaps you (and, very well, your sister) just don’t understand AP. It doesn’t mean there are no limits or boundaries on children, AP believes in treating them with respect, guidance, and being engaged enough as parent that you aware and empathetic of their needs.

  4. This an awesome article. I agree with your points. But not all people are raised with parents that have this concept taught to them. It’s something then that has to be learned. The moral character of society today has demenished and we are seeing it in our young parents and teens. The need to teach moral character to the world is very desperate at this time. Even the pope says we are in WW3. The hope that all nations will want to learn true peace and live it to eat o e another is what The Peaceful Solution Character Education Program teaches. There are many levels of understanding in this program. Parenting, early learnig, preschool, Intermediate, junior high, work place, and even prison. The lessons teach mor

  5. Awesome article! I must agree with this. It’s being attached to the kids in a right way. Guiding them and not making decisions for them. Thanks for sharing the article here. It’s has a great information about attachment parenting.

  6. When I hear other parents of teens bemoan how little they are involved in their teens’ lives, I sometimes wonder how much of that is the result of 15+ years of pushing their kids away. If you’ve been teaching your child to “self-soothe” since 3 months old, what makes you think they’re going to start seeking you for soothing at 16 years? I have been all about AP all along, even when I didn’t know there was a term for it. My very healthy, independent, strong, resourceful, clever 19 year old is doing very well out on her own. She calls to ask for advice now and then, and loves to keep us updated because hey, we’re very close. But she is making tons of solid decisions all on her own right now, and I’m so proud I could explode. Yet, when she was 3 months old and had colic, people blamed me for her crying, that I was spoiling her what with my breast feeding, co-sleeping, always carrying/wearing, etc. No doubt sure she’d be attached to my hip forever. Boy were they ever wrong. She’s always been the farthest thing from a spoiled brat. Her 16 year old brother is also well on his way to also proving that AP makes for independent teens and young adults, not cry-baby spoiled ninnies for sure!

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