February 1 2017
Is it time to return to work after time off with your baby or child? Read on to find out why a secure, loving, responsive relationship with just one adult is best for your baby’s brain and their future wellbeing ...:
It used to be thought that babies were, well, amorphous blobs who didn’t really do much until their first words came. It also used to be thought that leaving them to cry was the best way to teach them how to self-soothe. My, how far science has helped us come. Countless research studies in the last thirty or forty years have now unequivocally proven that babies are social, feeling, interactive beings – little scientists even – from the moment they are born and perhaps even before then.
So let’s break the science down abit as to why a relationship with one loving, attuned adult is best when choosing childcare.
The first thing to know and think about is that the first 1000 days of your child’s life – the first three years give or take – is a critical time for their developing brain. A whopping 90% of the connections between brain cells that need to take post-birth take place in this time period.
Next, let’s think about the fact that, in your baby’s first six to nine months of life, they will form what’s called an attachment relationship with the person who cares for them the most - and the quality of this relationship will depend on how responsively, sensitively and consistently they are responded to. Subsequent attachment relationships will come online with the other people who care for them the most – but there will only ever be a few key attachment relationships and a hierarchy will develop amongst them. This means that if Mum isn’t available they will happily get their needs met by Dad (or vice versa) and if that second person isn’t available, they’ll let their Nana, Pop, Nanny or Educator help them. This is normal and healthy.
Another important thing to know is that the kinds of attachment relationships we have as young children are a key element of psychological and emotional wellbeing throughout our lifetime, and help to form our views about love and connection.
What this all really boils down to is this: Because our wellbeing and ways of relating to others are grounded in our early experiences it pays to be super-fussy who your baby spends large chunks of time with each day. In those first 1000 days we really want to provide – and/or have someone provide on our behalf – attuned, sensitive, responsive and consistent interactions with our baby. When this way of interacting is repeated over and over again, our children grow up with the confidence and reassurance that someone will be there when they need them – and that they are loved and loveable.
Contrary to some old myths still floating around, this type of caring, attuned responsiveness does not make children needy, spoiled or a ‘cry baby’. In fact the opposite is true; the more a baby’s cries are responded to in their first year of life, the less that cry in their second year. This is because a feeling of security has developed and they have an assurance that their needs will be met.
Another myth that’s worth busting is that young babies need to be ‘socialised’. As a pre-schooler (at 3 or 4 years of age) spending small amounts of time with peers is useful and to be encouraged. But before this time (i.e. in that key 1000 days period) the main priority should be on finding the best substitute for you, the most important adult in their life.
In fact, to be completely honest, you probably want to be a little jealous of the relationship between your baby and their Educator or Nanny. This means that a loving relationship exists and your baby is getting their emotional needs met. If you remember that your child can have more than one attachment relationship and you are not in competition for their love and affection, this can only be seen as a great thing. And it will certainly be great for their brain development and lifetime wellbeing.
Let’s finish with this thought from the PORSE website: “It is now clear what we experience, feel and learn in our key attachment relationships in our infant and toddler years are vital for our overall wellbeing. They are also essential in forging the map by which we navigate the world into adulthood. As the experts have found, human connections create the neural connections that determine how the brain develops.”
If you’re interested in learning more about early brain development and connected, attuned, responsive attachment relationships, why not sign up for our 6-session flagship course: Growing In Connection, now available either at PORSE Area Offices or online.