welcome to nurture 101!

Bonding and Attachment

what is nurture?
why is nurture important?
Bonding and Attachment
More About Empathy
More About Self-Awareness
More About Unconditional Love
More About Honesty
More About Respect
More About Encouragement
More About Safety
Results of Lack of Nurture
Nurturing Your Children
Turning Nurture Inward
Nurturing Mother Earth
Re-parenting / Self Parenting & Nurturing Adult Children
Nurturing Spirituality
Nurture in Business

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nurture 101!
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what's the definition of nurture?

Attachment parenting, a phrase coined by pediatrician William Sears,[1] is a parenting philosophy based on the principles of the attachment theory in developmental psychology.

According to attachment theory, a strong emotional bond with parents during childhood, also known as a secure attachment, is a precursor of secure, empathic relationships in adulthood.

the definition of bonding

Failure to form this early childhood parental bond will ostensibly give rise to reactive attachment disorder, the symptoms of which are defined differently by Attachment Parenting International[2] and the DSM-IV definition.[citation needed]

Many proponents of attachment parenting as conceived by Sears seek to distance themselves from the attachment parenting that is sometimes used as an adjunct to attachment therapy[3].

However, the term "attachment parenting" itself is increasingly co-opted by proponents of controversial techniques conventionally associated with attachment therapy such as Nancy Thomas [4], whose AP methods differ from those of William Sears.

source: Wikipedia

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Attachment Parenting
The Components of a Nurturing, Instinctive Parenting Style
by Keri Baker

These are my personal thoughts about Attachment Parenting. They don't strictly adhere to the definitions set forth by Dr. William and Martha Sears who brought AP into the public eye.

However, I very much appreciate their work and would recommend their books to any parent. I am thankful that their books opened my eyes to the possibilities of nurturing and inspired me to be the best parent I can be. I've also tried to incorporate elements of various related parenting styles in my life and on this page.

You may not use the term Attachment Parenting to describe this way of parenting. You might call it Natural Parenting, Instinctive Parenting, Immersion Parenting or Continuum Parenting. Perhaps a label is unnecessary to you.

Maybe you are simply "following your instincts" and have never thought of parenting as anything but second nature. I am fully supportive of all of those possibilities, but for the purposes of this website, I shall refer to the various components of natural, nurturing and instinctive parenting styles as "Attachment Parenting."

Attachment Parenting Principles:
The basic components of a nurturing, instinctive parenting style....

Being informed about your birth options. Educating yourself about the birthing process and planning for a birth that is intervention free as possible.

Forming an early connection to your child, using the initial hours after birth to bond and having your baby "room in" with you after a hospital birth rather than in the nursery.

Responding quickly to your baby's cries and knowing that you can't "spoil" her by feeding and holding her whenever she needs you to.

Breastfeeding exclusively and on baby's cue for at least 6 months followed by the introduction of solids when your child is ready combined with continued nursing.

Child led weaning: knowing that it is natural and normal for children to breastfeed for well over one year.

Wearing your baby in a sling.


Using gentle discipline techniques. Knowing the difference between discipline and punishment and avoiding physical or shame-inducing punishment. Being authoritative rather than authoritarian or overly permissive.

You allow and encourage your child to share sleep with you. Realizing that your child needs do not desist at sunset and that nurturing is important around the clock, you willingly accept that for this season of your life, your "marital bed" should be your family bed.

Learning, understanding and following your child's cues. Knowing that your child has his own schedule for physical, emotional and social development, toilet learning and independence issues rather than trying to force him into an "expected" time frame.

Believing that by meeting your child's needs during infancy and toddlerhood you are encouraging the development of a healthy, happy, independent person.

You are flexible and realize that what worked last week might not work this week, and that what works for one child may not work for another. You are willing to educate yourself about parenting and make the extra effort that your children are worth.

You don't fall for the "quality time" myth. You recognize that real quality time consists of more time (spent cuddling, reading, playing, learning or just being together) not short frantic bursts of "fun" activities.

Upon finding find out you are pregnant with your second child, you don't even set up a crib, you start shopping for a king sized bed. You decide to give tandem nursing a try instead of weaning your nursing toddler.

You make time with your children a priority, regardless of material sacrifices that might have to be made. Obviously, single parents have to work, and there are other families that truly need two incomes. But you recognize that nurturing is of vast importance in your child's early years and that day care, while it may be adequate, is not as beneficial to your child as you are.

You know who Ezzo, and Ferber are and they make you at least slightly queasy.

You avoid the typical mother substitutes that are so prevelant in our society from the seemingly benign: Blankies and "lovies" (when used as a substitute for your presence) cribs, playpens, and pacifiers to the patently absurd: teddy bears with heartbeats, cribs that simulate womb movement, bottle holders (if you are doing any bottle feeds).

The premise that fully nurturing your children is considered by many to be the antithesis of feminism infuriates you, and you won't buy into that belief system. If you are female, you are proud to be a stay at home mother and consider it the most important thing you could possibly doing right now. You want to raise your children yourself, not hand them over to someone else to do the job.


Moving Beyond The Basics:
Taking attachment to the next level......

You plan for a home birth (or perhaps a birthing center) with a midwife.

You are considering, or are at least open to the possibility, of home-schooling or un-schooling.

You educate yourself about circumcision and choose not to make your male children suffer through the pain and trauma of the procedure without a very good reason.

You vaccinate your kids because you have made an informed decision, not just because it's what you are "supposed" to do. Just for the record: we did choose to vaccinate...for a variety of reasons.

You don't allow violent toys and entertainment in your home. Creative toys and play reign.

You restrict the amount of television that your child watches, perhaps you don't even own one.

You might ask, "Do I have to believe in and practice all of these "principles" to practice Attachment Parenting? Absolutely not! The very basis of AP is allowing your instincts be your guide. There is no one right way to parent all children. No one else is going to parent just the way you do because no one else has your children.

However, if you choose not to breastfeed, you are comfortable with spanking your kids, and you truly believe that babies should "cry it out" at bedtime, then you probably aren't going to find that my parenting philosophy, or anything resembling Attachment Parenting, will fit in with your beliefs. I would encourage those of you that fit that description to read more about the many benefits of a nurturing parenting style.

Whether you are fully committed to AP, or are simply exploring the concept always remember: If you are listening, your heart will guide you towards the right parenting decisions for you and your children.

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The Theory of Attachment: Parent-Child Connectedness’s Roots

It is not surprising that the word “attachment” surfaces repeatedly in the emerging literature on PCC, since research on the bonds between children and parents has its formal roots in the theory of attachment.

Attachment theory is based on the idea that an infant’s first attachment experience (initially to his or her mother) profoundly shapes the social, cognitive, and emotional developments that follow (Bowlby 1969).

A mother who responds with sensitivity and consistency to her child’s needs, the theory suggests, sends a series of important messages to her infant that build trust and security:

  • “I am here for you.”
  • “You can count on me.”
  • “I am interested in you.”
  • “Your actions matter.”

And last but certainly not least, “You are loved.” (Chase-Lansdale, Wakschlag et al. 1995).

This responsiveness helps the infant learn the important developmental skill of self-regulation as distress is soothed, needs are met, and alertness enhanced (Bridges 2002).

From this initial trusting and secure base, the infant (and then the toddler) develops a variety of skills that are essential to healthy development: self-regulation of emotions (Egeland & Erickson 1999), socialization, a sense of mastery and competence, and an internal working model of how relationships with others work (Chase-Lansdale, Wakschlag et al. 1995), thus shaping future relationships with peers and, eventually, with romantic partners.


For a variety of reasons – ranging from pathology and addiction to physical illness or death – the early, powerful attachment between mother and infant can be derailed or severed.

Instead of sensitive, responsive nurturing, an infant may face inconsistency or neglect. Instead  of security, the infant experiences apprehension and confusion. Not surprisingly, these parental cues often lead to what researchers refer to as avoidant, anxious, or insecure attachment, which have, in turn, been linked to a variety of adverse outcomes.

Although attachment theory is not exclusively used (nor intended) to describe relationships between mothers and their infants, this early interaction has dominated the literature on attachment. In its pure form, attachment theory could be described as a “unilateral” model in which parents play the dominant and active role in determining parent-child relationships (Kuczynski 2003).

The concept of PCC overlaps considerably with that of attachment, but PCC is broader. To use Kuczynski’s terms, PCC can be thought of as “bidirectional,” seeing the interaction of parents and children not just as individuals but as part of an ongoing, dynamic relationship.

In the broader view of PCC that is emerging from child development research, both parents and children are acknowledged as active players, or agents, (Maccoby 1983). In essence, PCC is characterized by the quality of the emotional bond between parent and child and by the degree to which this bond is both mutual and sustained over time.


Blum and Rinehart define parent and family connectedness as “the highest degree of closeness, caring, and satisfaction with parental relationship . . . feeling understood, loved, wanted, and paid attention to by family members (Blum 1997).”

As Brook observes in a discussion of mutual attachment (another PCC synonym), it is “an enduring bond between parent and child, characterized by nurturance, little conflict, and the child’s identification with the parent (Brook, Brook et al. 1990).”

In a later study, Brook, Whiteman et al. describe four dimensions important to the attachment relationship between parent and child:

  • Identification (the child’s identification with the parent’s values)
  • Lack of conflict (a function of open communication and joint, effective problem solving
  • Warmth (an intense, lasting, affectionate bond)
  • Involvement (a reflection of the parent’s “child-centeredness” (Brook, Whiteman et al. 1993).

When PCC is high in a family, the “emotional climate” is one of affection, warmth, satisfaction, trust, and minimal conflict (defined by some researchers as “cohesion”). Parents and children enjoy spending time together, communicate freely and openly, support and respect one another, share similar values, and have a sense of optimism about the future. This package of desirable family attributes also has been called “family strengths (Moore 1993).”

In the flip side scenario, when PCC is very low, the emotional climate is harsher. Instead of affection, parents and children alike experience hostility and anger, sometimes to the point of violence (either directly or as witnesses). Unresolved conflict is high between parents themselves and between parents and children.

Communication, understanding, and respect are absent. Instead of mutual attachment, there is something more akin to mutual  detachment. A series of adverse consequences may follow, from association with deviant peers to risky behaviors to difficulties forming one’s own intimate attachments later in life.


Parent-child connectedness can be thought of as the family  equivalent of social capital. Social capital has been defined in various ways (Coleman 1990; Putnam 1996; Fukuyama 1999), but one relatively brief and useful definition is Putnam’s: “the features of social life – networks, norms, and trust – that enable participants to act together more effectively to pursue shared objectives (Putnam 1996).”

A hallmark of social capital (and of financial capital, hence the term) is that the very processes that create it in the first place – in social capital’s case, trust, reciprocity, and networks – are the ones that strengthen one’s capacity to create even more, in a self-sustaining and self-perpetuating cycle. Its protective, positive effects derive from a wonderful irony: the more one creates, the stronger one becomes – and thus the less one needs to draw upon the reserves.

The mutual attachment, resilience, support, and optimism that seem to characterize high PCC seem to function in a similar way, giving both parents and children a day-to-day life relatively free of conflict and animosity, while buffering them from many kinds of adversity.

Just as Fukuyama calls trust the “lubricant” of social capital, making the running of any group more efficient (Fukuyama 1999), so may PCC serve as a lubricant that fuels social competence, self regard, and cohesive family functioning.

As discussed in a later section, this may have important implications for both models and interventions – particularly in terms of PCC’s importance as an antecedent or precursor that helps other interventions succeed or fail.


Parenting Styles and Practices

Like attachment theory, examinations of PCC focus quickly and inevitably on the role of parents. In attachment theory, parents set the developmental stage by responding (or not responding) to cues from infants – such as crying or other sounds that request attention, comforting, or other responses.

Examinations of PCC also have explored the ongoing dynamics of how parents and children influence one another, not only in infancy but well into adolescence. These dynamics often are described in terms of overall parenting styles and the parenting practices they inspire.

The parenting style most frequently and solidly associated with healthy, well-adjusted children in the existing literature is authoritative parenting, which has become the benchmark for comparing and assessing different styles. Authoritative parenting combines high levels of warmth with moderate levels of control. It is often contrasted with permissive parenting (high or low warmth, combined with low levels of control) and authoritarian parenting (high levels of control).

Authoritative parenting reflects a combination of two scales: warmth and responsiveness on one scale, and control and “demandingness” on the other (Baumrind 1971; Maccoby 1983).

Authoritative vs. Authoritarian: Confusing Terminology

Researchers on children and families are comfortable using the term “authoritativeparenting, but it is confusing because of its similarities to another term used to describe parenting styles: “authoritarian.

As described in this section, authoritative parenting describes an optimal blend of high warmth and moderate control. Authoritarian parenting, on the other hand, is characterized by high levels of control, usually through a focus on rigid and strict rules, obedience, and conformity.


The warmth scale captures affection, attachment, and involvement at one end of the spectrum and rejection and neglect at the other. The demandingness scale captures parental expectations and control (or regulation) of their children’s behavior.

It includes a rigid authoritarian type of discipline at one end and permissiveness at the other. The ideal balance – high warmth, moderate control - is referred to as authoritative parenting.

When parents are very emotionally warm, available, and affectionate and balance these qualities with consistently high expectations and a firm but fair disciplinary style, they create an emotional context or climate in which children thrive.

Children from these homes tend to be secure, well-adjusted, and generally healthier and safer than their peers raised in other combinations (such as warm/permissive, or detached/authoritarian.) Steinberg, in a review of authoritative parenting studies, reports that adolescents from homes where authoritative parenting is the norm achieve more in school, report less depression and anxiety, and tend to score higher on measures of self reliance and self esteem. They are also less likely to engage in antisocial behaviors (such as delinquency and drug use) (Steinberg 2001).

When parents are very emotionally warm, available, and affectionate and balance these qualities with consistently high expectations and a firm but fair disciplinary style, they create an emotional context or climate in which children thrive.

How does authoritative parenting work?

Steinberg goes on to highlight three ways that authoritative parenting yields healthier children and adolescents:

  • Nurturing and parent involvement make children more receptive to their parents’ influence.

  • The combination of support and structure help children develop self-regulatory skills and competence.

  • Verbal give-and-take between parents and their children fosters cognitive and social skills (Steinberg 2001).

Several researchers, beginning with Baumrind herself, have noted that the optimal combination is not high warmth high control, but rather high warmth-moderate control.


Degrees of Control

Several PCC-related insights stem from the authoritative parenting model. The first has to do with the nuances of control. Several researchers, beginning with Baumrind herself, have noted that the optimal combination is not high warmth high control, but rather high warmth-moderate control.

Indeed, extremely high levels of parental control create a curvilinear effect – that is, the benefits of control erode if the level of control is too high (Miller 1986; Miller 2001).

In part, researchers believe that moderate control, combined with warmth, allows for incremental and appropriate granting of psychological autonomy to children and adolescents so that they can become more competent (Steinberg 1994).

In their review of social competencies in adolescents, Hair et al. found that the parent-child relationship was the key factor in adolescents’ development of skills such as conflict resolution and intimacy – skills that are crucial not only within families, but in other relationships as well (Clark 2000; Hair 2002).

Extreme and rigid control is not only coercive (Miller 2001), but is also at odds with some of the positive effects of warmth and affection – such as trust, flexibility, shared optimism, autonomy and other characteristics described above.

For example, extreme or rigid control might be characterized by parents who give their children little or no latitude in making decisions about how they spend their time and with whom – regardless of whether or not the child’s decisions seem to put him or her in danger. As discussed in more detail below, the type of control exerted by a parent has a great deal to do with how it is perceived and accepted.

“The individuation process that is vital in the development of identity is not disrupted by parental support, but rather nourished.”

Sartor & Youniss 2002


Types of Control

Control is further subdivided into behavioral control and psychological control, each of which has distinctive consequences (Barber 1996). The hallmarks of behavioral control are monitoring and supervision – terms that are sometimes used interchangeably, but in fact refer to slightly different actions. (Supervision, when it is differentiated, refers to an adult or older teen on the premises, while monitoring – for example, via phone calls – need not involve  someone’s physical presence.)

As described below in the section on the evidence base for PCC, many studies have linked monitoring and/or supervision to improved outcomes for children and adolescents. Again, this seems to occur via multiple and reinforcing mechanisms, both direct and indirect.

For example, monitoring and supervision can directly reduce the opportunities for risky or deviant behavior and indirectly influence peer relationships (Ary, Duncan et al. 1999). In a context of authoritative parenting, one study found monitoring well-accepted by teenagers (Sartor 2002).

Psychological control, in contrast, has as its goals not safety and protection, but intrusion, guilt, pressure and manipulation (Silk et al. 2003). As described by Conger et al., parents who rely on psychological control tend to criticize their children’s ideas, make them feel guilty, ignore them, threaten them, criticize them, fight and argue instead of trying to solve problems, and generally make their children feel unworthy and unvalued.

The result can be an increase in adjustment problems and a decrease in self-confidence (Conger 1997). Another control dichotomy is described by Chambers et al., who note that some types of control are designed to increase the development of autonomy, while others are more rigid and overprotective.

Using the Parental Bonding Instrument and measures of psychological distress, the researchers noted that across cultures, the combination of high control and low caring by parents predicted psychological distress in children and that punishing control was linked to aggressive behavior (Chambers, Power et al. 2000).  The same study noted differences in the reaction to low care by mothers and fathers.

Psychological Autonomy Granting

In effect, then, authoritative parenting extends the “secure base” concept from infant attachment, giving older children and teenagers a similar secure base from which to safely explore and learn (Clark 2000; Sartor 2002). This extension of attachment and a secure base beyond childhood and into adolescence is an important one, for it contradicts the conventional wisdom that adolescents naturally pull away from their parents as part of their developmental task of becoming individuals and experience heightened conflict as they do so.

This view has pitted autonomy and connection against one another as mutually exclusive features of adolescent family life, but an expanding body of research suggests that both features can and do co-exist.

As Sartor and Youniss observe, “The individuation process that is vital in the development of identity is not disrupted by parental support, but rather nourished (Sartor 2002).” Instead of pulling away in opposition to their parents, some researchers note, adolescents are forming their identities by renegotiating their place in the family, evolving to a more peer-like status with their parents (Steinberg 1994).

For this status change to occur, however, the parents must be open, flexible, willing and able to reason with their child, and seek and abide by at least some of the child’s input. The child, in turn, must have developed the basic social competencies and self-regulation (with his or her parents’ considerable help, of course) that earns their trust.

The end result, Chase-Landsdale et al. maintain, is “a separate identity, a strong sense of autonomy, nested in peer-like, close emotional bonds (Chase-Lansdale, Wakschlag et al. 1995).” Indeed, some researchers have noted that psychological autonomy granting, while an important feature of authoritative parenting at all stages of development, assumes even greater importance during adolescence (Silk et al. 2003; Hill 1987).

Both warmth and control scales interact with psychological autonomy granting, as described above. All three converge to explain why the context that authoritative parenting creates – of mutual satisfaction, reciprocity, and trust – has the potential to change the tone and impact of other parenting practices. Later sections of this review explore in greater detail why this might be the case.


Culture and Parenting

The authoritative parenting model and its elements – warmth, control, and psychological autonomy granting – clearly capture something important about ongoing interactions between parents and children. Moreover, this effect appears to apply across different races and ethnicities within the United States (Steinberg 1990), as well as across cultures outside the United States (Barber 1999; Brook, Brook et al. 2001).

Some researchers have explored the idea that authoritarian  parenting – that is, stricter rules and higher levels of control – is not only more prevalent in some racial/ethnic groups, but is also adaptive or responsive to the dangers posed by disintegrating neighborhoods.

In response, Steinberg suggests that these studies show that  African-American (and in some cases Asian-American) adolescents are not as negatively affected by authoritarian parenting. This is different from saying that authoritarian styles are a net benefit to these adolescents (Steinberg 2001).

Ifact, he argues, “minority children raised in authoritative homes fare better than their peers from non-authoritative homes with respect to psychosocial development, symptoms of internalized distress, and problem behavior (Steinberg 1991).”

An exception is the link between authoritative parenting and school achievement – but again, there is no evidence that minority students achieve less if raised by authoritative parents or more raised in another way (such as by authoritarian parents).

Exploring the same question of whether authoritative parenting applies across cultures, Bean et al. looked at the contributions of each component of authoritative parenting – maternal support, behavioral control, and psychological control – in populations of African-American and European-American adolescents.

By looking at the individual contributions of these components to measures of adolescent functioning (particularly self esteem and academic achievement), the researchers were able to provide a more detailed analysis of how authoritative parenting may work in different populations.

They found that maternal support predicted both self esteem and academic achievement in African-American adolescents, whereas behavioral control was a significant predictor of academic achievement and self esteem in European-American adolescents.

This suggests,” they concluded, “that it is not all three parenting dimensions, in combination, that influence adolescent behaviors; rather, each of the parenting dimensions appears to be related to youth functioning in unique and specific ways (Bean et al. 2003).”

Gender and PCC

Parenting roles differ by gender, and so do the relationships between mothers and daughters, fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, and fathers and sons. Each of these permutations is important to understanding and promoting PCC.

For example, girls generally are more prone to outcomes that are often referred to as “internalized” or “quiet” – such as depression. Boys, on the other hand, are prone to react to difficulties by  externalizing – acting out, being aggressive, and the like.

Mothers are more typically primary caregivers and tend to spend more time with their children, while fathers are more likely to participate in leisure activities with their children (Paikoff & Brooks-Gunn 1991). Because of these differences, some elements of PCC may function differently, depending on both giver and recipient, and on the developmental stage in which interactions occur.

Barber and Thomas examined differential effects by gender of four dimensions of parental support:

  • general support
  • physical affection
  • companionship
  • sustained contact

They found that parents tend to provide more companionship to the same-sex child. The self-esteem of daughters was predicted by general support from their mothers and physical affection from their fathers. In sons, self-esteem was predicted by companionship from mothers and sustained contacts with fathers (Barber & Thomas 1986).

Formoso et al. explored the role of family conflict in both internalized and externalized behaviors among boys and girls and found that both maternal and paternal monitoring mediated the effects of family conflict on child outcomes. However, maternal attachment differed. It served as a significant moderator for girls, but as a risk factor for boys.

The researchers speculate that modeling may play a role in this finding, with boys more likely to model their fathers’ aggression, especially in a high-conflict setting (Formoso, Gonzales et al. 2000).

Characteristics of Parents Themselves

Long before parents develop or fall into any particular parenting style or set of parenting practices, they bring their own characteristics, family histories, ideals, and problems to the table. (The table, in this case, includes the many other relationships that are operative in a family, in addition to that between parent and child - between two biological parents, current partners and/or ex-partners, parent and siblings, parent and family of origin – to name just a few.)

These characteristics, singly and together, have many implications not only for the children parents eventually raise, but also for the interventions designed to help people become better, more effective parents. As several researchers have observed, both strong and weak parenting has multi-generational effects, adding to the potential impact of interventions.

The tasks required of authoritative parents – a balance of warmth and behavioral control – are made easier when parents are well-adjusted themselves, experience low levels of conflict with one another, have models for effective parenting from their own families, and have resources to draw upon for support. What makes authoritative parenting – and thus PCC – harder for some families?


Personal Characteristics of Parents

In 2001, over six million children lived with at least one parent who abused alcohol or illicit drugs or was dependent on them in the previous year; substance abuse by parents involved up to 10% of children aged five and younger (NHSDA 2003).

…a parent’s personal characteristics (e.g. anxiety, ego integration, communication patterns and skills) are antecedents for parenting style.

In a longitudinal study of 248 young adults, Brook et al. assessed parental personality, upbringing, and marijuana use in terms of their links to parent-child attachment. Those with high levels of sensitivity, low drug use, and close relationships with their own mothers were more likely to form close parent-child attachments with their own children (Brook, Richter et al. 2000).

Other studies quoted by Brook et al. support the idea that a parent’s personal characteristics (e.g. anxiety, ego integration, communication patterns and skills) are antecedents for parenting style.

In a study of 601 11- to 14-year-old boys and girls, Johnson, Su et al. found that a parent’s chronic mental disease amplified the risk of deviant behavior by the children, but these effects were differentiated by gender and by age (Johnson 1995).

In a study of depressed mothers and children, Stein et al. found that maternal depression decreased a child’s perception of feeling protected and cared for. If the child (but not the mother) was depressed, the child reported maternal over-protection. When both mother and child showed signs of depression, the likelihood of parent-child bonding decreased even further (Stein, Williamson et al. 2000).

One consequence of depression and negative moods in a parent is a low or compromised sense of control and competence (Weinberger & Schwartz 1990). These problems, as well as restraint problems (such as aggression and outbursts) are linked to poor parenting practices (Patterson et al. 1992).

In a study of fathers and sons, D’Angelo et al. found that the sons of fathers who exhibited low self-restraint experienced a variety of poor outcomes, including low grades, truancy, poor peer relations, drug and alcohol use, multiple sex partners, poor conflict resolutions skills, and symptoms of depression (D'Angelo, Weinberger et al. 1995).

Parents who suffer from drug abuse, mental illness, poor self-esteem and poor communication skills may find it that more challenging to create meaningful attachments with their children. In addition to these personal characteristics, conflict between parents can challenge their ability to bond with their children.


Relationship Conflict

Given the prevalence of divorce in American society, a number of studies have examined relationship and marital conflict and its aftermath as factors in PCC. Hetherington et al. have identified 5 factors that contribute to the adjustment of children in divorced families or those with step-parents:

They concluded that all these factors contributed to children's adjustment process and should be taken into account in any models or interventions to help children adjust to divorce and remarriage. While Hetherington et al. examined an interacting set of risk and protective factors, other researchers have examined more specific effects of conflict and separation.

For example, Krishnakumar et al. examined youth perceptions of interpersonal conflict in European-American and African-American adolescents, describing a “spillover” effect in which parental conflict carries over from the marital (or relationship) realm into parent behaviors and thus youth wellbeing (Krishnakumar et al. 2003).

Chase-Landsdale et al. have hypothesized that marital discord creates a type of emotional “flooding” in children who witness frequent and sustained hostility between their parents. Adverse consequences for children include an impaired ability to read emotional cues, difficulties developing empathy, and thus problems developing social skills and peer relationships (Chase-Lansdale et al. 1995; Hanson et al. 1996).

Conflict need not occur within a household to be damaging. As Hanson et al. noted in their study comparing inter-household versus intra-household conflict, children in step-families experience less well-being than their counterparts in original two-parent families with the same level of conflict. In part, this may be because children in step-families experience a double dose of conflict – that between both former and current partners.

Moreover, they may find conflict more threatening and upsetting, since they associate it with a parent’s previous divorce (Hanson et al. 1996). Some studies have suggested that divorce is among the many aspects of family life with differential effects (both emotional and behavioral) on boys and girls (Newcomer 1987).

Simons et al. found that the quality of maternal parenting mediates the association between divorce and children's adjustment problems for both boys and girls (although boys in their study remained depressed regardless of the mother’s actions because their fathers had left the family). The researchers found cause for optimism in the fact that divorcing parents may be able to substantially reduce the developmental and adjustment problems experienced by their  children by reducing conflict and concentrating on effective parenting (Simons, Lin et al. 1999).

One study suggested that a challenge for parents and their  adolescents during divorce and its aftermath is an unfamiliar parallel in their trajectories, as both explore new romantic relationships (Whitbeck 1994). At the same time, a divorcing or divorced parent may have attention diverted from a child – for economic and/or personal reasons (Belsky & Isabella 1988).

Conflict in the home and between parents (or those playing a parenting role) causes distress and disruption for both the parent and child, weakening the opportunities for connection and bonding.

I will be adding the continuation of this article/pdf file on the children 101 site as soon as I finish with this nurture 101 site! It's awesome information!
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it's crucial to bond with your child

Bonding With Your Child

from the website: www.coping.org which is a website that I hold in the highest esteem. It's full of information that we all need to know! Thanks for allowing non profits to share your info with the public!

What is bonding?

Bonding is very important when discussing your parental response to your child who has a special need (or not). It is imperative that you understand what bonding is and how it can impact the emotional well being of your children.

Bonding is:

  • the forming of a mutual emotional attachment between parent and child.

  • the giving of unconditional love by the parent to the child.

  • the development of an emotional connection between parent and child.

  • the development of a sense of security for the child.

  • the establishment of an emotional intimacy and sense of closeness between parent and child.

  • the beginning step in helping the child to feel a healthy self-worth and self-esteem.

  • the transmission of familial ties between child and parent through which nonverbal communication and understanding takes place.

  • a means of providing the child with a sense of belonging to a family.

  • a way of bringing the child into the larger network of caring and love present in the parent's extended family.

  • the concern and love for the child by the parent, and for the parent by the child, which is exhibited in all aspects of both their lives.

What is over bonding?

Parents of children with special needs can go to the extreme of over bonding with their children.

Over bonding is:

  • the forming of an over-dependent relationship between parent and child.

  • the forming of a relationship in which the parent becomes over responsible for the child.

  • the forming of a relationship in which the parent is overly concerned for the child putting these concerns before the needs of the spouse and other family members.

  • a relationship in which a parent is so guilt ridden due to the child's early problems/disability that the child is smothered with attention and all personal needs of the parent are ignored or dropped to meet the needs of this child.

  • a relationship in which the child is overindulged.

  • a relationship in which the child is unable to develop a sense of individual personality or autonomy.

  • a relationship in which a child is neither encouraged nor allowed to accept personal responsibility for personal actions.

  • a relationship in which one parent focuses all personal attention onto the target child to the exclusion of the spouse and other family members.

  • a relationship in which the rights of an individual are ignored or excluded in order to more fully address the needs of a second individual who appears to be more ''needy'' or ''deserving.''

  • a relationship in which one person devotes one's entire life, energy, efforts, and health for the sake of another person.

How is bonding manifested?

Parents of children with special needs (or not) should review the following signs of mutual bonding between parent and child to assess how well they have bonded with their children.

The degree of bonding between parent and child is shown by:

  • the parents' attitude and interest in their child.

  • the way the child is held or touched.

  • how comfortable the child is in leaving the parents to enter a strange environment.

  • the child's ability to be secure in a social environment.

  • the child's degree of self-confidence.

  • the child's sense of self-concept and self-esteem.

A parent's response to the child's special needs reflects how well they are bonded. The signs to analyze as to how close or distantly the parents are bonded with their children with special needs (or normal) are if the parents are:

  • overly protective, smothering, and hysterical can mean over bonding.
  • acceptance, relaxation and coping can mean normal bonding.
  • detachment, rejection, withdrawal can mean a lack of bonding.

A parents' response to the helpers of the child with special needs reflects the level of bonding.

If the parent is:

  • critical, non-trusting, lack of faith can mean over bonding.
  • involved, active can mean normal bonding.
  • disinterest, ignoring can show a lack of bonding.

The manner in which a parent deals with the child's diagnosed special need or disability reflects the level of bonding.

If the parent is:

  • permissive, babying, pampering can mean over bonding.
  • cooperative, helpful, understanding can mean normal bonding.
  • blaming the child, ostracizing, condemning can show a lack of bonding.

What are some obstacles to bonding?

Parents of children with special needs (or normal) are faced with many obstacles to healthy bonding with their children such as:

  • An unhealthy pregnancy: Parental anxiety can result in the child being blamed for the problems, therefore interfering with bonding.

  • A problem delivery: Extreme pain and discomfort can be a barrier to healthy bonding.

  • A premature birth: This can interfere with bonding because the child is often immediately taken from parents for medical intervention.

  • ICN placement of Child: A child being kept in an intensive care nursery can prevent touching, holding, rocking, therefore healthy initial bonding between parent and child is not formed.

  • Diagnosis of special need: The diagnosis of developmental disability or chronic illness can result in the parents' having a grief response resulting in poor bonding.

  • Child's Behavior: Behavior problems or not performing up to a parent's anticipations can impede bonding.

  • School problems and lack of achievement can impede bonding.

  • Special treatments: A child needing specialized services and treatment can impede bonding.

  • Child Pawns: Spouses who use the children as pawns in marital warfare can interfere with bonding between parent and child.

  • Child's Search for Autonomy: The natural development to a stage of seeking independence and autonomy can interfere with bonding.

Recognizing these obstacles to bonding you can take steps to improve the bonding with your child with special needs (or normal). This holds true even for your typical children as well.

What are some ways to improve bonding?

You can improve the bonding with your child with special needs by doing one or all of the following:

  • When the child is a baby place it on your chest/stomach area while you both relax.

  • Use lots of physical touch, caressing, or baby massage.

  • Talk often to the child, surround child with an atmosphere of communication.

  • Physically hold the child face to face.

  • Talk to the child face to face.

  • Get down to the child's level to make eye contact when talking.

  • Work at meeting the ''match'' of the child. Encourage the child to do those things for which the child is ready and capable. Try not to expect too much too soon, frustrating both child and parent.

  • Speak in a loving and caring manner to child, helping the message of bonding to get through.

  • Show respect for the child; do not expect the child to act like an ''adult'' when child-like behavior is normal.

  • Play with the child at the child's level of understanding and ability.

  • Always listen carefully to the child and offer empathy and understanding when the child is troubled.

  • Encourage interaction between your child and your child's peers.

  • Be honest with the child when describing or dealing with problems in the family or with the child.

  • Be supportive of the child as the child faces the harsh realities of life and becomes fearful, scared, or concerned about the future.

  • Let the child grow up to be his own person; encourage the development of independent and autonomous thinking.

  • Assist your child in becoming a good problem solver by encouraging the honest and open exploration and discussion of options and alternatives when facing problems.

Activities to improve bonding between parent and child

The following activities can increase bonding between parent and child:

  • Body Touching: If your child is an infant, lay your naked child on your bare chest and let your bodies touch. Lie this way 30 minutes a day for 10 to 14 days to increase the touch experience. Talk gently and lovingly to your child. (Use a blanket or sheet if needed for the cold.)
  • Simulated Breast Feeding: With infants who cannot be breast fed, pretend you are breast feeding by having the baby lie on your bare chest as you feed the baby formula. This is an excellent way to recapture the lost opportunity to bond through breast feeding. It is a great activity for fathers and brothers of children who are being breast fed. Physical contact, body to body, during feeding creates a special bond between parent and child.
  • Face to Face: If your child is talking, sit face to face and play a game of touching and naming each other's body parts. This encourages concept development, sexual awareness, and physical contact. It is fun! Do this once or twice a week until you are comfortable in giving and receiving physical touches with your child.
  • Hug-a-Game: Play a game with your child in which the reward for the correct answer or correct move is to get a hug from the others in the game. You can do this with flash cards, checkers, bingo, scrabble, card games or any children's trivial pursuit-like games.
  • Tickle Game: Lie on the bed or floor (dressed) with your child on your chest so that the child's head is close to your head. Whisper and talk to your child. Tickle your child's body and begin to laugh gently and comfortably as you softly tickle and snuggle with your child. Begin to roll from side to side as you snuggle. Laugh as you say ''Wheee'' or ''Whoose'' as you roll. This is a sure-fire way to stimulate a sense of fun and security in the child.
  • Memory Lane: Remember your favorite childhood songs, nursery rhymes and stories. Share them with your child while looking into the child's eyes and keeping eye contact. The sharing of your treasured memories contributes to cross-heritage bonding. Remembering the things important to you as a child brings back good, warm feelings; these feelings can then be transmitted to your child.
  • Cocooning: With any aged child, pretend you and the child are caterpillars in a cocoon of blankets or a sleeping bag. Lay quietly, closely touching, and sing softly to one another. After 30 minutes, pretend you two are beautiful butterflies breaking out of a cocoon. Throw off the covers and ''fly'' around the room. Do this once or twice a week until you feel comfortable being intimate with your child.

What Steps can improve bonding with your child with special needs?

Step 1: Before you can improve bonding with your child, you must identify the determinants of your bonding today. Answer the following questions in your journal:

  • What does infant or child bonding mean to me?

  • When did bonding begin between my disabled child and me?

  • What were the barriers to our bonding at my child's delivery?

  • When was the first time I could touch my baby? What were my feelings and emotions whey I first held my baby?

  • In my child's first three months of life what was the environment like in which my child and I had a chance to bond?

  • How did my child's diagnosis affect our bonding? How did my beliefs about my ability to accept a child with a disability affect our bonding?

  • How did my child's fragile health affect our bonding?

  • What early behavior traits of my child affected our bonding?

  • What physical features of my child affected our bonding?

  • How did the reactions of others (spouse, children, parents, in-laws, relatives, friends, neighbors, fellow workers) affect my bonding with my child?

Step 2: Once you have identified the determinants affecting bonding between you and your disabled child, you are ready to ascertain the status of your bonding.

Answer the following questions in your journal:

  • What level of bonding do I have with my disabled child? Normal? Under-bonded? Over-bonded?

  • How does my attitude and interest in my child reflect my bonding with my child?

  • How does the way I hold, look at, and touch my child reflect our level of bonding?

  • How does the way I discipline my child reflect our level of bonding?

  • How has my handling of grief over my child's developmental disability and other problems affected our bonding?

  • How has my guilt over my child's problems affected our bonding? Lack of guilt?

  • How does my child's behavior reflect our bonding?

  • How has my acceptance of my child's diagnosis affected our bonding? Inability to accept?

  • How does the way I talk to or talk about my child reflect our bonding?

  • How does the way my child treat me reflect our bonding?

Step 3: Once you have determined the status of your bonding with your target child, you are ready to deal with it.

  • If you are over-bonded, work on to Chapter 4, Lifelong Normalization.

  • If you lack bonding or want to improve the bonding with your child, proceed to Step 4.

Step 4: In order to improve deficient bonding with your child, answer the following questions in your journal:

  • Which of the ways of improving bonding listed in this chapter have you tried? Which of these ways are you willing to try now?

  • Become aware of your physical response to your child. How relaxed are you when you approach your child? How tense are you? What does this tell you about your bonding? How can you improve this?

  • How comfortable are you in touching your child? How comfortable are you with your child touching you?

  • How many minutes or hours a day do you hold your child?

  • In what ways do you feed your child to encourage close contact with one another?

  • How do you give your child a bath? How does this encourage bonding?

  • How comfortable are you with your child's naked body touching your body?

  • How comfortable are you in talking to and with your child? How comfortable are you in looking into your child's eyes as you talk?

  • What is your usual tone of voice in talking to your child? How does this encourage bonding? What different tones could you use?

  • How comfortable are you in playing with your child at the child's level? How much fun do you and your child have together? How could you improve the amount of play and fun you experience with your child?

Step 5: If you still have problems bonding with your child with special needs, return to Step 1 and begin again.

The Neuropsychology of Bonding and
Attachment Disorders

By Dr. Ronald S. Federici

While the role of the Developmental Neuropsychologist is to evaluate intellectual-cognitive, memory processing, learning aptitude, and problem-solving strategies, a critical duty may actually be in the evaluation of a child's emotional integrity and perception of relationships. The interplay between neurocognitive development and emotions encompasses basic neurobiology which suggests that human emotions, reactions, interactions and attachments may be strongly mediated by a combination of genetic, neurochemical, neurocognitive and environmental factors.

As there has been a tremendous amount of discussion regarding "attachment disorders" in the post-institutionalized child, the current psychological research focuses almost solely on the effects of deprivation and abandonment and the creation of an "attachment disorder" without a more detailed understanding of the role of innate neurocognitive functioning.

While abandonment and institutionalization most certainly has a profound impact on a child's ability to develop trust, bonding and security in newly adoptive relationships, an emphasis needs to be placed on the integrity of the post-institutionalized child’s higher-level neurocognitive abilities with a comprehensive assessment regarding the availability of "innate skills" needed for bonding, attachment and the development of appropriate social-interactional and reciprocal behaviors.

While many children with post-institutionalized attachment disorders may display a combination of unattached or even indiscriminant behaviors (Ames, 1997), many post-institutionalized children display a very intense pattern of:

  • behavioral dyscontrol

  • aggression and violence

  • destructiveness to self and others

  • a lack of cause-and-effect thinking

  • indiscriminant affections to strangers as evidenced by being inappropriately demanding and clingy

  • a pattern of social withdrawal, isolation and maintaining a self-stimulating posture

A principle complaint from parents adopting an older child is that the child may be out of synchrony with their environment resulting in difficulties in providing management, structure and organization.

The concept of a "neuropsychologically-based attachment disorder" seems most appropriate for many post-institutionalized children, particularly the child who shows a history of high risk pre and post-natal factors which may have influenced neurocognitive development.

For example, there is a documented interaction between growth parameters and neurologic competence in profoundly deprived institutional children assessed in Romanian institutions (Johnson and Federici et.al., 1999). Children who have shown documented medical and neurological impairments along with extended time in institutional settings typically display very pronounced impairments in the development of appropriate social-interactional skills.

Combined with suspected impairments in neuropsychological abilities, behavioral patterns can often be quite aberrant and intense in nature, often overwhelming the newly adoptive family.

Therefore, it seems only appropriate to broaden the horizon when assessing children for bonding, attachment or general psychological dysfunction by including a comprehensive assessment of neurocognitive abilities or deficit patterns. As children from institutional settings are at highest risk for medical, neuropsychological and emotional problems, an assessment of only the psychological or behavioral manifestations provides only a partial understanding of the adjustment issues which often produce tremendous stress on the newly adoptive families and treatment providers attempting to intervene and provide services (Johnson, 1997; Federici, 1999).

Careful differential diagnosis regarding neuropsychological versus psychosocially-based attachment disorder can help provide newly adoptive families with better parameters of understanding the post institutionalized child.

Additionally, neuropsychological and neurocognitive rehabilitation approaches should typically supersede solely psychological or psychiatric/pharmacological therapies as providing direct interventions and increasing speech and language, sensory-motor, abstractive logic and reasoning and, of greatest significance, visual-perceptual analytic abilities.

These brain behavior interventions strengthen the post-institutionalized child’s ability to adequately "perceive" and process human relationships, emotions, facial expressions, social cues, and the necessary sequential "steps" needed to move towards a more healthy level of bonding and attachment.

Too often, children from institutional settings are quickly categorized as having either a "reactive attachment disorder" or modicum of psychiatric syndromes ranging from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, varying types of depression and anxiety conditions or, very commonly, oppositional and conduct disorders or even autism/pervasive developmental disorders.

While many of these psychiatric patterns may be co-morbid conditions, there needs to be a very aggressive but yet conservative approach in assessing the post-institutionalized child. Rank ordering developmental disabilities of the child as opposed to relying solely on the assessment of families or treatment providers may avoid misleading diagnoses and nonproductive therapeutic interventions.

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