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An Elaboration on the Distinction Between Controversial Parenting and Therapeutic Practices Versus Developmentally Appropriate Attachment
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An Elaboration on the Distinction Between Controversial Parenting and Therapeutic Practices Versus Developmentally Appropriate Attachment

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An Elaboration on the Distinction Between Controversial Parenting and Therapeutic Practices Versus Developmentally Appropriate Attachment An Elaboration on the Distinction Between Controversial Parenting and Therapeutic Practices Versus Developmentally Appropriate Attachment Document Transcript

  • Letters to the EditorAn Elaboration on the Distinction BetweenControversial Parenting and Therapeutic PracticesVersus Developmentally Appropriate AttachmentParenting: A Comment on the APSAC TaskForce ReportRecently, a Task Force comprising scholars whoare members of the American Professional Societyon the Abuse of Children (APSAC) published in thisjournal an informative report titled, “Report of theAPSAC Task Force on Attachment Therapy, ReactiveAttachment Disorder, and Attachment Problems”(Chaffin et al., 2006). The Task Force reportreviewed controversial parenting approaches andtherapies and made recommendations for assessmentand treatment of attachment disorders(Chaffin et al., 2006). The report was endorsedby the American Psychological Association’sDivision 37 and the Division 37 Section on ChildMaltreatment.We, the founders of Attachment ParentingInternational (API), an organization that facilitatesthe formation of parent education support groups,and members of the Attachment ParentingInternational–Research Group (API-RG), agree with
  • the report of the APSAC Task Force and its conclusionsregarding the detrimental effects of controversialparenting practices that have been arbitrarilylabeled by others as attachment parenting. However, webelieve that there is significant confusion regardingthe appropriate definition of the term attachment parentingand that the Task Force report may have inadvertentlycontributed to this confusion. We believethat clarity in this regard is central to progress in thiscontroversial area and so wish to offer our thoughtson this important matter.CHILD MALTREATMENT, Vol. 11, No. 4, November 2006 373-374DOI: 10.1177/1077559506292635© 2006 Sage PublicationsTHE TASK FORCE USE OF THE TERMATTACHMENT PARENTINGThe Task Force report notes,The attachment therapy controversy has centeredmost broadly on the use of what is known as “holdingtherapy” (Welch, 1988) and coercive, restraining oraversive procedures such as deep tissue massage,aversive tickling, punishments related to food andwater intake, enforced eye contact, requiringchildren to submit totally to adult control over alltheir needs, barring children’s access to normal
  • social relationships outside the primary parent orcaretaker, encouraging children to regress to infantstatus, reparenting, and attachment parenting [italicsadded] or techniques designed to provoke catharticemotional discharge. (p. 83)The Task Force report goes on to acknowledgethatthe term attachment parenting may have variousmeanings. In a less controversial context, the termrefers to practices of maintaining close physicalproximity between mothers and newborns, which isargued to promote healthy attachment. This is notthe meaning discussed here. (Chaffin et al., 2006,p. 79)By using the term attachment parenting when referringto the controversial, abusive practices, the TaskForce confuses the controversial practices with thedevelopmentally appropriate parenting practicesthat are also called attachment parenting. We believethat the controversial practices described by Chaffinet al. (2006) can no more be called attachment parenting374 Curtner-Smith et al. / AN ELABORATIONthan witchcraft can be called modern medicine. We areconcerned that by using the term attachment parenting View slide
  • to refer to controversial, abusive practices, the TaskForce may unintentionally discourage practitionersor parents from endorsing or engaging in parentingbehaviors that have been demonstrated by researchto promote secure parent–child attachment bonds,which are necessary for positive child mental health.We suggest that in future reports, the Task Forcerefer to the controversial, abusive therapeutic andparenting practices as just what they are: controversialand abusive.AN APPROPRIATE DEFINITION OFATTACHMENT PARENTINGDevelopmentally appropriate attachment parentingpractices are based on mainstream psychologicalattachment theory which was first conceived by JohnBowlby (1951, 1982) and Mary Ainsworth (1982;Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978). The cornerstoneof developmentally appropriate attachmentparenting is parental emotional sensitivity to children.Emotional sensitivity refers to a parent’s anticipatingand being sensitive to a child’s needs and thenattempting to meet those perceived needs. Attachmentparenting includes warm, affectionate responses to achild’s bids for attention. This style of parenting isneither controlling nor coercive. Other parenting View slide
  • behaviors that make up the attachment style of parentinginclude infant-focused prenatal activities;breastfeeding, when possible, to encourage closenessand healthy development; maintaining closephysical proximity through frequent touch, carrying,and physical contact and stimulation with the infant;establishing nighttime routines that support an infant’sneed for closeness; and avoiding long caregiver–child separations. As children age, attachment parentingcontinues to include age-appropriate proximitymaintenance behaviors, age-appropriate levelsof touch, a democratic style of communication andproblem solving, and parents’ use of inductive reasoningtechniques to help children learn positivebehaviors. Most of all, regardless of a child’s age,attachment parenting refers to a parent’s ability toempathize with how a child is feeling and to how aparent views those feelings as important and worthyof parental response.Hopefully, the distinction between controversial,abusive parenting and therapeutic practices versusdevelopmentally appropriate attachment parentingis now clearer. Moreover, it is hoped that practitionersand therapists aiming to promote secure parent–child attachment relationships now understand that
  • attachment parenting is very different from the controversial,abusive practices that are appropriatelycriticized in the Task Force report.Mary Elizabeth Curtner-Smith, PhD, CFLEUniversity of AlabamaWendy Middlemiss, PhD, CFLEPennsylvania State University ShenangoKatherine Green, PhDCapella UniversityAnn D. MurrayKansas State UniversityMiranda Barone, PhDCalifornia State University, Long BeachJeanne Stolzer, PhDUniversity of Nebraska at KearneyLysa Parker, CFLEAttachment Parenting InternationalBarbara NicholsonAttachment Parenting InternationalREFERENCESAinsworth, M. D., Blehar, M. C., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978).Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the strange situation.Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Ainsworth, M. D. S. (1982). Attachment: Retrospect and prospect.In C. M. Parkes & J. Stevenson-Hinde (Eds.), The place of
  • attachment in human behavior (pp. 3-30). New York: Basic Books.Bowlby, J. (1951). Maternal care and mental health. Bulletin of theWorld Health Organization, 3, 355-534.Bowlby, J. (1982). A control systems approach to attachmentbehavior. In Attachment: Vol. 1 (2nd ed., pp. 235-262). NewYork: Basic Books.Chaffin, M., Hanson, R., Saunders, B. E., Nichols, T., Barnett, D.,Zeanah, C., et al. (2006). Report of the APSAC Task Force onattachment therapy, reactive attachment disorder, and attachmentproblems. Child Maltreatment, 11, 76-89.CHILD MALTREATMENT / NOVEMBER 2006