Is Your Sling Making Your Child Clingy?

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It’s a sentence often heard from our grandmothers and mothers ‘your making a rod for your own back’. But is there any truth behind this seemingly harmless phrase or is your sling making your child clingy?

“The single most important child rearing practice to be adopted for the development of emotional and social healthy infants and children is to carry the newborn/infant on the body of the mother/caretaker all day long…” – James Prescott, Ph.D.

James Prescot is an American development psychologist whose research focused on maternal bonding. What has carrying got to do with maternal bonding? It’s very simple.

A child is biologically programmed to need a person to bond with, usually the mother (however this does not mean a child cannot bond with another adult such as a father or surrogate parent). Children are made to be picked up, we know this by the amount they cry and protest when placed down.

By carrying a newborn infant, we are giving them quicker access to food (where the parents breastfeed). Allowing the parent a clear view of feeding cues, keeping the infant warm, keeping their breathing and heart rate regular and with constant movement we are helping them make sense of the world through vestibular stimulation.

All very young infant will need carrying for the majority of any given day. Slings, of course make this easier on the wearers arms and allows them to gain more independence to carry on with life, when 2 hands are needed, for example looking after other children, shopping, cleaning etc.

As a newborn begins to grow they will spend more time away from the caregiver, moving and playing. The amount of time the child spends in the caregivers arms, reduces significantly as the child becomes independent.

Many children from around 6 months make attempts to start independence from the caregiver, but having them close and at hand to be comforted at any given time is still very important. Children will go through phases of needing the caregiver less and then again more as their development continues to forge ahead.

If you where to take a small child into a strange environment, you will find the child will cling to the adult at first, until they have established the area is safe. Then they will start to leave the parent for brief periods to explore before coming back to the parent for reassurance, they use the parent as a secure base before going back to exploring. Its this ‘secure base’ that is often assumed as clingy. Rather than a normal biological phase that every child goes through.

What carrying does is allows the child to fully utilise the secure base without fear. They have learned very early on that the caregiver has and always is there, they have bonded and created a secure attachment, one from which they can explore the world from and come back to for reassurance when they need it.

Mary Salter Ainsworth, created a unique way to test attachment between a child and their caregiver by using an experiment called ‘The Strange Situation’ whereby she placed a child and their caregiver in a room and monitored their interaction, then took the caregiver out briefly to see the reaction both on exit and re-entering.

Families who had carried their infants and met their needs rapidly score higher in this experiment than those who where not carried and didn’t have the same attention to the child’s needs. In terms of what the future held for the securely attached child was better outcomes in education, socially and emotionally compared with those with an insecure attachment, who were more likely to commit crimes, violence, do less well in education and less likely to obtain and keep employment.

Carrying a child in a sling allows the child to build a secure attachment with the parent, it allows them a secure base to which they can explore the world reducing them being clingy. As they grow, the parent will have a greater understanding of when the child is ready for independence and will be more adept at encouraging this appropriately.

All children are clingy and by carrying in a sling you are effectively reducing this significantly by being the secure base they need.  Making a rod for your own back? Perhaps? Science clearly shows this is what is needed but only for a short time and the outcome for your child are more likely to be positive and therefore, worth it.

So, next time you ask is your sling making your child clingy, remember maintaining a secure base will have long term benefits for both parent and child.

Would you like to find out what sling could work for you? Why not down our FREE Babywearing Starter Guide.

References: James Prescott Phd, Mary Ainsworth ‘The Strange Situation’ Study, John Bowlby Attachment Theory. Infant Calming Response Study.

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