How Does Sleep Training Affect Infant-Parent Attachment?

sleep training and attachment

Are you worried that sleep training will affect your parent-child attachment? You’re not alone. We’ve had parents ask us, “Will my child still love me? Will they feel ignored? Will they be mad at me in the morning?

Most of these fears stem from the belief that sleep training means letting your child cry-it-out. This isn’t the case. Sleep training doesn’t mean neglecting your child.

However, to really tackle the connection between attachment and sleep training, we first have to look at the difference between attachment theory and attachment parenting.

What is Attachment Parenting?

First off, the term “attachment parenting” introduced by Drs. William and Martha Sears is not the same as attachment theory, even though they share the term attachment.

Attachment parenting is a parenting approach that advocates baby-wearing, bed-sharing, breastfeeding on demand, and an immediate response to your baby’s fussing.

The popularity of this parenting style, which tends to have an aversion to sleep training, has become muddled with attachment theory. Parents mis interrupt that teaching your child to learn to sleep independently could damage the “attachment” between your child and yourself.

Also, teaching your child independent sleep skills can be accomplished if you adhere to attachment parenting.

But again, attachment theory and attachment parenting are in no way related to each other in anything other than name.

What is Attachment Theory?

Developed by British psychologist, John Bowlby, and expanded upon by American psychologist, Mary Ainsworth, attachment theory states that there are four categories of attachment between a baby and their primary caregivers.

  1. Secure
  2. Insecure-avoidant
  3. Insecure-resistant
  4. Insecure-disorganized

Children with secure attachment feel safe expressing distress or discomfort. They explore confidently if the parent is nearby. They become distressed when their parent leaves but are content when they return. According to a 35-year long study by the Minnesota Longitudinal Study of Risk and Adaptation, children with secure attachment are more independent, confident, and have greater coping skills.

what does secure parenting look like?

Children with either of the three insecure attachments become avoidant when in distress. They don’t feel comfortable expressing negative emotions. This is due to a fear of receiving a negative response such as being ignored or ridiculed by their parent.

Rest assured, being irritated toward your child, does not automatically mean they will form an insecure attachment. Most parents have raised their voice, but there are many factors that influence you and your child’s relationship.

“Insecure attachments aren’t created just by a caregiver’s inattention or missteps,” Allan Schore, a developmental neuroscientist in the Department of Psychiatry at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine says. “They also come from a failure to repair ruptures.”

Emotions and stress are part of life, especially as a parent. But, it’s how we help our children learn how to cope with stress that’s important. Sometimes that’s letting them work through the situation, other times, it means being right there.

Sleeping Training and Attachment

Without understanding the difference between attachment theory and attachment parenting, it easy to see how parents view the traditional cry-it-out sleep training methods as potentially damaging to their relationship with their baby. We don’t want to create insecure children.

attachment parenting and sleep

But sleep training doesn’t mean that you have to lie your child down and walk away. The sleep coaches at Tender Transitions will never ask you to leave your child for prolonged periods of time without offering comfort.  We respect your concern for your child, and you can stay close, reassure your presence, and respond to your child’s needs. All while they are learning to become independent sleepers!

We will never ask you to do anything that could damage your relationship with your baby. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be any crying. We understand, it breaks your heart to hear your child’s cry, even for a short period of time, even if you’re right there comforting them.

Naturally, your impulse to alleviate their distress will prompt you to use your most effective soothing method such as nursing, rocking, or using a pacifier. These methods will help your child calm down, but you haven’t addressed the issue that caused your child to start crying. So, when your child cries in the night, we encourage you to respond, make sure they are warm and fed; but, if they are crying because they can’t fall asleep, that’s when you can start working on teaching them independent sleep skills.

Consistent and Loving Parenting

Your child’s attachment is not reliant on you being beside them every step of the way. The strength of your bond is based on consistent, loving, reliable parenting and by providing a safe, open place for your child to explore their world.

Tender Transitions practices would never prioritize sleep over your relationship. We guarantee that our approach is safe. Plus, once you and your child are well-rested, you’ll be able to be more attentive and more engaged as parents, forming deeper attachments.

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