Tuesday, December 8, 2009

It Takes Two Baby: How Babies and Parents Learn about Each Other

Note to our readers: My astute daughter reminded me that I need to emphasize that we realize that parents are not the only caregivers of infants. For brevity, we will continue to refer to parents but we’d like to reassure all of our readers that we recognize that there are all kinds of families out there.

Last time, we shared ways that parents and other caregivers may make small changes in their activities and routines to help babies with different temperaments adapt to the world around them. Now, as promised, we’ll describe how different family members can build unique relationships with babies.

When parents truly believe that newborns only “eat, sleep, and poop,” it is easy to fall into patterns that lead mom to be in charge of one end of the baby (the feedings) and dad in charge of the other (diaper changes). That kind of arrangement can result in both parents becoming a little resentful. Now that you know so much more about your baby, you can see the value of other roles that adults play in babies’ lives. First and foremost, babies learn from adults. Every adult in a baby’s life teaches the baby something about his environment, feelings, thinking, or how to communicate.

Anyone who cares for breastfed babies knows that newborns will try to “latch on” to anyone and anything when they are hungry (even Dad) but soon, they learn that mom is the one they want when they are hungry. Babies learn to differentiate one adult from another by their faces, their smells, and the games they play. In turn, each caregiver learns about the baby, from cues, traits, and interactions. Babies’ relationships with moms are different from those with dads, grandparents, and siblings. Just as caregivers rely on numerous friends in their lives, babies thrive when they have many loving relationships.

While all of a baby’s caregivers need to address his basic needs (responding to cues, feeding, changing, etc.), each adult can develop his or her own special role in baby’s life. Here are some examples:

Mom – You aren’t just the “feeder.” Keep in mind that you are also your child’s primary teacher. Typically, you will spend the more time than other adults with your child. As you watch and respect your baby’s cues, provide stimulation, calm words, warmth and touch, you are teaching you baby that you will keep him safe while he learns about life. As important as your relationship is with your baby, it is important to let other family members develop their own roles in baby’s life.

Dads and partners – While you have a key role in supporting mom, especially during her recovery from childbirth, you provide important stimulation, variety, security and fun for the baby. Early on, while mom rests, you can play a key role by becoming the “translator” of the baby’s behavior. You can point out baby’s dreaming and cues and help regulate stimulation from visitors and siblings. When baby get’s older, you can help the baby safely explore (dads tend to have more tolerance for exploration) and provide higher level stimulation than mom is likely to provide. Just watch for disengagement cues so baby doesn’t get over stimulated!

Siblings – Babies love children and children have boundless energy. This makes for wonderful fun and stimulation for baby. Siblings do need to be taught about cues and the baby’s need for rest. Gentle supervised play can go a long way to help baby take an extra long nap!

Grandparents – While the world has changed and n ot all grandparents have extended periods of time to spend with their grandchildren, years of experience with their own children makes many grandparents calmly accepting of their grandchildren’s rhythms and needs. While parents have so many things going on in their lives, grandparents are often able to focus all of their attention on the baby. By bringing new stimulation, toys, faces, and voices to baby, grandparents can provide a lot of fun and learning with every visit.

Next time: The Two-way Mirror: How Parents' Influence Babies' World View

1 comment:

  1. Very clever and useful article for all. It's not just the responsibility of the mother or the father to take care of the newborn. It's everybody's task to know what to do to stop the baby's crying. Thanks for sharing these facts. Good luck on everything.