I have been reading an interesting book by Graham Music called ‘Nurturing Natures. It’s about attachment, emotional and brain development and it’s well worth reading, particularly for people who work with infants or in early childhood development. He describes how important parents are for the mental state, both present and future, of their babies. Parents play a huge role in helping babies to develop and grow their own minds. Every day in hundreds of little ways there will be opportunities for you to do this with your baby.
Think of yourself as your baby’s mirror. When he is upset, you reflect this back to him by showing that you recognize his distress. (This isn’t rocket science and it comes very naturally to most parents). But the crucial part is not to ‘copy’ the distress too accurately though. Pretend to be upset by putting on a sad face and making sympathetic noises (mirror or reflect the crying) but at the same time convey that there is something ‘not real’ about what you are doing. That way, your baby figures out that you understand and share his feelings, but that his distress is not the whole story and probably not the end of the world.
There is often some benefit to distracting your baby from his distress once you’ve shown him that you have recognized and seen it. An example of this given by the British professor of psychoanalysis, Peter Fonagy, is that of babies receiving their injections at the well-baby clinics during the first weeks and months of life. Those babies who recovered best – emotionally – from the shock of the injection were those whose moms first empathized with them, but then knew exactly when to distract them from their crying.
As a parent, you are privileged to play an integral role in your baby’s developing mind. You have a real influence on who your baby will become as he grows up. For more about this and other interesting aspects of infancy and parenthood, download your own copy of Babies in Mind or visit our website and join our network on Facebook.