Everytime I have a conversation with someone about attachment, I realize how much misinformation exists out there and continues being passed on from person to person, and sadly from doctor to person at times. One of my major goals in my professional career is to break the useless and harmful misconceptions about attachment and infuse the public with accurate, proven concepts and techniques that will lay the foundation for optimal parenting and form healthy relationships for children, both with their parents, other people and more importanly with themselves. We as human beings don’t have many instincts to begin with, but we do have some, so let’s bank on the ones we do have. And we will sense our parental instincts clearly if we are exorcized properly of erroneous information handed down by well-meaning folks.
Myth: Children should be trained to be independent from an early age to set healthy boundaries and become independent adults. The truth: Children are naturally designed to be completely and utterly dependent on their caregivers from birth to adulthood, and the development from dependence to indepence is transitional. From birth until about 2, children significantly need nurturance, holding and caressing whenever they seem to ask for it and whenever the parent instinctively feels they need to offer it. This does not mean that as they get older they don’t need nurturance, but that it transitions from a sensory form to increasingly verbal. If and only if we give children what they need emotionally and physically at these crucial infant stages, will they be able to thrive and desire more independence later on. However, if kids are left alone a lot, left to cry, purposely not held as often, a healthy secure attachment will not form, and instead the child will continue to have this need growing up and future stages will be compromised. Most importantly, both children and parents will not be happy. In fact, children who fail to form a secure attachment with their caregivers may be not only insecure but fearful. The main psychological milestone that children need to acquire by age one is hope, that things will be ok, that someone will be there. This is learned by consistent caregivers attending to the child’s cries and other emotions, and comforting them when they need it, even when they don’t even know that they need it. The next phase at age two is autonomy. If children don’t learn by age one that there is hope, that someone will be there for them, then by age 2, they will not be ready, understandibly so, to move on to the next stage of wanting to be autonomous and do things on their own.
They will be the ones crying when you leave them, because they honestly are not certain if you will return! And that is a fear that is taxing on everyone involved to treat and move forward. It may lead to problems at school with performance and peer relationships. You have to learn to trust that what your parental instincts are telling you to do is right for you and your child, and that this stage is temporary. If you feel your child wants/needs comforting at night, whether that choice may be co-sleeping, or attending to them in their crib, then do it! Do what makes your child sleep happier and sweeter. Research on children and sleep consistently shows us that those who do sleep with their parents have a better adjustment to school and preform better in school. Infants should not receive mixed messages about love, in other words that love is abundant during the day but not at night. And bedtime, like everything else (breastfeeding, starting solids, walking, talking, toilet training) is a transitional development stage. When your child shows more readiness, you can help him or her transition to the next stage, rather than trying to “train” your child to jump to future stages from the get go. When your child does not want to sleep with you anymore, or cuddle and kiss as much, you will remember the days that he or she did want and need that, and how you thoroughly offered it and enjoyed it! and you will miss it! Embrace parenthood, each stage at a time, and each moment at a time! Watching your babies grow; a bittersweet tale at the least. Stay tuned for more parenthood myths debunked.