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No Rush to Read: Attachment Parenting and Family Literacy

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Part 1 - Attachment Parenting

by Karuna Fedorschak and Elyse April

By far the best time to get experiences of satiety and fullness is in childhood...This satiety and fullness comes, in childhood, from having our needs met. Plain and simple …You have this beginning experience that the world is okay and that you will be provided for. You belong and everything’s all right, and that serves as a tremendous anchor for the rest of your life.

                                                           Lee Lozowick (Conscious Parenting 1997, Hohm Press, pp 41)

Over the course of a twenty-five year friendship, Elyse and I have seen our own children mature and blossom. Having shared similar ideas on parenting, it was natural that we should co-author this article offering our perspective on attachment-style parenting and family literacy.

One of many premises we share is that if the proper foundation of connection is nurtured within the family, there is no rush to read for young children. Reading will be a natural outcome of active communication and a love of books. In our view, there is no need to force-feed phonics or rules of grammar, communicating anxiety and competitiveness to our children. Instead, we can choose to encourage play and imagination, wholeness and parent attachment.

We believe that attachment parenting is simply an honoring of our own natural instinct as mothers and fathers. The attachment-style parent intends to keep their child close and to be responsive to that child’s genuine needs. In our experience, a child parented in this way is free to realize his fullest potential, because that child is not held back by the need to seek the pieces left missing in his early parenting. This child can proceed with his life and learning in a natural and happy way.

Attachment parenting is a term coined by William Sears, a pediatrician and author of numerous books on parenting. According to Sear’s definition, the five tools of attachment parenting are:

1) Connect with your baby early,

2) Read and respond to your baby’s cues,

3) Breastfeed your baby,

4) Wear your baby, and

5) Share sleep with your baby.

To explain Sear’s ideas and their connection to family literacy, we have drawn from Karuna’s book, Parenting: A Sacred Task (Hohm Press), and Elyse’s picture book, We Like to Read (Hohm Press).

Five Tools of Attachment Parenting

Attachment Tool # 1: Connect with your baby early.

Nature intends mother and child to connect at birth, ideally even before the umbilical cord is cut. If a mother and baby have the opportunity to be physically close at birth and in the weeks that follow, the bond between parent and child can develop in a natural and timely way. Skin to skin contact immediately after birth is a wonderful way to begin (more on this under tool #4). The need for loving touch from mother is the blueprint with which every baby is born. When this expectation of physical closeness is met, mothers and babies are happier; babies demonstrate a natural rooting reflex for the mother’s breast, which elicits the desire on the mother’s part to nurse her infant. Conversely when this bond of early closeness is blocked, whether due to medical intervention or other circumstances, mother and baby may need help to get back into the groove of connection. Although early connection is the ideal, it’s never too late to connect with your child.

Even before a baby is born, they are learning subtle communication cues from us. Baby is literally one with mother. In utero, baby is awash in the atmosphere we create by the music we listen to, the books we read, the emotions we feel. We can begin creating a literature-friendly environment by reading quality children’s books during pregnancy. Little ears are listening and the unborn child is becoming attuned to the sound of your voice as you read aloud. This not only nurtures an early relationship to the written word, but can be a great source of relaxation for you and your child.

Attachment Tool #2: Read and respond to your baby’s cues.

From infancy on, if we care to notice, children broadcast their needs and wants loud and clear. Our job, indeed our delight, is to pick up on the signal. That is not to say there aren’t times, particularly in infancy, when we just do not know what our child needs. At these times, we simply do our best to make our child comfortable. In general though, with attention and experience, we can enjoy a fairly easeful and clear channel of communication with our pre-verbal youngster. Once our child can speak, there is less guess-work in our communication. Yet we will sometimes have to read our child’s body signals, rather than listen to her words, to get what is really needed. Always, our effort to be genuinely responsive gives our child the security of knowing that we are the attentive and respectful presence in their lives that nature intended a mother and father to be.

Bedtime is an especially vulnerable time as our older child winds down from their day and prepares for sleep. Children often hold on tightly to the thread of consciousness, exhausted but refusing to allow sleep to overtake them. Reading a child to sleep can be an enriching and satisfying experience for both child and adult. The sound of mother’s voice, the closeness of her body, what the words are communicating, can all combine to encourage relaxation.

Research has shown that children whose parents read to them become better readers and do better in school (Snow, Burns and Griffin, 1998; Saracho 1997: Moss and Fawcett 1995). In a thoroughly enjoyable and natural way, being read to exposes a child to a broad array of words and word usage. What better way to nurture the skill of verbal expression.

Attachment Tool # 3: Breastfeed your baby.

After birth, a baby’s brand-new digestive system is called upon to perform its job for the first time, and mother’s milk contains elements exactly intended to get the system up and running properly. Mother’s milk strengthens a baby’s immune system and is believed to stimulate proper brain development. A nursing mother must keep fairly constant company with her infant to be available for feedings. This necessary proximity further strengthens the mother-child bond. To hold her baby close and nourish him with milk from her breasts gives a mother a marvelous feeling of well-being and contentment, and increases her love for the helpless little being in her arms.

That said, many women will bottle-feed their babies either by necessity or choice. The mother who is bottle-feeding will want to be sure her infant is getting enough “in-arms” time, resisting the temptation to prop the baby up somewhere with the bottle while she goes on about other business. Usually the business can wait, but the baby will only be a baby for a very short while. We suggest parents let almost everything else take a back-seat to keeping their child close in the early years.

Expectant mothers who would like to nurse but don’t know where to begin can contact the La Leche League, a national organization that supports and educates women about breastfeeding. We have found the example and support of other women who are breastfeeding is of more practical value than all the information you can read about nursing.

You may wonder what breastfeeding has to do with family literacy? Children whose brains are stimulated by the release of hormones such as prolactin and oxytocin during nursing are actually building a foundation for higher intelligence. (See the work of author Joseph Chilton Pearce on brain development, especially the Biology of Transcendence.) The left and right hemispheres of the brain are actually activated by the positioning of the child during breastfeeding. Not surprisingly, science supports the observation that an “attached” child is an early learner.

Attachment Tool # 4: Wear your baby.

Before birth, a child is held securely and continuously in the embrace of the womb. After birth, the best place for a child is on her mother’s body. Cradled in mother’s arms, a newborn is provided with an essential sense of safety and connection in a brand new world of sights and sounds.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends skin to skin contact between mother and baby (or father and baby) immediately after birth. The documented benefits of this practice include the chance for mother and infant to interact and connect, the opportunity for breastfeeding, rapid stabilization of the baby’s body temperature through contact with the mother’s body, little or no pain reaction on the part of the baby when after-birth procedures are performed during skin to skin contact, and an overall quicker, easier transition to life outside the uterus.

These dramatic findings on the value of early contact reinforce the benefit of ongoing closeness between parent and child throughout early childhood and onward. If we are committed to maintaining contact with our child, soft baby-carriers, slings -and later back carriers- are invaluable for the duration of the in-arms phase. These practical devices, plus a big dose of surrender to our reduced mobility, will get us through those early months. Mercifully, magically, the recognition of the bright blessing of the beautiful child in our arms puts it all in perspective.

While baby is close, either in sling or backpack, they are engaged in our life including simple tasks like reading the shopping list, following signs while walking through town, reading the mail or studying recipes for dinner. Speaking to our young child about these simple daily tasks demonstrates how reading is a necessary part of life and includes them as a vital participant. A child’s physical closeness to his mother or father serves to pattern him from the adults he is attached to throughout his young life. This patterning can include, among a myriad of other effects, a natural introduction to life as a reader.

Attachment Tool # 5: Share sleep with your baby.

Babies (and their mothers and fathers!) instinctively love to snuggle and be close. Babies who are nursing can do so with the greatest ease when mother and child sleep together. A mother who shares sleep with her child is naturally more aware of and responsive to her baby’s needs than when she is separated from her baby by walls and doors.

Recent scientific research shows that during sleep an infant relies upon the breathing patterns of adults to regulate his own breathing. A baby who sleeps with adults (and whose parents practice “baby-wearing” in the day) can pattern himself off the breathing cycles of the adults, and thus learn more quickly and safely to make the appropriate shifts.

All over the world, babies sleep with their parents. Somewhere the idea got started that sleeping together with our children is harmful. As mothers who slept with our babies, our experience was a positive one. As with nursing our children, we found sleeping together acted as a “reset” button at the end of one day and before beginning the next. To have our child or children next to us all night snuggled up or just touching feet always felt right and good.

Reading together in bed is a natural way to communicate intimacy and appreciation for your child. Inviting them into what may be considered your private space, if you don’t co-sleep, to read a favorite book and cuddle is a strong confirmation of love. Reading is not just a cerebral activity. The more senses that can be involved for young children, the stronger the impressions, and the more avenues to learning.

Part 2 - Family Literacy, will be posted soon...


Karuna Fedorschak is a free-lance writer and editor, and mother of two teenagers. She is the author of Parenting, A Sacred Task: 10 Basics of Conscious Parenting (2003, Hohm Press). Karuna and her family live in the high desert of northern Arizona where she and her husband have studied and practiced meditation for over twenty-five years.

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Guest Wednesday, 22 November 2017