This article covers the following topics: Growing Together, mutual sensitivity, mutual shaping, mutual competence, Attachment Parenting: How It Builds Better babies and parents, attachment parenting helps babies (and parents) thrive, attachment parenting organizes babies, writing your baby’s story, attachment parenting is good brain food, the shutdown syndrome. There will be three more parts to this article, be sure to keep an eye out for them.
Let’s look again at that developmental elevator. A baby reaches each developmental floor equipped with certain competencies. How these competencies flower into skills depends upon interaction with the care giving environment baby finds on that floor. If the interaction is responsive and enriching, baby gets back on the elevator with more skills, and the ride up to the next floor is much smoother. Because baby reaches the next floor with more skills, the interaction on the next level of development is even more rewarding.
The approach in the following chapter is to focus not only on the growth of the baby but also on that of the parents — the growth of a relationship. Infant development and the modern cliché infant stimulation mean not only what the infant does and what parents do for the infant, but what baby and parents do for one another. They grow together as a family. Here’s how it happens.
As you travel through the first two years of development together, something good happens to both of you. You become more sensitive to each other.
As you and your baby become mutually sensitive to each other, you begin to shape each other’s behavior., Mutual shaping of behavior is well illustrated by the ways parents and baby shape one another’s language. On the surface parents appear to undergo a regression to the level of the baby. They act, talk, and think down at the baby’s level. The parents first become like the baby in order that the baby can more easily become like the parents — all developing communication skills that none had before. This concept of mutual shaping is one of the most important ways parents and baby learn how to fit together.
As you and your baby become more sensitive to none another and shape one another’s behavior, you develop competence. Your baby gives a cue. You watch, listen, learn, and respond. Because of your keen perception and quick response, baby is more motivated to continue giving cues.
Take, for example, the way baby develops social competence. In the first days, even hours, of life baby cries to get fed or comforted. Parents respond. In time baby refines these “Pick me up” cures to facial or body language gestures. Parents perceive this new language and respond. Because of this responsive social setting, baby learns better social language, and parents develop better cue-reading abilities.
Bay is not, as previously thought, a passive player in the parenting game. She takes an active part in shaping behavior and building the competence of parents, providing they develop a parenting style that lets it happen.
Attachment Parenting: How It Builds Better Babies — And Parents
Over many years, pediatricians have noticed a remarkable correlation between certain parenting styles, and their lack, and the development of babies. The style of parenting that works for most families most of the time is attachment parenting. Let’s briefly review the most important points of attachment parenting.
Attachment Parenting Helps Babies (and Parents) Thrive
All babies grow, but not all babies thrive. Thriving takes growth a step further, to baby’s fullest potential. Helping babies thrive is what attachment parenting is all about. Research has proven what parents have long known — that something good happens to parents and babies when they’re attached. For example:
* Infants of parents who practice attachment parenting show more advanced developmental skills compared with infants given more restrained and distant styles of parenting.
* Infants who are breastfed on cue and have a timely weaning, are worn in slings during the day, sleep beside their mother at night, and are given an immediate nurturant response to crying eventually become more independent. These styles do not, as previously believed, create overly dependent children.
* Infants whose cues are sensitively attended to later develop more competent social skills.
* Attachment parenting enriches brain growth. In studies, sensitively nurtured infants scored higher on mental development and IQ tests.
* Infant animals who stay closer to their mothers have a higher level of growth hormones and enzymes essential for brain growth. Separating from or not interacting with their mothers causes the levels of these growth-promoting substances to fall.
Fascinating results from these attachment studies. Here is what is believed happens when parents and baby connect.
Attachment Parenting Organizes Babies
By organizing behavior, attachment parenting helps babies conserve energy. Because their behavior is better organized, attachment-parented babies cry less than other babies. If they cry less, what do they do with their free time? They spend more time in quiet alertness and divert the energy conserved from not crying into growing. During quiet alertness babies interact and learn the most from their environment, and their physiologic systems work better.
Writing Your Baby’s Story
Want to make a memory that lasts a lifetime? Create your baby’s own book. Beginning with your birth story, journalize your baby’s development.
Your recording system can range from a minimum-effort simple scratch pad, and a stick-on-sticker baby calendar, to authoring your baby’s full story on a computer. It’s easiest to keep a pocket-sized tape recorder handy on the most accessible kitchen counter. Dictate those memorable events when they occur, sometimes as they are occurring, baby’s first steps, for example. Periodically type these notes or hire a friend to type them for you.
What to record.
Too much verbiage obscures the main event. Start each topic with an opener, a highlighted mini title similar to the format used here. This makes it easier to scan and retrieve information later. Record high points of your baby’s development: first sit, first step, and first words. Also highlight humorous events and cute scenes — you could call them the catch of the day: “Today I caught Matty unrolling the toilet paper across the room!” And don’t forget special occasions, like birthdays. Note special clips of your development. Oftentimes you will respond to a baby’s cues in a way that amazes your: “I did that?” or “It worked!” Don’t let your wisdom go unrecorded.
In the early months or years you will probably make daily or weekly entries because baby does so many new things so fast. As baby grows or the reporter tires, you may record only the headlines of special events or make once-a-month entries. It’s fun later to pick up your baby’s story and reflect on the person he was and the person he is now. It also helps you reconnect with your growing child during phases in your life when the fleeting features of childhood have faded from your memory. You might even want to give a copy of your diary (easier to duplicate if it is typed) to your “baby” as a wedding gift, or when he or she becomes a parent. By referring to the fussy moments and sleepless nights recorded in mother’s journal, your grown child will gain insight into how he or she was parented.
Attachment Parenting Is Good Brain Food
The brain grows more during infancy than at any other time, doubling its volume and reaching approximately 60 percent of its adult size by one year. As the brain grows, nerve cells called neurons, which resemble miles of tangled electrical wires, rapidly proliferate. The infant is born with much of this wiring unconnected. During the first year, these neurons learn to work better and connect up with each other to make circuits that enable baby to think and do more things. The more baby interacts with the care giving environment, the more nerve connections she makes, and the better the brain develops. Attachment parenting helps the developing brain make the right connections.
The Shutdown Syndrome
A couple first-time parents, Bill and Mary, along with their four-month-old high-need baby, Faith had been practicing the attachment style of parenting and, though often exhausting, it had worked for them. Faith had been a happy, thriving baby. Then well-meaning friends (aka baby trainers) persuaded Bill and Mary that they were spoiling Faith, that she was running tier lives and manipulating them, and she would be forever dependent.
Somehow they lost confidence in their intuitive style of parenting and yielded to these pressures of a more restrained and distant style of parenting. Faith was scheduled, left to cry herself to sleep, and was not carried as much. Over the next two months Faith’s weight leveled off. She went from happy and interactive to withdrawn. Her sparkle left, and she was no longer thriving — neither were the parents. Faith was about to undergo an extensive medical evaluation for failure to thrive. After listening to the parents’ story and examining Faith, their pediatrician diagnosed the shutdown syndrome and explained: Faith had a high need to connect with her parents. Because of their responsive style of parenting she was an organized baby and trusted that her needs would be met. And it was working. When the attachment plug was pulled, her connection was lost, as was her trust. A sort of baby depression resulted, and her physiologic systems slowed down. The parents were advised to return to their previous parenting style, carrying her a lot, breastfeeding on cue, responding sensitively to her cries by day and night and, above all, adopting a style of parenting that worked for them, not someone else’s parenting advice. They did, and Faith thrived once more.
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