When we get something new it usually comes with a manual or instructions of some sort to help us understand how to use it, when we start a new job we usually have some induction to understand how to do the job, however when we become parents there is no manual, no induction to what is the most important job you will ever have.
Becoming a parent can be a very daunting experience, a leap into the unknown, a time filled with delight and filled with fear. One can become bombarded with advice from all around, from grandparents, neighbours, friends, health professionals, all meaning well but sometimes just overwhelming you.
What is more important than the “has your baby smiled yet?”, “has your baby sat up on her own?”, “is your baby breast-feeding or bottle-feeding?”, is how well you are getting to know this wonderful little person who has entered your life, how well you understand how they are feeling, how you can see the things that they like or don’t like.
You are your baby’s mirror. They learn about their own feelings by seeing these feelings reflected back in your expression. When they smile, they see you smile back. When they are upset, they see you show that upset in your face and then they see you help them through that upset. A baby begins to get a sense of self through these interactions.
It is important to make time for one to one time with your little baby to help them to develop their sense of self. Research in neuroscience shows us that the most important factor in determining a child’s future is the attachment they have with their parents.
Ideas for one to one time with your baby:
Quiet time: Spending time in quietness together. Watch your baby, just wait and see what he does, mirror his little actions. Really try to think about how he is feeling. Enter into his world.
Play time: Spend time in conversation with your baby- use words, sounds, facial expressions and movements to converse with your baby. Wait for her response, be it a smile or opening her mouth and respond back, mirror her or expand on what she has done to continue the chat. At this time faces are the most interesting thing for babies. Be sensitive to your baby’s cues, she will need little breaks as this interaction is very stimulating. She will look away from time to time and look back when she is ready.
Song time: Use song- simple playsongs such as “the wheels on the bus”, “pat a cake” and “row your boat” combine song, movement and touch and can be wonderful source of enjoyment for both baby and parent. Take note of how your baby responds, some songs he will enjoy more than others. Remember it doesn’t matter if you don’t remember the words, make them up as you go along! Don’t worry if you don’t know any playsongs, sing songs that you enjoy, your baby will sense this and most likely enjoy them too. Remember babies have not yet developed the ability to regulate their own states of emotion. Sometimes they will get quite excited by song time, help them to regulate their emotions by singing slower songs near the end, bringing them to a calmer place.
Closeness time: Use touch- any form of warm, physical closeness between parent and child can have positive effects, releasing the hormones opioids and oxytocin in your baby’s brain, helping him to feel calm. You could decide to have a cuddle time or a time for baby massage. If using massage use firm but gentle rhythmic strokes, like you would use when washing your baby. Remember to watch for your baby’s cues to whether he is in the mood for closeness.
Through spending time doing these kinds of activities you will become an expert on your baby’s unique needs. It is important to remember that you cannot spoil a baby with love; research has shown us that by responding to their needs consistently we foster their independence. Setting aside a time to spend one to one with your baby gives the baby the message that you love them and want to get to know them. The most important developmental task in the first year is for a baby to learn trust, they will learn this when they see that you respond to them when they need you.
It is important to remember that in order for you to be really present for your child, and for you to be able to understand their feelings; you need to take care of yourself. Being a new parent is exhausting; make sure you have support for yourself.
Be playful, you are your baby’s favourite toy.