Your baby boy gazes at you adoringly, breaks into a smile that reveals his toothless gums and laughs out loud—he has a sense of humor! He is so smart! He’s responding to my face, you think —and then he farts. Your baby girl is gloriously happy wiggling her arms and legs around frantically – she looks so content and happy–… and then she begins to shriek—is she scared? is something hurting her? is she just bored?
It’s hard to know or even imagine what’s going on inside your baby’s growing brain and body!
At this stage, your baby is learning all about trust and security in his or her world. New developments in neuroscience tell us that the quality of their early attachments profoundly influence how they will behave as adults. Doctors know that babies deprived of human touch, and consistency in care, affection, and attention, develop emotional deficits that impact their ability to connect with others.
Conversely, babies that are cuddled and loved and cared for are being actively primed for a life of rich and satisfying relationships.
By the end of the first year, babies have figured out how (and whether) their caregivers respond to them, and by extension they begin to form their own understanding of how relationships work. Fast forward, these early experiences influence the degree to which they’ll grow up trusting others, and their perception of their own value in the world.
A recent New York Times Article, Yes, It’s Your Parents’ Fault explains the recent surge of interest in “attachment theory,” as our society struggles with the negative effects of a lack of healthy attachment. A study called the “Strange Situation” conducted by M. Ainsworth , observed how babies and toddlers reacted upon seeing their caregiver again after they had been away briefly. Securely attached children became upset when their caregivers left them, but ran toward them happily when they returned. They embraced and allowed themselves to be soothed.
“A securely attached adult similarly goes to a loved one for comfort and support when they, say, are passed over for a promotion at work or feel vulnerable or hurt,” according to the article. Through this behavior, we clearly see the link between a child who has developed “secure attachment,” and the adult he or she becomes.
Here are six practices to encourage healthy attachment in your baby, many of which you’re probably already doing instinctively:
- Each baby is unique: get to know your child’s specific cues. One baby is soothed by noise, while another needs absolute quiet. Learn through observation what your baby is communicating to you through sounds, facial expressions, and body movement.
- Respond to non-verbal cues such as facial and hand gestures, giving your child your full attention. This teaches him that he will be listened to and his needs are valued.
- Be emotionally available by using eye contact and cuddling to show your support for her. Do your best to keep your anxieties to yourself, so your baby sees you as a safe person.
- Play and have fun with him. Allow yourself to be uninhibited. Also watch for signs if your baby is becoming over-stimulated.
- Before and after a separation, try to spend one-to-one time with yourbaby. This reassures her that you are still there, even if not physically.
- Keep a consistent routine that is as low stress as possible. Take breaks when the baby indicates he or she needs one.
A little goes a long way. No need to strive for perfection – there’s no such thing — and you certainly don’t have to be on call 24/7. Secure attachment (as opposed to insecure) results from the quality and responsiveness of the interaction with your baby, and a willingness to notice and repair missed signals, according to doctors. Do the best you can, find ways to de-stress, and enjoy your baby.
Next week we’ll be looking at a topic that might give you an aha! moment—finding out what your “default” attachment style is, and how to best work with it as a parent.
See you then,