Slings and Heroes
The first three months of parenting lay the groundwork.
Posted April 1, 2012
Mayim Bialik has a new book extolling attachment parenting. It's really good! Her Ph.D in neuroscience gives her important insights into brain development. Here is an additional key to happy and smart children that research is uncovering.
Lots of studies in developmental psychology have demonstrated the great importance of parental responsivity to the needs of the baby. Responsiveness to the child means attending to signals of need and getting them what they need before they get distressed. So it means learning what certain gestures and facial expressions mean.
It’s especially important to learn your child’s signaling in the first weeks of life. The mother-infant relationship around 3 or 4 months—how responsive the mother is---predicts all sorts of child outcomes later. Responsive care leads to better health, intelligence, social smarts and compliance with maternal wishes. This really makes sense. Why should a child be compliant with someone who has ignored their signals? And how reliable does the child learn the world is if people can’t pick up its signals? It makes for a lot of confusion and misplaced energy for self-protection that is otherwise used to build intelligence and social skills.
Personality dispositions are also laid in the first three months of life. The infant is a dynamic system that relies on early signals from the environment about how to grow. If left to cry, the baby learns not to grow socially and learns to build distance not only from caregivers but from the self—from emotions and body. These are detrimental to intelligence and wellbeing for a lifetime and the longterm effects may require therapy to partially overcome.
The best way to learn your baby’s signals is to “wear” them, carry them in arms or in a sling. You will start to feel early signs of agitation. If you take care of meeting needs before they get very distressed, you will foster a pleasant personality.
Breastfeeding is also important. To hear more about this from me and a student, tune into Progressive Parenting TV, online Sunday, April 1, 7 PM Pacific/10 PM Eastern Time (or check out the recording later):
Parenting with highly attuned responsivity and even breastfeeding extensively on demand are often viewed as heroic (or crazy). But these practices correspond to what babies need for proper human development. What's really crazy is to deny babies what they need for good health and wellbeing. Instead of heroic, these practices should be considered necessary and normal.
Beebe, B., Lachmann, F. & Jaffe, J. (1997). Mother-infant interacton structures and presymbolic self- and object-representations. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 7, 113-182.
Bialik, M. (2012). Beyond the sling: A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way. New York: Touchstone.
Tronick, E. (1989). Emotions and emotional communication in infants. American Psychologist, 44, 112-119.