Why Are More Families Embracing Koala Parenting?
It seems like every few months, parenting circles begin to buzz about some "new" parenting philosophy, leaving us to surreptitiously research the term to figure out if (1) it's a "good" or "bad" approach, and (2) if we've been parenting that way without even knowing it. Over the years, we've heard several new parenting styles, including gentle parenting and silky parenting — and now there's koala parenting.
Koala parenting is a relatively new buzzword. But the philosophy behind the phrase and its guiding principles have been around for decades. Here, experts explain what koala parenting really is, what it looks like in the real world, what the benefits of koala parenting are, and the potential risks.
What Is Koala Parenting?
Koala parenting is an umbrella term for a parenting approach that aims to create a close bond and attachment between parents and their kids right from birth, says Tia Kim, PhD, the vice president of education, research, and impact at Committee for Children, a leading nonprofit in social-emotional learning that serves over 24.4 million children each year.
If that sounds familiar, there's a reason. Koala parenting is essentially the same idea behind "attachment parenting," a term that was coined by the American pediatrician William Sears in the 1930s. Attachment parenting advocates for a collection of practices known as the Baby Bs: "birth bonding, breastfeeding, babywearing, bedding close to the baby, belief in the baby's cry, balance and boundaries, and beware of baby trainers."
Koala parenting focuses on the same philosophy of acknowledging the needs of a child, addressing those needs, and validating how their child is feeling while attempting to meet their need or solve the problem, Dr. Kim tells POPSUGAR.
What Does Koala Parenting Look Like?
Here's a real-world scenario: a parent turns down their toddler's request to go to the park, then finds their child in tears. A koala parent "would start by comforting their child and acknowledging the emotion," Dr. Kim says.
"You might see a koala parent hug their child and say something like, 'I know you're sad we can't play at the park today. It's OK to be sad. I feel that way too sometimes when I can't spend time with my friends, but you know what makes me feel better? Doing something else I love, like reading books. Would you like to read a book together?'"
In other words, they would validate their child's emotions and show empathy, without stepping over their own boundaries.
According to Dr. Kim, some of the common principles and practices that we see with koala parenting include:
- birth bonding through skin-to-skin contact
- responding to a baby's cry with empathy
- honoring the parents' own knowledge of their child's unique needs
- finding balance so parents can meet their own needs as well as their child's
What Are the Benefits of Koala Parenting?
"It might seem obvious, but having strong emotional bonds between parents and children helps kids build crucial future life skills," Dr. Kim says. Those skills may include getting along with others, making responsible decisions, and learning to manage their emotions. Koala parenting techniques can also help kids develop a growth mindset — that is, the belief that work and dedication can improve their abilities over time.
Dr. Kim adds that children aren't the only ones who benefit from the parenting style. Parenting in this style helps caretakers learn tools and practices that build strong relationships with their kids. But koala parenting also encourages parents to take care of themselves, as well as their kids.
"Koala parenting really isn't about draining yourself to meet the needs of your child," Dr. Kim tells POPSUGAR. "We know that when parents are meeting their own mental, physical, and social-emotional needs, they're better able to meet the needs of their kids."
Are There Any Drawbacks to Koala Parenting?
As with anything, there can be some downsides to the koala parenting philosophy. "I think the biggest potential drawback could be the pressure for parents to get it perfect," Dr. Kim says. "Being responsive to your child's every need isn't easy."
But koala parenting isn't supposed to be about being perfect. Instead, the philosophy "recognizes that when everyone in the family is having their needs met, the family is set up to be happy and healthy," Dr. Kim says. It also emphasizes the idea that "you know your child better than anyone else, and that means you also know what will be best for your child and for your family," she says. "There is no one parenting style that works perfectly for every family. And since every child is unique, it's best practice to tailor your style to each child."
All that to say, koala parenting has built-in flexibility and wiggle room that's meant to act as a counterbalance to many parents' tendency to focus on "getting it right" at all times.
What Do People Get Wrong About Koala Parenting?
Because of the name, people may mistake koala parenting for a type of helicopter parenting, which it's not. But Dr. Kim says that the most common misconception about koala parenting is the idea that you need to be strict and follow every single principle.
"When there are specific practices for any parenting style, it can be easy to lose sight of what should be the main focus: creating and nurturing a strong social-emotional bond with your child," she says. There are so many ways to build that bond, both by practicing core koala parenting activities like babywearing and through other other means that work for your child and your family.
"As long as you're fostering that positive parent-child relationship, whatever method you feel is most effective for you and your family will help create positive outcomes for your child's social-emotional learning," Dr. Kim says.