I recently heard an authority on attachment issues state that children are most social during the period of 6 months to 1 year. He continued to say that during this period a child is responding and absorbing the world around him/her at a rapid pace, concluding that a child’s personality is not predisposed at birth, but grows and develops throughout the early years of life. For parents who adopt, this means they have as much to do with a child’s personality as the biological parents. For all parents, this research validates what we already know: bonding during the early years, especially the first year is extremely important to the growth and well being of our children.
I was struck with Dr. Hughes’s statement regarding the period during 6months and 1 year as the most social time of a person’s life. It is a small window of social opportunity, but I believe he is referring to the child’s ability and desire to interact with the world around them. So the question is, how do we make the most of this small window of social opportunity?
Children during this period are actively exploring the world through all of their senses, the key being ALL of their senses. Often they will do an activity over and over again, and still think it is funny or fascinating. They are looking to their primary caregiver to interpret the world for them. When we are attuned with their desires or communication, we give and they receive cues to help understand their world. They are communicating using “words,” eye contact, body language, and of course cries. As children become more mobile their world expands. It is truly amazing to watch a child go from crawling to walking in a matter of months, thus acquiring the new skill of independence. Their independence lasts only as long as their safety and security allow, but independence nonetheless.
Given the enormous physical and cognitive growth during this period, there are a few tips to foster bonding and security for your babies.
ATTUNEMENT – The art of being present and responsive. During this period of curiosity, attunement is essential; it is how babies learn. Eye contact and mimicking behavior are ways to promote attunement. When a baby shows emotions, mimicking their emotions helps the child learn that emotions are o.k. and that they are doing something worthwhile. Also attunement helps a child feel important and special, thus increasing safety and self-worth.
HOLDING – Being held is good medicine. We all need hugs throughout the day, especially on difficult days. When a baby is being held, he/she feels safe. Often parents are concerned about spoiling a child. It is my opinion that one cannot spoil a child through holding. It may make life difficult for the parents, especially around sleep; but the child will naturally require less holding as he/she grows and develops. As he/she becomes independent, he/she may require a hug for a second, just to check in and make sure you are still there and then continue exploring the world.
PLAY – Children learn and develop both cognitively and physically through play. When a parent joins his/her child and they explore the world together through play, the child feels safer to take risks and go beyond the original safety zone. Play can be imaginary, concrete, musical and artistic, as well as other ways. All will assist your child in learning different areas of the world. It truly is the liberal arts education for babies.
TOUCH – Since babies learn through their 5 senses, touch and taste are quite active during this stage. Yes, as we know everything goes in the mouth. This technique helps a child learn his/her world, in addition to absorbing what tastes good or bad. Children begin to explore their worlds through touch when playing in water or sand. Our scientists are born in the bathtub or sand box.
There are many educational toys and activities available today which help foster curiosity and learning in babies. Having options to help promote the growth and development of children is wonderful. However, there is no replacement for positive one-on-one time with mom or dad. Remember, most babies are more impressed with the boxes that the toys come in than the actual toy. Have fun with your baby; it is a time of incredible growth and learning for both of you.
Cindy Hill-Ford, MA, MFT, MOM is a psychotherapist in private practice in Lafayette and Berkeley. She contracts as a Behavior Modification Specialist to a foster family agency. Currently she is forming a Bonding With Your Baby Group. For questions or comments, please contact her at (925) 210-9964 or firstname.lastname@example.org.