Photo by F. Hutchins

About a week ago I found myself sitting on a shuttle bus next to a fellow author who also happens to work in child welfare.  While my baby was sitting on my knee, wriggling and chatting away, she kept nuzzling into my shoulder, trying to attach.  I commented that babies usually make it pretty clear what they want – you don’t usually need to read a baby book to work it out.  My companion said that in her line of work, she sees many babies who don’t communicate like that with their mother.  If the mother is unresponsive to the child’s needs, the child doesn’t learn to interact with her.  She mentioned that in many of the children she sees, that simple bond between mother and baby just doesn’t exist.

Research is showing that babies first learn about themselves through their interactions with their parents or caregivers. 

Normally parents play and interact with their babies and the babies take their cues from those interactions.  They learn that mum or dad will respond to their cries and meet their needs and that makes them feel safe enough to explore the world around them.  It also teaches them how to form relationships with others and helps the higher parts of the brain to develop properly.  These parts of the brain are responsible for developing emotional and relational intelligence – so the child learns to recognise their feelings and the feelings of others and respond appropriately.  According to the Australian Childhood Foundation, children that have been neglected or abused may not feel safe enough to even express their true feelings.  So next time your child tells you they don’t want to eat their broccoli, take comfort in the fact that this is actually a sign of your healthy relationship.  They trust you enough to tell you what they really think.

If people haven’t had a baby before, they might not know how to interact with one. 

I know I didn’t spend much time around babies before I had my own.  So what should new parents be doing to bond with their baby?

A friend of mine who has just had her first baby commented on facebook that she and her husband are completely in love with him.  If you think of it as falling in love and do all the things you would do if you were falling in love, then that will pretty much cover it.

I remember the first time I read a parenting book that told me to ‘flirt’ with my baby!  At first I was a bit surpised about that.  But you do ‘flirt’ with your baby.  You smile at them, you admire them, you gaze into their eyes, you shower them with physical affection and you whisper words of affirmation.  People do this instinctively.  Hand them a baby and they’ll often lower their voice and say, “Hello sweetheart, aren’t you beautiful?”

The other thing people instinctively do with babies is sing to them or dance with them.  I know Molly loves to be sung to.  As soon as you sing to her, her little head starts rocking and her hands start clapping and her legs start kicking.  It’s beautiful to watch.

You’ll never find a better partner to slow dance with than a baby.  Especially if you don’t mind a bit of slobber on your ear!

As well as all this flirting and dancing and sweet-talking, what babies really need is somebody who responds to their needs.  That’s what we do when we first start going out with someone, right?  They say “Jump!” and we say “How high?”  Nothing is too difficult or too much to ask.  Babies need us to be willing to drop everything and come running when they need us.  That’s how they learn that they really are special and that somebody thinks the world of them.

Has bonding with your baby come naturally to you or have you had to learn it?  Do you find it easy to play with your baby?  Was it like falling in love?

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