“”I'm not interested in being rebirthed, thank you, I'm still recovering from being birthed the first time.
Attachment therapy (which includes pseudoscience like rebirthing and holding therapy) refers to a number of purported "therapeutic treatments" for attachment disorders, many of which are based on discredited, obsolete, or quack theories.
Why is therapy necessary?
Sometimes, a child and/or a parent develops attachment disorder. Attachment disorder refers to a broad spectrum of psychological disorders in children in which the child has trouble bonding or relating to their parents or to others. It is not necessarily a pseudoscience in itself, but is a controversial topic within psychology and a significant subset of attachment disorder theories and attachment therapy methods are rank woo.
Attachment parenting is a child-rearing method emphasizing the physical bond between parent and child (especially a nursing mother and her child). The term itself was coined and popularized by pediatrician Dr. William Sears. It generally entails sleeping close to the child, breastfeeding until the child chooses to wean, and remaining in physical contact with the infant as often as possible ("babywearing").
The "attachment theory" in developmental psychology, along with the psychological condition of reactive attachment disorder (specifically a child's inability to make strong attachments with a trusted caregiver), underlie the basic premise that the longer and closer a child is able to bond with a single caregiver, the more secure that child will be in adulthood.
There are, in general, two groups of people who practice attachment parenting. The first consists of moonbats in developed countries who practice it as a fad theory. The second consists largely of poor persons who make a living by working and have to carry their babies with them and who do not own enough beds for individual sleeping conditions.
Dr. Sears' principles
In his 2001 book on attachment parenting, Dr. Sears outlined eight principles for raising a healthy "attached" child. While parts contain good advice, the book has unrealistic high standards that may cause parents unnecessary worry and stress.
- Preparing for pregnancy, birth, and parenting. This part is fairly reasonable, insofar as it is possible. It consists of steeling oneself and one's partner emotionally for the process; researching available birth facilities, methods of delivery, and postnatal procedures; being alert at all times during the birth;[note 1] and being as healthy as possible, specifically in dietary matters.
Many parents take this general guideline to the extreme with "natural birth," including water births, home births, and midwife births; eating only natural foods while pregnant; forgoing most medical practices done on newborns from unnecessary (and even dangerous) practices like circumcision to the everyday "eye drop cleaning method" to critical things like vaccinations.
- Feed with love and respect. Or, in translation: Breastfeed! Breastfeed!! Breastfeed!!!
Dr. Sears repeatedly states that breastfeeding is the only way a child can apparently bond with its mother. Attachment parenting involves feeding a child the second it begins to fuss—not waiting until it is convenient for you—and giving in to a child's need to suck, even when the child is not hungry. Dr. Sears advises breastfeeding well beyond one year, or the child, who has come to associate breasts and food with love, will not understand why said love is being withdrawn.
Practitioners of this point often take it to somewhat creepy lengths; as the May 12, 2012 (Mother's Day) edition of Time pointed out, many mothers breastfeed their children until age 5- or 6—years, not months.
- Respond with sensitivity. While some parts of this principle are also reasonable (respond to your child with soothing sounds, attempt to be aware of their needs, and give comfort rather than anger to a child throwing a tantrum), other parts are less so.
Attachment parenting calls for scheduling your day around your child's needs and inner rhythms, providing constant physical contact if your child wishes, and also this gem: "High levels of stress, such as during prolonged crying, cause a baby to experience an unbalanced chemical state in the brain and can place him at risk for physical and emotional problems later in life." Apparently, if one lets a baby cry too much, the poor little thing is going the right way toward becoming a sickly version of John Wayne Gacy.
- Use Nurturing Touch™. Attachment parenting places great emphasis on skin-to-skin contact, which is one of the reasons why breastfeeding is so important. Additionally, attachment parenting calls for children to be carried at all times, next to one's body (babywearing); swings, jumpers, and strollers are all to be avoided (although not carseats—advocating against them was probably too much of a lawsuit risk). One's children should be allowed to sit on one's lap any time they want, even if they seem heavy or it is inconvenient.
- Ensure safe sleep, physically and emotionally. Apparently, if a baby wakes up at night, and no mommy[note 2] is around, the baby gets scared and is promptly put on the murderer career-track. Attachment parenting advocates co-sleeping (sleeping with the child nearby in the same room) or (better yet) bed-sharing, which is to continue until the child asks to have their own bed/room.
Of course, Dr. Sears is well-aware of little problems like child sexual abuse, and consequently covers his rear with many "suggestions," "rules," and "disclaimers" for "Bed Sharing Families".
Attachment parenting also prescribes the use of a regular nighttime routine for older children that often takes over an hour; it is supposed to be pleasant, relaxing time that focuses on the child's needs (and if the mother would prefer to have a nighttime routine of her own, tough).
- Provide consistent and loving care. This is interpreted as meaning that children should be with the parent at all times, only separating when the child wishes it. Consequently, attachment-parents are not permitted such things as "alone time." It is even advised to take one's child along for dates, which ensures that the divorced attachment-parent will be unlikely to find a new partner who is not also an adherent of attachment parenting.
- Positive discipline. In matters of discipline, attachment parenting advises the use of empathy, respect, preventative training against bad behavior, and the creation of a "'yes' environment." While positive discipline techniques are good ideas, this can be taken too far if people refuse to say "no" to their kids. (Kids need to learn to respect boundaries, after all.)
- Strive for balance in personal and family life. This is attachment parenting's major cop-out and defense against concerns that attachment parenting turns parents into non-entities whose existence is subordinated to their children's, by nominally acknowledging that parents also have needs, and that their personal lives must balance with their family lives.
Of course, the previous seven principles having detailed how parents must live on their children's schedule, keep them attached all day and all night, and give in to their smallest emotional demands, the next question is, "What f***ing personal life?"
There is a significant overlap between the attachment-parenting and neo-hippie communities, with attachment-parents frequently living more "off the grid" than usual, homeschooling their children, and following "Natural Living" lifestyles, including anti-vaccination, and other "modern society is bad, let's head back to nature and traditional societies" woo.
There are no studies indicating that attachment parenting is any more effective than mainstream parenting or that its benefits aren't just made up. The likelihood of any studies being done is low due to the fact that the claimed benefits of attachment parenting are very subjective in nature and not easily quantifiable. Furthermore, Dr. Sears's work does not suggest what factors one could actually use to identify (or, even better, quantify in order to prove) a "successful" child rearing experience, since each child, if raised in this safe way, will be able to grow into a healthy adult. Bill Clinton, as a workaholic, would not fit into that concept of "healthy" (and Chelsea Clinton is doing fine so far); nor would the vast majority of artists and mathematicians. On top of these things, there is also evidence that Dr. Sears may have stretched some of his interpretations of his research.
There are plenty of studies demonstrating that certain of the more reasonable parts of attachment parenting do help children avoid reactive attachment disorder and feel more confident about themselves. For example, holding a crying child is important, as is gentle comforting. Dealing with a child's fears and negative emotions with love rather than reproach can help that child recognize her emotions and deal with them on their own. A regular nighttime routine can give a child a sense of security, even if it is not the elaborate, lengthy sort prescribed in attachment parenting.
Male/female parent criticism
For starters, the early stages of attachment parenting seem to define bonding as almost exclusively between a mother and child. For example, Dr. Sears states that if bottle feeding is necessary, it should still be only the mother who feeds the child. This seems to suggest that a father cannot (or should not?) bond with an infant the way a mother can; a suggestion that runs counter to modern theories indicating that there is no meaningful distinction between father and mother in this regard.
Elisabeth Badinter, a French feminist scholar, argues that attachment parenting and similar approaches to child rearing have had the effect of preventing the women who have to perform most of the tasks required "from reaching their full potential… and making women feel guilty, stressed and exhausted." Or, in other words, the female practitioners of attachment parenting are not living the kind of lives that attachment parenting is supposed to secure for their children.
Badinter also argues that these intensive approaches to child-raising have scared some people away from parenthood altogether.
Reparenting is a quack pop-psychology movement of dubious value. Jacqui Schiff's 1970 book All My Children popularized reparenting as an alleged treatment for schizophrenia, and she claimed to have successfully treated or cured many patients this way. Reparenting involves "regressing" the patient to an infantile state, essentially having them play "baby" with the therapist then acting as a healthy parent figure. This is supposed to undo the effects of bad parenting from neglect or abusive homes.
Reparenting is rank woo, heavy on faddish pop-psychology and lacking in empirical evidence. Jacqui Schiff's All My Children places a heavy emphasis on spanking her regressed adult "babies" as an example of healthy parenting. The book is entirely a narrative testimonial of her attempts at reparenting using a trial-and-error basis, without any use of controlled studies or other adherence to scientific method. Even as a testimonial, the book is not particularly convincing as to its effectiveness.
Reparenting uses some concepts from Transactional Analysis (TA), in TA's teaching that things parental figures say and do make up the "Parent" part of a child's personality, and claims to be able to undo bad parenting from the past which led to schizophrenia and other mental illness. The brief popularity of reparenting caused a split in the then-popular Transactional Analysis field and left TA's reputation badly tarnished when they failed to move fast enough to disavow it. The International Transactional Analysis Association after first embracing the new therapy finally launched an investigation into Schiff's activities in 1978, expelled her after reports of abuse and her refusal to submit her methods for peer review, but did not disavow reparenting entirely until the 1990s.
- Adults using meditation techniques, usually involving hyperventilating for long periods of time, and/or sitting in a hot tub at 37 degrees (98.6°F), which is supposed to bring about an altered state of consciousness in which the person can recall memories of being in their mother's womb, or even "memories" of the time when they were a newly fertilized egg. A newly fertilized egg has no nervous system, and cannot remember anything, so any such memories must be imagined. The book Rebirthing in the New Age promotes this kind of rebirthing in a hot tub and is good for a laugh. Variations on this practice include the trademarked term "Holotropic Breathwork".
- A quack treatment for attachment disorder in children, in which the child is subjected to being tightly wrapped in blankets and smothered, during which they are supposed to struggle to get out. This supposedly re-creates the "birth" experience and they are then supposed to "bond" with their adoptive mother after the ordeal in an extreme form of reparenting. This "treatment" led to several tragic deaths from suffocation (the most famous being Candace Newmaker), and is now illegal in many places.
Holding therapy is the pseudoscientific and dangerous practice of pinning down a child, attempting to make the child scream and flail, until the child "accepts comfort." It is used on children with attachment disorders (real or imagined), autistic children, and any other child who apparently "hasn't bonded enough" with a parent.
Holding therapy is dangerous for both adult and child, not to mention potentially traumatizing. Broken bones, bruises, and even death could result from this technique.
- Although Dr. Sears never explicitly says so, this is interpreted as "no drugs" by most attachment parents.
- One's daddy, it would appear, is useless as a tree-stump for delivering Nurturing Touches.
- BoJack Horseman, "Start Spreading the News" (S03E01)
- "Unschooling as a Political Activity"
- The Science Behind Dr. Sears: Does It Stand Up?, an article in Time magazine
- "Peachtree Attachment Resources", cited as "Based on the DSM IV"
- Chaffin, M. et al. (2006) Report of the APSAC Task Force on Attachment Therapy, Reactive Attachment Disorder, and Attachment Problems. Child Maltreatment 11, p. 76-89.
- "Bringing up baby," Vancouver Sun, 12 May 2012.