Here's How Attachment Parenting Really Affects Kids Long-Term


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I’m not what most people would consider a crunchy, hippie mom, but when I parented my babies and young kids, I did it in ways that just seemed natural. I fed them when they were hungry, I listened when they wanted to talk, and I cuddled them when they had trouble sleeping. I didn’t read any parenting books and I sort of winged it, but my kids ended up being pretty great. When asked how I raised two well-adjusted kids with anxiety running through every branch of their family tree, I always answered, “Dinners together and consistent bedtimes.” I said this jokingly, because the truth is I had NO idea why they turned out the way they did. But upon further investigation, I was right. The family meals, bonding, and consistent bedtimes that were important parts of my daily routine are also important parts of a parenting method known as attachment parenting.

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Say the words attachment parenting to a group of parents and watch them lose themselves in visuals of a hippie mom breastfeeding her 5-year-old, while he hangs off a papoose from her neck. Although this parenting style has been around since the dark ages, there are still so many misconceptions about what it actually means to raise kids this way. The truth is, it’s much more common and easier to implement than you think. You’ve probably even unknowingly used some of the techniques on your own kids!

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Most parents claim that the practices used in attachment parenting are instinctual and just “feel right.” The great news is studies show that our instincts are doing our kids some serious good, not only in real time, but also into adulthood.

So, what exactly is attachment parenting?

Coined by Dr. William Sears and his wife, Martha, attachment parenting is an approach to raising children that promotes a secure bond between parent and child. It places the child’s needs for trust, empathy, and affection as the main priority. What attachment parenting is not about is indulgent parenting or being a “helicopter parent” -- it’s more about creating balance when responding to a baby’s needs (i.e., using your instincts to know when to indulge and when to refrain).

In the past, it was often believed that if a parent readily responded to the cries or needs of children, or offered them too much on-demand support, they would become unhealthily dependent on the parent (cue the judgmental scoffs of your well-meaning parents: “Careful, you’ll spoil that baby”). But the health community eventually learned that the notion of “spoiling a baby” was without merit and that a baby not only did not become overly dependent as a result of constant care, but actually thrived! Researchers have found that when babies’ needs are cared for and they feel secure, they can actually become MORE independent and psychologically healthier.

What are some examples of attachment parenting?

Breastfeeding and carrying a baby close to your body (like in a Snugli or wrap) are two of the most well-known examples, but co-sleeping, responding to a baby’s cries immediately (not letting him or her “cry it out”), responding with sensitivity and a nurturing touch (massage, handholding, cuddling), practicing positive discipline (no spanking but instead using practices like substitution, distraction, and problem solving), and even having intimate, emotionally available bonding moments together, like family meals, are all examples of attachment parenting.

What are the benefits of attachment parenting?

The most immediate consequences of attachment parenting include a baby who tends to cry less often and who demonstrates a secure bond with his or her parents -- but studies show the long-term effects are even more impressive. Dr. Sears labeled the results of attachment parenting he observed as the “Common Cs.” He found that many kids who are raised in a secure, trusting, and loving environment continue to exhibit the following traits from the toddler years into adulthood. They are:

  • Caring
  • Compassionate
  • Connected
  • Careful
  • Confident

These kids practice kindness and compassion, are empathetic and caring, and are generally able to respond to stress in healthy ways. They’re also more likely to exhibit independence. As a result of feeling secure, the children also tend to feel good about going off on their own and exploring the world. They learn faster, and they get along better with their peers.

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Dr. Sears’s studies also showed that attached children continue to enjoy the benefits of secure relationships throughout their lives. Their tight bond with their parents can make them more likely to have healthy marriages and other relationships. Separate studies also show that kids who have a secure attachment to their parents may be less likely to struggle with addictive behaviors, like alcoholism and drug abuse. They also report less difficulty managing aggression and anxiety.

Basically, securely attached infants grow up to be stable, confident adults.

Attachment parenting: All or nothing?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all of this information and unsure that you can implement it, let me set your mind at ease! Studies show that attachment parenting doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing deal. Implementing parts of the method have beneficial effects on your children, as well. For example, you may choose to not breastfeed, but you remain as child focused as possible in other ways like co-sleeping. The important thing is to always keep your kid’s individual needs a priority and modify your own daily practices so the method can be embraced and is doable.

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