Published on February 12th, 2009 | by Guest Contributor0
GTR: Attachment and Natural Parenting with API
GreenTalk Radio host Sean Daily talks about attachment and natural
parenting concepts and resources with Attachment Parenting International (API) founders Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, who
also co-authored the upcoming book “Attached at the Heart”.
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Hey, everyone. This is Sean Daily with GreenTalk Radio. Welcome to
today’s program. We’re going to be talking today about attachment
parenting. One of the most fundamental, important and often stressful
decisions that we make in our adult lives is regarding parenting, and
specifically how to parent. What’s the right way? What’s the wrong way?
How will I not screw my children up [laughs] later on?
Questions like this are fundamental and important. The attachment
parenting theory revolved around a phrase that was coined first by
pediatrician William Sears, which is attachment parenting itself.
That’s a parenting philosophy based on the principles of the attachment
theory in developmental psychology.
According to that theory, a strong emotional bond with parents
during childhood, known as a secure attachment, is a precursor of
secure empathic relationships in adulthood. At least that’s how the
theory goes. It states that the infant has a tendency to seek closeness
to another person and feels secure when that person is present.
My guests today to talk about this topic are Barbara Nicholson and
Lysa Parker, co-founders of Attachment Parenting International, an
education and support organization for parents and professionals.
API, whose website can be found at AttachmentParenting.org helps
parents with every aspect of childrearing from preconception through
the teen years by providing the latest information and research on
parenting practices that strengthen parent-child relationships in
API began in 1994 with their principle goal being to heighten global
awareness of the profound significance of secure attachment and to help
produce and ultimately prevent emotional and physical mistreatment of
children, addiction, crime, behavioral disorders, mental illness and
other outcomes of early, unhealthy attachment.
They believe that the best way to change society is to empower,
support, educate parents to create a loving, connected family
environment. First of all Barbara and Lysa, welcome to the program.
Barbara Nicholson: Thank you.
Lysa Parker: Thank you.
Sean Daily: I think the first question that we should start off with
is, what exactly is attachment parenting? Barbara, I’m going to direct
it to you.
Barbara Nicholson: Attachment parenting is a philosophy of parenting
that’s really been around since the [laughs] beginning of time. It’s
really about parents listening to their heart, listening to their
intuition, and responding to their children in a sensitive way that
creates a strong connection based on trust. It’s a loving, patient,
empathic type of parenting.
Sean Daily: What is the alternative to attachment parenting? I know that “cry it out” gets a lot of airplay. [laughs]
Barbara Nicholson: Absolutely.
Sean Daily: How do you encompass that?
Barbara Nicholson: That would probably be the antithesis. Being
unconnected to your children would be the philosophy of letting them
cry for long periods of time, strict scheduling of children, a baby for
their feedings, and just anything that would not create a strong
connection with your child.
Sean Daily: It sounds like this is really a combination of both more
active loving and nurturing versus a more hard-line approach towards
parenting. But it also sounds like your talking about more intuitive
parenting. Is that correct?
Barbara Nicholson: Absolutely. As I said, we often are confused
about our intuition, thinking that we have to read a book or we have to
get a scientific study before we can pick up our baby. We’re just
saying to parents, if you have a strong feeling of what to do, then 9
times out of 10 it’s going to be the correct response.
Sean Daily: Lysa, I’m going to direct this to you. I’m just curious.
Are you aware of any studies that have compared the results for parents
out there that are interested in this, either parents-to-be perhaps or
parents considering [laughs] being parents-to-be, of the results of
attachment-style parenting versus a tough-love style of parenting for
lack of a better term?
Lysa Parker: Right. That’s one of the key things that we wanted to
make sure we included in our new book, which is coming out January ’09,
called Attached at the Heart. That was to include the latest research
on what provides children with the optimal development. So when we
first started doing our own investigative research about what’s best
for children, we learned about attachment theory and discovered that
the research has been around for 50 plus years.
We were just appalled that this research was not getting into the
hands of parents. It wasn’t getting into the popular parenting books.
So we made sure that this information was in our books so that parents
would know the truth and would be able to make informed decisions.
Now in terms of specific research on attachment parenting, we don’t
have a wealth of studies on that. But we’re hoping through our book and
through our organization that we will start inspiring more researchers
to pay attention to what attachment parents are doing with their
What we have done is we’ve taken the eight principles of attachment
parenting we’re calling the Eight Principles of Parenting basically,
from preparing for pregnancy, birth, and parenting, all the way to
positive discipline, providing consistent care, and balance in your
personal and family life.
Each one of those principles, we even included the research to go
along with those, individually we have the research. But as a
collective, we don’t have the research for attachment parenting per se.
But we do have attachment research, which is a critical key here.
Sean Daily: Now taking us back a little bit to the beginning, tell
us about, and I’ll direct this to Lysa, why, when and how did you first
start API? What was the seed event or inspiration there for you? And
when did that happen?
Lysa Parker: It began, I suppose, when we started having our
children. We both have backgrounds in education. We were both Special
Ed teachers. We worked with children with learning disabilities and
physical handicaps. We thought we had a pretty good education in terms
of child development, but then when we had children we realized we
didn’t know anything.
Even though we were reading books, and those books were very
helpful, we still felt like we needed support. Barbara and I met at a
La Leche League meeting. I was living in Nashville. She had just moved
to Nashville and was what they call a leader applicant. I was just a
new mom with a six-month-old baby and just really stumbling my way
We latched onto each other because we had a lot in common, and it
was through our experience with La Leche League. For the listeners who
may not know what that is, that’s an international organization that
provides education and support for breastfeeding mothers.
Also, at each local meeting they’ll have a lending library. We
started reading Dr. Sears’ books and started reading about attachment
parenting, which was just really starting to get going in the eighties.
I really was unsure if this was the right way because it was so
different than the way I was raised and what I’d been taught in school.
But we were able to watch, to witness, more experienced moms be so
kind and respectful with their children. Their children were, in turn,
very kind and respectful and gentle. It really intrigued us. Just
having the support of other mothers was immensely helpful to us.
Then I stayed out of work for a while. Then I went back to teaching
and was really dismayed by what I was seeing in older children. About
that time, there were headlines in the paper almost on a daily basis
about increased violence among children against their parents and
against other children. It just seemed like the world was going crazy.
I was seeing this in my classroom, too.
Barbara and I started talking. I had moved away. I live in north
Alabama. I moved away, and she and I started talking. We just felt like
we really wanted to do something. We felt like attachment parenting was
the answer to so many social ills. What parents really needed was just
some education and guidance in how to nurture their children.
This is the most simple, cost-effective way to really help our
families, communities, and society at large. We just started with that
passion. We read a book called High Risk: Children Without A Conscience
by Ken Magid and Carole McKelvey. That was just the impetus that got us
going. It was the first time we heard about attachment theory, and we
just took it from there.
We just had to form an organization that had parent support groups
somewhat similar to La Leche League, and we knew fathers wanted to be
involved. We thought we’ll follow the La Leche League model of
mother-to-mother support, but invite both parents: mothers and fathers.
So it just took off, and we built a website. People started finding
us from all over the world, and it’s just taken off since then. We’re
just really thrilled that so many parents find the support they need,
which builds their confidence as parents.
Sean Daily: Have a lot of fathers gotten involved in the organization?
Lysa Parker: Yes. At one point we had one group back east. I can’t
think of the state, but there were five husband and wife couples who
went through the leader accreditation program. In Nashville we have a
very active support group, and one of our leaders is a dad.
There are a lot of fathers that go to that group. Barbara, you may
have more to speak about that. It’s just heartwarming for us to see how
involved dads really want to be and how nurturing they are.
Sean Daily: I know that you have a former guest of this program and a good friend of the show. Derek Markham
is a writer for your blog. So I want to make a cross-reference to
anybody who’s interested in that perspective, the natural fatherhood
perspective, and attachment parenting perspective from the father’s
He’s an excellent writer and blogger and writes at the
AttachmentParenting.org site under the blog link. You can look there,
which is /blog. I wanted to direct a question to Barbara. What are some
of the bigger challenges that exist for parents today that are trying
to put into practice these principles?
Barbara Nicholson: I’m glad you asked that question because I was
going to piggyback onto what Lysa was saying about another book that
was a profound influence on us, called For Your Own Good by Dr. Alice
Miller. She’s a Swiss psychiatrist who really opened our eyes to
societal influence on families.
To change a society, again, really has to come from the grass roots.
It really has to be parents being more conscious of the society’s
belief, and does that really resonate with what you want to do with
your own children? There again, having a support group is absolutely
vital to change a culture because our culture tends to be very
The most common form of punishment is shaming our children or
removing them from the family or even spanking and yelling at our
children. So when you have that kind of a cultural overlay, it’s a huge
I know from my own experience as a parent, and Lysa, too, that when
our children were very small and we’re coming from that culture, if we
didn’t spank them or get rough with them, [laughs] if we were in public
or something and didn’t show stern punitive behavior, we felt like
everyone was going to think we were a bad parent.
To change that paradigm in your own family takes a lot of courage sometimes, depending on the culture that you’re in.
Sean Daily: I think that’s absolutely true. I have a good friend
who’s actually writing a book on this topic. He talks about passing on
the pain, and that from an anthropological perspective, we are
culturally and genetically hard-wired to pass on all aspects of what
was given to us from our parents. That includes good things and bad
Some people like to think, “Well, we just pass on the good.” But
actually what we do is, and this is his thesis in the book, we’re
passing on painful things as well because we’re hard-wired in our
lizard brain, or wherever it is in our makeup, to pass on all of that
as a preservation of our culture.
Barbara Nicholson: The exciting research from the anthropological
point of view is looking at cultures that are more peaceful and more
nonviolent in their approach. What I think is affirming to that is,
like you’re saying, whatever is modeled is what the children naturally
do. But it’s also exciting to see that we’re not necessarily
genetically programmed to be violent, that a lot of that is learned
So really a mixture of nature and nurture is what we’re seeing. That
potential there for being nonviolent is just as much of a capacity in
human nature as to be violent. When we treat each other with empathy,
and we can change the culture and definitely monitor what our children
We could be kind and loving all day long. But if we’re putting them
in front of violent videogames or they’re being so desensitized by our
culture, it’s a huge challenge for parents.
Sean Daily: Absolutely. I want to talk more about that when we come
back. We’re going to take a quick break. Then we’ll be back. My guests
are Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker. They’re the co-founders of
Attachment Parenting International, an education and support
organization for parents and professionals. We’ll be right back on
GreenTalk Radio. Thanks everybody.
Sean Daily: And we’re back on GreenTalk Radio. We’re talking today
on attachment parenting and natural parenting. My guests on that topic
are Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker. They’re the co-founders of
Attachment Parenting International, or API, an education and support
organization for parents and professionals.
Barbara and Lysa, we were talking before the break about what really
attachment parenting is, how you started the organization, and some of
the basic, fundamental principles around attachment parenting.
I wanted to talk a little bit. I’m going to direct this to you,
Lysa. In your view, what exact and specific roles does attachment
parenting play in the idea of advancing an overall healthier lifestyle
for all of us and ultimately preserving our planet, as some people
believe that this ultimately leads to?
Lysa Parker: I think the underlying principle is the Golden Rule of
treating our children with respect, the way we would want to be
treated, to respect them as human beings, and showing them empathy. By
showing them empathy, they learn empathy. They learn to be empathic
towards others, and that includes our planet. That includes every
This is a trickle down or trickle up effect of you tend to treat
people the way you were treated. We’re hoping generation by generation.
We do not only hope, but we believe that this will happen in time, that
as we change the cycles of dysfunction within our families that our
children will be more empathic than we were. Then their children will
be a little more empathic than our children, and so it will go.
When children are treated with respect and compassion, they’re
certainly not going to be disrespectful to other living things. We
definitely see that as an important part and an important role in
improving our planet, not only in a social way but in an environmental
Sean Daily: How much of the alternative philosophies do you feel are
driven by, for example, this idea of spare the rod and spoil the child?
I think a lot of people read those words and they believe in a literal
interpretation, or that that’s important because it was written in the
Bible, so therefore this needs to be a foundation of parenting.
How much of that do you feel is involved in this with people that
are struggling against that in terms of the disciplinary side of this?
Lysa Parker: It’s probably at least half the population if not more.
We know from past surveys that clearly 80% or so of parents do use
corporal punishment. Not all of that is due to religious reasons. It
could be handed down. That’s the way they were parented, as you were
talking about earlier. It certainly does have a strong role in people’s
But we also see that there’s a large segment of the Christian
population that don’t believe in spanking, that believe that it was a
misinterpretation of the Bible, and that the rod was actually a symbol
for teaching. For instance, they didn’t use a rod to beat the sheep;
they used a rod to guide the sheep.
Sean Daily: Interesting.
Lysa Parker: So it’s more of a metaphor for guiding our children.
The root word of discipline is disciple. It’s to follow another’s
teachings. We want our children to follow our teaching. We do that by
being examples. Barbara, you can help me with that quote that Albert
Schweitzer said. The three most important things for a parent to do is
be a good example.
Barbara Nicholson: Number one is be a good example. Number two is be a good example.
Lysa Parker: And number three is be a good example.
Sean Daily: It’s so true, really. It’s that “do as I say and not as
I do” conundrum that exists, where it’s not even really a conundrum.
It’s a hypocrisy that we somehow believe that we educate with words and
not action. I am personally of the belief that we are hard-wired as
human beings to learn by that example more than anything else.
Though the linguistic aspect of teaching and passing on information
is certainly important, we’re literally modeling behavior. It’s
reasonable to expect that whatever behavior is modeled is going to be
carried forward in large degrees. At least that makes sense to me just
Barbara, I wanted to ask you a question about the book. I know that
you’re covering this topic on the site as well. I know the book is an
in-depth look at parenting and also the roots of violence in society.
Are there practical tips in there for parents as well as all of that,
that you can take away as it were?
Barbara Nicholson: Oh, yes. We’re really proud of that. We feel like
it’s a pretty balanced book in the sense that we do have the
background. We have the overview. We give the big picture in the first
chapter. Then the next eight chapters are the Eight Principles of
Parenting. We give parents a background, but also just many, many
practical tips and excellent resources.
To really flesh out this topic would have been like an encyclopedia.
[laughs] So we wanted parents to look at these eight principles and get
the overview. If any one of these was a particular hot button, you feel
like, “I think I’ve got the nurturing down for the infant but getting
into toddler discipline is a real issue for me.”
Or maybe the parents have issues from their own childhood that they
want to look at, and they want a therapeutic approach. So who can I
turn to? Who will understand these principles of attachment parenting?
We have wonderful resources, books, websites, and DVDs. We just feel
like this is really giving a parent a wonderful tool to use and to even
take to their pediatrician. For instance, we talk about how to safely
sleep with your baby. This is a big topic with parents now. They have a
lot of misinformation and fears about things like SIDS, or will I
suffocate my baby if I sleep with my baby?
As breastfeeding counselors, we knew that mothers who scooped their
baby up at night and slept safely with their baby really enhanced the
breastfeeding relationship. The key is how do you do this safely? How
do you create a safe sleep environment? What are things that you need
to watch for? And never have a baby in bed with you if these risky
behaviors are going on in your family.
So we are really proud of the information that we’re giving parents
and the tools we’re giving them to not only read themselves but to
share with their medical professionals or their families and friends.
Sean Daily: I’d like to leave listeners with some resources, so I’ll
put this out to both of you and you can answer as you wish in order
here. Where can people that are out there that are interested, either
parents-to-be or current parents, go to learn more information about
attachment parenting and API? I know there’s the website
AttachmentParenting.org. How about things like finding support groups,
books, and things like that? Can you share anything along those lines?
Lysa Parker: All of those things are available on our website. If
they want to find a support group in their community, they can go to
our website, clink on the link that says Support Groups, and then
there’s another link that’s Find a Support Group. You can hopefully
find one in your area. If not, they might consider becoming a support
group leader, and there’s a link for that. They can check out what it
means to be a leader and what the requirements are.
We have books, and we have family law. You’ll get a lot of questions
and a lot of emails from parents going through divorce or custody
situations, and they don’t want to interrupt the attachment process
with their children. How do they do it? That’s a huge thing, but we
have a lot of very interesting resources.
As Barbara was saying, too, about safe sleep, we are launching a
safe sleep campaign so parents will be able to download a beautifully
designed brochure with safe co-sleeping tips on it. Even professionals,
such as people who are investigating co-sleeping deaths, and
investigative reporters will be able to access a questionnaire so that
it will help them in their investigations. We’re trying to be more
It is a website for parents and professionals. We’re trying to get
this message out about the importance of attachment and the principles
that we have developed, thanks to the Sears. They started off with the
Baby B’s. They are the pioneers in attachment parenting. We have taken
those Baby B’s and expanded them to become principles, so we do have a
lot of information on our website about that.
Sean Daily: Great. Well, I want to thank both of you for the great
work that you’re doing with your organization and the website. I
certainly wish you much success with the upcoming book. It’s very
important work. It’s a critical topic in my view for humanity in
general. Not just about parenting, ultimately I think the world at
large. I want to thank you, and thank you, also, for being on the
program with us today and sharing all the information.
Barbara Nicholson: Thank you, Sean.
Lysa Parker: Thank you, Sean. It was wonderful. We really appreciate it.
Sean Daily: Thanks as always to everyone listening in today.
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