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Attachment parenting gaining popularity in Singapore

SINGAPORE — Mother-of-two Justine Tan often jokes that her two-year-old daughter is so attached to her that she feels like “an extra appendage”. Besides breastfeeding on demand, the 34-year-old homemaker also sleeps in the same room as her toddler — but on a different bed — and uses a baby carrier while going about her daily chores.

Attachment parenting gaining popularity in Singapore

Ms Amber Yong and Mr Peter Lok with their twin daughters Leia and Lauren. Photo: Instagram/@leialauren

SINGAPORE — Mother-of-two Justine Tan often jokes that her two-year-old daughter is so attached to her that she feels like “an extra appendage”. Besides breastfeeding on demand, the 34-year-old homemaker also sleeps in the same room as her toddler — but on a different bed — and uses a baby carrier while going about her daily chores.

Ms Amber Yong, 33, and Mr Peter Lok, 41, take a similar hands-on approach when caring for their twins. Although both hold full-time jobs, their relatively flexible hours let them look after daughters Leia and Lauren without extra help.

“Peter ‘baby-wears’ and feeds the twins when I am away. We didn’t consciously plan to do attachment parenting; it just happened naturally. We feel it is important for us to be there for our little ones every step of the way in order to build a strong foundation of trust and empathy,” Ms Yong, a marketing manager, said.

Once considered unconventional in an Asian society where parents are known to extol tough love, attachment parenting has become an increasingly popular approach to raising children.

The parenting philosophy was coined by American paediatrician William Sears, who believes that secure attachments from infancy, using methods including close physical contact and touch, are beneficial to a child. It fosters a close parent-child bond which helps children grow up to be caring, empathetic and independent.

Ms Jacqueline Ryan, co-founder of Attachment Parenting Singapore, a Singapore Facebook group, said that membership has grown steadily since it started in 2013, and it now has more than 3,500 members. Ms Ryan also noticed a growing number of fathers who practise attachment parenting.

‘ANTI-STRESS MODEL’

Dr Janice Wong, a paediatrician at Thomson Paediatric Centre, said that attachment parenting works on an “anti-stress model”, where parents are encouraged to pay attention to their child’s needs and respond accordingly. Advocates typically shun overly strict routines such as sleep-training methods where babies are left to “cry it out” for long periods of time.

Madam Tan said that following her daughter’s cues has resulted in a happier and calmer baby. She initially tried sleep-training, but it left her child cranky and fussy. “Unlike my older daughter, who was an easy-going baby, my second child cried a lot and needed more attention. Keeping her close to me calmed her considerably. But that drew some criticism from friends and relatives, who felt I was spoiling her by attending to her every whimper,” she said.

Ms Ryan, also a mother-of-two, said that it is important to differentiate attachment parenting from “helicopter parenting” or spoiling the children. Its underlying principle is to treat children with “kindness, dignity and respect from birth to adulthood”, while also setting clear boundaries through positive discipline techniques, she said.

Dr Wong Boh Boi, senior lactation consultant and parent-craft educator at Thomson Parentcraft Centre, said that responding to a baby’s cries does not encourage the child to become “sticky” or more clingy to the caregiver. “Crying is the first language of babies; it is used to indicate their needs. Studies show that babies whose needs are not met and left to cry for long periods of time tend to become insecure,” she said.

Not everyone finds this intensive parenting style workable, particularly with hectic modern lifestyles.

Parenting coach Zoe Chu, whose outfit SG Supernanny dispenses baby and child-sleep advice to sleep-deprived parents, said that attachment parenting may create unnecessary stress and pressure on parents, especially when the adults’ sleep is constantly disrupted.

“When I first had my twin babies 11 years ago, I tried parenting-on-demand. I ended up tiring myself out and I realised there was no way I could ‘go with their flow’,” Ms Chu said. She also has a six-year-old and an infant aged five months old.

She added, “French parents, for example, don’t immediately pick their babies up when they cry; they wait a while so that they learn to self-soothe. Most French babies learn to sleep through the night, on their own, at around two months old.”

AVOID OVERDOING IT

Dr Wong Boh Boi said that she has seen mothers who go overboard with attachment parenting and end up exhausting themselves. “They can’t go to the toilet or eat in peace. Their husbands complain they are not getting any attention. This kind of parenting is wrong; attachment parenting isn’t just about you and your baby. It is important to involve everyone in the family,” she said.

In a 2012 study published in Journal of Child and Family Studies, University of Mary Washington researchers found that women who endorsed “intensive parenting”, or a child-centred parenting approach, put themselves at a higher risk of depressive symptoms than those who do not.

The experts’ view is that parents need to draw the line between healthy and obsessive parenting. For instance, Dr Janice Wong said that frequent baby-wearing by those who do attachment parenting can be detrimental to a one-year-old’s physical development if the infant is not given ample room to move his or her muscles.

Parents should not get too hung up about parenting trends because there is no one-size-fits-all approach to raising children, she added. “There is no right or wrong way to parent as long as you love your child.”

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