Too close or not too close

We’ve all heard mothers speak about the moment they hold their baby in their arms and how they are overcome with love.  Guess what: They’re not just making it up.  Just after birth a woman’s body produces increased amounts of a hormone called Oxitocyn, a.k.a. ‘the love hormone’ which ensures and/or strengthens that initial bond. 

As for the baby, there is a theory that they also have a biological predisposition to ‘attach’ to a primary caregiver (usually the mother).  The primary role of this attachment is to provide the child with a sense of security in an unfamiliar world.  The baby will be soothed better by the object of his affection; he will turn to her first for play or consolation, and feels (seems) less scared when this person is around.  Research has shown that the emotional comfort a mother can provide is as important as feeding, changing, carrying, etc.  The importance of the nature of attachment is that it becomes a sort of template against which all relationships later in life are evaluated.  (Fathers don’t panic; children can be attached to both parents!)  The aim is to have a securely attached child.

Let us dispel one big myth that if you ignore a baby when it cries, it will eventually stop crying and learn discipline.  Research has shown (I feel important when I say that) that if a mother responds quickly and appropriately to her baby’s needs in the first 3 months, he will cry less because he becomes assured that this caregiver is available and he/she can rely on them.  However, if you ignore the baby he won’t understand your abstract responses (based on time) and will always be anxious that you may or may not respond so he will cry more to ensure he gets your attention.

So what are the signs of securely attached children? The baby usually shows some mild protest when the parent leaves the room, he greets his parent when she comes back and is easily comforted by her.  A child that holds on to his mother and panics every time she steps away shows poor attachment because it means he doesn’t trust that she’ll be back when he needs her.

What type of parent elicits secure attachment in his/her child? We have already mentioned that it is important to respond quickly, positively and consistently to the baby’s needs. The mother is usually able to understand the baby’s signals and initiates appropriate play (basically that suits the baby’s moods – .yes he does have them too).  I don’t want you to panic though.

This does not mean that if you don’t respond to your child’s every need you are a bad mother, and they will turn into a psychopath.

One of the most influential theories in psychology is that of “good enough mothering.” The idea behind it is that if you respond appropriately to your child most of the time he/she will be securely attached. He/she does need to experience some normal frustration so that he/she can face the problems he/she will meet later in life.  We are not perfect parents and birth doesn’t make us perfect parents.  It is also important to bear in mind that you are not alone in this interaction.  This means that the temperament of the baby is going to affect your reactions just like your reactions affect him. So if you face problems consider that it could be in the interaction itself.

Photo by Josh Willink from Pexels

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