Parenting: The Importance of Bonding with Your Baby

We spend nine months (some less than that) physically connected to our mothers via the umbilical cord. Without this connection we wouldn’t even be here. When we are born and that connection disappears, a new, more meaningful one emerges. It is an emotional and psychological connection.

How important is that connection, that bonding?

‘Essential’. The bond that babies have with their mothers and fathers impacts and reflects in their whole life. This idea is so vast that most of us can’t wrap our minds around the fact that the way we connect with our children during those first years has a tremendous impact in their happiness, character, health, self-esteem, academic performance, relationships and growth.

Healthy bonding helps the parts of your baby’s brain responsible for interaction, communication and relationships to grow and develop. Babies who have a deep and loving bond with their mothers have a much better foundation in life than those who don’t. It has been found that the lack of bonding in infants can have a life-lasting effect on a child. Infants who don’t bond are more likely to become anxious and insecure. Bonding creates trust, love, self-confidence and a sense of belonging.

Children with positive and strong bonding with their parents tend to:

  • be more independent (not less),
  • have higher self-esteem,
  • develop better relationships,
  • be more emotionally balanced,
  • enjoy being with others,
  • rebound from disappointment, loss and failure, and
  • communicate more effectively

Contrary to popular belief, the more responsive you are to a baby’s needs, the less ‘spoiled’ he will be growing up. Being responsive does not mean picking up your baby every time he fusses; holding him all day long; or becoming someone you are not or doing things you don’t want to do. It just means understanding your baby’s needs, your baby’s cues and respond to those.

You can develop a healthy, positive bond with your baby even if you decide to go back to work, to hire a nanny, to take some ‘me time’, not to breastfeed, not to co-sleep, not to carry your baby… There are no set rules!

Here are some ideas on how you can develop a positive, loving and healthy bond with your child:

  • Love your baby, unconditionally. Accept your child completely and without restrictions, conditions or stipulations. Make sure that there is no spoken (or unspoken) message making your child feel or think that he has to be something other than what he is in order to be loved. Without unconditional love there can’t be healthy and positive bonding.
  • Know your baby. Each baby is different and the more you know your baby, the better you are going to meet his needs and the easier that bond will be established. Keep a journal and make notes on how your baby communicates with you, and how he responds when you communicate with him. You will soon know how to respond to your baby’s needs.
  • Touch your baby. This can mean kangaroo care when he’s a newborn; daily massages after bath time; cuddling while reading a book; or hugging him. The goal would be for your baby to grow, knowing that your arms are a safe place to fall back on and that they will always be there for him, to support him, but not constrict him.
  • Be present. Whatever you do, make sure you are present in the moment with your child, take time to connect with him, sense his love and let him feel your love.  You don’t need to do anything extravagant to show your baby you love him and you care. Get on the ground and play with him, make silly faces, dance, have fun with him, talk and listen to him… Let go the idea of being ridiculous, embarrassed, or perfect and just enjoy every second you spend with your child.

Every moment you spend with your baby can help create a strong, positive and healthy bond that will last a lifetime.

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Diana Gonzalez Blanco, B.B.A., M.B.A., is a Certified Youth, Parenting and Family Coach; a Baby and Toddler Sleep Expert; and founder of Smooth Parenting. Smooth Parenting is a baby & toddler sleep training consultancy and parenting coaching firm, that helps families around the world get a good night sleep and a peaceful, smooth and happy family life. Diana has an impressive track record of helping families teach their babies to sleep. Her approach to sleep training and parenting is gentle, progressive, effective, holds the wellbeing of the child first, and follows the guidelines provided by the American Association of Pediatrics.

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Nightmares & Night-terrors. What to do?

Children spend more time dreaming than adults do, so they have more dreams than we do, both good and bad. What is the difference between a nightmare and a night-terror? and what should you do in each situation?

Nightmares

Nightmares are bad dreams that happen during rapid eye movement (REM) or dream sleep. He may also be afraid to fall back asleep, and he’ll probably remember that he had a bad dream. A baby or child who had a nightmare is likely to have a clear idea of what scared him, although he probably will not be able to his fright until he’s about 2 years old.

Night Terrors

Night terrors occur in at least 5% of young children and can start as early as 9 months. These mysterious disturbances happen during deep, non-dreaming sleep. When a child is having a night-terror will cry, whimper, flail, and even bolt out of bed. Although his eyes may be wide open, he’s not awake and isn’t aware of your presence.

The night terror can last anywhere  from a few minutes to half an hour or more. Once it is over, your child will return to a sound sleep and have no memory of the incident in the morning.

How to respond?

The best response to a nightmare and to prevent future nightmares is to help your child confront and overcome his fears of the dark, such as letting a nightlight or a special stuffed toy to sleep with.

The best responses to a nightmare are:

  • Be there and offer comfort.
  • Stay with your child until she feels relaxed and ready to sleep.
  • Stay calm and convey to your child that what’s happening is normal and that all is well.
  • Reassure your child that he’s safe and that it’s OK to go back to sleep.
  • If your child wakes with a nightmare, stay with her until she feels relaxed and ready to go to sleep.
  • The best responses to night terrors are:

    • a gentle pat, along with comforting words or “shhh” sounds,
    • make sure he doesn’t hurt himself. Don’t speak to him or try to soothe him,
    • don’t try to shake or startle him awake or physically restrain him — all of which could lead to more frantic behavior.

    If it’s a night terror, in 15 to 20 minutes, your child should calm down, curl up, and fall into a deep sleep again. If it’s a nightmare, he might need a little more time to calm down and go back to sleep.

    What to do to prevent them?

    To prevent nightmares, the best thing to do is to prevent things that scare your child during the day; and to help him comfront and overcome his fears.

    To prevent night-terrors, make sure that he is getting enough sleep, since children who go to bed overtired are more likely to experience these type of sleep disturbances.

    Signs of Sleep Deficiency in Children

    Many parents wonder whether their childrena are getting enough sleep. The first thing to do when in doubt, is counting the amount of hours they are sleeping. Then refer to the general guidelines of how many hours children their age should sleep per day.

    The second thing would be to watch her for signs of sleep deprivation,such as:

    • Constant sleepiness throughout the day, almost every day
    • Fatigue. It looks like your child is dragging herself from one place to the next one
    • Inattentiveness and hyperactivity
    • Crankiness and moodiness, especially at the end of the day
    • Difficult awakenings. It is difficult to get your child out of bed and active in the morning
    • Difficult betimes. Your child is so cranky that she can’t fall asleep
    • Frequent waking during the night
    • Trouble focusing on tasks
    • Impaired memory and cognitive ability, the ability to think and process information
    • Decreased daytime alertness
    • Decreased academic performance
    • Low threshold to express negative emotion (irritability and easy frustration)
    • Difficulty modulating impulses and emotions

    If your child exhibits many of this symptoms, you should adjust her schedule so she gets more daytime sleep (naps), and night-time sleep.

    Sleep Needs By Age

    Sleep is probably the most discussed aspect of baby care. As we mentioned in a previous post, sleep is essential for babies and children’s development. The quality and quantity of a child’s sleep has a direct impact in his growth, development, awareness, happiness and overall wellbeing.

    Many of you have written us asking about how many hours of sleep children and babies need. This is a general guide, every child is different and certain developmental milestones and personal and family-related circumstances might influence the amount of sleep they need.

    Age Total Sleep Hours Comments
    Day-Naps Night Total
    0 – 1 Month 5 – 7 10 – 13 15 – 18 §   Preemies may need more sleep.

    §   Newborns usually wake up every 2.5 to 4 hours; since that’s the longest their tummies can go between feedings. Therefore, do not expect newborns to sleep those 10 hours straight at night.

    §   Newborns sleep most of the day, so ‘naps’ are not really so. They happen often and not necessarily at the same time every day.

    2 – 4 Months 4 – 5 10 – 12 14 – 16 §   A more regular sleeping pattern usually emerges around the 2nd or 3rd month of life.

    §   The longest sleep periods are from 4 to 8 hours.

    §   Naps are usually 3 (morning, midday and afternoon).

    §   Between 3 and 4 months of age, formal sleep training can begin.

    §   Establishing healthy sleep habits is a primary goal during this time.

    5 – 6 Months 4 – 5 10 – 12 14 – 16 §   The longest sleep periods could last 10 to 12 hours at night.

    §   Naps decrease from 3 to 2 and increase in length.

    §   Establishing healthy sleep habits is also a primary goal during this time.

    7 – 9 Months 2 – 4 12 – 13 14 – 15 §   The longest sleep periods could last 10 to 12 hours at night.

    §   Naps are 2 per day.

    9 – 12 Months 2 – 4 12 – 13 14 – 15 §   The longest sleep periods could last 10 to 12 hours at night.

    §   Naps are 2 per day, and one of them starts to shorten.

    13 – 18 Months 2 – 3 11 – 12 13 – 14 §   Some children lose their morning nap during this period.
    19 Months – 2 Years 2 – 3 10 – 12 12 – 14 §   Children lose their morning nap if they haven’t done so yet.
    2 – 3 Years 0 – 2 11 – 13 11 – 13 §   Most children drop their final nap by the time they are 3 years old.
    3 – 5 Years 0 – 1 11 – 12 11 – 12 §   Children usually transition from their cribs to a toddler bed at around 3 years old if they haven’t done so. Remember to be patient and know that some sleep re-training might be needed due to this change.

    §   Remember to maintain a clear bedtime routine.

    5 – 11 Years 0 10 – 12 10 – 12 §   Children should continue with their healthy sleep habits.

    §   Bedtime routine has probably evolved, but must still be present; children still need a wind down time.

    §   Do not bring a TV into your children’s bedroom, do not allow them to fall asleep with the lights on, do not allow them to play with the computer right before bedtime.

    12 – 18 Years 0 8 – 10 8 – 10 §   Sleep is as essential for teenagers as it was when they were children.

    Sources: Smooth Parenting research and experience working with families; WebMD; American Association of Pediatrics; Gina Ford’s Books; Dr. Weissbluth’s Books.

    Reflective Parenting

    As we continued exploring the best parenting options, we came accross ‘Reflective Pareting’. Reflective parenting views children’s behavior as meaningful communication that helps parents better understand their children. This approach to parenting sees the ability to reflect on the meaning behind a child’s behavior as being at the heart of sensitive, reflective parenting and as a key to strengthening parent-child bonds.

    One of our beliefs is that children act/behave for a reason, and the better we understand those underlying reasons, the better our relationship with them will be. Since this is at the core of what we do and believe in at Smooth Parenting, we were happy to learn about Reflective Parenting and how they support the same principles about the relationship between parent and child.

    Reflective parenting asks the parent to consider how her thoughts and feelings affect the child’s experience and vice versa. It aims to develop reflective functioning skills in parents through listening, observing, and thinking about the intentions and feelings underlying the child’s behavior. Rather than a formulated approach, reflective parenting guides parents to evaluate and look within themselves in order to be a strong, reliable container for their children’s emotions. In this way, parents are able to skillfully and thoughtfully approach any situation that arises.

    Reflective Parenting is all about our unique human capacity to take another’s feelings, needs, intentions, thoughts and behaviors into consideration before we act and / or respond to our child. It is characteristics like these that can help us to be the best role model as parent that we can be for our children. Like many well intentioned parents, our first choice is to be thoughtful and respectful, especially when under stress. But we’re not always successful, so reflective thinking is an available tool for us to unlock elements of the intimate parent / child relationship in order to understand the subtle and non-verbal cues a child puts out.