For many, the bond we develop with our child (ren) is strong, so unique a feeling it can be difficult to put into words. So what is bonding and does it really matter?
Sir Richard Bowlby, an eminent psychiatrist, studied the theory of attachment stating it as being “the affectional bonds that develop between babies and their mothers.” He concluded that this enduring family bond, between child and parent, impacts the emotional development and mental health of children as they grow up.”
So how exactly does this strong, long lasting bond benefit our children?
From my own understanding and research, the benefits are many and far reaching. A secure attachment helps our children to be better able to cope with their emotions in stressful situations; It enables them to be confident to explore their world; It supports the development of conscience and positive social behaviors, and, helps them learn, through their caregivers caring behaviours, a sense of worth and cooperation with others.
According to Good Therapy.Org, , “it determines our children’s future capacity to build emotional bonds with others.” (http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/importance-of-attachment-in-early-caregiving-041912/)
So how does it develop, this secure attachment and what can we do to help?
It develops in response to our consistent and understanding love and care in the early stages of our baby’s life. Generally speaking, we are our baby’s main attachment, but they can develop attachments to other significant adults in their lives, dads, grandparents, caregivers, without compromising their bond with you.
Babies and toddlers seek comfort and safety from those who they’re attached to. They might cry or struggle and pull away to let you know they need a break. They might smile to gain your attention (they love looking into your eyes); those little noises or arms outstretched to you (in toddlers) are all ways of trying to get your attention. It’s important that we respond to these cues, a cuddle, a smile back, as this helps them to feel safe.
Dr. Dawn Barker, psychiatrist and author, advises that most children are securely attached because of what most parents do naturally which is being warm, empathetic and consistently responsive. ( http://www.authordawnbarker.com/2010/03/29/how-does-a-secure-attachment-develop/)
For some of us however, we may not have experienced a strong attachment with our own caregivers growing up. There may be illness, post natal depression, a prolonged absence from our baby’s early life, any of which can impact our ability to respond and develop the strong attachment our babies need. If you’re struggling, for any reason, then it is important to ask for help. Find someone who you can discuss your worries with, who will help you to get the support you need. Remember getting help when your baby is young can make a big difference to you both.
Tips to help you secure a “secure attachment” with your baby:
Your baby’s cry – crying is our baby’s main form of communicating. They cry when they’re hungry, tired, when their nappy is wet/soiled. They may cry if they’re uncomfortable, too hot or too cold. It’s like learning a new language so don’t be too harsh on yourself. Spend time listening and learning the tone and pitch of their cry. Watch their body, this can also give you clues about what attention is needed? There are times, such as teething, a growth spurt or illness when your baby will just be unsettled. Remember it is your care, your patience and love that benefits your baby even when they continue to fuss.
Smile, learn and play – making time to talk to your child, to sing, to play and have fun are all important ways of interacting with your child and strengthening your bond.
Let the perfect parent expectation go – You don't need to be the perfect parent to form a secure attachment with your child. Do not worry if you don’t always know what your child wants, just try your best. It’s your consistent response in trying to provide comfort that will positively impact the bond.
Look after yourself – caring for a baby or toddler is hard work. We get tired, we get stressed and we can feel the anxiety rising at times. Since babies cannot speak to us, they are very sensitive to how we are feeling. When we're calm and alert, we all communicate more effectively. It’s vital you take time to look after yourself so that you are better able to respond to your child’s needs.
Sleep/rest when your baby does; the dishes and housework can wait. Being less tired will have far more impact on your child’s wellbeing, not a clean and tidy house! Accept the willing offers of help from family and friends; if you’re in a position to, maybe hire some domestic help for a while?
Remember to eat & drink; It’s hard to imagine sometimes how our little bundles can take up so much time. Don’t skip on meals, make time to eat and ensure you’re well hydrated. Making time to fuel your body will help you better cope.
Negotiate help; take up offers of partners, family and friends. Housework, meal preparation and an extra pair of hands, to give you some timeout during baby’s unsettled periods, will all help you to help your baby.
Schedule "YOU" time; It’s so easy to get caught up in thinking you have it all to do. Early days especially, can feel like a never ending cycle of feeding, nappy changes, comforting and settling, where one day rolls into the next. Again, enlist the support of others so that you make some time for yourself; a walk, a coffee date, a massage, anything that will give you a little time away. You will find you return calmer and happier and it helps to regain some perspective. By investing some regular "you" time, your little one can only benefit.
Be flexible; whilst a routine can be helpful, if it doesn’t work for you or baby it’s okay to mix it up! Be mindful of well-intentioned family members and friends who spout forth on the virtues of routine. You know your baby best and what works for one, does not always work for you.
- Remember, YOU are the most significant part of your baby or toddler’s life, so nurture and take care of YOU.
- Taking time out is not selfish, rather a benefit to your little one.
- If you’re struggling to respond to your little ones needs there is help. Make time to ask for help, it could be one of the greatest gifts you give your child!
And finally…….. most children have secure attachments, because most parents are doing what comes naturally; responding to their little ones needs in a warm, consistent and understanding way!