When it comes to parenting there are a lot of philosophies, opinions and beliefs out there. This is great because every baby and every family is different, so we’ve all got to figure out what works best for our families.
The responsibility we have as parents is A LOT. Not only do we want to keep our kids alive, healthy and happy,
Different parenting philosophies
There is often quite a bit of tension between parents who identify and strictly follow the philosophies and ideology of attachment parenting and parents who do not. A lot of this attention is often focused on sleep. Understandably so, since the founder of attachment parenting, Dr. Sears is very outspoken in his opinion that helping your baby learn independent sleep habits (aka sleep training) will permanently damage your child and cause you and your child to not develop a secure attachment. (I dig into why Dr. Sears makes these claims and why numerous studies and research show this is not true here.)
The scientific attachment theory
Secure attachment as defined by the scientific attachment theory is not the same as attachment parenting. So, Dr. Sears’ liberal usage of the word ‘attachment’ in his parenting philosophies understandably gives new parents who are just trying to figure out what they are doing and how to raise their kids to be kind human beings the idea that attachment parenting will always result in a secure attachment between parent and child.
A secure attachment has at least three main functions
- Provides your child a sense of safety and security
- Helps your child regulate their emotions
- Offers your child a secure base from which to explore
I think as parents we can all agree that these things are good for our babies. (Yay for something we can agree on!)
Helping your child develop a secure attachment is very important in helping reach the ultimate parenting goals I mentioned above. Children that develop a secure attachment early in life are shown to be:
- More independent
- Better able to regulate their emotions and cope with stress
- Higher self-esteem
- Have more trusting, close and positive relationship with friends, romantic partners and family throughout their adolescence and adult lives
One of the best and most helpful definitions of attachment theory I have found is this: Caregivers help babies and children learn to regulate their emotions by being present with them, using their own empathy and perspective to help and allow baby to feel and process emotions.
An important part of helping develop a secure attachment is responding to a baby’s needs so that they can develop confidence in getting their needs met by their parents and caregivers. Once needs are met, parents can be present with baby and help baby learn to feel and process emotions through activities and interaction that are often intuitive to parents, such as eye-contact, holding and talking to
Step 1 and Step 2
Let’s start from the mindset that step 1 is meeting
If attachment parenting works for you and your family – woohoo! You found what works best for you and that is the most important part. If those ideas, all of them or even just some of them, don’t feel right for your family and your baby, the good news is that there are lots of different things you can do and still be a freaking-awesome parent who raises amazing, kind human beings.
Is it possible to maintain a secure attachment and sleep train?
Absolutely! Especially when we are talking about attachment in terms of the scientific attachment theory. If you have read some of my other posts, I am a big proponent of a family finding a plan that feels comfortable to them to help their baby learn to the skills to sleep independently. Because every family and every baby is different so a one-size-fits-all approach is likely not the best fit for you and your family. A customized approach will also help you and your baby have both a secure attachment and good sleep.
What about the crying?
I always talk to parents a lot about the ‘crying’ questions. Primarily, how much will my baby cry and will it cause damage or distrust in our relationship?
The answers to put it bluntly are, in order, ‘I don’t know, it depends on your baby’ and ‘No’ but let’s dig into it a bit more.
Making changes to sleep habits
Making changes to a person’s sleep habits can be tough. We are all very attached to our sleep habits and the way we fall asleep. This makes sense because sleep is such an integral part of our lives and is critical for our health, growth, and happiness. (For more on the benefits of sleep, check this out!)
Similar to if someone told you that you now have to sleep with the lights on or without the comfy pajamas that you associate with peacefully falling
Processing and reflecting emotions
When I am working with families, we spend a lot of time talking about how the parent is feeling about the changes they are making. If you as a parent go into these changes feeling extremely anxious, stressed out, and overwhelmed, guess what? Baby is going to sense these emotions and react accordingly. Baby will see there is a change happening and they are learning from you and your emotions that this change is extremely scary, stressful and anxiety inducing. Then they are likely going to have a much more difficult time in trying to learn a new skill when the information they are getting from you is that they should be scared and resisting this change.
Being scared, anxious or stressed is not what our bodies need in order to fall asleep. We need to be calm and relaxed. If we as parents are calm, relaxed and positive about this change,
Baby doesn’t have to do it alone
The phrase ‘sleep training’ gets a bad rap. Many people think it is synonymous with putting your baby in their crib alone, shutting the door and not responding or returning until morning.
I don’t like this ‘definition’ either and it isn’t something I was comfortable with for my own daughter. Despite numerous reassurances from our pediatrician that letting her cry and be on her own all night long wouldn’t harm her, I knew this wasn’t right for my family.
Independent does NOT mean alone.
The definition of independent from Merriam-Webster is “not requiring or relying on others” for care or a specific action. In the baby sleep industry, the opposite of this is what we call a sleep prop, or an external person, action, object that baby feels that they do not know how to go to sleep without. Baby is reliant on that sleep prop and really doesn’t know how to fall asleep without it.
Helping little ones learn the skills to sleep independently, just like using a spoon independently or riding a bike independently, does not mean you have to just leave them to figure it out on their own, without any comfort, support or encouragement.
Secure attachment and sleep: From the perspective of attachment theory
With the perspective of attachment theory, you can help your baby learn how to process and feel new feelings (feelings about change, feelings about learning something new) while being there to support them, root them on and comfort them because learning something new is hard.
It just so happens that helping your child learn these skills is one way to allow them to get the sleep they need to be healthy, happy and thriving. Plus, you have helped them learn to process and feel some new feelings and emotions! Which can help your child maintain and grow their secure attachment and sleep well at the same time.
The gift of sleep
If your little one isn’t sleeping well (and neither are you), you can maintain a strong, secure attachment and help your child learn to sleep well and independently at the same time! (Of course, there are many aspects establishing a secure attachment. This article is to illustrate one aspect of attachment and show that it is possible to establish independent sleep habits while being emotionally responsive and nurturing.)
Sometimes it can be overwhelming with all the information out there about sleep to determine the best method to help your little one learn to sleep independently.
I get it because I remember living it! But, that is why I am here today. Helping parents like you take the guesswork out of making a plan that fits your family and your specific situation is what I do.
Schedule your free evaluation call today so we can chat about your specific situation and sleep goals and how I can help take your family from sleep deprivation and confusion about what to do next to sleeping well and feeling confident you and your baby are getting the sleep, love and support you all need in the process.
Cheers to healthy, happy sleep,
 Infant-parent attachment: Definition, types, antecedents, measurement and outcome
 Minnesota Longitudinal Study of Risk and Adaptation
I am not an expert in attachment theory. This article is based on my own study and research on attachment theory. As well as my experience helping parents be emotionally responsive, nurturing, and present while helping children establish independent sleep habits.