Monday, February 18, 2013

Attachment Parenting Seminar with Dr Sears

It'a a wonderful feeling to be a part of a community. Be it online, in your neighborhood, or sitting in a room full of like minded people. Yesterday I felt a part of a parenting community as I listened to Dr William Sears talking at a seminar about attachment parenting. He spoke with warmth and humor, sharing his insights and anecdotes as a pediatrician of forty years and father of eight. In the process he reinforced and encouraged what I am practicing as a parent. 

He began by defining the role of parenting as that of "giving your children the tools to succeed in life." As a young father and doctor he was interested in studying what worked for "most parents, most of the time." After years of observing what "smart" Mums and Dads did and how their babies turned out, he found that parents of connected children followed most of the Baby B's - birth bonding, breastfeeding, babywearing, bed sharing/ bedding close to baby, believe baby's cries, beware of baby trainers and balance. (The 'beware baby trainers' was in response to a rise in incidents he witnessed of a 'failure to thrive,' after parents were given advice about scheduling feeding or ignoring crying, which resulted in dehydrated, undernourished or disconnected babies.) This list is at the core of attachment parenting, though not all attachment parents do, or are able, to practice everything on this list. (For instance decisions about birth bonding or breastfeeding can be taken away by health issues, or some families may choose not to bed share. We all do what is right for us, though it may not be right for everyone.)

When Dr Sears discussed balance and preventing Mothers from burning out while trying to be the best Mother they can, he spoke of his own wife's struggle to fit in a shower each day when she felt her babies had constantly needed her. At which time he left a gentle reminder on a sign in the bathroom that read: Each day what our baby needs most is a happy, rested Mother. (Something we could all do with being reminded of at times!)

Dr Sears talked about the early years of a child's life as being a long term investment. That by forming caring attachments with our children and comforting them when they cry, we are creating the blueprint for their future relationships. Patterns of association are formed in their brains - I cried, I was comforted; I was hurt, I was comforted. Because this becomes wired in to their brains they will naturally help when others are hurt. By responding to situations such as hitting by asking the child, "how would you feel if Jimmy hit you," you are helping them to learn empathy. He spoke of the science behind attachment parenting and the studies that have shown that attachment parented babies are smarter. Apparently each day a baby may make 10,000 new connections in their brains, while high touch, attached babies make more. So each time you hold, feed or nurture your baby you are helping them make more brain connections.

I had to laugh, he introduced the slide below by saying, "children can be annoying, well our children, maybe not yours." From the laughter in the rest of the room I could tell I wasn't alone. Below is his number one parenting tip. "If I were a child how would I want my Mother/Father to act." This works particularly well as a discipline tip. As Sears said, "before you yell, stop and imagine - if I were a child how would I want my parent to act - if you ask yourself this you will always get it right." He also spoke about a Mothers ability to give a child a look that is at once "firm, stern and loving, that ends with an I love you smile," which lets a child know that their actions are inappropriate. Again I laughed in recognition. I'm quite sure I have that look, as does my Mother.

Martha, Bills wife of 47 years, also spoke. She gave another tip on disciplining small children. Rather than using "No", "Uh-uhh", or a smack on the hand when they touch something they shouldn't, use the phrase "Not for Johnny." The repetition of this phrase will gently teach them and they will soon learn not to touch.

At the close of the talk Sears discussed his definition of success as being, "the number of people whose lives are better because of what you did." This definition works equally well to assess our job as a parent - given we are raising the mothers and fathers of the next generation, as well as Dr Sears contribution to our knowledge by way of his studies and publications - his books proving invaluable to so many.

Questions were taken from the audience which inspired new discussion with Bill and Martha. A few points that stood out for me included Bill's belief that the three things a Doctor should really never advise a mother on were "how long to breastfeed for, should they let their baby cry, and should they feed at night." Those are questions that only you can answer for yourself, though you don't need to make them alone. This is where the importance of community comes in. Support groups of like minded people can help you answer these questions, while, as Martha pointed out, complaining to someone who disagrees with your parenting style leaves you open for criticism. These support communities - be they ABA, mothers group, online forums etc. - are needed because, to quote Martha, "it was never designed to be a Mum and a baby alone in a room somewhere."

There is so much more I could write. He also touched on issues of sleeping, socialisation, schooling, work and Grandparents. I took much away with me from the seminar. As I said, I felt he reinforced and encouraged my parenting practices. No matter how we parent though I think we can all agree, it takes a village to raise a child.
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