The Science of Attachment Parenting


What is the scientific purpose of attachment parenting? In short, attachment parenting provides the child stress relief. Every child experiences stress and it impacts the body by triggering a stress response. Emotions such as fear, loneliness, sadness, frustration and unhappiness are present in children as young as babyhood. Children’s response to those emotions is usually crying in babies and “acting out”, crying or screaming in toddlers. Young children do not have the executive functioning to “self-sooth” or regulate their own stress response because of the immaturity of the brain’s pre-frontal cortex. They need external “scaffolding” help from an adult. When a caring adult responds to the situation promptly and with warmth, the stress is soothed and the calmness of the child resumes. Eventually, children grow to an age, usually in the teen years, where their self-regulation skills are developed enough so they can help themselves to “self-sooth,” and the scaffolding may be removed although comfort and parenting is nice to have all through childhood.

There are three kinds of stress; positive, tolerable and toxic. Positive stress is good and everyone needs some of this kind.Positive life challenges in the form or people, events or places, create positive stress. When the child faces the stress and overcomes it, often with caregiver support, (and as they get older, with peer support in addition to adult support); the child builds resilience to adversity and it creates a feeling of accomplishment for them. It encourages the child to meet even greater challenges as they grow because it builds their self-esteem and confidence. When a school child makes a class presentation, or a baby is left with a new loving, supportive caregiver, or a toddler faces new playmates at a new daycare, their accomplishment of managing the positive stress builds their resiliency.

Men On Scaffolding Working on a Brain

Tolerable stress is caused by negative events in a child’s life.  A parent’s divorce, an unwanted move, or the loss of a childhood friend are examples of tolerable stress because they are temporary, and supported by a caring, loving, warm attachment adult who can help steer the child through the stressful time.  The adult responds to the child with active listening, lots of hugs, immediate problem-solving and being available for continual help. Even when the child “acts out” their stress by exhibiting bad behaviour, a caring, warm response from an adult will help the child regulate his emotions, return to a calmer state and eventually resolve the problem.

Toxic stress is also caused by negative events although these events tend to be on-going and the one pervasive factor that moves tolerable stress into toxic stress is the lack of a supportive caregiver or attachment parent. On-going, unaddressed bullying at school, or a baby being left to cry it out most nights, or a toddler that is spanked every day for touching items, are examples of toxic stress. In the first example, the bullying is on-going and pervasive. In the last two examples, the adult caregiver no longer is the supportive, caring person, and instead, becomes the source of the toxic stress as in the spanking and leaving to “cry it out” example. When the child has no other adult support resources, they are left to manage the adverse experience on their own.

Of the 8 principles of attachment parenting, the principles of responding with sensitivity (and not anger), practicing respectful sleep habits (not leaving children to cry-it-out alone) and using positive discipline (non-punitive guidance) are the most important attachment parenting principles to ensure toxic stress does not occur.

Children do not need toxic stress. Ever. The full onslaught of toxic stress stimulates the production of cortisol and adrenaline, which in turn is good in short doses to motivate the body into flight, freeze or fight mode, but bad for the body when it is produced in large ongoing doses. The constant production of these hormones can damage developing brain architecture in children and may produce lifelong consequences later in life in the form of eventual physical and emotional health problems and propensity to addictions.

No one lives a stress-free life, but adults who practice attachment parenting principles can buffer the negative effects of toxic stress in order to turn the stress into tolerable stress and grow healthy, happy children. Loving, caring support is never spoiling a child. It is crucial for a child’s healthy emotional, physical and social development.

Screen Time Mitigates Summer Learning Loss


This meme has been floating around my groups and I have to say that I totally disagree with it. First, I am the worst model of this. Email comes first in the morning with my cup of tea. Every person has to find a routine that works for them.

Second, it sounds so dictatorial. Real relationship parenting starts with a conversation of concerns. I wouldn’t have a list like this for my husband as it is too disrespectful and neither would I have it for my children.

Third, the list defeats the intent. I can see a kid getting through this list in a half hour and then spending all day on electronics. When the parent’s protest, the kids says, “I followed the rules!” All the things on the list should be done without an expectation of reward.  Kids naturally like to help.  It will come with age and maturity, not bribery.

Fourth, children naturally develop self-control as they age. They naturally decide when and how to get dressed, shower, tidy their room, help out with dishes, and clean a room.

Fifth, as an unschooler who has never put limits on screen time when my kids were older than 6 years (there are lots of research that show children under six are at risk for language development with increased use of electronics), Canadian Pediatric Society Announces a New Position Statement on Screen Time for Young Children    I see no problem with hours and hours on screens with older children. The kids learn so much from the internet and playing video games. I do encourage the kid’s self-discipline to build in some exercise time, in their day. They are already very creative on screens with making memes, mods and stuff. Summer learning loss never happens when kids are allowed access to the internet – in fact, they have the time to learn what they truly want to learn, not what the government dictates what they want to learn. Here is a good article on why kids should be on screens all summer!

University of Calgary Magazine Article on Why Gaming is Good for the Brain




123 Time-Out – Know the Risks!

123 Time-Out Advantages and Disadvantages
By Judy Arnall

Time-out seems to be a popular discipline/punishment method. Parents need to be aware that it has risks for their child and their relationship. Although many parents claim it has “worked” they often mean that it has worked to gain compliance in the short-run. Long-run effects of this method, on the child and the parent-child relationship are listed under the disadvantages. What can parents do instead? There are many methods to getting children to calm down. Try Time-In instead. In Time-in, the parent assists the child in regaining self-control. They coach the child how to deep breathe, how to stop and take a minute to channel feelings at an object, or redirect their anger and frustration with physical outlets. Breathing, touch, hugs, soft words, and rocking will all help a child finish crying and be “ready” to listen – to teaching, comforting, encouragement and kind words of direction in what to do instead next time. With many repetitions, children soon learn that taking a time-out from the source of annoyance is a good coping strategy, rather than a punishment, and will repeat it themselves on their own.
Advantages of using Time-Out
• Puts limits on behaviours.
• Invites little adult emotion.
• Increases consistency.
• Simple to do.
• Helps parents to calm themselves down.
• Better than spanking and hitting.
• Transferable among care-givers.
• Developed for children with ADD.
• Sometimes attains “short-run” goals of stopping misbehaviour.
Disadvantages of Using Time-Out
• Promises “magic” and speed, which can be an unrealistic goal in parenting.
• Fails to address long-run goals of the child developing belonging and attachment with family.
• Teaches that time-out is a negative punishment rather than a positive life skill.
• Invites power struggles in keeping a child constrained in time-out.
• Encourages submission to a bigger-sized person.
• Fails to teach problem-solving and co-operation skills.
• Can incite anger, frustration, and resentment in the child.
• Can promote rebellion, retaliation, and getting-even behaviours from the child.
• Can increase sibling animosity when used to curb sibling conflict.
• Ignores the child’s feelings that led to the misbehaviour.
• Is a barrier to parent-child communication.
• Fails to recognize that each child is unique.
• Fails to teach internal controls and self-discipline.
• Fails to teach conflict resolution and thinking skills.
• Fails to teach how to make amends or restitution in solving the problem.
• Fails to teach the child how to self-calm when the child is in a high emotional state.
• Isolates the child, rather than promote connection between the child and the“conflict” person.
• Not “mutually respectful”. Adults do not want to be treated in the same way. In real life, if someone is bothering an adult, they can’t move the person to time-out. They have to take the time-out themselves.
• Gives negative attention to the misbehaviour, which may often increase misbehaviour in attention-seeking children.
• Difficult for extroverts who need to “talk through high emotional states.”
• Label’s the child with unhealthy self-esteem. “The naughty child goes to the naughty step”.
• Increases original and repeat behaviours because the child’s underlying needs or feelings are not addressed.
• Children do not have reflective skills until age seven to understand their role in the preceding behaviour.
• Children often do not know or understand why they are in time-out.
• Often used to help the parent calm down rather than for child’s needs.
• Models power over, not peace with.

Judy Arnall is a professional international award-winning Parenting and Teacher Conference Speaker, and Trainer, Mom of five children, and author of the best-selling book, Discipline Without Distress: 135 tools for raising caring, responsible children without time-out, spanking, punishment or bribery and the new DVD, Plugged-In Parenting: Connecting with the digital generation for health, safety and love as well as the new book, The Last Word on Parenting Advice,, 403-714-6766

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