Archive for AP Basics – Page 2

After the Show: What Is Conscious Catholic Parenting?

On August 30th I joined Dr. Gregory and Lisa Popcak on their radio show, More2Life, which helps us understand how the Theology of the Body can help us live fuller and more abundant lives.  You can listen to the whole show here.

I’m honored to announce that I’ve been invited to be a regular guest on the show: I’ll be visiting with the Popcaks every other Thursday to talk about some aspect of Catholic attachment parenting.   To make these discussions even more fruitful, I’ll be following up each show with a CAPC article summarizing what we discussed, including adding necessary clarifications and helpful resources.

So with this article, I’d like to discuss the main point we were exploring on More2Life on August 30th: What is conscious Catholic parenting and what does it have to do with the Theology of the Body?

Conscious Catholic Parenting:  Meeting the Needs of Children

Conscious Catholic parenting is an approach that depends upon a loving responsiveness to what infants, children, and teenagers need.  I used the term “conscious parenting” on the show, because apparently the term “attachment parenting” is controversial in the media world, but that’s what I’m talking about.  Attachment parenting, conscious parenting, connection parenting, empathic parenting, natural parenting: These are terms used by different folks to talk about a similar concept, namely parenting with an awareness of the optimal conditions in which children thrive.

Our goal is that our kids don’t merely survive childhood: We want our children to discover their value and unique identity, and to connect with others on a deep and profound level.  Now, any parent will say, “Of course that’s our goal. Who wouldn’t want that for their kids?” But the sad fact is that, despite their hopes, many parents parent without a real awareness of what kids really need and they often parent the way they were parented without exploring whether that approach or those parenting decisions are wise.  I say this without any judgment whatever.   Parenting is hard, life gets complicated, and if somehow you are led to a place where you begin to question what kind of atmosphere you want to provide for your family, then you are blessed and the Holy Spirit is working.

So, again, conscious parents seek to understand what our children actually need physically, spiritually, and psychologically to thrive.  We hope to create a home atmosphere that can best meet these needs.  The Theology of the Body brings so much to this discussion.  Science confirms what the Theology of the Body announced: Human beings are designed for relationship and interdependence, not radical independence.   One of the central gifts of the Theology of the Body is that it reveals to us the ideal way for people to relate to one another, including parents and children. John Paul II calls us all to “self-donation” –using our bodies, minds, and spirits to meet the needs of others with love and tenderness.  Well, goodness, this is conscious parenting, folks.  And guess what?  Through self-donative love we not only help children thrive, but we discover our true identities in Christ, because it’s only through love that our true selves are revealed.  Awesome!

Needs Are Not Static

Of course, what children need changes over time depending on their developmental stage and their temperament.  Needs are not static.  What a 3 year old needs to feel safe, inspired, and loved is very different from he’ll need when he’s 10.  And if you have more than one child you know that what one 3 year old needs to feel safe, inspired, and loved is frequently different from what another 3 year old needs!   On the show I shared the example of my third child, Dominic, who had me tapping my forehead trying to figure out what he needed from me when he was a little tyke.  After about 8 months, he didn’t want to co-sleep, didn’t like to be cuddled, kissed, or even held very much, and he was very “serious” and quiet.  My first two children were cuddly, cooing bundles of slobbery kisses who wanted nothing more than to be close to me.

The book The 5 Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman helped me to understand the significant differences in the way we all prefer to give and receive love.  I realized that Dominic became more animated and talked a lot more when we did puzzles together, built block towers, or something of that nature.  Now, at 6, he becomes very talkative and warm when we go on private outings together.  He rarely sits on my lap or holds my hand, but on these outings he naturally does this.  Dominic feels most loved by spending one-on-one quality time with Philip and me.  That’s how he feels valued.

It’s this sensitivity to our child’s heart and mind that makes the difference.  In addition to learning how they most feel loved, we learn to understand the fears and needs underneath their behaviors and we prioritize our connection with our child over other commitments.  We do what’s right for our child even when it’s hard, inconvenient, or unpopular.  Children need to know that they’re valuable and their needs matter to us.  That’s an extraordinarily Christ-like way to parent.

Needs and Wants Are Two Different Things

One of the myths about attachment/conscious parenting is that it’s a permissive parenting style, in which the child controls the household and gets whatever he wants.  Conscious parents set limits and boundaries.  While we always try to meet a legitimate need, we often have to say “no” to a child’s wants because we can’t afford it or it’s just a bad idea for some reason.  The fact is children need these limits to thrive.  However, we can set and enforce these limits with tenderness and love, always protecting our child’s dignity.

Conscious Catholic parenting is not a big give-a-thon.  As Catholic parents we are called to lead our children to mature into empathic, loving adults.  In the daily life the family, all members of the family learn to respond to the Church’s call to self-donative love, including children.  As their maturity level permits, they join the family in keeping up the house, cooking, washing and folding clothes, and meeting the needs of younger children or those who are sick or in need.

Finally, it’s important to remember that none of us is perfect.  Despite our best efforts, hopes, and dreams, we all make mistakes with our kids that we regret.  We are learning about ourselves as we learn about our children and what it means to be a loving parent.  When it’s hard, we can struggle alongside one other; when it’s joyful, we can celebrate together.  We can all create a more abundant family life by learning from one another’s experiences and calling on one another for prayer and support.

Photo credit: Stockbyte (

Tender Tidings Summer 2012

Our first seasonal newsletter!  Click on the cover to load the flipbook!



GUEST POST by Sheila Jenne: Parenting While You Snooze

Sheila Jenne is a young, Catholic writer and lucky mama to 2 little boys.  Sheila was homeschooled and raised by an attachment mom!  You can visit her on her family blog at

I often tell other people that my number one reason for attachment parenting is that it makes me feel good.  At a time when my soul and my hormones alike crave closeness to my baby, I listen to them and snuggle up.  Though I never planned to cosleep, I find it’s my very favorite AP practice.

My mother practiced attachment parenting herself, and I saw her dealing with having my younger siblings in bed with her.  She always woke up tired, and transitioning them to their own beds was a source of stress.  So I resolved that my own children would sleep in their own beds from day one.

Day one came, and I found myself second-guessing my choice.

Here I was, just home from the hospital with a two-day-old baby, and I was popping in and out of bed all night, sitting on the edge of the bed, freezing, so that I could nurse my baby when he cried.  I was exhausted.  I tried putting the baby in bed with us once or twice.  Trouble is, none of us could sleep that way, least of all the baby.  I didn’t know how to nurse him lying down anyway.  So it was back to the crib.

I figured my efforts to keep him in his crib, not to nurse him all the way to sleep, and encourage him to pacify himself would all pay off in a great sleeper.  And they did – for about a month when he was three months old.  When he turned four months old, he was having trouble getting enough to eat, and he started waking again.  There was nothing for it but to keep feeding him at night.  Months went by and I became more and more sleep-deprived.  He started waking up every time I put him back in his crib.

One night, addled by exhaustion, I was fruitlessly trying to get him into his crib the dozenth time.  My husband stopped me.  “Just put him in bed with us.”  So I did.

It wasn’t all roses. The first night I only slept in snatches, despite my exhaustion.  I am just not used to sleeping while touching anyone.  And he still wouldn’t nurse lying down, so I sat up in bed with him every time, slowly sliding back down once he was beginning to drift off on the breast.  But after a few days, I realized I was actually getting sleep.  I took the side off his crib, shoved it tightly against the bed, and called it good.  I started him out for the night in his crib, brought him into bed to nurse, and sometimes rolled him back into his crib again so I could stretch out more.  Sometimes he spent the whole night in our bed.  It didn’t matter all that much to me.  I was getting sleep!

After a while I started cosleeping for naps, too, to help him sleep longer.  And that’s when the unexpected benefits started popping up.  First, I was better rested than I’d been since he was born.  Second, my milk supply shot up.  Even if he didn’t nurse at night, his presence seemed to stimulate more milk.  And last of all, I found myself brimming with extra patience and love for him.  That snuggle time every day made it so much easier to deal with any issues that had cropped up during the morning.  I tried napping separately for a while – it just wasn’t the same.  Sleeping snuggled up to him was so much better.  Plus, he would wake up slowly and happily, giving us such a nice start to our afternoon.

There are other advantages, too.  It’s so much easier to travel when your baby will sleep easily anywhere you are.  And when the baby spikes a fever, you know before he even wakes up.

At a year old, we moved him into his own room.  I’m sad to say that he’s two now and still doesn’t always sleep through the night.  I’m realizing it’s actually a genetic thing – almost no one in my family, despite how they slept as babies, ever slept well until two or three.  I could have wasted an entire year trying to get him to sleep through the night, but instead I spent that time getting good sleep and snuggles.  Things got much harder when we stopped cosleeping.  A night waking might mean an hour of rocking him, or falling asleep crammed into his tiny bed and waking up two hours later with a crick in my back.  Cosleeping was a much better way for our family to get the rest we needed.

When I became pregnant with my second baby, there was no question I would have him in our bed.  Ideally I’d like to keep him there until he regularly sleeps through the night on his own – however long that is.  Once he was born, I was so glad I’d made that choice.  He simply would not sleep unless he was touching me for his first two weeks.  Sometimes he’d spend half the night latched on!  I couldn’t have coped with a busy toddler during the day while sitting up in a rocking chair nursing all night.  Now, at a month old, he sleeps a bit better, but he still sleeps the best with my arm around him.  It’s hard to tell for sure, though, because I no longer even wake up all the way when I feed him.  I wake hours later and find I’ve switched him to my other side and nursed him without even remembering it.  How nice it is to wake up after a good six-hour chunk of sleep (or what felt like it) and find you’ve been nurturing your baby at the same time!

Since my toddler is very active and demanding, I don’t get a lot of time to bond with my baby during the day.  Nighttime is our special time to nurse, snuggle, and build a strong bond.  If I’m feeling wide awake, I stroke his soft cheek and drink him in.  If not, I just latch him on and doze off again.  Either way, it feels good to know I’m meeting his needs without sacrificing mine.

For my husband, it’s more of a sacrifice.  But he benefits by having a wife who’s able to handle most anything during the day because she’s well rested.  And he has been known to join in the snugglefest at times.  It’s always a special joy to me to sneak out of bed early in the morning and come back to see him with a protecting arm around the baby.

Let me point out, lest I come across as laying more requirements on your plate, that cosleeping is in no way required for good parenting.  So long as you are responsively parenting your child at night – as long as you attend to their cries and needs, the same as you do in the daytime – it doesn’t really matter who sleeps where.  Still, if you haven’t tried bedsharing, I highly recommend you at least try it out, for naps if you aren’t comfortable doing so at night.  At the very least, there can be no possible risk in bedsharing if there’s another adult around who is staying awake and can check on you often.  Try it on the weekends when Dad’s around, or when your mother or friend comes to help you with a newborn.

But don’t miss out on the special kind of joy that comes from sharing sleep once in awhile.

Another Inconvenient Truth: Babies Need Us At Night

“People who say they sleep like babies usually don’t have them.”  Leo J. Burke

Issues of sleep are usually a top concern of expectant and new parents.  No wonder.   Parents can’t pick up a parenting magazine or book without reading somebody’s opinion about infant sleep.  Sleep is always on the list of questions pediatricians ask of new parents about their baby.  How is the baby sleeping?  How many hours in a row? How long at night?

The topic of sleep covers many areas, including safety issues, napping, night sleep arrangement, normal sleep patterns in infants, children, and adults, breastfeeding, and much more.   In this article I’ll narrow our focus to nighttime sleeping for infants.

CAPC’s First Building Block to a Family-Centered Home is Baby Bonding:

Your infant’s capacity for attachment is established early on. She has an intense need for physical closeness, predictable comforting, and a sense of safety. Meeting these needs has a direct impact on her early brain development and helps her develop a sense of trust in later babyhood and toddlerhood, leading to a secure attachment to mom and dad.

I’m sorry to report to America:  Global warming isn’t the only inconvenient truth.  Infants are inconvenient for modern parents, especially at night.  Rarely will a young infant sleep through the night.  We parents want to sleep through the night, but they aren’t there yet.  Because they aren’t biologically ready yet to meet our needs, we need to adjust our needs to meet theirs for a while.  On the child-need v. parent-need scale, new babies are very high need and they don’t understand it when their needs aren’t met.  But it’s only temporary.  I promise.  As Catholic parents we can call on God’s help in difficult moments.  You cannot outgive your Heavenly Father.

So let’s just get down to it and ask ourselves how we can optimize their sleep environment to give those wee ones what they need in their first weeks of life!

Sleep Near Your Baby 

My husband Philip and I have co-slept in some form with all four of our children.  Our youngest daughter, Lydia, still sleeps in our bed at age 2.  Our middle children now sleep together in one bed.  Our teenager, who slept with us until age 5, happily sleeps alone.  After the births of our youngest 3 children, my husband slept with the older children so he could get a good night’s sleep before going to work the next day and so he could night-parent the older children while I healed from my c-sections and focused on night-parenting our newborns.  While these sleep choices are counter-cultural in the United States, they do not run counter to the Catholic culture of self-donative love.  We can participate in the self-gift of Christ in the way we parent.

Yes, for me, co-sleeping is part of my faith.  As a Catholic Christian I recognize what a privilege it is to use my body for the good of another, especially a tiny, helpless baby.  My husband and I are witnesses and models for our older children in self-giving love and generosity.  I am called to love my children tenderly:  Allowing my small babies to sleep near me helps them feel safer, more secure, and it makes it easier for me to respond to their needs during the night.

In addition, Philip and I are confident that we have made the right choice for our infants’ physical and emotional development.  Scientific literature shows us that the best nighttime sleep arrangement for optimizing attachment is some form of bedsharing or co-sleeping.  Dr. James McKenna, a prominent sleep researcher at the University of Notre Dame, reviewed research in physiology, infant neurology, and human sleep, and he also conducts controlled experiments on mother-infant pairs in a sleep laboratory.  He has discovered that co-sleeping moms and infants are extraordinarily in sync, responding to one another’s movements and sounds.  He is unequivocal in his recommendation that baby’s sleep next to mom, either in the bed or right next to her on a separate surface, because this is the optimal sleep environment for infants for many reasons:

[I]rrepressible (ancient) neurologically-based infant responses to maternal smells, movements and touch altogether reduce infant crying while positively regulating infant breathing, body temperature, absorption of calories, stress hormone levels, immune status, and oxygenation. In short . . cosleeping (whether on the same surface or not) facilitates positive clinical changes including more infant sleep and seems to make, well, babies happy. In other words, unless practiced dangerously, sleeping next to mother is good for infants. The reason why it occurs is because… it is supposed to.  James McKenna, Co-Sleeping and Biological Imperatives.

Baby and mama both sleep better and baby is fed when he needs to be fed.  By sleeping with baby next to mom in bed or within arm’s reach in a side sleeper, mom can respond to baby’s cues very easily: She can soothe the baby when baby starts to stir so baby can settle back to sleep or mom can nurse baby very conveniently.   Best of all, the baby’s breathing and body temperature become regulated in response to the mother’s physical proximity.  For this reason, Dr. McKenna thinks co-sleeping can be safer than solitary sleep for an infant.  It’s also perfectly normal.

Co-Sleeping Is Normal, Really.

I know many of our older relatives think our sleeping choices are bonkers.  To be frank, Philip and I have not been very forthcoming about our reasons for co-sleeping because we knew it would seem odd to our relatives of the older generations.  We sort of hide it, like we were criminals or deviants.  We should make more of an effort to explain our reasons for co-sleeping, especially so because I believe strongly that our sleeping arrangements are healthier and actually more “normal” in terms of biology and psychology than those of the average middle-class Western household where the sleeping norm is to place babies and small children in separate beds in their own rooms.

Our sleep arrangements are actually similar to those of the rest of the world, especially in those cultures that value strong familial bonds and interdependence.    The fact is, how and with whom we sleep is strongly influenced by custom and culture.  The field of ethnopediatrics has demonstrated in several cross-cultural studies that sleeping with your baby is actually the norm if one considers worldwide practices.  The most prominent sleeping pattern cross-culturally is mother with baby in one bed and father in another bed alone or with older children.  Meredith Small, Our Babies Ourselves, 111.  While babies sleep in a variety of containers and on differing sleep surfaces, in almost all cultures worldwide, babies sleep with an adult and older children sleep with an adult or other siblings.  Small, 112.

Americans stand out as odd in our practice of isolating infants in sleep.  Why is it so important to us that tiny infants be independent?  They aren’t leaving for college for 18 years.  Let them be who they are: babies in need of assurance and comfort.  You can’t force independence and maturity on a small baby, but you can ignore them long enough so that they give up hope.  These are the moments that require heroic love.  I know you are tired sometimes and wish the baby would sleep for 8 hours, but the early months pass very quickly.  By responding to a baby’s nighttime cues for food, comfort, and warmth, she will become confident that she’s safe and cherished.  This phase will pass into a new one, and you’ll look back and be so glad you gave her what she needed for those few months.

Safe Co-sleeping

Co-sleeping parents are frequently on the receiving end of a finger-waving warning about SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, the sudden unexplained death of a child younger than one year old.  While SIDS is not well-understood, these deaths are believed to be correlated to the immaturity of a baby’s heartbeat, breathing, and blood pressure during sleep.  Margot Sunderland, The Science of Parenting, 73.  Many people believe letting a baby sleep in bed with a parent (bed-sharing) increases the risk of SIDS, but the fact is, countries with the highest rates of bed-sharing experience the lowest rates of SIDS.  Sunderland, 73.

Sleeping with your baby can be practiced safely.  Here are a few important precautions:

  • Never allow a baby’s head to be covered by a thick blanket or comforter.
  • Don’t position baby in between two people.  If both parents are sleeping in the bed, have mom sleep in the middle.
  • Don’t sleep with baby in bed with other older children.
  • Don’t bed-share with an infant if you or somebody else in your household smokes.
  • Don’t bed-share if your vigilance is impaired by drugs, alcohol, or exhaustion.
  • Don’t co-sleep with a baby on a waterbed, sofa, or a reclining chair.
  • Premature infants shouldn’t bed-share.

If you’re at all concerned about SIDS, I highly recommend a co-sleeper, which will allow you to sleep next to your baby but with the baby on a separate sleeping surface.  I had bassinets with my first 3 babies and they were fine, but I much preferred the awesome Arm’s Reach Co-Sleeper I had for my youngest daughter Lydia.  The co-sleeper could be placed right next to our bed so that although Lydia was on a separate sleep surface I felt like she was right next to me.  With the bassinets I always had to get up and put my legs over the side of the bed to lift the babies out if I needed to nurse them.  The co-sleeper was much more convenient.  The side of the sleeper could be lowered so that the baby was easier to reach at night, but the side could be placed up higher during the day.

Arms Reach Co-Sleeper with side up



Co-sleeper side down


After a few weeks that co-sleeper sort of turned into a changing table and Lydia just slept in the adult bed with me, but I did like having the option in the early weeks to put her down to sleep in her own space.

Whether you choose to sleep with your baby in bed with you or right next to you on a separate sleep surface, there are gentle ways to encourage older babies to settle back to sleep when they aren’t waking to feed.  Elizabeth Pantley’s book The No Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night is a full of helpful and practical advice.  Pantley’s approach involves responding to the baby’s cues, but also helping the baby learn to fall back to sleep when she reaches her natural arousal states during the night.


Sleeping With Your Baby: A Parent’s Guide to Co-Sleeping by James McKenna

The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley

If you’re interested in ethnopediatrics or studies in culture & parenting I recommend:

Meredith Small’s Our Babies Ourselves (very readable) and the more challenging but worthwhile collection of scholarly essays Parents’ Cultural Belief Systems:  Their Origins, Expressions, and Consequences (edited by Sarah Harkness and Charles Super).  The latter is expensive but I found a copy on inter-library loan.

Sleeping infant photo credit: Vladimir Melnik (

CAPC’s Mission and 7 Building Blocks

First, apologies to subscribers for the weird transmission of 2 old posts last night!  I changed a setting on our front page to allow more posts to appear and the old posts were transmitted in the process.

Well, we finally have a page with CAPC’s mission/identity statement!  I’ve been thinking about it for a while but I needed to get one down on paper finally.  As these things go I might think about it for years.  I’m sure I’ll fuss with it and revise it over time, as I always do, but I’m relieved we finally something.  It reads:

CATHOLIC ATTACHMENT PARENTING CORNER supports Catholic parents interested in attachment-based parenting by providing education, resources, and advocacy. Our attachment parenting model is neither child-centered nor parent-centered; it is family-centered.

We believe Catholic theology perfects what is beautiful and just in secular insights about attachment parenting. In the daily life of the family, all family members learn to respond to the Church’s call to self-donative, empathic love — including children as they grow and mature. Through the parents’ responsive compassion, children learn to respond similarly to the needs of others. These children grow into adults who recognize suffering and feel compelled to respond, who are tender and merciful to those who are weaker than themselves, who are able to connect on a profound level with their loved ones, and who mirror in every facet of their lives the self-gift of Christ, the God-Man.

I have also created CAPC’s 7 Building Blocks for a Family-Centered Home™, which will help us focus our work as we look to the future.  We will explore each Building Block more fully in blog posts and articles and through links to external resources:

1. Baby Bonding

  • Your infant’s capacity for attachment is established early. She has an intense need for physical closeness, predictable comforting, and a sense of safety. Meeting these needs has a direct impact on her early brain development and helps her develop a sense of trust in later babyhood and toddlerhood.
  • Explore different practices that encourage and strengthen the parent-child bond, such as breastfeeding on demand, staying physically close to baby at night by co-sleeping and during the day by wearing baby in a sling or other baby carrier.
  • Respond to baby’s cues consistently & tenderly (without resentment or anger).

2. Empathic Response

  • Get to know each child as a unique human being.
  • Understand what’s behind your child’s eyes and in her heart at each developmental stage.
  • Recognize any of your old wounds so that you can parent your child appropriately and with awareness, and not from a place of fear or anger unrelated to your child.

3. Playing Together

  • Recognize that play is one of the most important ways children connect with us, work through their fears and frustrations, and build their self-confidence.
  • Enter a child’s play world on occasion on his or her terms. Be willing to be silly and goofy on occasion!

4. Joyous, Shared Faith

  • Every family can enjoy a shared faith life that’s alive and downright fun! Such faith is a tremendous witness to other families, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.
  • Allow your home to reflect the abundant joy and hope of our Catholic Faith. Explore and celebrate Feast Days and Saints Days with crafts, special parties and teas, and sharing books together. Develop a family prayer plan and pray together regularly.
  • Children, especially young ones, will absorb our attitudes about attending Mass and growing in the Faith. If we’re excited and enthusiastic, it’ll be contagious! If we only talk about the Church and its Sacraments as a list of obligations that we must fulfill to avoid hell, kids are turned off and they may eventually tune out. The heart of our Faith is love and hope, and the opportunity for transformation and renewal.

5. Gentle Discipline

  • The heart of gentle discipline is the connection between parent and child. Without a secure connection, discipline will be a frustrating power struggle.
  • The goal of gentle discipline is for the child to build a conscience and self-control, not to break the child’s will. In an empathic, nurturing home a child is never humiliated or threatened as a way to coerce obedience.
  • Growing up can be confusing and frustrating. By learning what to expect at each developmental stage, you can empathize with your child better. We can’t expect a 3 year-old to have the self-control of 6 year-old. Each developmental age comes with its struggles and joys. Educate yourself about child development so that the balance tips towards joy!

6. Balance

  • Balance work, play, and prayer in your home. Do all these things as a family. Each family member contributes to the upkeep of the home and meal preparations as is appropriate for their developmental age. Even very young children enjoy being included in the routine with small jobs, like helping unload the dishwasher, mopping, or dusting.
  • Every parent needs a little time alone to refuel. How much time you can spend alone and how frequently depends on various factors in your home, including the availability of your spouse or a babysitter and how young your children are, but remember that you will be parenting for many years. Don’t run out of gas early on!
  • Take time to exercise and eat well. This can involve the kids! Children love to ride their bikes with parents who might be running or biking. Make a hiking plan and explore different hiking trails in your region. Children love to help with food preparations, like making salads and kneading bread dough.

7. A Strong Marriage

  • If you treat your child will tenderness and affection, but fail to model such tenderness with your spouse, your child may still enter adulthood with a relationship handicap. Your marriage models for your children how to treat others in close, intimate relationships. She’ll obviously be better off and very blessed for having received warm, consistent love from her parents, but it’s like she will have received only the appetizer to a delicious meal and missed the main course!
  • Speak about and to your spouse with affection and love; perform little acts of kindness to make his or her life easier. Be willing to serve even in small ways.
  • You and your spouse are called to help one another on your paths to heaven. See your spouse the way Christ does, as a precious and priceless soul on a journey to a Divine Destination.

Nobody can meet all these ideals perfectly. We all have limitations and every family hits rough patches. But having these ideals in our minds can help us move toward wholeness personally and as a family.

My Response to the Boobs

What extended nursing really looks like

The TIME cover photo and story “Are You Mom Enough” have gone viral and achieved the sensation and blabbering attention the editors were looking for.  I agree with Dr. Popcak’s remarks about that cover photo.  It obscures the real issues and merely reinforces inaccurate perceptions people have about attachment parenting.

My family was actually being considered for that photo shoot.  Can you imagine?  We were not selected; The Holy Spirit was working in that one.

TIME provided several articles on-line when they released that cover photo; most of them focus on extended breastfeeding.  Why extended breastfeeding?  Why not show photos of mothers nursing their young infants, as breastfeeding on demand in infancy is one of the central recommended practices for securing an infant’s attachment?  Why narrow the focus to one practice at all?   By focusing on extended nursing, and choosing to highlight mothers who breastfeed well into the preschool years, TIME moves the discussion away from the heart of attachment parenting. It’s like walking up to a Ferrari, sitting down on the ground, and staring at the hubcaps. You miss the beauty entirely.

AP isn’t about a list of things you have to do to belong to some club.  It is a conscious decision to parent based on what a child needs so that they can grow up with a deep sense of well-being and “rightness”.  What a child needs varies by child depending on many factors, including their temperament and developmental age.  Children’s needs change over time.  The media has raised questions about the intensive nurturing required of attachment parenting and ask what kind of life the mother will have away from her child. The intensive needs of an infant are quite different from the needs of a toddler; the needs of toddler different altogether from those of a school age child.  Fathers also play an increasing role as the infant moves into older babyhood and toddlerhood.

Parenting is tiring in the early months. I’m sorry, there’s no getting around it.  But, it amuses me that people think co-sleeping, nursing, and babywearing are so arduous for the mother when in fact it makes our lives easier.  Much easier.  You know what I would find exhausting?  Getting up every 2 hours and walking down the hallway in the middle of the night, trying to calm a frightened infant crying without relief, strapping a baby into a bouncy seat every time I want to get a cup of coffee.  And as our attached infants grow into toddlers and older children, their sense of peace and connection makes them much easier to parent.  That initial investment of love pays off.  Why are we so afraid to give these tiny souls what they deserve?

Many of the statements about AP in those on-line articles were simply wrong or misrepresentations; a video statement by Kate Pickert, the author of the main article about Dr. Sears, is also disastrous.  Clearly the staff failed to perform adequate background research or they merely chose voices of convenience, like an interview they published with the mother who is on the cover of the magazine.  That’s the best they could do?  Why not interview one of the founders of Attachment Parenting International who synthesize and analyze information every day about AP?  Why not interview the unflappable Mayim Bialik, actress, neuroscientist, & AP advocate, who would have provided some of the scientific evidence they needed and the glitz they wanted for that article.

Kate Pickert, the TIME journalist who wrote the main piece in the magazine about Dr. Sears, makes several strange statements in her video release, such as:

  • Dr. Sears “basically invented attachment parenting.”

(Of course he didn’t invent it.  He merely observed these practices in other cultures which produce peaceful, well-adjusted adults.  He put this together with what he knew about attachment theory in the field of psychology, which was developed by John Bowlby.)

  • Co-sleeping is a “new phenomenon.”

(Of course it isn’t a new phenomenon.  Most of the rest of the world co-sleep with their children.  Also, co-sleeping isn’t a litmus test of AP.  Many parents let their kids sleep with them who don’t practice AP — they’re just tired and let the kiddos climb into bed with them.  And while co-sleeping is practiced by many AP families, not all do so for various reasons.  I would hope a journalist would ask more questions.)

  • She makes a disturbing leap in logic with the following train of thought:  “It turns out that a lot of what [Dr. Sears] has taught is intertwined with his personal life . . .”  Both Dr. Sears and his wife Martha “had difficult childhoods.”

(I imagine his decision to focus on gentle parenting may be entwined with his personal life,  including difficult parts of it.  That’s true for all human beings.  Why is that a problem?  Isn’t it perhaps the Holy Spirit working to turn something dark into something beautiful?  These two lovely souls, Dr. Sears and his wife, uncovered practices that may  have been lost in our culture or at least been more difficult for the average family to find.  Pickert uses this information to make the following bold leap:)

  • “A lot of people attracted to attachment parenting are reacting to their own childhoods as well.  A lot of people who get into attachment parenting think they need to do it for their babies, but if they did a little examination they would see it’s about a lot of their own issues.”

(If you asked a portion of any group they would tell you they had difficult childhoods.  The other portion would tell you they had pretty good childhoods.  So what?  Our childhoods inform many of our choices and assumptions, sure.  I’m sure some AP parents had difficult childhoods and some had wonderful childhoods.  But if you asked a group of parents who use more child training type approaches you will get the same or similar statistics.  I’m not sure why this leads her to conclude that AP parents choose to nurture our children not because of what our children need but because of some unresolved issues we have ourselves. 

In fact, parents will tend to parent the way they were parented unless they come to a conscious decision to do things differently with their own children. This is something to be celebrated! I think it’s more likely that attachment parents from difficult backgrounds come to the approach not unconsciously and because of unresolved issues, but quite deliberately after research and comparing their options.  They choose attachment based parenting because they are willing to do what is best for their children no matter the costs, including adopting some practices that may be counter-cultural and unpopular, even misunderstood.)

  • “There’s no evidence to show that wearing a baby in a sling or sleeping with kids is gonna change the way they turn out later when they’re adults.”

(Again, she misses the central goal of AP.  Attachment parenting isn’t about these little practices she is glomming on to.  AP begins with the rapport and relationship you build with your child in infancy, but that rapport has to be nurtured and maintained throughout all of childhood.  Pickert is equating AP with just 3 infant parenting practices, when that’s just a scratch on the surface of this story.  But here’s one article  providing scientific support for many of the practices we are talking about, including studies suggesting babywearing promotes attachment and others suggesting securely attached children have fewer behavioral issues and higher IQs.  Margot Sunderland’s book The Science of Parenting discusses what the field of neuroscience tells us about the importance of attachment.  In Sleeping With Your Baby, James McKenna, a world recognized sleep expert, encourages parents to sleep with or near their infants and presents the scientific support for this recommendation.)

Pickert is a health care staff writer at TIME, so this perhaps explains her clinical approach to parenting.  I’m not sure if she’s even a parent herself.  I’ve been walking through the day, feeling alternately angry about the article and relieved that I wasn’t caught up in it at that photo shoot.   Finally after prayer, time playing at the park with the kids, and a nap with my toddler, I think I’ve gained some distance.

I understand tonight that there are real humans behind the story:  writers with deadlines; editors struggling to have a life.  There’s the mom on the cover:  She’s one of the most famous women in America this week.  I wonder if she expected it.  Even though I wanted to kick their hineys earlier today, they deserve my compassion and my prayers.  But most important of all, there are children to be loved. They deserve our compassion, too, the most tender compassion, every one of them. Hopefully the article and cover photo will lead to fruitful discussions that will lead to increased wisdom in our homes and our society.

Photo credit: Anita Patterson-Peppers (

A Response from Dr. Gregory Popcak to TIME Cover “Are You Mom Enough”

Editor’s Note: I deliver here Dr. Gregory Popcak’s response to the TIME cover that has caused such a stir today.  Dr. Popcak is the Executive Director of Pastoral Solutions Institute and the author of many books, including Parenting With Grace, a groundbreaking exploration of attachment parenting through the lens of Catholicism.  His book inspires our work here at CAPC.   

As you know, Lisa and I are big attachment parenting advocates (Dr. Bill Sears wrote the foreword to the 2nd edition of our parenting book), but I think the cover for the TIME magazine article on AP really sets the wrong tone for the discussion.

It is true that the world average for nursing is 5 years.  This is not the norm in the West, but in other cultures it is common enough. It is also true that children who nurse in some limited way even up to the full length of the world average do, indeed, stop nursing, grow up, claim their independence, and move on. In general, they tend to be more confident and independent than their peers.

So, there isn’t anything psychologically inappropriate about nursing this long as long as (a) it is actually a response to the child’s need for comfort and not being imposed on the child and (b) it is done privately and discretely so as to respect the intimacy communicated by this kind of relationship. The person is not a cup. Mom is not a cow. Nursing is not intended to be the equivalent of sipping from a water fountain. It’s a call to create a loving connection between mother and baby.

A woman is not a fountain.

My problem with the cover is that it’s intentionally provocative and misrepresentative. This isn’t what AP is about. AP is about investing the time and energy you need to put into your relationship with your unique child so that you can give that child what he or she needs to grow to be a strong loving, healthy person. It’s about modeling radical self-donation so that you can teach the child to be radically self-donative in his or her own relationships in both childhood and adulthood.

Despite what people think, AP isn’t a list of techniques, a series of “Must do’s” and “Shame on you if you don’ts.” It’s a call to foster a uniquely loving, responsible, and intimate relationship with your kids so they see you as their mentor for learning how to lead a life filled with love, responsibility, and intimacy.

It’s true that fostering this kind of relationship takes more of an investment than most parents put into their relationship with their kids. It’s also true that such a relationship might be more difficult for some. I just wish people didn’t find it so offensive or shocking that a parent would want to pursue that kind of a relationship with their child, or would want that kind of relationship for the children of the world.

To be fair, I do think the cover shot pretty accurately represents many non-AP parents’ perception of AP. That is, “Mom as slave to a set of techniques that turns her into a mere dispenser of bodily fluid and maternal energy for the spoiled little vampire-child who is being enabled to suck the very life out of her.” It saddens me that people would feel this way, though. Our families deserve better. Our children deserve better. We deserve better.

Dr. Gregory K. Popcak

Pentecost: When We’re Weary and Heavy-Laden, He Will Give Us Rest

I know it’s May and our CAPC table topic is sleep, but my mind turns to the Feast of Pentecost, which the Church celebrates this year on May 27th.  Pentecost commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles 50 days after Easter.  Christ had promised the Apostles that he would send his Spirit to help and guide them, and this was the fulfillment of that promise.

I’ve been really tired the last few weeks.  We went on a family camping trip for a week in California’s Gold Country and since we’ve returned I haven’t been able to get back into a rhythm.  Lydia, my toddler, isn’t sleeping well.  (Hah!  This post is a wee bit about sleep issues!)  This is a common problem when we travel, so I know it’s just temporary, but sleep deprivation stinks.

I’m not sure if it’s fatigue, sleeplessness, or something else, but I’ve felt spiritually dry and a little lost.   It doesn’t help that the camping gear is still sitting in our front entry, reminding me that I need to get my act together.  It certainly doesn’t help that I’m having a hard time honoring my commitment to prayer every morning and evening.

Most parents are afflicted similarly at one time or another.  Parenting is a tremendous blessing, but it’s hard too.  It tests our patience and endurance.  It tests us in a way that can refine us, can lead us to the truth and God’s will for us, but that refining can be oh so painful.  At times we have to allow our ordinary lives to be a prayer when we can’t find time to close ourselves away alone for prayer, meditation, and reflection.  At times we struggle to find time to refuel the ol’ tank just past “EMPTY”, especially when we have littlies to care for.

Do you feel the same sometimes?  Do you maybe feel the same today?

No matter how we feel,  we can find true comfort in the Pentecost: It shows us that we’re never alone, never powerless, despite what our weary bodies may tell us.   We are Christians; the physical body isn’t the limit of the strength available to us.  Pentecost is the story of the beginning of the Church, and it started with an awesome display of God’s power, mercy, and love.   Christ had Ascended 10 days earlier and the Apostles — who must have felt a little lost and confused themselves about where they had been and where they were going — gathered in the Upper Room with Mary to pray.

And then it happened.

And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them parted tongues as it were of fire, and it sat upon every one of them: And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to speak with diverse tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak.  Acts 2:2-4

Whoa!  The Holy Spirit didn’t come down in a sprinkle of fairy dust.  He came down in tongues of fire and rested on each one of the Apostles!  The Apostles at that moment received the spiritual gifts they needed to spread the Good News of Jesus.   Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they took to the streets and explained Christ’s message of love and mercy to people in their own languages.  In that first day alone, thousands became believers.  Now that’s power.

The Holy Spirit continues to guide the Church and her believers.  If you’re a mama or papa struggling today, remember that the power witnessed on that Pentecost is the same power moving in our own lives today.  The Holy Spirit dwells with us, giving us what we need to fulfill our holy mission as parents.

For me, I must be willing to face my weaknesses; I must be willing to pray, to respond, even in this hour of darkness and uncertainty.   It doesn’t matter how I feel:  It’s an objective fact that the Holy Spirit is moving in my life.  Strength and clarity will return.

Photo credit (woman on beach): Lynn Morrow (

Welcoming the Traveler

Editor’s Note:  I’m delighted to introduce to you Angela Piazza!  Angela is a wife and homeschooling mother of eight. She lives in Northern California and enjoys running, reading, theatre, and helping her children raise their flock of eight pampered hens!

I remember well (before the days of heightened airport security) waiting with great anticipation at the arrival gates for loved ones to step off the plane.  Weary travelers emerged from the corridor, glancing left and right in hopes of spotting a familiar face.  Moments of discovery were obvious; smiles brightened, paces quickened, and arms readied for a welcoming embrace.  The joy and relief of both parties was almost palpable.

Similarly, when long expected guests arrive at my family’s doorstep, excitement runs high and delight becomes audible.  Love and enthusiasm fill the spaces of our home!  After guests depart, the natural excitement calms and then fades, but an indelible mark remains.  Those who’ve been welcomed assume a unique place in our family and in our hearts.

Certainly, God calls us to hospitality, to reach out to others, showing charity in all things.  He desires our homes to be inviting havens in a harsh world.  What then about those living directly under our roof?  Do we make concerted effort to welcome from within, to rejoice over the everyday presence of the children in our lives?  Do our children know that we cherish them and sense that we look forward to seeing their beautiful faces each new day?

Every morning, despite the events or turmoil of the previous day, I greet my children with simple gestures of affection.  The form of expression varies from child to child, from one day to the next.  The eldest may hear subtle whispers of “good morning” in her ear, while the youngest might be smothered in hugs.  My aim is to acknowledge the presence of the individual, genuinely and warmly welcoming each child into the fold.  Quite naturally, it allows hearts to soften, opens dialogue, and fosters the hope of a fresh beginning.

I John 4:18 reads, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.”  Children, of course, will err.  Their behaviors and attitudes may even deeply disappoint.  But, as parents, we are called to humility and forgiveness, ultimately loving without reservation.  Fear and rejection have no place in connecting with children.  Our babies, toddlers, and adolescents yearn for comfort and affection.  They long to be well received.

Every single day is a gift.  Every child is a gift, too.  Consider reaching down and scooping that pajama-clad little one into your arms.  Wrap your embrace around the child waiting for the toast to pop.  When she wanders bleary-eyed down the hall, or he groggily saunters toward the kitchen, take a moment to offer your teenager a sincere smile, a gentle touch, and a kind word.

Our children need assurance of our steadfast, emotional commitment.  Remind them through your actions that “a cheerful glance brings joy to the heart; good news invigorates the bones” (Proverbs 15:30).  Tenderly welcome those weary little travelers, the treasured souls placed under your care, to a bright, unblemished day.

Photo credits:

  • Family Visitors: Comstock Images
  • Mother and Daughter: Stockbyte.

Parents As Gentle Shepherds: A Few Words on Spanking

Christ the gentle shepherd would never beat his sheep.

When Philip and I were new parents, the subject of spanking never came up between us.  We considered ourselves attachment parents when Aidan was a baby, but we never thought much about the significance of our parenting style after that stage had passed.  We certainly had no clear plan about how to handle “problem” behavior.

As Aidan grew into a toddler, we unconsciously (in other words, we acted without giving it any thought, discussion, or consideration) became what I’d call “light spankers”.  We rarely spanked and when we did it was a light swat on the behind.  We did, however, slap a “naughty hand” (as we called it) when Aidan touched something after he had been warned about it — or something of that nature.

As more children came along, we became non-spankers not because we made a conscious choice not to spank but because we became more effective and competent parents.  We didn’t need to spank. We discovered that we were firmly in the attachment parenting camp philosophically as we studied the significance of a strong rapport between a child and his parents well into childhood and the teen years.  As we matured as parents and as a family, we focused increasingly on the quality of connection between all family members and less on performing behavior triage.

Just in strengthening our family bonds and in demonstrating respect and kindness toward our children at all times, spanking phased out of our parenting toolbox quite naturally (as did the naughty hand thing).  Again, it wasn’t because we had some epiphany that was spanking was undesirable.  It became unnecessary for our family, but we never thought it was wrong in some way.

Gone are the days of our unconscious non-spanking.  My own opinion on spanking has in recent years become very clear.  After reading the research on outcomes for children who are spanked and the strained arguments presented by pro-spankers, I think it’s not only unwise to spank, but it’s wrong.  You  might gain compliance with spanking in the short term, but it does far more harm than good —  period.  It hurts the both you and your child, and even the larger society.


When a child is physically assaulted by somebody she trusts and loves, she has no choice but to create defenses against her anger and sense of betrayal.  In his book, Spare the Child, Philip Greven discusses the effects of corporal punishment on children, which include anxiety, apathy, depression, obsessiveness, and aggressiveness.   See Spare the Child, Part 4.   Murray A. Strauss also discusses the painful effects of legal forms of violence against children in his book Beating the Devil Out of Them.   He points out that the damage done to children isn’t always apparent until much later, often not until the child enters adulthood.


Spanking doesn’t work to change behavior in the long run because fear doesn’t change the heart.  Empirical evidence shows that children who are subjected to physical punishment have more behavioral issues not fewer, and they exhibit greater aggression toward their parents and peers.  The Center for Effective Discipline, Spanking Myths.  Most chilling, few children of parents who use corporal punishment regularly have a well-developed conscience.  Strauss, 154.


At law, you can strike a child if it doesn’t result in “abuse”.  Abuse occurs if the hitting results in demonstrable injury, either physical or psychological.  Corporal punishment is the use of legal, socially acceptable violence.  Why is physically punishing a child – so much smaller and more vulnerable in every way than an adult victim – still legally and socially acceptable?  Hitting a child seems to be socially acceptable partly because it’s legal, but physically chastising one’s wife was once legal, as was physically punishing an employee or apprentice.  Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it a morally appropriate choice.  We know that hitting your spouse is wrong whether or not it results in injury.  Hitting your employee seems preposterous to us, no matter the injury equation.   I also wonder how the law can evaluate “injury” when much of the psychological damage of corporal punishment isn’t apparent until adulthood.

Murray A. Strauss is concerned that legal corporal punishment can damage the larger society because it legitimizes other forms of violence:

Used by authority figures who tend to be loved or respected as a way to achieve a morally correct end, it carries a powerful message aside from the immediate effect intended.  The message is that if someone is doing something outrageous and other methods of getting the person to listen to reason have failed, it’s ok to use physical violence.  This message tends to carry over into adulthood.  The socially approved and legal violence in the parent-child relationship may spill over to other relationships in which hitting is not legal.  This is because sooner or later, in almost all interpersonal relationships, someone will persist in doing something wrong and won’t listen to reason . . . The more a person was spanked as a child, the greater the likelihood of that person later hitting his or her spouse.  Beating the Devil Out of Them, 9.

Strauss is spot on.  Socially approved violence leads to further violence.  It deprives people of the skills and qualities they need to enjoy deeply, loving, connected relationships.   Even it didn’t result in the damage outlined by Greven, Strauss and others, why would we condone violence in any form when it clearly contradicts humanitarian values?  Why is it more socially acceptable to hit a child than to hit a dog?  Our culture trivializes violence against children, but at a great price.

Let’s spare the rod so we don’t ruin our children.  Let us remember that the shepherd’s rod  is not a tool of punishment and pain, but of protection and guidance.  Let us look to Christ and His Mother for guidance in shepherding our children to heaven.  Christ ushered in a new era of history: love and gentle leadership is our new model for society as a whole and certainly for our homes.

Further Reading:

  • Dr. Sears on 10 Reasons Not to Hit Your Children.
  • Dr. Popcak’s Parenting With Grace in which he outlines “Ten Reasons Why We Don’t Spank” in Appendix 2.
  • Empirical evidence about the harmful impact of physical punishment on children presented in this report , this article , and this report.  The last report, published in the professional journal Pediatrics and explained by an L.A. Times reporter, found that “a child who is spanked, slapped, grabbed or shoved as a form of punishment runs a higher risk of becoming an adult who suffers from a wide range of mental and personality disorders, even when that harsh physical punishment was occasional and when the child experienced no more extreme form of violence or abuse at the hands of a parent or caregiver”.
  • The websites for The Center for Effective Discipline and  Project NoSpank.

Gentle Discipline: Corrective Techniques

In my last post, I discussed the basic principles of gentle discipline, including the importance of fostering the child/parent bond, the difference between punishing a child and guiding him, and the goal of preventing behavioral problems in the first place by establishing a calm home life (daily rhythm), boundaries, and clear expectations.

In this post we turn to corrective discipline.  Sometimes we hit a rough patch with our child and we need tools to address problem behaviors.  When our child is being rude to us or doing something inappropriate, we might feel ourselves becoming indignant and frustrated.  Take a frustrated parent and put her together with a child digging in her heels and you have the perfect formula for a garden variety power struggle.  You’re bigger, louder, and stronger, so you’ll eventually win, but the costs are high.  It’s not worth it.

Forget the power struggle.

If you find yourself heated up and angry, take a moment to cool off and consider a few of these tips, gleaned from my favorite resources on gentle discipline, including Lawrence Cohen’s Playful Parenting, Dr. William Sears’s The Discipline Book, Jane Nelsen’s Positive Discipline, and Dr. Gregory Popcak’s Parenting with Grace.   These are what I consider the best of the many tips and insights that can be found in these resources.  The focus here is on teaching your child rather than punishing her.

1.      Merciful Listening 

The best parenting advice I ever read was to try to see the world through my child’s eyes and the importance of letting him know that I understand his point of view.  To do this, we try to look beneath the surface of a child’s behavior to his feelings and unmet needs.  When things are going awry, bar none, empathizing with our child is the most powerful corrective discipline tool.  When I began to put myself in the shoes of my children, trying to see things from their perspective at their particular developmental stage, I not only became a more effective mother, but I became a better wife, friend, and neighbor.

Your child’s troublesome behavior is really a coded message.  Dr. Lawrence Cohen suggests that we ask ourselves what feelings and needs our child is trying to communicate to us with her behavior.  Playful Parenting, 243.  If my daughter is ignoring me or storming off and slamming the door over minor stuff, what feelings or needs might she need me to recognize?  Did I hurt her in some way yesterday?  Is she trying to get me to come to her room to talk about something that happened with a friend?

Sometimes our child really may not know why she’s misbehaving; she might need our help expressing her feelings.  Dr. Sears explains that “[o]ne of the goals of discipline is to teach children to be sensitive to others.  Yet in order to understand others children must first be sensitive toward themselves.  They must recognize their own deep feelings and feel comfortable expressing them when appropriate.” The Discipline Book, 105.   If you’ve been practicing attachment parenting, your child has grown up with a sense that he can trust you, and that he can communicate his needs and you will respond.  Such a child can learn to express his emotions without fear, even if he needs guidance in how to communicate them appropriately at times.

When your child is expressing big feelings, be responsive and approachable.  Meet the little ones down on their level, eye to eye.  Show that you want to understand his point of view by nodding your head and mirroring his emotions.  In mirroring his emotions we have to avoid being too logical:  “You have nothing to be sad about” or “You’re over-reacting”.  Instead, show your disappointment over his disappointment, or your sadness at his sadness, even if it seems irrational in your adult mind.

By empathizing in this way, we can discern what Dr. Popcak calls the positive intentions behind a child’s negative behavior.  Children are frequently unable to get their needs met or to express their feelings in an effective way, so they act out.  The needs and emotions are not bad.  Peeling away the layers of our child’s behavior to reveal the real problem is an act of mercy.  It’s harder work than whacking him for sticking out his tongue at us, but it’s worthy work, loving work, holy work!

2.       Cool Off Time and Couch Time

I once saw an episode of the television show “The Super Nanny” featuring Jo Frost, a no-nonsense but cheerful British nanny.  Now, Jo Frost isn’t all bad.  She is opposed to spanking, believes in clear boundaries and rules, and emphasizes the importance of families enjoying play time together.  But some of her techniques or recommendations are hard for me to accept.

One of her trademark discipline techniques is “the naughty chair” where wayward children are sent when they disobeyed the household rules and parental expectations.  The naughty chair is a punishment for not following the rules.  The child is required to sit in the naughty chair for the required time, after which the parent requires the child to apologize for the behavior, followed by hugs and acceptance.

What if the child doesn’t want to sit in the naughty chair?  As was frequently the case on the Super Nanny series, in the episode I was watching, the child did not want to comply, so he got up and began running around.  The parent brought the child back to the naughty chair.  Again, child got up.  Again, mom brought child to chair.  Back and forth, back and forth.  At one point, the child was screaming on the floor and refused to budge.  The Super Nanny directed the parent to physically pick up the child and plant him in the naughty chair.  I wondered what would have happened if the child had been a bit bigger and the mom a bit smaller.  What if the parent was disabled?

Aside from the ridiculous sight of seeing the poor mother dragging the child to the magical spot, it was clear this particular solution is flawed.   First, when time-out type solutions (like the naughty chair) are used as a punishment, we are isolating a child when he is already feeling isolated, disconnected, and plain yucky.  By showing him who’s boss and forcing him to comply against his will, we may eventually gain compliance, but at a high price.  Secondly, as was often seen on Jo Frost’s show, we’re bound to begin a power struggle that further breaks down the connection between us and our child.  On the Super Nanny, the child eventually complied, but only because he gave up struggling.  He was just physically or emotionally tired.

Time-out type solutions can work if we view them as cool-off times.  When emotions are running high – your children are fighting, tempers are building, etc. – have a safe, comfortable place for your child to relax until he calms down and is ready to talk through the issue.  We all need a break from conflict when our emotions are getting out of control.  Modeling such breaks, and allowing our children to have them, is beneficial to them now and in their future relationships. Present the cool off spot as an opportunity not a punishment.  It should be comfortable and appealing– think pillows, books, cuddly toys, gentle music, not a hard chair turned toward a blank wall.

Dr. Cohen doesn’t like time outs or cool off times, because even a “positive” cool off might send a message of rejection to the child.  He suggests “couch time” when the problem is disconnection.  Sit down on the couch, snuggle up, and talk it over.  He says that “I always assume that whatever the problem is, disconnection either caused it or made it worse or made it harder to solve the problem.”  Either the child or the parent can call couch time where you can talk about what’s going on.  Present the issue as a “we” problem rather than a “you” problem, so that the child feels like you’re on the same team trying to come up with a joint solution to a family problem.

I love the couch time idea and I do think Dr. Cohen has a point about cool offs, especially for older toddlers and young children.  For them, any separation from mom and dad may be painful.  I think we have to assess our child’s temperament to know whether a pre-arranged cool off spot will be welcome by our child or perceived as rejection.

3.       Logical Consequences

Imposing consequences is nothing new.  Children suffer consequences all the time for their misdeeds.  After all, a spanking is a consequence.  Grounding is a consequence.  But they aren’t logical consequences.  Parents often impose consequences that are ineffective because they seem arbitrary to the child and they aren’t connected logically to the child’s misbehavior.

Dr. Popcak believes that imposing appropriate consequences is “critical for teaching a child what to do instead of simply correcting inappropriate choices.”  Parenting with Grace, 115.  However, our goal shouldn’t be to punish or hurt the child.  Our goal is to help the child correct the effect of his choice or misstep and to learn what he should have done instead.  Dr. Popcak emphasizes the importance identifying the virtue that would have been helpful to the child in the situation she found herself in.  We can guide her in understanding that virtue and give her a chance to practice it in new situations.

 4.       Physical Redirection

Use this approach very sparingly and only for young children; it wouldn’t be appropriate for an older child or teenager.  Dr. Popcak lays out this technique in clear, step-by-step directions in Parenting with Grace (pages 134-136).  If your child is refusing to comply with your directions or the house rules, sometimes you can help her along.

For instance, if it’s time to come to the dinner table or to take a bath, and the child refuses after several requests, try the previous techniques first.  If those fail, tell your child she can either comply on her own or you will help her.  If she refuses to answer or doesn’t want to comply, take her gently but firmly by the hand and lead her to the table or the tub.  This isn’t the kicking and screaming redirection I witnessed in the Super Nanny episode.  In fact, Dr. Popcak specifically states that you shouldn’t physically force your child – you are merely helping her along.  He also advises against using this technique when you’re angry.   If necessary, have a cool off or couch time.

I use this technique but I combine it with Dr. Cohen’s playful parenting advice.  I often turn it into a game.  For example, to get a stubborn little one to the table I might say, “Of course you don’t want to come to the table because there’s a purple frog under the table trying to get our broccoli!”, then I’ll take my child’s hand and tell her we need to tiptoe very quietly and look under the table for the frog.  Or I will invite my child to jump with me to the tub and I’ll bet him that I can find the towels before he can get undressed.  I act like a big goofball, falling on the floor and laughing.  Did I forget to tell you that parenting requires you to surrender your hard-earned dignity on occasion?  🙂

You’ll find many more ideas and insights in the resources mentioned above.  I especially like Dr. Popcak’s book because it covers all the ages and stages of child development and it deals very clearly with preventative (everyday) discipline and corrective discipline.

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Gentle Discipline: Basic Principles

The heart of gentle discipline is connection.

Children possess full personhood, just as adults do, and thus deserve to be treated in a way that protects their personal dignity.  At the same time, compassionate, empathic parents are responsible for disciplining their children.  Is this a contradiction in duties?  Gentle discipline might seem like an oxymoron to us if we view discipline in punitive terms.  But, for attachment parents, discipline is grounded in the child’s right relationship to her parents and in her sense of well-being.

I reviewed the foundational positions on discipline in several parenting resources that take a gentle, respectful approach to discipline, including Dr. Gregory Popcak’s Parenting with Grace, Dr. William Sears’s The Discipline Book, Jane Nelson’s Positive Discipline, and Attachment Parenting International’s website.   I found common themes that can help us understand how to discipline our children in a way that recognizes their need for loving guidance without crushing their spirits.

Gentle discipline is founded on the following principles:

1.  The heart of gentle discipline is the connection between parent and child.

Every resource I reviewed — without exception — stated that the most important factor in effective discipline is the connection or attachment between the parent and the child.  Your child must trust you unequivocally; she must know that you love her wildly, as far as the east is from the west.  The time you spend playing together, praying together, eating together; these are moments that not only build a history for your family, but they give you credibility.  When you choose to be present in this intense and devoted way, your children naturally want to hear what you’ve got to say and they want to heed your words.

Dr. Jane Nelsen writes on her website that:

Extensive research shows that we cannot influence children in a positive way until we create a connection with them. It is a brain (and heart) thing.  Sometimes we have to stop dealing with the misbehavior and first heal the relationship.  Connection creates a sense of safety and openness. Punishment, lecturing, nagging, scolding, blaming or shaming create fight, flight, or freeze.

Intuitively, we parents know this to be true.  Without a strong sense of trust and respect between our child and us, any attempt to correct inappropriate behavior can turn into an uphill battle between annoying nagging on our end and arrogant eye-rolling on their end.  If this connection is weak, then we need to focus on this first before we can begin to think about shaping our child’s behavior in any effective way.

2.  The goal of gentle discipline is for the child to develop a conscience and self-control.

The goal of many parenting approaches is very clear:  to get the child to obey the parent.  If the child complies, the approach is deemed a success.  For attachment oriented parents, the goal is not blind obedience to our authority, but rather helping the child develop a conscience and the ability for self-control.

Dr. Popcak explains that “[t]he more you use punitive methods with a child (lecturing, removing privileges, spanking, grounding, screaming, etc.) the more you set yourself up as your child’s conscience, so he or she never learns to develop his or her own.”  Parenting with Grace, 77.  We won’t always be there.  Is our child following a rule out of fear of punishment or out of a deep sense of what is right and wanting to follow their convictions?  There’s a big difference there.

I also like the emphasis in Dr. Sears “The Discipline Book” on sensitivity and empathy.  By helping our children understand the effect of their behavior on others, and not just controlling their behavior through threats of punishment, we help them develop sincere empathy.

3.  The starting point of gentle discipline is prevention not punishment

As with most things in life, when it comes to discipline it’s far more effective to be proactive than reactive.  Gentle discipline begins with routine, rhythm, boundaries, clear expectations, and of course connection.  We don’t want to wait until there’s a problem to address behavior.  We shape behavior through love, respect, and gentle guidance; we do this on a daily basis, not as part of relationship triage.

While preventive discipline is our starting point, it doesn’t end there.  Sometimes things go wrong and we need tools to address bothersome or problem behavior.  After we’ve established our connection with our child, and practiced preventive discipline by creating clear rules and boundaries, we can turn to corrective discipline when we hit a rough patch.

Corrective discipline is the subject of my next post!

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