My Brain grows faster when you respond to me...
I feel very scared if I get no response from you. When you look at me with love in your eyes I feel safe. Your voice helps me to feel safe. Being close to you helps me to feel safe. When you look at me I am interested in your face, and I look at you. This helps my eyes to work together. My brain builds connections for looking at other people and understanding them.
When you copy the expression on my face, this helps me to understand what I am feeling. Then I copy you, and this builds connections in my brain for understanding and managing my feelings.
When you move I copy your movements. This helps my brain to grow connections that make it possible for me to manage my own body, and to use my body to communicate with other people.
My brain works very slowly at first. But when you respond to me in the same way over and over again the connections you are helping to build grow strong. Then they can carry messages between the different parts of my brain much more quickly.”
• Try to guess what your baby’s crying means and meet their basic needs – warmth and comfort, food, a clean nappy, sleep.
• Copy the sounds or facial expressions your baby makes and see how they react.
• Help your baby to see something if they show you they want to look at it.
• Pass your baby objects they are interested in (if they are safe), especially if they are brightly coloured or have interesting shapes, textures or sounds.
• Everyone takes time to learn how their baby communicates.
• Crying doesn’t always mean your baby is ‘upset’. It’s the only noise they know how to make to get your attention. Sometimes they may just be singing or talking to you!
• When your baby has your full attention, their whole brain is working. When you are watching TV, texting or talking on the phone, they don’t get this benefit.
• As children get older they begin to sort out their own problems as well as asking you for help. So sometimes ‘wait and see’ is a good response for older children.
John Bowlby’s theory of attachment is the most integrative theory of child development available to us. Attachment is a survival mechanism to ensure the protection and survival of the otherwise helpless child. The baby produces and then uses attachment behaviours that engage their parent; the baby is then in control of, and absolutely dependent upon, the parent.
Two key processes take place in the interaction between the parent and the baby that contribute to brain development: soothing and stimulation. These processes change the body chemistry of the baby, having a direct impact on the developing brain.
Across the first three years of life the attachment process can be seen as having five key steps that shape the baby brain:
• physical attunement
• emotional attunement
• pre-cognitive patterning
• regulatory patterning
Baby brains process information about sixteen times more slowly than adult brains. This is why it takes time for the baby to respond to stimulation.
Claiming and attunement
In the first weeks of life, the deepest and most primitive areas of the brain are developing. These parts of the brain will control all the basic functions of the body such as sleeping and waking, appetite, and temperature control. When the parent responds to the baby’s attachment behaviours such as crying, back-arching, and chaotic arm and leg movements the baby feels safe. Stress hormones have an adverse effect on this early brain development.
Interaction that matches the needs of the baby produces pleasure hormones in the parent such as oxytocin and endorphins. Close physical contact between the parent and the baby then triggers production of pleasure hormones in the baby. These hormones provide the best possible environment for brain growth.
A mnemonic for the processes of claiming is ABCD:
To survive, babies must gain the attention of their parents. Parents and babies bond together through scent, taste, touch, sound and parental gaze. To feel safe, babies must gain control of their parents so that they can feel safe. However, once the baby does feel safe this need to control will be replaced by a healthy dependency.
Responding is the beginning of ‘mind-mindedness’ or ‘mindfulness’, the ability to give attention to the young child as a creative mind with an inner world of their own. Mindfulness is one of the key attributes of parenting for developing infant mental health.