The secret to a happy baby (it’s you!)

by | Feb 20, 2020 | Child development, Featured, Parenting

You are really, really important to your child. 

You see it in the way your baby gazes at you, prefers you over others and cries when you leave. We know we’re important in our child’s life but do we truly understand this? 

Attachment researchers tell us that we become who we are and even to know who we are by how we experience being in connection with our parents, or the primary person who took care of us as a young child. In fact, the emotional connections we have in the early years actually shape the way our brain develops. Security and safety are powerful in terms of affecting healthy development as we grow up.

And here’s the great news, there’s room for mistakes along the way! Parents and children can create and maintain strong attachment which leads to emotional health even when everything’s not perfect in the day to day.

Let me tell you a story…
 
For a number of years, our family took in foster children.  We took only babies and usually had them for under a year. One little girl in particular that stands out in my memory. She was about 5 months old when we got her. 
This was her situation… she lived with her mom and dad. They had a parting of ways and mom left, the baby stayed with dad, who’s mother (grandma) was supposed to help take care of the baby. Turns out dad was into dealing drugs and the cops were on his tail. This little baby was found by police officers after being abandoned in an apartment when her father had gotten wind they were coming after him and took off, leaving his baby alone laying on a mattress in the middle of the floor.
When she arrived at our house, she appeared on the outside to be okay. She was healthy looking (not visibly underweight or sallow looking), just a little dirty like she hadn’t been bathed in a while. But there was one thing. She didn’t cry. Even when her diaper was wet or poopy, or when she was hungry or tired. I fed her on a regular schedule, she always took her bottle well and settled into a eat, sleep, wake routine within a few days. We did all we could to create a safe, trusting environment. 

One of the main things I wanted to do with this little girl was teach her to communicate with us. You see, she had tried that before, crying to communicate her needs. But because no one responded, even at such a young age she had the innate wisdom to know that she shouldn’t waste her energy crying if no one was going to come. She had learned not to trust her world.  *Spoiler alert: this story has a happy ending!

So here’s what we did… anytime she would make a sound, we would respond. If she made a cooing sound, we talked to her. If she made a little noise that sounded like a cry, we checked to see what she needed. We talked to her, sang to her, stayed with her, played with her – only leaving her alone when she was fast asleep. She quickly learned to communicate and let us know, just like every other baby, when she was hungry, bored, sleepy, poopy and wanting to be picked up. Before long, she was happy and with lots of care and affection, sort of woke up to the world around her.

Nearly a year later after all the necessary processes were complete, she was reunited with her birth mother, grandmother and siblings. It’s one of those foster child stories that turned out well. She got what every child wants and needs – safety and security. She’s healthy and thriving now, plugged into family, friends and school.

When we respond to a baby’s cues – their little noises, gestures, gazes and cries, we create a sense of trust. Trust, which develops when a baby feels safe, secure and cared for, is the foundation for attachment, which informs every relationship we have from our first year of life through adulthood. It’s certainly the basis of the relationship that you as a parent will have with your child for the rest of your life.

Here are the benefits of secure attachment*:

  • Higher self-esteem
  • Better emotional regulation
  • Greater academic success
  • Better coping in times of stress
  • More positive engagement with preschool peers
  • Closer friendships in middle childhood
  • More effective social interaction in adolescence
  • Happier and better relationships with parents
  • Stronger leadership qualities
  • A greater sense of self
  • More trusting, non-hostile romantic relationships in adulthood
  • More empathy
  • Greater social competence overall
  • Greater trust in life

*from The Power of Showing Up, by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

In short, these benefits are everything you want for your child! These are great outcomes for a child whose parents are both physically and emotionally present and responsive. Some good news from the attachment research: when something negative happens, like we lose our temper and yell, or respond to a child’s tantrum with own adult version of a tantrum, the negative effects are not long lasting IF we quickly catch ourselves and sincerely apologize saying something like, “Wow, I didn’t handle that well, did I? I’m sorry I yelled at you.”   Relationship can be restored, peace can return.  Even in extreme cases like our sweet little foster baby.

Learning to parent well is a process, and no matter how old your children, you’re always learning. Here at Nurtured Noggins, we’re behind you. And remember, YOU are exactly the parent that your child needs. 😍

 

About me


I'm a child development specialist, parent coach and teacher trainer. I've cared for countless babies in child development programs, plus 3 kids, 3 grand babies and 5 foster babies! I LOVE babies and would come hold yours if I could. ❤️

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