Waldorf and Attachment Parenting: The Mini Rant

Wow!  I have had not one, not two, but three mothers who are raising their children according to the tenets of Attachment Parenting tell me that they did NOT chose a Waldorf-inspired education for their child as it was not “child-centered” enough, it did not seem respectful of the child,  and it was not “democratic” enough.  They are currently searching for schooling methods that are learning toward democracy and equality in the family.

I understand their concerns, and thought this was interesting as we consider ourselves an attached family – we breastfeed for years, co-sleep for years, practice gentle discipline,  seek to put respect and empathy at the core of dealing  with our children – and we have always considered Waldorf to be EXTREMELY compatible with this type of parenting.  No where in “You Are Your Child’s First Teacher” or “Beyond the Rainbow Bridge” or in “Heaven to Earth” is there mention of spanking, or yelling or treating a child with anything but respect, warmth, love and delight.  . I have not read of all of Rudolf Steiner’s works yet, (which total something like 400 lectures and 40 books) but so far all I have seen mention of  is the notion that the under 7 child is one to be protected, delighted in, respected, and worked with within his or her physical body.  On the other hand, the small child is not asked to comment on the state of the world or to plan the day for the classroom either.

To me, this boils down to if you believe in Steiner’s seven year cycles and if they mesh with your view of childhood development.  Do you believe that while a child under the age of 7 COULD learn all kinds of things, be involved in all kinds of family decisions and situations but  perhaps they SHOULD NOT  be when they are under the age of 7 for their own health and well-being?  Do you perhaps, like me, view the making of children into small adults in our society as a by-product from our  society where we are more fast-paced, more stressed, and where American children are involved in more scheduled activities than ever before in history because there is no time for the children to be children?  Do you really believe the American child has “evolved” and now is a higher organism than any other child at any other point in history to now have adult understanding at the age of 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7?

I recently got a book entitled “Black Ants and Buddhists” which is about teaching within a model of democracy, peace and thinking critically in as early as in  the first and second grade.  These kids tackled things such as deconstructing the story of Columbus, touching on the slave trade, looking at homelessness and social programs – lots of different subjects that are not tackled until later within the Waldorf framework.  I wondered if these very small children, who just about sixty years ago in this country would have been having a half day of first grade followed by a nap, would understand these subjects or would they just become factoids within their brains?  How much do you remember from your early years of education? How much do you remember from your early  family life?   I often feel ashamed I do not remember more of my mother, who died when I was eight years old.  My neighbor, whose father died when she was 12, also says she has very few memories of her father and also wonders why we do not remember more from when we are little. If we cannot really remember important personal memories of  such individual life-changing events, are we really going to understand something as impersonal, far-away and  multi-faceted as Columbus and the treatment of the Native Americans who were here when we are only  six and seven years old?  Is is respectful to act like the children understand and are  ready to hear the sins of humanity?

Waldorf treats children in a respectful manner that coincides with the appropriate developmental stage of the child according not only to anthroposophical childhood development, but also traditional development as seen by Piaget and as recorded in the Gesell Institute books.  So where do these attached  mothers feel that it is falling apart for them?  I thought about this at length.  Attachment Parenting does not mean that you and your child are equals – hopefully you do have more experience and guidance to bring to the table at this point!  It seems as if many, (not all),  attachment parents are rather afraid to be a parent that sets down anything contrary to what the child wants,  in some ways,  in fear that it will damage the bond they have with their child.   Treating the child will respect does not equate to equality, nor does it equate to the child having a vote in every family issue.

To me, being a respectful parent does not only involve meeting your child’s needs, and some of the things they want, but introducing the right thing at the right time within the developmental cycles.  Many parents  worry about what their relationship with their child will look like as the child grows.  I worry that if we treat our small under the age of 7 child as an adult, then  what  will the parent-child relationship will look like in the teenaged years?    Perhaps it would be more respectful to the child to exude confidence in the decisions that the family makes and that the family does include and think about the child.  Perhaps the things that build a strong family and lead children strongly from chilldhood into functional adulthood are things that may or may not involve the child – a child-inclusive household, but not necessarily completely a  child-centered one – this may include seeing work around the house, going outside and being in nature, and having the  parents have a intimate, loving relationship so the child has a model of a marriage.   The adult does and should have responsibilities above and beyond a small child.  The adult has needs and wants that may be above and beyond that of a small child’s needs and wants.  We are not equal in so many ways.

To me, Waldorf  does mean your child’s thoughts, and feelings are heard and respected, but within the context of the whole family; and this is also the crux of Attachment Parenting.  The very best attachment parenting practices involve balance within the family for the parents and the children’s needs; this is also at the heart of many models of democratic living with children.  Just the way that Waldorf accomplishes this is often through different means.  It does not equate that the best way to be an attached family  is to let your child’s voice be the main voice in the family that is heard.  Your child’s voice can still be heard strongly within your family because you are the parents, because you are the ones who know your child best, and you can ascertain many things without talking your child’s ear off about things.  Just as you read your infant’s cues as an attached parent, you can still read your child’s cues now that they are 4, 5, 6, and even 7. 

The thing that bothered me in many of the positive discipline books (because, let’s face it – after the pregnancy and childbirth books, the breastfeeding books, the solid food books,  comes the positive discipline books for many first-time parents) was the belief and treatment of all children, no matter what the age, should be spoken to the same and the discipline techniques should be the same.  I believe in the seven year cycles that Steiner set forth:  that the first seven years are for the body, with a protection of the intellect, the next seven years are for the feeling life of the child with an emphasis on beauty, developing a relationship to the cultural morals that make us a society, stories with good morals and good people, art, music, religion, spirituality, doing!  – with the last seven years heading into reasoning, critical and independent thinking.  Why are we trying to rush through these natural stages by treating a two, three or four year old like a fourteen year old?  Is it not more respectful to the small child to set a rhythm to the day that involves real work for the child to imitate, stories and music and singing and art, cooking experiences, whole body experiences instead of burdening the small  child under the age of 7  with attempts to think like a fourteen year old?   

Is Waldorf disrespectful to a small child because it does not provide the child the space to make decisions all day long?  My thought is that it may be important to consider how decision- making can burden a small child, pull them into their heads early and therefore compromise their physical bodies for the rest of their lives, teach them a lot of verbal games early and take away the protection  and beauty of life we are trying to provide for those first seven years.   Is Waldorf disrespectful to the child because the rhythm may be set by the parent with the child in mind, but also the needs of the family?  I think the child needs to see a beautiful family, a functioning family that involves work and parents who love one another and are committed to each other and the well-being of the whole family.  This gives the child something to grow into.  It is difficult when the child is small and there are few boundaries when you are attachment parenting as the child is with you 24/7, but as the child grows, some boundaries between child and parent become important – otherwise you have a six and seven year old who is very concerned about the financial matters of the family, whether or not the parents will have another child or not, every thought and feeling of the mother, not too mention it seems many husbands and wives are craving a little more connection by this point!  Some boundaries can be important for the whole child, and when the time is right, provide an opportunity for the child to move from being under the Madonna’s cloak of the mother  into their own growth and development.

Is Waldorf as an educational method disrespectful of the child because the curriculum is not child-led?  My thought would be that because these stories and the entire, detailed curriculum is hand-picked for the proper stage of  soul development for the child, for the HEALTH of the child, to speak to the child at that stage, to not provide the child with these stories and subjects at the proper time seems like another unfair disadvantage that has been thrust upon the child .

I know many attached parents who do not hesitate to say no to unhealthy food and provide only organic food, who provide only safe toys, natural cleaning products,  have no problem modeling good manners for their child – why would they not want an educational method that is totally built around the physical and mental health their child will attain when they are grown?    Many parents are drawn toward Attachment Parenting because of the benefits of health for the child – the benefits of feeding with love, the benefits of loving touch, the benefits of listening to your child and forming a strong bond.  And I truly believe that Waldorf is a choice that is  made for the benefit of developing the optimum  health, well-being, and morality of the child.  Perhaps Attachment Parenting and Waldorf have more in common than meets the eye.

Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.


13 thoughts on “Waldorf and Attachment Parenting: The Mini Rant

  1. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post.

    Thank you so very much.

    I have always felt this way and was not able to articulate it as well as you have done here.

    Now I have a source to send people to when I need it.

  2. Just found your blog and love it! As a follow AP/Steiner mum I agree with what you say – but there are some more ‘old school’ anthros who make suggestions outside AP tennants – in particular I think of Joan Salter ‘Incarnating Child’ who suggests letting young babies cry, not hold them too much and is specifically negative about Continuum Concept and about extended breastfeeding … so if people get the ‘wrong’ first impression about Steiner/Waldorf it could be from this type of book !

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  4. I totally agree that AP and Waldorf are compatable and without a doubt they share the importance of conveying security, compassion and love to our children! I went from AP to Waldorf as a natural progression, having found in all that I read about Waldorf education and Steiner philosophy on children that Waldorf offered an enivronment that totally supported AP. However, although for me Waldorf and AP seemed to go hand in hand, I was rather amazed to find very few AP families at the Waldorf-inspired kindergarten my daughter attended for a year. I found many more traditional authoritative parents there than I had expected to find. But that is no reflection on Waldorf, rather spoke boldly about the young souls who were drawing these families to Waldorf as a place where they needed to be. Plus, many of the families had come to Waldorf once they had gotten into the school years, and so babyhood and toddlerhood were well behind them. If anything, Waldorf was their first introduction to AP. Personal interpretation is everything – how you interpret AP will affect how you perceive it to be akin to Waldorf or otherise.

    • Karen, I love how you worded about the young souls who were drawing these families to Waldorf as a place where they needed to be. What a way with words you have and anthroposophy.
      Many blessings,

  5. Sorry I am way behind on this discussion, but I just discovered this blog. I love it precisely BECAUSE it speaks from a combined Waldorf AP perspective. I want to second what Gypsy said above. I think a lot of AP parents like Waldorf, but sometimes it can seem like while the feeling is not mutual. My daughter just started Waldorf kindergarten and the teacher recently sent some articles home. The articles that deal with infant development always seem to be from a RIE, rather than AP point of view (nothing wrong with RIE, but just saying…) Also, one of the articles on sleep even referred (though admittedly just in passing) to the practice of the family bed as “questionable.” This after they included a very glowing article about Waldorf education in their brochure, reprinted from Mothering magazine!

    • Thank you Azrael! I am so glad that you are here, and you really can continue to come here for an attached perspective.
      Many blessings,

  6. Carrie I am wondering if you have read anything by Alfie Kohn, like his book ‘Unconditional Parenting’. I would be interested to hear your thoughts 🙂 I agree with everything you have written in this post, but I also find myself agreeing with the Unconditional Parenting view and I wonder if these two things go together?

    • Sara,
      How old are your children? I read that book when my first child, now 11, was pretty small, so I don’t think I remember it too well…As I recall, it was one of those books that has this more general, theoretical feel to it and not so many real, in life, in the moment, practical examples, but I could be not remembering it well. Nearly all attachment parenting books give nod to development, to boundaries and gentle discipline, but to me, many fall short on the How’s and the every day life portion, along with what one should be setting boundaries on…I think books like that are awesome from parents coming from a very rigid, punishment and punititve based background, but I am not so certain they are geared towards those aleady doing AP and are perhaps almost afraid of setting boundaries. My friend and I have been talking about the AP fail in terms of setting boundaries now that a group of us have older children — very, very hard to go back in and add boundaries to a 7 and up child, and you are almost starting from a place of less boundaries because you are sharing your body, your bed, your room, your bathtub…

      Anyway, I have more to say on the subject, but will stop there. Take what resonates with you. I consider myself a strong AP parent and a strong proponent of AP, but I would like to see more of an emphasis on loving boundaries by age, and more of an emphasis on development and what is appropriate by age.


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  8. I think this is a great explanation for why Waldorf can work so well– My D is three and I send her to a Waldorf inspired playschool and trying to decide what to do as she gets older. However, two things that come to mind are:
    1. You have to trust that the stories and material designed for children really work. That is not always easy. There is a lot of Steiner that I find questionable, in the true sense of the word, I haven’t decided how I feel about it.
    2.Also as far as some of the more depressing elements of the world that you wonder may hurt children. many children do not have the privilege of remaining ignorant of some of the terrible things that happen in this world. While you may be able to protect your child from learning about racism my child will face it as she leaves our family for the wider world. Context, in this case historical background may help children.
    All that said I love this post. I am very attracted to Waldorf and we increasingly incorporate it into our daily lives with amazing results: a happy, thoughtful, kind-hearted child.

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