Your Relationship with your Children
Build a solid foundation of trust, respect, and love. Social studies have shown that these children are more confident, well-adjusted, and behaved than others. You can teach children this foundation right from the start through attachment parenting. Children's need are constantly changing as they develop and through attachment parenting, you're always able to meet them. This parenting style is identified by 8 principles (taken from API):
4 - Nurturing Touch
You don't need to follow all 8 perfectly and sometimes you can't even do all of them but having the intention goes a long way - children pick up on it.
Preparing for pregnancy, birth, and parenting
You can be a great parent even if the pregnancy was a surprise, you were unprepared for birth, and never even looked at one article on parenting and have no good role models yourself. You have everything you need to care for your baby. Listen to your intuition. Designs by nature are pretty smart and humans wouldn't have lasted as long as we did if every new life had to come with an instruction manual. Of course the more informed and empowered you feel in these stages of life the more confidence you'll have as a parent but it's not all or nothing. You know your child better than anyone else. If it feels "wrong" don't do it or find out more. If it feels "right" and is harmless, do it.
Feeding with love and respect
Babies have very simple biological needs. They're not yet influenced by society's "norms" and are operating on a very pure evolutionary need. While they already have taste preferences depending on the diet they were exposed to while in the womb, their nutritional and emotional needs come down to mother. Breastmilk gives them the exact nutrition they need exactly when they need it. Just the right proteins, the right antibodies if they get sick, etc. Their digestive system is also largely uninfluenced by the poor nutritional options that abound today and they need food when they are hungry, don't eat when they are full. Just like any other human - the timing of hunger and satiety varies baby to baby. All people do not get hungry at the same time or full after the exact same amount of food. Listen to baby's cues and respect them. If baby is hungry - feed him. If he's full - stop. Let him listen to his body. We all have the same cues but poor nutrition, too much sugar, and many other factors in society can cause us to no longer be in tune with them or even have them work properly. (See Food Facts: sugar. Fructose bypasses the trigger for the satiety hormone.) To keep your child in tune with his body and having a healthy relationship with food, respect this inner balance. Don't force a child to "finish his food" if he's truly no longer hungry and don't make it the norm to skip meals if he's hungry. Babies can eat as often as 20 minutes and as sparingly as every 4 hours. Toddlers eat on the go. Many children and adults eat on the go. The frequency of meals and food needed at each meal varies from person to person.
If baby is not gaining weight, is very premature and not waking up to feed often, gets tired quickly and stops eating before he's full - talk to your lactation consultant or pediatrician. You might also sense something is wrong (just have a feeling baby is still hungry even though he ate). If you are having trouble with an older child's eating habits, talk with your pediatrician.
Trust and Empathy
This can also be summarized as communicate. Babies communicate by crying, making faces, making motions, and making sounds. Toddlers are known to throw tantrums when they are faced with emotions bigger than they can handle. Children and teens can act out. Don't discount your child's emotions. It may be the first time they are feeling it or it is in a new context and they can't deal with it. Or maybe they are happy and want you to share in their joy. Empathy goes a long way in adjusting to life with children. You'll be able to better understand them and help them manage their feelings and in turn they'll feel understood and secure. To empathize is simple - put yourself in their shoes. Your child fell, scraped a knee, and is crying. To you it's no big deal so you ignore them. But what if something scary and painful suddenly happened to you? Would like to feel alone and belittled for your experience? Or even as you're crying, want to be held and feel that someone cares? Some may say well no one coddled me when I was little - tough love. So be it, but keep in the back of your mind - you always have a choice in how to respond. Did that "tough love" make you feel good? Is that the same experience you want your child to have? Communication and empathy are relevant from day 1. If your baby has a need and you do not fulfill it - think, how would you feel in that situation? Is that how you would like your child to feel? Or even more to the point, is that what you want your child to learn about your response to his feelings? Teach by example.
Touch is crucial for human survival. Babies, being born helpless, are evolutionarily programmed to respond to touch. No touch means there is no one there to take care of them and survival rates drop. There are also abundant studies showing the numerous measurable benefits of immediate skin-to-skin with a newborn and benefits of babywearing. Older children need touch too - it can come in the form of a hug or physical play. The amount of touch varies from family to family and is oftentimes culturally dictated.
Safe sleep -emotionally and physically
Sleep, especially for babies and young children, does not mean other needs cease to exist at the same time. Most importantly, they're very light sleepers for at least the first 3 months by evolutionary design. While they do go through deep sleep cycles as well, they cycle through much faster than adults to ensure that they easily awaken. They need to make sure they are safe, food is readily accessible, and they can breathe as a survival instinct. This means they will wake when they feel lonely, hot, scared, cold, congested, hungry, etc. Safe co-sleeping is an easy way to monitor baby's condition all night and help them out before they resort to full wakefulness and crying. It's not always avoidable but if you yourself are hot and baby is very fidgety and warm, you can take that blanket off of them or ensure they're dressed in breathable clothing before they wake up crying. Babies also root for food in their sleep. If you are unable to breastfeed, you can still go get the bottle to give baby a few sips before they wake up hungry, crying. Aside from being able to respond to babies needs faster, your mere presence will help regulate their breathing. If breastsleeping or skin to skin, you will also help them regulate their body temperature, heartbeat, and stress levels. Formula fed babies will not have the same hormonal synchronization with their mothers since the harder to digest food will have them fall in a deeper sleep. The mother will also be in a deeper sleep since she won't be synced to such frequent wakefulness. In these cases it may be safer to have your baby sleep in a side car or in a crib right next to your bed.
Consistent, loving care
The world is a place full of surprises and unknowns to children and even more so to babies. Consistent care from trusted caregivers will help them emotionally cope with the newness without being overwhelmed. Frequent changes in environment and schedules are difficult for young children to adapt to when they are just starting to find a secure place for themselves in the world. By providing consistent security from a loving adult, the changes are easier to deal with.
Different cultures and different families all have their own unique social structure with different expectations from members. Children therefore have different expectations placed upon them depending where and with whom they grow up. Discipline is the term commonly used to describe how children are molded into their expected roles. Also commonly, it has a negative connotation. Positive discipline is nonviolent and based on communication. It is not permissive parenting and it is not something done to children. It is done with them. By parenting using positive discipline, you are guiding your child to choose the desired behaviors and understand them. Illogical consequences (hit brother = no park), name calling (you're lazy), "because I said so" and "don't cry". All discount the child's intelligence and emotions. You may get the desired effect but not for the right reasons. Children should feel safe with their parents and trust them. By disciplining with threats, hurtful accusations (even if you think they're true), and dismissing your child's emotions, the feelings of safety and trust are harder to establish. Some people are more sensitive than others and at first, you will not know if that is your child. It is never too late to change the way you parent and treat your child with respect, like you would like to be treated.
Balance in personal and family life
Children can flip your life upside down and completely consume all your time or they can almost seamlessly flow into your current life. For most, something in between happens. How children fit into your life is very dependent on not only your lifestyle but also your personality and other obligations. You can practice attachment parenting no matter what your situation is. The key is to be present for your child and be respectful of them as a person. A working mother will not spend as much time with her baby as a stay-at-home mom but the quality vs quantity of time argument is somewhat valid here. You cannot take care of others if you are not well yourself - both physically and emotionally. Meeting your needs and the needs of your family can take some creativity but it is well worth the effort. Children raised by parents who are too stressed to play with them, distant with each other, and overall feel like a burden to care for will not thrive as well as those whose parents find joy in parenting. Parenting groups and post partum doulas can be great resources especially in the early days.
Maternal-newborn separation: Studies in Science Daily
Newborn feeding frequency: Excerpt from research in a Pediatric Textbook
The necessity of touch: Ben Benjamini article
Benefits of skin to skin: NBCI Study
Benefits of Skin-to-skin: Fit Pregnancy
News story about the importance of touch: YouTube- Mother's Touch
Co-sleeping, a short historical view: Natural Child
Infant sleep patterns: Dr Sears website
Breastsleeping: from Notre Dame news
The no-cry discipline solution by Elizabeth Pantley
Beyond the Sling by Mayim Bialik (pg 172 - 201 on discipline especially)