Bonding with Your Infant

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"Children are an heritage of the Lord," wrote the Psalmist. They are sons and daughters of Deity, and a merciful God allows parents to be stewards on earth of His offspring. As we are reminded in The Family: A Proclamation to the World, parents have a sacred obligation to their God to rear their children in love and righteousness, and they will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.

A newborn baby is the world's most helpless creature, and so much is expected of parents to ensure its survival and growth. When we view infants as sons and daughters of God, we see in them infinite potential for development: as blessings, not burdens. Perhaps the greatest trust that a man and woman can receive from God is to be entrusted with new life so frail and dependent. As they are blessed with a new infant, parents should make its care a top priority.

Scholars note the important role that attachment plays in the development of an infant. Mary Ainsworth, a pioneer in the study of attachment, describes attachment as an emotional bond between persons that binds them through space and time.

Attachment is the basis for social skills. Attachment is developed through loving interactions between infants and parents and through parents understanding their infant's unique needs and temperament. As infants interact with caregivers they are building the foundation of their emotional and social abilities. Infants' social abilities are based on the relationship they have with their parents. How secure that relationship is will have an influence on the rest of the child's life.

The key to helping your infant develop secure attachment is being warm and responsive, showing your infant that you love him and will care for him. Here are some practical ways to accomplish this:

  • Show your love by caring for your infant's needs. Make sure she isn't hungry, wet, sick, cold, or uncomfortable. If she is crying and there is nothing physically wrong, she may just want your attention. Give it freely. You can't spoil an infant.
  • Take the time to get to know your infant. Learn his rhythms, preferences, and patterns. Get to know if he prefers being bounced or gently rocked, if he likes to be wrapped up tight, or if he prefers having the blankets gently laid over him. As you get to know him better, you'll learn how he behaves when he is hungry and how his cry is different when he is just tired. Knowing these things will help you meet your infant's unique needs properly and promptly.
  • The same caregivers should be consistently available. Don't leave your child with a different caregiver every time. Keep a small number of caregivers around your infant. This will help her trust the world around her. Fewer caregivers are more likely to understand and meet her unique needs.
  • Allow him time alone. You don't have to always be playing with him or talking with him. He may need time without any emotional stimulation. You can keep him around you, but let him have time without people in his face cooing and smiling.
  • Play with faces with your infant. Smile when she smiles, frown when she frowns. The face is one of the most important things for your infant to look at. Play turn taking games. Copy her sounds. Coo after she does, babble what she does. Play peek-a-boo by first covering her face and then covering your own. Synchronize your behavior with hers and let her lead the way. Stop playing when she seems to stop enjoying it (when she looks away or starts fussing). Playing with her can be done during baths, diaper changes and feeding. The best play is looking at faces and hearing you talk. Stick out your tongue, move your lips, scrunch your nose, and other such things.
  • Establish consistent behaviors, such as regulating sleep and feeding cycles. Be predictable. Feed him at the same times every day, and let him nap at regular times as well.
  • Respond promptly to crying. Call to her and let her know you are on your way. Soothe her by gently talking to her and softly holding her. Respond to her needs as soon as you can. Examine what her needs are, rather than answering every cry with a bottle. She may not be hungry, she may just want physical contact or her clothes may be binding or poking her. Your infant will not be spoiled as you answer her cries. You will simply be teaching her that you are there. She will learn how to regulate her emotions as you respond to them. As you answer her you will be teaching her that she can trust and depend on you for love and support. Because you respond promptly to her needs, she will be less likely to cause trouble later on.
  • Be accepting, emotionally expressive and sensitive. Express your emotions around your infant. Smile when he looks your way after getting a cheerio into his own mouth. Laugh with him.
  • Play when she is alert and responsive. Don't try to do all of your playing at the end of the day when she is tired and emotionally spent.
  • Take care of yourself emotionally and physically so you can better care for your infant. If you are married, make sure your marital relationship is satisfying rather than full of stress and conflict. If it isn't, find other ways to support yourself emotionally, like friends, coworkers, parents or siblings. Do things to improve your marriage; the quality of marriage is linked to the quality of parenting. Get enough sleep and eat right so that you will have the necessary energy for positive emotional interactions with your infant. If you fail to care for yourself, you limit your ability to properly care for your infant.

Written by Kathryn Vaughn, Research Assistant, and edited by Chris Porter and Stephen F. Duncan, professors in the School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.