Eight-month-old Zachary* is hungry and tired. He starts to whimper and squirm. It’s his way of communicating what he needs. His mother notices, feeds and comforts him. Zachary is starting to recognize this pattern of care from his mother. He is learning that when he needs help, his mother will help him. The mother and baby are forming a bond of trust.
Humans are all born with the drive to bond with others. Like most babies, Zachary began to recognize and relate to voices even before he was born. Since birth, he has continued to form a bond with the important adults in his life. This bond, or attachment, becomes stronger and more secure as he learns to trust these adults.
The benefits of forming a secure attachment last through childhood and beyond. Zachary will become confident if he forms a bond of trust with at least one of his parents. Children can form attachments with either or both parents. As he grows, he will be more willing to enter into new situations and explore his surroundings. He will be open to making friends and meeting new people. He is likely to form close relationships as an adult.
More than two-thirds of children develop strong and secure bonds with their parents. These children tend to be happy around their parents and want to be with them. They may often smile around their parents, play with them and look for loving contact from them.
But some adults find it difficult to respond to their children in a caring, reliable, and sensitive way. Concerns about financial, marriage and health problems may get in the way. Parents who did not form strong bonds with their own parents may not know how to build bonds with their children. The parent-child attachment may suffer if these situations last too long or happen often.
Parents can help build a strong bond of trust that will help their child now and into the future. Here are some suggestions:
- When baby is crying, uncomfortable or distressed, comfort him quickly. Hold him and speak softly. Feed him if he’s hungry.Change his diapers if he’s wet.
- Set up routines for bedtime, meals, bathtimes. Routines send a message to children that their needs will be met in a predictable, stable way. Be sensitive to the baby’s own rhythms of sleeping and eating.
- Spend time each day focused on the child. Try not to think about other things that need to be done. Spend time holding, talking, playing with him. Be alert to signs that he is getting tired, hungry or uncomfortable.
- Join in on his play, but let him lead the way. Offer new ideas that might be fun. Help him when he gets frustrated and congratulate him when he solves a problem.
- Parents need to take care of themselves so that they can respond to their child’s needs. Get enough rest. Ask for help from partners, friends and relatives.
- Look for community resources to help with marriage, financial and health problems.
* not child’s real name
This article is a publication from the Centre of Excellence for Early Childhood Development.