"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.
The first year of life is a time of tremendous growth and development for infants. They're learning how to use their bodies, how to express their emotions, and how to interact with the world around them. Their parents have a profound responsibility to help them build this critical foundation, since how well they develop these skills -- especially during the first year -- will influence them for the rest of their lives.
Attachment: A Key to Social and Emotional Development
An infant's social and emotional development hinges on a principle called attachment. Babies need secure attachment to a primary caregiver in order to develop well cognitively, socially, and physically. With secure attachment in place, babies can develop normal abilities to regulate their emotions, create and maintain relationships, and cope with stress. If an infant does not form a secure attachment to his or her mother, he or she will be much less likely to sustain close friendships or romantic relationships later in life.
John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth are considered pioneers in the study of this concept. Ainsworth describes attachment as an emotional bond that a person forms between himself and another person that binds them through space and time.1 Both Ainsworth and Bowlby believe the most critical bond for a baby is the bond with his or her mother. Bowlby says that "maternal care in infancy and early childhood is essential for mental health".3
Ainsworth found that infants who are securely attached will protest when their mothers (or other primary caregiver) leave, usually by crying, and are readily comforted when their mothers return.1 Attachment begins forming at birth, but clear evidence of it, such as crying when mother leaves, usually begins to appear around the ninth month of life.19
Secure attachment arms children with the resilience they need to face challenges later in life.21 A history of responsive care helps children, and later adults, deal with life's everyday ups and downs.15 According to researcher Rima Shore, "The best way to help very young children grow into curious, confident, able learners is to give them warm, consistent care so that they can form secure attachments to those who care for them".15
Secure attachment also strongly affects early learning. If an infant's primary relationship is strong, secure, and loving, he will be better able to learn, including how to regulate his emotions and develop strong social skills.15
A child who is securely attached has a better ability to deal with stress. Shore notes that an infant's brain releases a chemical when he experiences stress he's not ready to handle.15 Babies who are securely attached produce less of this harmful chemical when faced with stressors while those less securely attached can be harmed by the larger amounts of this harmful chemical.
How Parents and Caregivers Can Promote Attachment
Warm, responsive care is the best way to promote secure attachments. According to Zeanah, strong attachments form only when a caregiver is emotionally available for an infant.23 Being emotionally available means the caregiver recognizes the emotions of the infant and responds to them by offering nurture, support, and security.
Experiences with caregivers influence an infant's beliefs about the world around him, himself, and his relationships with others. Consistency in caregiver behavior is especially important.22 When a mother establishes a routine so her infant knows what to expect, the baby becomes more securely attached to her. It is from this relationship that infants learn patterns of relating with others that they will use for the rest of their lives.24 Non-supportive caregiving can have long-term effects on social development, including such negative consequences as misbehavior and poor relationships with others.
Responding to an infant's cues is another important way caregivers can promote attachment.23 If parents are able to interpret their infant's emotions, they can respond sensitively and appropriately. This sensitivity enables a baby to freely express his emotions. Knowing that parents will respond and will continue to nurture him whatever emotions he's having assures a baby that it's okay to have emotions.23
Learning to respond to cues comes naturally as caregivers get to know the unique personality of their infant. This can take time, and it isn't always easy to read an infant's cues during the first months of life. Parents need to be particularly sensitive to their infant at this early stage, putting his needs ahead of their own.
Another critical factor in healthy attachment is a good marriage. A strong marital relationship between an infant's parents helps each parent feel secure, and this security enables both to be better parents.8 Partners who support and respect each other can be more sensitive to the needs of their infant. Grych and Clark found infant attachment is strongly related to the marital satisfaction of parents.6 Marital conflict keeps the parents from giving their baby as much affection and from enjoying him as much as they might otherwise.16
Fathers can promote healthy attachment in important ways. Zeanah found that during physical play with their fathers, infants learn how to control and regulate their emotions.23 As a father learns to recognize when his infant's emotions are getting out of hand during physical play, he can calm the infant down, thus teaching the infant how to manage his emotions. The more sensitive a father is to his infant's emotions, the better the infant will become at regulating his own feelings.
Practical Suggestions for Promoting Attachment
Love is the key to helping your infant develop secure attachment. Be warm and responsive, and your infant will know you love her and will care for her. Here are practical suggestions:
- Be affectionate. Hold, hug, and kiss your baby often. Tell her you love her and think she's great. Sing to her, coo to her, and talk baby talk. Have her near you as you bathe, dress, cook, read, etc. Let her know you are aware of her presence, her emotions, and her needs.
- Set aside time for quality interaction. Infants thrive on one-on-one interaction with parents.14 Make time for him when you are both alert and ready to have meaningful interactions.
- Care for your infant's needs. Make sure she isn't hungry, wet, sick, cold, or uncomfortable. If she's crying and you can't find anything physically wrong, she may just want your attention. Give it freely.
- Take the time to get to know your baby. Learn his rhythms, preferences, and patterns. Notice if he prefers being bounced or gently rocked, if he likes to be wrapped up tightly or more loosely. As you get to know him better, you'll learn which cry tells you he's hungry and which cry says he's just tired. Understanding these subtle cues will help you meet your infant's unique needs properly and promptly.
- Allow only a small number of caregivers around your infant. If you can't always be your baby's caregiver, make sure other caregivers are consistently available. Don't leave your child with a different caregiver every time you're not at home. This consistency helps your baby learn to trust the world around her. Fewer caregivers are more likely to understand and meet her unique needs.
- Allow him down time. Don't play or talk with your baby nonstop. He needs time without any stimulation. Keep him near you, but let him have time without people constantly in his face cooing and smiling. Some babies prefer more interaction than others. Learn your baby's needs and limits.
- Play with faces with your infant. The human face is one of the most important things for your infant to look at.18 Smile when she smiles, frown when she frowns. Play turn-taking games, such as copying her sounds. Coo after she does, imitate her babbling. 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. The best play is looking at faces and hearing you talk.24 Stick out your tongue, move your lips, scrunch your nose. Stop playing when she seems to no longer be enjoying it. She'll signal you that she's had enough by looking away or starting to fuss. Ideal times for this kind of play include baths, diaper changes, and feeding.
- Establish a routine. Be predictable and be consistent, such as setting regular sleep and feeding cycles.24 Feed him at the same times every day, and let him nap at regular times.
- Respond promptly to crying. Respond to crying as soon as you can. If you're not in the room with your baby and hear him crying, call to him and let him know you're on your way.20 Soothe him by talking gently to him and softly holding him. Figure out what he needs rather than answering every cry with a bottle. He may not be hungry but might be uncomfortable because his clothes are binding him or poking him. Or he might simply want physical contact. Don't worry about spoiling your baby by responding quickly to his crying. You're teaching him security by showing him that he can trust you and can depend on you for love and nurturing. As you respond to his emotions, he will learn how to regulate them. If you respond promptly to his needs, he will become more secure and less likely to act out later on.
- Be accepting, emotionally expressive, and sensitive.23 Express your positive emotions around your infant. Smile when he looks your way after succeeding at a task, such as getting a cheerio into his mouth on his own. Laugh with him.
- Play with your baby when he's alert and responsive. Don't try to do all of your playing at the end of the day when your baby is tired. Spread play time throughout the day.20
- Take care of yourself emotionally and physically. If you're healthy, you'll be better able to care for your infant. Get enough sleep and eat well so you'll have the energy for happy and fun emotional interactions with your infant. If you don't care for yourself, you limit your ability to properly care for your infant. Also, ensure your marital relationship is satisfying rather than stressful and full of conflict.8 The quality of a marriage has a powerful effect on children. If your marriage is difficult, take action to improve it. In the meantime, find other ways to support yourself emotionally, such as friends, coworkers, parents, or siblings.
Development of an Infant's Brain
Infant brains are full of activity, and parents can ensure that this activity benefits their child for the rest of her life. According to Zeanah, "From the very first days of life infants demonstrate awareness of their environment and evidence of learning, confirming that different family experiences likely affect infant development far earlier than once thought possible".23
Rima Shore has analyzed the current research on infant brain development, and she sees three major new ideas emerging.15 First, the ability of individuals to learn in a variety of settings depends on their genes (nature) and the kind of care, stimulation, and teaching they receive (nurture). Second, the brain is built to benefit from experiences in the first years of life. And third, learning continues throughout our lives.
By one year of age, an infant's brain more closely resembles an adult brain than the brain of a newborn.
Shore says that "the experiences -- positive or negative -- that young children have in the first years of life influence how their brains will be wired as adults".15 She says the environment of the infant influences not only the direction of brain development but also the actual wiring of the brain. The term "wiring" refers to pathways in the brain formed by synapses. Synapses are connections between brain cells, or neurons, that relay information. The neurons form pathways along these synapses. Each neuron can be connected to up to 15,000 other neurons. An infant's brain has twice as many of these connections as he needs. Those that don't get used, or stimulated, eventually disappear while those that get used become stronger. This is why the stimulation that experience gives the brain is so important in brain development .15
As the brain grows, infants gradually develop more complex skills, such as acquiring language. Babies are born with the ability to distinguish diverse sounds from all the world's languages.9 Research shows that newborns prefer speech over other sounds.1 Houston and colleagues note that infants listen longer to speech from their own language than from a language foreign to them.9
Berger and Thompson suggest a timeline for communication and language development.1 By two months infants make meaningful noises like cooing, fussing, crying, and laughing.Between the third and sixth month, infants can squeal, growl, croon, trill, and make vowel sounds. During the sixth through tenth month, infants begin to babble, repeating consonant and vowel sounds in syllables. They also begin pointing. From month ten through month twelve infants start to recognize simple words and use specific gestures to communicate, such as pointing at things. Throughout this development, infants understand more than they can express.1
Memory is developing in the infant brain as well. Merriman, Rovee-Collier and Wilk note that the brain pathways in charge of long-term memory develop before the pathways for short-term memory.13 By six months of age infants have a significantly better short-term memory than they did at three months. Six-month-olds are much faster at remembering things than three-month-olds.7
Practical Suggestions for Fostering Infant Brain Development
As a parent, you can do many things to help your infant's brain develop optimally.
- Use language as you interact with your infant. Sing to him, talk to him while riding in the car, read books to him. Repeat his coos and babbles while changing his diaper. Talk with him as much as you can. Follow his lead and mimic his sounds. As you do this your infant will begin to understand the two-way nature of conversation. Talking to him helps him realize that language is a part of his world and that he can participate. But be careful not to overstimulate him. If he stops reciprocating, give him a rest from interaction.15
- Say your baby's name and the names of objects often. Keep your face close to hers while you're talking so she can see your mouth. Point out things in her field of vision and then say the names of them. Start simply so she can catch on. She will pay more attention to what researchers call "parentese," the high-pitched, sing-song voice that adults naturally use to speak with their infants. Though some people belittle baby talk, researchers have found it is exactly what infants need to hear as they learn language.15
- Encourage gestures. Infants typically use gestures to try to communicate, such as pointing to something they want. These gestures help him learn language faster than if you try to focus him only on adult language (Smith, 1998).
- Give your infant room to move. Place her on a blanket on the floor so she has space to maneuver. As she moves around and explores, let her move anything and anywhere, as long as she's not in any danger physically.15 Monitor her closely to make sure she's safe. Modify your home for child safety. For example, place pillows on sharp corners where she might bump her head, shut doors to stairs or put up child gates, and lock cupboards containing harmful items.
- Play games that encourage movement. Touch your baby's finger to your nose and then to his nose. Hold him under his arms and bounce him so his feet touch the ground. Hold his hands in yours and clap them together, helping him play pat-a-cake. While he's on his back, hold his feet and move them around while you sing to him. Keep in mind that most parents naturally play with infants in ways that promote brain development. You don't need to orchestrate activity.
- Keep activities age appropriate. Avoid making play situations too complex and keep activities appropriate for your infant's age. This means sticking with tasks that he can do physically and understand mentally. If he smiles and participates, it's likely that whatever you're doing is appropriate for his age.
Development of an Infant's Motor Skills
Just as an infant's brain is developing rapidly, so are his motor skills. He's learning how to move his body and get his muscles to do new things. He frequently experiences the exhilaration of achieving new physical tasks.
Generally, these skills develop in predictable ways. They develop cephalocaudally, meaning from head to tail. And they develop proximodistally--from the center of the body outward. Infants learn gross motor skills (large movements such as moving arms and legs) before they learn fine motor skills (small movements such as grasping an object with the index finger and thumb).
All parents are naturally concerned about whether their baby is developing at a normal pace. Sometimes this concern leads to pushing an infant to do things he's not ready for. It's important to recognize that each infant is unique and will develop according to his own timetable. He has to take each new skill one step at a time. Some infants develop more rapidly while others develop more slowly.
You should be encouraging and excited about your infant's new motor skills, but don't be discouraged if her progress seems too slow for you. She'll catch up, and she needs your support, not your anxiety, as you provide her with a nurturing environment. If you are concerned that there is something developmentally wrong with your infant, talk to your pediatrician.
Below are milestones of physical development you can expect during the first year of your baby's life, along with suggestions to help you foster this development:
Though your infant is very dependent on you, he comes equipped with reflexes to help him adjust to his new surroundings. He has almost fully developed senses of taste and smell. His eyes cannot yet fully focus at close range. He can see objects best when they are 30 to 40 inches away from his face. He will try to lift up his head and look around. He quickly learns to pick out his mother's voice from other female voices. By the end of the first month he can hear differences in similar sounds.
During this first month, you should:
- Support his body and head when you hold him.
- Understand that he is totally dependent on you to take care of his body.
- If he looks uncomfortable, change his position for him.
- Remember that he is still adjusting to the new physical world around him.1
Your baby will start to learn how to lift himself by his arms, roll from his side to his back, and hold his head steady when you hold him upright.2 He can focus his eyes and see colors nearly as well as adults.2 Physical play is increasingly important to developing his motor abilities.
During this second month, you should:
- Start using his new motor skills in your play with him. Lay him on his back on your lap, take his hands in yours, and move them to play peek-a-boo. Hold on to his feet and rotate them as you sing songs like "The Wheels on the Bus."
- Make sure he can see your face as you talk to him and play with him.
Your baby has stronger neck muscles, helping her lift up her head and shoulders, but she still needs you to help her support her body and head.1 She has better control over her leg and arm movements, though they may still be jerky. She develops a visual preference for human faces. She begins to reach for things.2
She begins learning how to roll from her back to her side.2 She can sit up with your support on her lower ribs. She tenses herself for you to lift her. She can hold her hand steady and is beginning to move her hands to her mouth more. She probably will start putting things in her mouth more often, which is her way of exploring things. Lew and Butterworth explain that this is an important way your infant learns about the world around her.12
During this fourth month, you should:
- Keep out of reach harmful things that shouldn't go in your baby's mouth.
- Keep her hands clean.
- Give her plenty of opportunities to use her new skills, such as letting her sit up on your lap with your help.
- Continue playing games that involve her body and require some movement. She will get better at them and you will be able to play games that require more motor control.
Your infant is gaining better control over his thumb and will start using it more. He will begin to reach and grasp things that are moving.2 He's almost able to sit up on his own, allowing him to move both his hands around freely and interact with things while sitting up. He begins fingering things while he is sitting. Because of these abilities, he has a lot more physical freedom.14
During this fifth month, you should:
- Support his body as he tries to sit up on his own.
- Keep harmful things out of reach.
- Give him chances to reach for things himself. Don't place everything into his hands.
- Put things within his reach and give him room to move around.
- Sit him on a blanket on the floor with toys around him that he can reach for himself and hold in his hands and mouth.
Your infant may be able to sit without support. His vision is almost as good as yours. He can reach for and grab almost anything. He will continue to explore things by fingering them and putting them in his mouth.1
Your infant can sit up by himself.2 He is beginning to show pre-walking movements, such as crawling and making stepping motions when you hold him underneath his arms. He can reach for things with only one arm rather than needing both arms.2
During this seventh month, you should:
- Give him plenty of opportunities to use his new skills.
- Hold him in positions that allow him to move his feet.
- Allow him safe areas where he can crawl around.
- Avoid baby walkers as a way to encourage movement because they can block a baby's view of his legs. A baby's ability to see his own movements is important to motor skill development. Walkers may delay walking.17
- Instead of a walker, put him in a Johnny Jump-up.
Months 8 and 9
During the eighth month your infant learns how to pull herself up to a standing position and can support herself with one hand while standing.1 She also develops the ability to perceive emotional expressions. Use emotions in your play with her, such as showing excitement when she begins learning how to stand on her own. During the ninth month your infant can begin to play pat-a-cake on her own.2
Months 10 to 12
She will start standing with support by holding onto nearby furniture or onto your hands or legs. She'll make stepping movements as she holds onto furniture. She'll be able to walk while holding onto furniture or with the support of your arms. Within a few months of her first birthday (before or after), she'll be able to walk on her own.2
During these months, you should:
- Help her stand and encourage her to stand as much as she can on her own.
- Don't hold her all the time. Give her chances to use the skills she's working on.
- Put her on the floor so she can work on getting up herself.
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.
Books for Further Reading
Carnegie Task Force on Meeting the Needs of Young Children. (1994). Starting Points: Meeting the needs of our youngest children. New York: Carnegie Corporation of New York.
- Berger, K. S., & Thompson, R. A. (1995). The developing person: Through childhood and adolescence. New York: Worth Publishers.
- Berk, L. A. (2001). Development through the lifespan (2nd ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
- Bowlby, J. (1952). Maternal care and mental health (2nd ed.). Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization.
- Cooper, R., Abraham, J., Berman, S., & Staska, M. (1997). The development of infant's preference for motherese. Infant Behavior and Development, 20(4), 477-488.
- Finchman, D. (1998). Child development and marital relations. Child Development, 69(2), 543-574.
- Grych, J., & Clark, R. (1999). Maternal employment and development of the father-infant relationship in the first year. Developmental Psychology, 35(4), 893-903.
- Hayne, H., & Rovee-Collier, C. (1995). The organization of reactivated memory in infancy. Child Development, 66, 893-906.
- Heinicke, C., & Guthrie, D. (1992). Stability and change in husband-wife adaptation and the development of the positive parent-child relationship. Infant Behavior and Development, 15 (1), 109-127.
- Houston, D. M., Jusczyk, P. W., Kuijpers, C., Coolen, R., & Cutler, A. (2000). Cross language word segmentation by 9-month-olds. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 7(3), 504-509.
- Johnson, M. (2000). Functional brain development in infants: Elements of an interactive specialization framework. Child Development, 71(1), 75-81.
- Lamb, M., & Bornstein, M. (1987). Development in infancy. New York: Random House Inc.
- Lew, A., & Butterworth., G. (1997). The development of hand-mouth coordination in 2- to 5-month-old infants: Similarities with receiving and grasping. Infant Behavior and Development, 20(1), 59-69.
- Merriman, J., Rovee-Collier, C., & Wilk, A. (1997). Exemplar spacing and infants' memory for category information. Infant Behavior and Development, 20(2), 219-232.
- Rochat, P., & Goubet, N. (1995). Development of sitting and reaching in 5- to 6-month-old infants. Infant Behavior and Development, 18(1), 53-68.
- Shore, R. (1997). Rethinking the brain: New insights into early development. New York: Families and Work Institute.
- Snow, C. (1989). Infant development. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
- Siegel, A., & Burton, R. (1999). Effects of baby walkers on motor and mental development in human infants. Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 20(5), 355-361.
- Slater A, von der Schulenberg C, Brown E, Badenoch M, Butterworth G, Parsons S, et al. (1998). Newborn infants prefer attractive faces. Infant Behavior and Development.21:345–354.
- Sroufe, L.A. (1996) Emotional Development: The Organization of Emotional Life in the Early Years. Cambridge University Press, New York.
- Van Der Meer, A. (1994). Great beginnings: An illustrated guide to you and your baby's first year. New York: Dell Publishing.
- Ward, M., Lee, S., & Lipper, E. (2000). Failure to thrive is associated with disorganized infant-mother attachment and unresolved maternal attachment. Infant Mental Health Journal, 21(6), 428-442.
- Waters, E., Weinfield, N., & Hamilton, C. (2000). The stability of attachment from infancy to adolescence end early adulthood: General discussion. Child Development, 71(3), 703-706.
- Zeanah, C. (Ed.). (2000). Handbook of infant mental health. (2nd ed.). New York: The Guilford Press.
- Zeanah, C., Boris, N., Heller, S., Hinshaw-Fuselier, S., Rovaris, M., & Valliere, J. (1997). Relationship assessment in infant mental health. Infant Mental Health Journal, 18(2), 182-197.
The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches that all human beings lived in the presence of heavenly parents before coming to earth. The infant child is newly passed from the pre-existence to the state of mortality. Earthly parents then embark on the exciting journey of nurturing this spirit child of God along the pathways of mortality.
Prophet leaders have urged parents to develop the proper view of children. President Spencer W. Kimball taught, "Many people in the Church do not have the right concept of a child. They think that he is a personality to play with, to dress, to enjoy, to have, to hold. They never think seriously about the tremendous responsibility of developing that little spirit without earthly knowledge into a fit subject for the kingdom of God".3 He further counseled that, "Children have a destiny equal to our own. We do not rear children just to please our vanity. We bring children into the world to become kings and queens, and priests and priestesses for our Lord".3 President Gordon B. Hinckley echoed the same sentiment when he said, "Never forget that these little ones are the sons and daughters of God and that yours is a custodial relationship to them, that He was a parent before you were a parent and that He has not relinquished His parental rights or interest in these His little ones. Now, love them, take care of them".2
"Children are an heritage of the Lord" (Psalms 127:3). Heavenly Father places great trust in parents as He allows His children to reside in earthly homes. President David O. McKay taught, "The greatest trust that can come to a man and woman is the placing in their keeping the life of a little child".1
With this trust comes great responsibility. President David O. McKay advised, "A newborn babe is the most helpless creature in the world. The protecting care of parenthood is essential to its survival, as well as its growth. It must be led and directed by instruction, discipline, drill, proper education . . . our most precious possessions, our treasures of eternity, are our children. These merit and should receive our greatest and most constant care and guidance".1
Children come with unique temperaments and personalities that begin to reveal themselves very early in an infant's life. As parents spend time interacting with their children, they will come to know their individual characteristics. President Brigham Young taught, "Bring up your children in the love and fear of the Lord; study their dispositions and temperaments, and deal with them accordingly".5 The environment parents foster for their infants will have a significant influence on their development. President Joseph F. Smith said, "Our children will be just about what we make them. They are born without knowledge or understanding-the most helpless creatures of animal creation born into the world. The little one begins to learn soon after it is born, and all that it knows greatly depends upon its environment, the influences under which it is brought up, the kindness with which it is treated, the noble examples shown it, the allowed influences of father and mother, or otherwise, over its infant mind. And it will be largely what its environment and its parents and teachers make it".4
As parents broaden their perspective through gospel teachings, they can see their new infants as precious children of God and understand their responsibility to love them and care for their unique needs.
- Bateman, E. D. (Ed.). (1999). The prophets have spoken (Vol. 3). Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book.
- Hinckley, G. B. (1997). Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book.
- Kimball, S. W. (1982). The teachings of Spencer W. Kimball: Twelfth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft.
- Smith, J. F. (1998). Teachings of presidents of the church: Joseph F. Smith. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft.
- Young, B. (1997). Teachings of presidents of the church: Brigham Young. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft.