Attachment-based Strategic Parenting


Christopher Conley
Focus on Adoption magazine

Attachment-based strategic parenting works with parents to develop a parent-child relationship based on empathy,  understanding, acceptance, genuineness, and playfulness.

It helps parents increase their self-confidence and feelings of warmth towards their child, and reduces parenting stress. It improves the family’s coping skills and psychosocial adjustment, and increases their ability to have fun and enjoy each  other.

Parent-child attachment

Parenting can be challenging. Many parents report feeling stressed when faced with children’s difficult behaviors. The  stress and resulting conflict has a negative impact on the closeness of the parent-child relationship, on the home  environment, and on the family as a whole.

Parenting can be even more challenging for adoptive and foster parents because of attachment disruptions and their  negative impact on the child’s emotional regulation, coping resources, and functional capacity. This, in turn, can create  adjustment difficulties with a child’s new family.

The parent-child attachment is key to a child’s social, emotional, and cognitive development. Emotional regulation  depends upon a positive experience from infancy. The infant develops trust that his attuned parents will positively respond to his distress. When this is achieved, the child grows up with the ability to emotionally regulate himself and thus engage in effective problem solving and satisfying social relationships.


Parents often understand the importance of remaining calm, providing choices, and spending time with their child. They  also want to know, specifically and practically, how to respond to conflict and misbehaviour. An attachment-based  strategic parenting approach begins with attachment, but also gives the parent specific strategies and interventions to use in response to specific behavior issues. In addition, the parent gains a greater understanding the child’s behaviour.

Strategies need to help the parent learn how to avoid power struggles, communicate acceptance, and focus on what they  can control rather than what the child controls. Within the framework of attachment, the child then perceives the parent as being reasonable, fair, and willing to share control, which motivates greater compliance and fewer conflicts.

The steps to a parent’s response to misbehaviour or conflict is based partially on the Love and Logic approach created by  Jim Fay and Foster W. Cline, M.D. It involves leading with empathy, validating the child’s feelings, giving the problem back to the child, assisting the child with identifying choices or options, and allowing the child to make the choice and to accept responsibility for the choice. Often parents jump too quickly to dealing with an issue. They miss the significant benefit of
empathic listening.

Empathic listening and limit setting

Empathic listening is about the parent reflecting back what the child is saying, doing, and, most importantly, feeling.  Parents often are able to see that a child is angry but may miss identifying, understanding, or respecting the feelings  underneath the anger, such as disappointment, frustration, sadness, or anxiety. Empathic listening helps the child de-escalate or remain calm enough to resolve the issue.

Practical limit-setting skills are critical to effective parenting. Louise Guerney, developer of Filial Therapy, suggests a  three-step approach which involves stating a limit, giving a warning, and following through with a consequence. However,  often the child does not respond to the first warning of a consequence. The parents then don’t know what to do and don’t follow through. The child learns that the way to get what they want is to dig in and not comply because the parent will  eventually give up. Attachment-based strategic parenting helps the parent develop multiple consequences for each  problem. If the first consequence does not work, the parent already knows the consequence they will utilize next. The  parent remains calm and shows empathy, and the child eventually complies and will learn to respond to the initial  warning.

Effective parenting involves healthy attachment, and practical and specific strategies. When both are achieved, families  report positive changes including reduced child behaviour issues, reduced parenting stress, and improved parent-child  relationship. Effective parenting also results in those changes being maintained in the long-term.

Christopher is a Registered Clinical Counsellor, Registered Marriage and Family Therapist, Registered Play Therapist Supervisor, and Parenting with Love and Logic Facilitator. He works with families, children and adolescents in Vancouver  providing individual, family, play, and filial therapy, and parent education. Contact Chris at Grove Centre for Child and  Family Therapy,,, 604-790-9362.