Promoting Healthy Attachments
Promoting Healthy Attachments
We know the huge impact that secure attachment has on your developing child for their whole life – but how best can we support this?
Firstly, bonding with your baby starts with making sure that you are looking after yourself too! Those important interactions that take place between you and baby happen most when your little one is quiet and alert and you are calm and responsive!! So hard as it may seem to take care of yourself at this time when your whole life may feel upside down – it is so important that you do.
One of the most important factors is parents own stress levels! Babies are really 'tuned in' to stress and anxiety and so a very tense and stressed out parent is likely to add to babies stress and actually make them harder to soothe. A baby who will not settle and quieten, is very likely to make for an even more stressed and anxious parent! Remember that your little one does not have the ability yet to calm themselves so rely on you to help them to calm, so you will need to develop a few strategies to help you to stay calm and 'regulated'. If you are feeling wound up or anxious, you may need to take a few moments to calm before interacting with your little one.
Calm Actions Lead to Calm Reactions:
Breathe (always a good plan I find!!) - Taking 4-5 long slow breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth slows down your heart rate and is a really neat way of helping to feel more calm!
Notice your level of tension (this may be tightening of shoulders, gritting teeth etc) and consciously relax your muscles.
Have a few 'coping statements' like “This will pass”, “I am doing a good job”, “I can do this”, “I am a fab parent – I CAN do this” - these really help although the best ones are ones that are really specific for you!
If you are feeling really really tense and at 'breaking point' – GET OUT! Wrapping up warmly and bundling your little one into the buggy for a brisk walk in the rain and wind or any weather will make you feel calmer. The motion will help to soothe baby, the exercise will help to release those 'feel good' chemicals in the brain which will help you to feel a bit better and you will feel more in control. You are not alone – we have all felt like that at some point!
Try and get enough sleep – this may seem an impossible suggestion when you have a brand new baby who has yet to learn new 'out of tummy' routines, but being sleep deprived will make you more irritable and you will lose patience more quickly. Try and nap when your baby does during the day when maybe older children are at school or nursery. The housework will wait and most clothes can be folded rather than ironed!!!
Ask for support in the house – you don't need to try and do everything yourself – remember YOU are doing the most important thing there is. Even quite young children from 3-4 can help to tidy away toys – and this is a good habit to start young, older siblings can tidy their rooms, put away clothes and even wash up and run the hoover around. Ask your partner for support and accept offers of help from friends or family, it will make them feel needed which is good for them and will take some stress off you – so a win-win situation!!
Parenting tips for creating a secure attachment bond
Creating a secure attachment with your baby takes time. It starts pre-birth and is an on-going relationship. It can be incredibly daunting walking out of hospital with this new little person, feeling completely unequipped to face the challenges that await you – but it does get easier and you will learn to understand your baby's communications as you get to know each other!
Learn your own little one’s language
We all have different ways of calming down and feeling good – we might like a run in the park, listening to some soft music, a shoulder rub or a wild dance around the kitchen!! Babies are just the same – some of them will be soothed by noise and movement, others by soft baby talk and gentle rocking. Learn what works for your little one; ‘tune in’ to the little reinforcers that baby gives you to let you know that it’s what they need.
When you are first confronted with a distressed baby who does not seem to respond to any of your efforts to settle them – DON’T PANIC!!
The crying is not the only clue – remember that it is only about 10% of communication is the actual words that adults use, the rest is pitch, tone, intensity body language and facial expression. Your baby will be communicating to you in different ways -
A stiff body and arched back, eyes tightly closed, fists clenched, scrunched up face……all these are little clues to help you figure out ‘What’s up Little dude?”
As you get to know this little person better you will be better able to ‘translate’ their body posture and type of cries which will help you to respond more quickly.
• Watch your baby’s facial expressions and body movements for clues about sensory needs. For example, your baby may adjust body position or facial expression, or move his or her arms and legs in response to your voice, or to indicate he’s cold or needs to be held and cuddled.
• Listen out for the kinds of sounds your baby makes and what these sounds mean. For example, the "I'm hungry" sound may be a short, low-pitched cry, while the "I'm tired" sound may be a grizzly wail.
• Note the kind of touch your baby enjoys and the amount of pressure that he or she experiences as pleasurable. With almost every touch your newborn is learning about life. The more tender your touch, the more your baby will find the world a comforting place.
• Try to look out for the kinds of movements, sounds, and environments your baby likes best. Some babies are comforted by movement, such as rocking or being walked back and forth, while others respond to sounds like soft music, or a change of environment such as being carried outside.
Don’t despair if your baby seems to cry and grizzle despite all of your best efforts – sometimes if they are teething, colicky or poorly they will grizzle whatever. Keep trying, because your love and patience and care will benefit your baby even if they keep fussing!
DO NOT give in to pressure from you sister-in-law’s best friend’s sage advice!!! What works for one baby will not necessarily work for yours!! It is more important for you and your baby, that you learn what works to soothe YOUR baby, that way baby learns to trust that YOU can soothe them and this is a HUGE BIG DEAL mum and dad!!!
Talk, laugh, and play with your baby
I cannot emphasise enough the importance of these interactions with your baby – the ‘work’ that you put in now will resonate through your child’s entire life!
A baby’s brain is incomplete, it arrives ready to be programmed by adults (Sue Gerhardt 2005)
As you gaze into your baby’s eyes and tell her that she is the most beautiful, smart, amazing baby that ever lived, and you smile at her with deep love while you rub her warm little tummy and stroke her hair, whilst you play with your son’s toes, or read him his first story, holding him close as ‘the mouse took a stroll through the deep dark wood…..’, or bounce him giggling on your knee as a ‘horsey’ you are sending your baby a deep powerful message that they are valued and loved. The impact of this on their developing brain is the lasting knowledge that they are lovable and valuable, they KNOW that they are the centre of the universe……because right now……THEY ARE!!
This REALLY does affect brain development – your babies brain is not fully ‘wired’ – these really tuned in interactions are a huge part of that process!!
Smiles, laughter, touch, and interaction are as important to a baby’s development as food or sleep. Your body language, tone of voice, and loving touch are all important ways of communicating with your baby. Time spent now playing and talking to your baby is time very very well spent and will make for considerably less heartache when your gorgeous 2 year old is a grumpy teen!! Watch for signs that your baby wants to interact with you and be ready! Relax and have fun, share pulling faces – babies LOVE to imitate and there is evidence to show that a new born will try to copy (albeit very slowly) hand movements like holding up one finger!!!
Use toys and books as a starting point and you get more confident – finger rhymes like round and round the garden are ideal too, there are lots of books now with cds of sing along rhymes etc, which help – if like me you feel a bit self-conscious!
Not Just MUM!!!
Although the ‘Father of Attachment’ Professor Bowlby spoke of the importance of mother’s in attachment, research has moved on considerably and we know that baby’s need an attachment ‘figure’ and dad is just as important – this does not mean that it is essential that a child has two parents, far from it – but if there are two of you, you both need to develop a secure attachment with your little one. There are lots of things the other parent can do to achieve this.
• Bottle feeding. Dad can form a special bond with his infant when handling the nighttime feedings and nappy changes by looking into his baby’s eyes, smiling, and talking.
• Talking, reading, or singing
to your baby. Even though your baby doesn't understand what you're saying, hearing dad’s calm, reassuring voice conveys safety.
• Playing peek-a-boo and mirroring your baby's movements.
• Mimicking your baby's cooing and other vocalizations.
• Holding and touching your baby as much as possible. Fathers can keep baby close by using a front baby carrier, pouch, or sling during daily activities.
The perfect parent Fact or Fiction????
It’s a lie – there is no such thing as a perfect parent, there is no perfect way to raise a child, and you don’t have to get it completely spot on 100% of the time in order to bond with your baby. This is possibly the hardest work you will ever have done!! What other job expects so much of you for seemingly so little return??? No one is able to be fully engaged and patient and warm and nurturing 24 hours a day!
Relax… experts estimate that a parent needs to meet their infant’s needs at least one third of the time in order to support secure attachment. That leaves plenty of time to seek support from your spouse, family, and friends.
One Last Word
Our bodies are amazing things and are able to create some powerful chemicals, two of these are Cortizol and Oxytocin…..
Cortizol is produced under stress – if baby is upset, scared, screaming, poorly etc, cortisol will be being produced by baby, and probably by mum or dad as it is pretty stressful to be in a situation with a screaming infant. But Cortizol puts a brake on bodily systems such as the relaxation system, learning and immune systems because the body believes that it is in crisis.
Oxytocin however is also known as the trust hormone, because it Relaxes all of the other body systems and produces a calmer physiological state because baby feels safe!!
Try to avoid situation that are likely to increase Cortizol and increase those that release Oxytocin.
Warmth, skin to skin contact and sucking all promote the production of Oxytocin! Think about warm baths, baby massage and holding baby with just a nappy close to your skin as ways of increasing these luscious moments!!
Bio: Currently studying with the aim of becoming a fully qualified child physiologist, has a lot of experience working with lovely children. And according to her Facebook profile Beatrice Dalton is getting fed up of the rain and is wishing she was back in sunnier climes. And the Australian say that we whinge. Big Dr Dan Hughes fan.
Thursday, 15 March 2012