Popular pediatrician and author Dr. William Sears, a longtime proponent of attachment parenting, paid a visit to the Boys and Girls Club of Memphis recently, and spoke about the importance of healthy eating. We caught up with Sears by phone in Capistrano Beach, California. At age 74 he is now semi-retired, but one of his most popular titles, The Baby Book, continues to be a best seller and was updated and reissued in 2013.
Memphis Parent: As the guru of attachment parenting, what have been your guiding principles?
I want moms to develop confidence-building tools. Attachment parenting provides those tools by helping mom and baby attach. That attachment helps a mother read her baby and understand what’s going on.
I’ve always preached the seven B’s: birth bonding; breastfeed as often and as long as you can; baby wear your child in a sling or carrier; have baby close to your bed using a bedside bassinet; beware of baby trainers, those authors who tell you how to have a baby conveniently, because these usually create a gap between mother and baby. And finally, find balance. Try not to overdo it, since that leads to burnout. You must learn when to say, “Yes” to yourself and to your baby.
What’s your take on discipline?
The approach is much different today. Once, it was a list of techniques: Time out, spanking, and so forth, but I’ve always felt it’s first about having the right relationship with your child rather than the right technique. If you have a strong attachment, you’ll naturally know the techniques that work for your child.
The first thing I encourage parents to discover is a series of reactions. Before you react (if your child is misbehaving), put yourself behind the eyes of that child and ask yourself, “How would I want my mom to react?” That keeps parents from acting out of impulse or anger. If your child has lost it, you need to be the adult.
What do you consider the biggest challenge for parents today?
I think financial stress is a huge stressor for today’s parents. This is especially true if they live where the cost of living is high. We encourage parents to have a home business to provide a second income that gives you more peace of mind that you won’t be the victim of an insecure workplace.
How should parents manage technology and family life?
Children must learn to relate to people before they relate to technology. In our family, it’s relationships first, technology second. When your family is at the dinner table, everyone should put away their cell phones and relate to each other. Ask for eye contact; make sure your child is paying attention when you speak to them.
I also recommend parents watch out for technology around bedtime. I see a lot of sleep issues because kids spend the last one or two hours before bedtime zoning out on an iPad or computer. That’s the worst thing you can do before bedtime, since all that artificial light suppresses the production of melatonin, which controls our sleep and wake cycles. So consider turning off devices after supper. I’m also all for technology-free holidays, too. Kids can bring their iPads on the plane, but that’s it. Stress that we’re on holiday to have fun with each other. I want kids to focus on people skills over technology skills.
What are the most common nutrition questions you receive?
Many moms want to know how long to breastfeed their babies. My answer is always the same: Breastfeed as long as you and your baby enjoy it. Science says longer is better and many health organizations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend exclusive breastfeeding for baby’s first six months. Many parents pose health questions because of the rise we’re seeing in adult-onset diseases in children, like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and hardening of the arteries in teenagers. My last few books have focused more on nutrition and shaping kids’ tastes to real foods and real food diets. But I know that people who need the message most are getting it the least.
To read more from Dr. Sears, go to askdrsears.com