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Why I’ve Embraced “Attunement Parenting” as the Secret to Raising Healthy, Happy Kids

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Kathleen M. Berchelmann, MD - published on 08/18/15

2) Certain parenting techniques, such as baby-wearing, sharing a room with your infant, and breastfeeding probably do help form secure attachment, but they are guidelines not rules.  I know of no research that shows poor attachment or psychological illness among children who were bottle-fed, transported in strollers, or made to sleep in cribs. That said, I find breastfeeding, baby-wearing, and sharing a room with my newborn to be some of my most intimate and joyful experiences.

3) Children need to develop the capacity to regulate their own distress, whether it is at bedtime or when they fall down while learning to walk. Your job as a parent is to meet their needs yet help them learn to help themselves. Sleep training of infants over 4-6 months of age is one way we help infants learn to regulate their own distress.

4) Taking care of yourself as a parent is fundamental to meeting your children’s needs. On the airplane they tell you to put your oxygen mask on before assisting the child seated next to you. Dr. Kelly Ross, a pediatrician and mother of triplets, has written extensively on the importance of self-care for moms.

5) You can’t be attuned to your children if you are overtired. Nothing kills your attunement towards your children more than sleep deprivation. Kids need sleep, too, in order to develop social skills and attunement to others in their community.

6) Anger is your worst enemy.  Kids can’t see you lose control—angry outbursts are the opposite of attunement to your child’s needs. Anger is fundamentally selfish, even if it may be self-preserving. Anger is a late defense mechanism that we use when other approaches have failed. Kids will do anything for your attention, even if they have to make you angry. I find that I am most likely to be angry at my kids when I haven’t been attuned to their needs, often because I am tired or haven’t taken care of myself. Learn to recognize anger in yourself before you yell at a child or become visibly angry. 

7) Kids need discipline and limits, but not spanking/corporal punishment. Discipline is not synonymous with punishment.  Effective discipline includes regular schedules, house rules, and clearly defined natural consequences for breaking rules.  A natural consequence is directly related to the poor choice a child made, such as being left hungry until dinner after refusing to eat lunch. Spanking or corporal punishment is not an effective method of teaching attunement to the needs of others. 

8) Behavior problems need to be addressed with the wisdom of a parent (and possibly a health care professional). Being attuned to your children’s needs includes helping them learn to control their bodies and attitudes. If a behavior is not acceptable in public or school, it’s not acceptable at home. You can be gentle, loving, and attuned to your child’s feelings, yet still not let him have a tantrum. Psychiatric disorders such as ADHD, ADD, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder,  and bipolar disorder are surprisingly common in childhood. Parents who are attuned to their children’s needs aren’t afraid to seek professional treatment for psychiatric concerns. When behavioral interventions don’t work, medications often do work

9) Digital devices, especially smartphones and tablets, are a major distraction for parents and can prevent attunement to children’s needs. They can prevent kids from learning to be attuned to their parents, too. This doesn’t mean all screens are bad, they just need to be used in moderation and for specific purposes. My colleague Dr. Kirstin Lee writes about the benefits of letting her toddler use her iPad, and what to watch out for.

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Parenting
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