Friday, May 8, 2009

The 8 Principles with Older Kids ... Still Valid?

Lots of people tend to think of attachment parenting as being applicable only to infants and toddlers ... and maybe preschoolers if you stretch it. Certainly, by the time a child goes to kindergarten or 1st grade, the days of attachment are gone. 

You have to "cut the apron strings" (fine if you wear an apron or even cook - not something I worry about), "kick them out of the nest" (since they're big enough to kick back with a vengeance, that might take some thinking over), and not "make them Mama's boys" (well, I haven't succeeded at making them anything that they didn't want to be, so that one won't work for me either).

Let's take a look at API's Eight Principles of Parenting and see if they still make sense with our older kids ...

1. "Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting"
As much as we prepare for being a parent, we're still unprepared. There's simply no way to know how you'll parent until you're faced with sleep-deprivation insanity, the fate of a human's life hanging on your judgment, and copious amounts of poop, vomit, pee, and farts. That said, it's in our best interest - and that of the child - to do as much preparation as possible. There are tons of great books devoted to raising small children. (Just see the left sidebar.)

But at some point I stopped reading parenting books. Does that make me a neglectful parent? I don't think so. I find that I seek out books that agree with my viewpoint, which are the ones I don't need to read. So what's the point? I can spend my 2-minute pre-coma reading time on a book that won't give me new information, or I can spend it on something entertaining.

And what do all these parenting books say? Basically, they all say the same thing: Have respect. Respect for our children, respect for our spouses, respect for our friends, and (let's not forget) respect for ourselves. If you love and respect your children, they'll end up respecting you. (More on what I mean by respect in a later post. Hint: it does not mean "let them run all over you.")

The preparation for parenting older kids is to parent young kids with respect. The basic truth of respect carries forward from young childhood into older childhood. When kids are testing their wings they need just as much respect as we've ever given, for if they don't get that respect, they'll use their wings to fly away and find it - or what they think it is - elsewhere.

2. "Feed with Love and Respect"
Okay, I have to admit ... I draw the line at nursing my 12-year-old. I'm all for extended breastfeeding (heck, I breastfed my youngest until his 4th birthday!), but at some point you just have to say, "Enough!"

Seriously, food is one of those things essential to life, just like nurturing touch (if you don't believe that, just google "failure to thrive lack of touch").  We have to give them the information they need to keep themselves healthy and trust that they're wise enough to take care of themselves. Our responsibility is to provide them with healthy foods that will nourish their bodies and give them the information necessary, and respect (and trust) their decisions to treat themselves well. If they choose to be vegetarian, and we're carnivores, we need to respect that.

After all, I can't be with them every minute of every day at this age, and they eat without my input a lot. It was important that I laid the groundwork early so that they'll make healthy decisions when they're away from home.

3. "Respond with Sensitivity"
I think this is a no-brainer for dealing with people of any age. I certainly wouldn't want my DH to treat me without sensitivity, and I expect my kids don't want me to do so either. However, I see it all the time with parents of older kids ...

"Buck up! Don't act like a baby!" 
"You're fine. It can't hurt that much." 
"It's okay. Go ahead. You don't need me."
"There's nothing to be scared of."

If I bang my shin on the corner of the dishwasher, it hurts! I do not want my husband saying, "Stop crying. You're okay." That's just not an example of sensitivity that would make me want to cuddle up to him at night. And if I was scared to walk into the garage in the dark, I'd feel pretty angry if he just flippantly said, "Oh go on. There's nothing scary in there. Stop being such a baby." That would pretty much seal the deal on the cuddling up thing.

4. "Use Nurturing Touch"
True, the nature of the touch changes over time. What was nurturing touch for an infant is different for a teen. We get set in thinking that nurturing touch means stroking, holding, and caressing, but for older kids it might be a warm hand on a shoulder, a short one-armed hug, or high five. 

When kids start to explore their independence, they still need that physical contact to know that you're there, in body and mind. Just a wink, a touch on the cheek, or a thumbs-up may be all they need to feel safe and secure. Still, it warms my heart when my 12-year-old holds my hand; I know those days are numbered.

5. "Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally"
This means different things to different people. I must admit that I'm glad that the days of having 2 adults, 3 kids, and 1 cat in bed together are over. (Frankly, I'm a bit wider than the 12" I was allotted, and my fingers tend to lose their grip on the edge of the mattress when I drift off.)

However, from time to time we still find ourselves joined in the middle of the night by a warm body and, on the rare occasion, two. I just remind myself that these days, too, are numbered and to cherish that closeness while I still have it.

6. "Provide Consistent and Loving Care"
Not much discussion needed here. No self-respecting parent could argue with this one, no matter how old their kids are (just ask my parents).

7. "Practice Positive Discipline"
This is what I see as the trickiest principle with older kids. I see so many parents relying on bribes, rewards, punishments, and "consequences" and they're just making more work for themselves. Once kids reach a certain age, when they're testing their limits and stretching their independence, many parents will decide that the trust/respect aspect of attachment parenting needs to be amended. They decide that, since Junior's testing the limits, the limits need to be stricter. 

Maybe this works for some families, but it didn't for ours. S was so headstrong that no matter what I told her she had to do, she'd do the opposite just because I'd told her. When instead, she and I sat down and talked about why she was so resistant, it turned out that she was reaching for independence. The more I tried to crack down, the more she rebelled because she was grasping independence wherever she could get it. I could see a long, hard road ahead of us, when the consequences of poor choices at an older age can be devastating, even life threatening. Something had to change.

I began to give her complete freedom over her choices. When she made poor choices, she had to live with the natural consequences. (Occasionally, I had to come up with logical consequences, if the natural ones would have been too long in the making. BTW, my use of the word "consequences" is different from the way most parents use the word - they actually mean "punishment.") When she chose to wear shorts and a t-shirt in 40 degree weather, she had to live with the fact that she was going to be cold all day. We'd talked about it, and I'd made suggestions on what to wear and even to bring extra clothes "just in case," but she wouldn't have any of it. Instead of laying down the law, I let her make her own decisions. Let's just say that now she always has a jacket nearby if it's chilly.

Is it hard to stand by and watch your child suffer? Absolutely. But I wouldn't insist that my husband bring a jacket because I respect his ability to take care of himself. I just try to give her the same respect. We rarely butt heads anymore, which is such a relief.

8. "Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life"
Ooh, a toughie at any age. I haven't figured this one out. Okay, I guess the key word here is strive, right? Good thing. I do that on a daily basis.

On some days, that striving for balance is kinda like striving to lose 10 pounds by the weekend when I know I'm going to have to be in a bathing suit. I can eat celery sticks until I'm green and exercise until my feet fall off, but it just ain't happenin'.

On other days, I can actually achieve something close to balance. I must admit, as my kids get older, those days come more and more often. In all honesty, I never thought we'd get here. But all the talking, all the cosleeping, all the nipple pain, all the listening to long, drawn-out stories of angst and woe, all the interminable discussions on conflict resolution, and all the days of being Velcro Mom and Dad established the strong foundation of our family. 

Now we're just reaping the rewards. 


  1. Great post! My daughter is just a wee one right now but it's wonderful to see these principles as applied to older children.

  2. Hi Camille, I'd love to see you write up in another essay, some of your examples of natural consequences. i struggle to come up with it in the thick of the emotion of seeing something really cheeky being done. I dont know if it has anything to do with turning 8, but A has been acting like he doesn't even know what the limits are. Or maybe it's that the granparents are here for a visit. And I really want to see you write about fibbing and your thots on handling that. Kids fibbing, not parents :). And finally, how do you and your husband manage to remain consistent in all policies? Sometimes my husband and I are so busy in a day we can't have a real conversation. As I type this I tell myself, maybe I should not return to fulltime work...imagine the stress levels THEN.

  3. I, myself, would like a Camille Consequences 101 seminar, please. I simply can't get my head around logical vs natural consequences, nor which method we as a family should adopt. Right now I am still flying by the seat of my pants. I think my husband and I need to sit and figure out a plan as our kids are now 5 and we need a Plan! And would be more likely to take that extra pair of shoes or jacket and leave it in the car for when stubborn child realizes his/her mistake. If they ever will.

  4. Okay, I'll try to put together a post on natural/logical consequences - at least the way we do it around here. I think there are lots of books on the subject. BTW, Raji, "natural" and "logical" consequences are two sides of the same coin.

    I have a ton of thoughts about it, so it'll be hard to keep it short (so maybe it won't be). hehe

  5. Here's an example from today:
    SOmetimes I wonder if I am doing this right, because everything is a prolonged debate here with my kid. It only works because I REALLY enjoy debates, and debates with my kid, and think it's good for him. Just today, he broke a suitcase by riding on it inside the house, knowing it was not allowed. He said, "I couldn't RESIST it." I said, "Well what do you think we should do?" He said, "Nothing, because you couldn't resist a second piece of cake and it was not good for you, and there was no consequence for you." I said there is a consequence, I am unhealthier. He said, "Well in this case I am guiltier, and that is enough consequence." Pulling my hair out. He's not the LEAST bit guilty, he went off singing and dancing when I said I needed to think about it :). Camille, I too want a consequence 1010 class. i took a class on it Raji, you can xerox the handouts and notes - they're good, but I think it takes lots of practise to improve.

  6. The main thing is, Raji, that the goal of the consequence should be to TEACH, not to PUNISH.

  7. Great post, Camille. More thoughts on the consequence thing would be welcome, because honestly, I find plenty of situations around here when there isn't a natural consequence and even a logical one is tricky. Example: "Eliza, please help clean up these toys you were using before we get ready for bed." Eliza lies on floor and ignores me. The natural consequence is that I'M MAD. I HATE being flat-out ignored and treated like the maid whose job is to do all the work while they do all the playing and lying around! But being mad is not helpful or educational. And I just don't think I should have to ask five times to get something done. Hm.

  8. Yeah, the natural/logical consequences thing isn't foolproof. Sometimes I can't think up a logical consequence if a natural one doesn't present itself, so I have to be creative. And it doesn't make life stress-free, but over the long haul, I think it makes life easier.

  9. My wife is very fond of this parenting style. I see how it applies to a child you can communicate with. I don't understand how this can be applied to my 2 year old. He doesn't have all the words to communicate his feelings or if he does I don't understand them.

  10. That's so interesting, Russell, because most parents have no problem with attachment parenting when their kids are little (up to, say, 4 or so), but they begin to question things when they get a bit older (that is, when "baby" is old enough to have his own ideas! LOL). You can read through the 8 Principles of Attachment Parenting (my numbered points above) on API's website, but for me the bottom line is this: Treat your child with respect.

    Basically, this means to treat your kid like you would have liked to be treated by your parents. Yes, 2yos have tantrums and "me" needs, but what they need most is to be secure, loved, and heard. (Don't we all? LOL)

    When my kids didn't have the words to express themselves (my oldest didn't talk until he was almost 3), we would give them the words and talk to them as much like adults as possible. What I strived for was to put myself in my kid's position and ask myself what is needed or wanted most. That doesn't mean that my child always GOT what he wanted--but it helped me to see things from his perspective. It also doesn't mean that I was always able to achieve my goal of perspective - frequently I failed miserably - but it was the ideal I was working toward.

    BTW, I'm not a representative of API, and I fell into attachment parenting naturally--it just seemed to me to be the most logical thing. For some of my pitfalls and experiences when my kids were young, as well as how AP principles have helped us, take a look at this post:

    I'd be very interested to hear more about what your thoughts are. Please visit and comment again!

  11. I love this post so much, even after so long!!