October 23, 2012

attachment vs. behaviorist theory.

I see an alarming trend in parenting.
This is not a new trend.
I think it stems from the hippy era, honestly.

Good parents and attachment theorists  today have adopted the idea that children, if left to themselves and surrounded by love, will turn out OK.  Babies just need to be loved and nurtured.
Children just need to be exposed to things like toilets and books and they will naturally learn and become.

While i do agree with the premise of this concept, i don't agree with the APPLICATIONS.
A wise mother understands that children are individuals with their own gifts, talents, trials and personalities.
We are all unique and come with different needs.
All children need to be loved and nurtured.
Some babies need more bouncing and cuddling and loving and holding.
Some babies are more content.
Some children are more stubborn.
Some children are more compliant.
Anyone who has more than one child, or eyes to see the world around them, understands that children are unique.

i do NOT agree with the fact, however, that if you are good, ATTACHED mother, you will never teach your child.

As a student of behavioral science, i am very familiar with both the attachment and behaviorist theories.  Before i had children i was aghast at the behaviorist theory.  A theory that taught how to eliminate behavior through focusing on what you are reinforcing.  The stories i read about teaching children to sleep through the night by not rewarding their night time cries seemed harsh and robotic, not nurturing.

And so, i jumped whole heartily into attachment parenting.  I rocked my children for hours each night.  I held them every time they cried, I let them sleep in my bed if they wanted to, I nursed on demand.  I laid by them for hours at nap and bedtime.  The result-- i was EXHAUSTED and i had children who did not know how to go to sleep on their own.  I remember watching my friends baby, the same age as my own.  She would sit content in her chair while her mother taught primary at church.  She just sat their sucking her binky and watching.  Meanwhile, I was spending an hour bouncing and attending to the needs of a very demanding child.  YES, our children were different.  BUT- mothers who know how to teach their children can have SIX kids who ALL seem mild and content.  While other mothers have six children who are ALL active and demanding.  Parenting style DOES influence children's behavior-- and it is IMPORTANT to train your children.

I believe that children who are not taught how to behave, even at a young age, actually experience greater negatives.  A five year old who has not been properly potty trained experiences YEARS of parental frustration. No matter how kind, loving and understand a mother tries to be as she lets her child learn at his own time, ANY mother gets frustrated wiping poop off of a child who is old enough to do it himself.  The negatives of true "let your child develop at his own rate without parental instruction" outweighs the positive.

Not only have i been this type of parent, i have seen many families implement this laid back parenting style with potty training and homeschooling and teaching behavior to their children.  MANY mothers of large families tend towards "attachment" parenting.  We need to be careful with this approach.

Behavior theorists tend to the other extreme.  They use examples like Pavlov's dogs who were trained to salivate when they heard a bell, because they were fed every time they heard a bell.  Behaviorists teach how people learn.  They focus much on what behavior is enforced and how we can increase the likelihood of any behavior being repeated as we notice our reinforcement schedules.  Behaviorists parents are portrayed as Nazi extremists because as you explain the concepts behind the theory you are leaving out the exceptions.  If one were to completely implement this extreme parenting style they would end up with children who behave perfectly in front of their parents and rebel as soon as they are big enough to do it, hypothetically speaking. This is a dangerous parenting style, but a helpful teaching aid!!

I love the book Baby Wise.  I love it and i hate it at the same time.  Any mother who believes that a young baby should be on a strict schedule is ridiculous.  Babies will tell you what they need-- and mothers should LISTEN.  However, mothers should also GUIDE and TEACH their babies.  A baby might THINK they need to eat all night long.  It is a mother's responsibility to train a baby to sleep through the night when she knows the baby is ready.  This can be done GENTLY and softly.  When mothers understand their role is to TEACH, then they will see improvements and feel their role.  The truth behind Baby Wise is this-- babies NATURALLY find their own cycle if parents are aware.  It is NOT traumatic for most babies... it is natural and easy.  My harder babies needed me to be a little more deliberate. I had to come to a point where i decided they were old enough to sleep longer than two hours at night and when they woke up I would not feed them.  Teaching my hardest children took days and the results were amazing compared to the months that i spent "loving" them.

As i focused on training my child to sleep through the night, i was AMAZED at the results.  In a short time, even my hardest child, was sleeping for large chunks of time.  MY SOUL IS COMPASSIONATE AND LOVING-- i am not a mother that would EVER let my child feel abandoned or neglected.  BUT-- i have LEARNED the importance of smiling and saying to a child-- "Time for bed sweet girl.  I love you!"  Most children will naturally schedule themselves if you are an aware mother.  The more intense children need a more nurturing and aware mother.

A child screaming in your arms in not feeling more loved than a child screaming in her bed while you are lovingly walking away.  In my experience-- a child who learns to go to sleep on her own will cry MUCH LESS than a child who is used to being rocked to sleep each night and laid gingerly on her mattress without any shaking lest she wakes again.  A child who can sleep in her own bed, sleeps much better than a child in bed with their parents or awake and asleep all night long.  {i am referring to a ONE YEAR OLD CHILD here, not a one week old!!}  Are you struggling with a non-sleeping child?  Try reading some of the behaviorist books-- they can tell you how to teach sleep techniques.  And, they work.  Are you struggling with a child who is stubborn to potty train?  Just read some of the potty train in a day type books and see what they say.  MUCH OF WHAT THE BOOKS SAY WILL BE RIDICULOUS FOR YOUR CHILD.  BUT, something they say might ring TRUE for your child.  YOU WILL KNOW.  You must discern.  There are ways to teach children and they work.  Children can and must be loved and taught.  Don't loose the baby in the bath water!! Early lessons of sleep patterns, eating food they don't like, and potty training are great teaching opportunities.

Mothers can teach children gently.  If you have gotten to the place where everything in life is an all out battle- you are not doing things right.  I believe that you need to teach children at a very young age that Mother is in charge.  You teach this as you train them to go to sleep, lay nicely for a diaper change, and eat the green food you are feeding them.  I LOVE potty training.  It has never been difficult or contentious for me.  I have NEVER waited till my children trained themselves.  I did look for signs, and then I taught them.  Children all learn differently, and if left on their own they will learn sometime.  But, it isn't too hard to teach a child.  Someone said to me that dogs were like children, only easier to teach.  I just don't think that is true.

Don't give up.  As you start to train your children you might push too hard.  You might get to a place where you think you are being too strict.  For example, you might think that your baby doesn't know how to sleep through the night and needs to be taught.  You might try to not feed your baby one night and end up with a baby who screams for an hour.  Your soul might tell you that your baby needs to be held and nursed.  As you are sitting in your rocking chair with your sweet, tear-stained baby you might say to yourself.  That was not right.  And thus put yourself back to the place where you will feed her all night every night.  DON'T DO THAT!  Just because you didn't do it right ONCE doesn't mean it isn't a good lesson to teach.  YES, as you try to teach you will make mistakes.  Don't be so stubborn that you are afraid to trust your gut.  If your gut says hold your baby, then for heaven sakes HOLD YOUR BABY.  You might need a new plan-- but don't abandon your GOAL!!!

Keep trying to gently train you baby.  Don't give up!  Training children might take longer than you think it should.  There might be MANY nights where you end up holding and feeding your baby.  Teaching babies to sleep through the night, or eat baby food they don't like, or share their toys, or go to the bathroom on the toilet, or to say please, or to learn their letters, or to sit in time out when you tell them to, or to sit reverently at church, or to sit in their carseat without a tantrum-- takes continual effort and time.  It is a gentle process but an essential process.  You can LOVE, listen to your heart and TRAIN your children at the same time.  As they learn these essential skills they will also be learning how to LEARN, how to OBEY and how to be SAFE.  They will FEEL good about themselves and you will be MORE attached to them later on in life.

It is important to understand your child-- but it is not good to label a child and give up hope.  TEACHING means you believe a child can LEARN.  And, they CAN learn!!  We all can learn!!

There is good in both the behaviorist and attachment theories.  Be careful that you do not swing to the edges of either of these ideologies.  Both are dangerous if implemented in an extreme way.  As I see it, God commands us both to LOVE and to TRAIN our children.
When we love without teaching, we are not really loving.  When we teach without loving, we are not really teaching.  We can do both.

Mothers, don't give up your role as a teacher.
We must train up our children in the way they should go.
This is a sacred responsibility and a privilege.
Love them with all your soul-- and help them to be children that are easier for others to love.
Help them to learn behaviors that will lead to their future happiness.
Children will be happier when they are trained at a young age to be all that they can become.
i know it.
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