The basic principles of attachment parenting naturally shift and change as children get older.
I’ve been drawn to attachment parenting from the very beginning because it felt natural to me; forging a strong connection to my new baby to help him be more secure, less stressed, and confident in a nurturing home base so he could safely explore the world just made sense.
Of course, as my children have shifted from babies to toddlers to young children to teenagers, the ways I put the tenants of attachment parenting into practice have also naturally shifted and adapted.
It’s been a long time since I’ve co-slept or breastfed or worn anyone in a sling. (My oldest is nearly six feet tall, so baby-wearing just doesn’t feel doable somehow.)
I have two teenagers now and increasingly find myself wondering what attachment parenting looks like as my teens push for more independence and as they need me less and less. As I’m starting to see the end results of the parenting path I’ve taken, I’m looking for new ways to stay connected with them as they start off on their own paths.
Related: Top 10 Attachment Parenting Myths
1. Stay connected.
Obviously breastfeeding and baby-wearing are out, but it’s still important to stay closely tuned in to your teenager’s life. Take an interest in their interests; get to know their friends; be available for conversations, big and small. Offer empathy instead of judgment and offer suggestions instead of insisting they do things your way. This is really hard!
We parents have so much lived-in advice and it’s frustrating to feel as if your teen is disregarding that. But the idea is to be a sounding board and consultant as they become increasingly independent. We must continue to be that safe home base for them as they explore the world and as they venture out farther than ever before.
2. Respond Sensitively.
Just as you took your baby’s cries to indicate a need and your toddler’s temper tantrums to be a form of communicating their oversized emotions, a teenager still requires a gentle response to their intense feelings. In a teen, however, their emotions often take the form of moping, negativity, and seeming overdramatic, which can be even harder to deal with than a toddler meltdown.
To a teen, their emotions are real and intense and often difficult for them to deal with. It’s important to step back, validate that what they are feeling is real and okay, that you are there to help them weather the storm and find strategies to let those big feelings out (slow breathing, exercise, listening to music, focusing on a hobby) and how not to (no yelling, no lashing out at other people, no violence).
3. Set Limits, With Empathy.
Positive Parenting is still parenting. Little kids need rules and boundaries within the framework of gentle parenting and so do teenagers. Stay calm, be consistent, utilize natural consequences, keep a sense of humor, follow through, and empathize as you always have. Harsh punishments tend to backfire particularly hard with teenagers, so instead try to set clear limits for curfew, household chores, schoolwork, and how they treat others (including parents).
Some things are negotiable, but some aren’t and what lines need to be drawn where can vary. In my house I’m willing to be flexible on chores, but not on speaking respectfully to other people, for example.
4. Find Balance.
It’s the attachment parenting basic tenet that seems to be the most forgotten: balancing your child’s needs with that of the rest of your family and yourself. It’s very difficult to respond with empathy and kindness when your own needs are going unmet. With an infant, this means sometimes you need to hand the baby to someone else and get a nap, and with a teenager this means tending to your own self-care, pursuing your own hobbies and friendships, and nurturing your own emotional life.
A nice bonus of raising teenagers versus younger kids is being able to say: I’m a person, I have feelings too, let’s work together and find a solution we’re both happy with.
Parenting a teenager doesn’t have to mean a constant battle of the wills or sharing space with a kid who has become a surly stranger. It’s absolutely possible to continue gently parenting and forge a close, healthy attachment even as kids mature into independent young adults.