Starting Your Child On The Way To Becoming A Healthy And Happy Adult Starts In Infancy
Attachments begin in infancy
Psychoanalytic scholar Eric Erikson suggests that stable attachments begin in infancy. He describes the first year of an infant's life as a "trust versus mistrust" psychosocial stage of development. He believes infants must experience proper care, love and affection from their parents or parent substitutes to develop this sense of trust. Without this caring environment, the infant may become suspicious, fearful and mistrusting of his or her surroundings. These fears can even influence the ability to form relationships as an adult.
Current research supports the idea that forming a secure attachment is a critical part of an infant's development and later adjustment. An infant's attachment to other caregivers is also important, and seems to be separate from the infant-parent bond.
Parents and other caregivers have many opportunities to help the infants in their care develop positive attachments early. Touch -- including cuddling and holding -- greatly increases positive attachment to the parent. This can be practiced anytime, such as when the infant is transported from one room to another or waiting in line at a store or doctor's office. The following are suggested opportunities for a parent to start building a trusting relationship with his or her infant:
When breastfeeding, the mother has the opportunity to hold her infant for extended periods of time. Formula feeding should also involve holding the infant. Putting the child in a hard infant carrier for infant feedings detracts from the attachment process. Feedings are wonderful opportunities to bond with infants by gently cuddling, stroking and gazing into their eyes while they nurse.
Soft baby carriers
Wearing soft baby carriers gives additional infant-parent attachment time. Research has indicated that this increased physical contact makes mothers more responsive to their infants and is associated with good mother-infant attachment.
Soft carrier use also is associated with fewer regular periods of crying. It may be that the child cries less just because the mother is closer, or she may attend to the infant's needs more quickly. Further study is needed to include the effects of fathers and infant attachment.
Soft infant carriers can be worn when doing simple household chores or taking a walk. For the safety of the infant, refrain from wearing carriers when performing duties where the infant might be burned or injured, such as cooking or lawn mowing.
Develop trust while changing your infant's diapers? Certainly! This is an opportunity to provide a basic need for your infant. The more comfortable he or she is, the happier he or she will be. Think how difficult it is for an adult to have positive feelings when they are uncomfortable. By quickly identifying and taking care of this basic need, the infant stays comfortable and you prevent him or her from developing diaper rash. Diaper changing is also a great time to socialize with your infant. Talking to your child in a gentle, friendly way makes the time more pleasant for you both.
A light body massage after lying in one position for an extended period can make an infant feel calmer or excite him or her. A light slow massage or gentle back patting can relax an infant and even put him or her to sleep. More active --although always gentle -- massages can excite him or her and encourage body movement. Some parents find enjoyment in participating in movement programs designed for the parent and infant.
Smiling and eye contact are a critical part of your infant's experience. Allow your baby to focus on your face several times a day. He or she needs to recognize his or her parent by sight as well as touch and smell.
Your voice can also be a positive influence on your infant. Hearing familiar positive sounds will assure your infant that you are close. You can do this when activities, such as dressing, cooking or caring for others, prevent you from holding your infant. Further longitudinal studies are needed to refine our understanding of all the effects of each attachment and to include more male parents. At present, ample evidence suggests that, although there will be other people and experiences that influence your child's development, you, moms, have the earliest and most important opportunities to establish a trusting relationship with your infant.