The Importance of the First Few Months of Life
If a failed relationship is detected, especially when the infant is six months old or younger, the chances of helping the parent and child form a strong bond is greatly improved. The fact that damage can begin that young should be sobering to parents, but as is so often the case, the parents most in need of help are often the least likely to seek it. This is often the case in families who have the powerful factor of poverty. For instance, boys growing up in poverty are more than twice as likely to have behavioral problems in school if they did not have a strong bond with a parent. Babies without a strong bond with parents have difficulty living a successful and fulfilling life.
What these studies show is the importance of those first few months of life, when a tiny baby is sent on a trajectory that will partly determine success at something as simple — and critical — as getting along with others. Other research shows that simply touching, or caressing, a newborn is critical to the infant’s sense of security.
In another article about these studies, Lauren Jimeson says, “These studies prove that those first few months of your child’s life, when life can be overwhelming and it can be a major adjustment for everyone, are the most critical. It’s important that both parents take the time that they need to really focus on being a parent and showing that immense love to their child. Hold them, cuddle them, rock them to sleep, do whatever you can that makes life happy for you and your baby.”
“It’s this love that will help shape your child’s life forever.”
Children Without a Conscience
Experts in many fields are becoming increasingly alarmed at what has been termed the “bonding crisis” in Western countries. Long before an outbreak of violence among children in the United States, Dr. Ken Magid, psychologist and author of High Risk: Children Without a Conscience, pointed to what he called a “profound demographic revolution” that is changing the course of history. “Working mothers — and the possibility that their children are suffering bonding breaks — are simply not being given enough attention,” he said. In 1988, in a chilling foretelling of events to come, he cited the stresses of two-income families, single parents struggling to survive, an achievement-addicted society, poorly run and understaffed day care, little or no parental leave in the job market, poorly handled adoptions, and inadequate child custody divorce arrangements as high-risk factors for the newest generations of infants. I had the good fortune to study with Ken Magid when I went back to school in 1986; I majored in psychology and was able to put together a minor in Infant Psychology because Ken was there. Fortunately, because parents became more educated about the importance of bonding and insisting that daycare be responsive to families’ needs, things have changed. Though there is still work to do, parental leave, good childcare and parents making these crucial months a priority have all made changes in the way things are done. However, low-income families still face an uphill struggle when trying to provide their babies with what they need.
Anxiously Attached Infants
Unattached and anxiously attached infants can grow up to exhibit a range of disorders from difficulty in forming and maintaining relationships at one end of the spectrum all the way to sociopathic criminal behavior at the other. Anxiously attached means that a baby is not consistently responded to with love by her caregivers, so the baby cannot relax and depend on her needs being met and the world being a good and friendly place to be. Such children are fearful of the world and have a difficult time trusting and opening up to others, and they often have buried anger that can come out inappropriately later in life. Solid, loving attachments are hard for them to make because as anxiously attached babies, they did not learn how to trust.
The Highly Sensitive Child
As time goes on, more information about anxiously attached children is helping parents realize it is a problem and that they can turn the situation around. In a book titled The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping Our Children Thrive When the World Overwhelms Them, published in 2002, author Elaine Aron says that this is a personality trait that occurs in 15% to 20% of the population. Though Highly Sensitive Children (HSC) tend to be “empathetic, smart, intuitive, careful and conscientious.” they are easily overstimulated and require informed parenting in order to prevent temper tantrums, stress illnesses and the avoidance of pleasurable activities. HSC have great difficulty with change; it is necessary to prepare them gently so that they do not feel powerless during transitions. Many “baby-boomers” were HSC, which may account for the epidemic of depression among adults in the 80’s, 90’s and beyond.
Human Babies Cannot Initiate Bonding
Unlike the clinging monkey, the human infant has no physical means of initiating contact with his mother and thus getting his needs fulfilled. His life depends upon the strength of his parents’ emotional attachment to him. Where there is early and extended mother-baby contact, studies show impressively positive results. Mothers who bonded with their babies in the first hours and days of life later showed greater closeness to their own babies, exhibited much more soothing behavior, maintained more eye contact, and touched their babies more often.
Early contact mothers were more successful in breastfeeding and spent more time looking at their infants during feeding, and their babies’ weight gain was greater. At age three, these children had significantly higher IQ scores on the Stanford-Binet test than children who had been separated from their mothers.
© 2014 Vimala McClure