As a parent I don’t need to tell you we all want what is best for our children. What if I told you there was a way to practically ensure that no matter what happens your child would be able to bounce back unscathed? What if I said it would not necessarily be easy but it would be worth it? You would do it right? You would at least listen, take in all the information, and make an informed decision with what was provided, right?
Well I have some good news then, newer research in neuroscience can help shed light as to how to provide this strong foundation for our children. It seems that the first three years of the child’s life are the most critical for brain development and healthy neuron connections. These healthy connections are not dependent upon learning things like the ABC’s but rather by how the child is responded to. Seems simple enough right? If you provide responsive care by nurturing your child and responding to their cries you can rest assured you are enabling those healthy connections.
With all of the advice out there and what is considered normal in today’s world this is not always practiced. Cry it out methods have been often touted as the best way to “teach” a baby how to sleep, fear of spoiling a child has led to less holding and less comfort, and schedules and regimen have become the norm. Anyone who decides to write a book about parenting seems to think they are an “expert” in the field yet how many actually look at the science behind it? Let me break it down for you: If your baby is hungry feed them no matter what time they last ate, if your baby cries (for whatever reason you think they are crying) pick them up, nurture them, do not leave them to learn to “self soothe,” if your toddler throws a tantrum support them through it and let them know their feelings are valid.
Cortisol is the hormone responsible for deterioration of our organs when we produce it in excess. Small, simple, stressful situations utilize cortisol to protect our bodies but prolonged stress can be damaging. (http://www.dana.org/news/brainhealth/detail.aspx?id=10054) Now imagine you are a baby. Completely and utterly dependent upon a caregiver for survival. You are left in a room by yourself unable to move and no matter how long and hard you scream no one responds. Since a baby can not rationalize they are being “trained” their bodies go into “fight or flight mode” just as ours would if we were being attacked or left for dead. Cortisol rushes through their bodies and floods their brain. Unable to cope with the stress level the body shuts down and the baby stops crying. The child has not self soothed but rather the body has shut itself down to protect it’s organs. The baby eventually learns their care giver will not respond to their cries so there is no reason to bother trying. This method is often touted as “working” because the child does learn to not bother crying anymore, but at what cost?
This twelve minute video by Colin Millis who is a psychosynthesis psychotherapist goes into depth the effects of unresponsive parenting, ignoring infants cries, and sleep training: http://whatmakesyoutick.org/
Responsive parenting during the day is vital as well. Carrying your baby often or even baby wearing has been shown to promote healthy bonds and attachments. http://babywearinginternational.org/articles.php?article=1. Responding to your child’s cries (or even their signs before the cries) will ensure your child’s needs are being met. “Sadly, if adults ignore a baby, or do not respond to his or her needs, that child will later have trouble forming attachments or empathizing with others. And the care has to be consistent. If it is not, the child may become anxious and clingy later on, almost as if he or she has decided the world is an unstable place.” (http://www.dana.org/news/brainhealth/detail.aspx?id=10054)
Toddler-hood sure has it’s challenges! This can be a tricky time for many parents and children. Children struggle between complete dependence and independence and parents struggle with discipline and how to “handle” their child. No matter your discipline philosophies, the important thing is to provide safe and loving care. Knowing the stages and what behaviors really are typical and expecting these behaviors can be the key to understand exactly what is going on in that little mind of theirs. It is important to still meet a toddlers physical, mental, and emotional needs. One way I have utilized to meet these needs has been through gentle discipline. You can read a nice overview of that here: http://www.llli.org/nb/nbmayjun05p94.html
All of that being said I know how hard sleepless nights, constant crying, and temper tantrums can be! My daughter had what you could call a severe case of colic (she had medical issues and was in pain). She cried at least four hours a day until she was a year old. It was the most challenging time of my life. Attachment parenting helped me to help her. Even with all the screaming I knew she was going to be OK if I just held her through it. I responded to her cries and her needs twenty-four seven. It wasn’t always easy but it was worth it.
Kami is a wife and a stay at home parent to an amazing daughter (2 y/o) and has another child due in May. Prior to motherhood, she worked in the medical field as a CNA, EKG tech, and phlebotomist. She has spent the last few years researching and journeying through attachment parenting and what that means. She firmly believe a solid bond accompanied with respect and peaceful parenting can shape the lives of our young.