What do babies need to feel happy? Understanding your infant’s mental health
Have you ever wondered why some babies always seem happy and why some people seem to have no problems raising them?
Well, for starters take a deep breath and keep reminding yourself that there is not such thing as perfectly happy babies or problem free parenting. Being a parent is hard work. New challenges arise all the time just to keep you on your toes and remind you that you are human, doing the best you can with what you have. There are some days when everything seems to go smoothly and your little bundle of joy is the greatest gift in the world. Then there are the dreaded sleep deprived, overwhelming days when you wonder how you’ll manage to make it through the next hour, let alone the next 20 years! While this is all part of your parenting journey, it can help to shift your perspective from time to time and imagine what it might be like from your baby’s perspective.
A baby’s experience of the world is as complex and unique as the experience of being human is. However, you can begin to try and understand by paying attention to your baby’s emotional/social needs. From birth, babies learn about who they are by how they are treated. Warm, loving relationships provide young children with a sense of comfort, safety and confidence. Strong and positive relationships also help children develop important prosocial skills such as trust, empathy, compassion and a sense of morality.
Bonding vs Attachment
Most people are familiar with the concept of bonding but less so with the idea of attachment. While these two concepts may sound similar, in fact they are quite different. The term bonding refers to the biological ties that form between you and your baby as a result of powerful hormones and events that occur around birth and delivery. It is a biological mechanism that ensures a baby’s physical survival. By contrast, attachment focuses on the baby’s feelings toward you and visa versa. This is more of a social/emotional mechanism, that is the foundation of a child’s ability to form relationships later in life. Attachment involves two aspects in the baby-caregiver relationship, namely:
- The baby’s need for emotional/social protection and comfort
- The caregiver’s provision of timely and appropriate care in response to these needs.
Your baby’s attachment system starts to develop over the first 8 months of life and will gradually begin to influence how she/he perceives and interacts with others. Therefore paying close attention to your baby’s signals (eye contact, facial expressions, physical gestures, sounds, crying) is the first step to understanding their emotional/social needs. Everything a baby does is a form of communication that provides an opportunity for you to learn about them and establish yourself as a safe, timely and responsive attachment figure.
Your baby (birth to 1) is:
- Not developing as expected: failure to gain weight, sleep problems, feeding problems
- Frequently emotionally upset: signs of anger and aggression, tantrums and inconsolable crying
- Frequently sad, anxious or worried: smiles infrequently, does not show interest in playing, reacts strongly to noise and movement (jumpy)
- Unresponsive to you or the environment
- Strong reactions to touch, sound or movement
Your toddler (1-3) is:
- Showing minimal emotional expressions
- Unable to calm down by him/herself
- Not seeking you out for comfort
- Excessively afraid or sad
- Withdrawn or clingy
- Aggressive to self or others
- Impulsive and hyperactive
- Throwing tantrums and being defiant
- Showing speech and language delays
- Experiencing sings of depression: low energy, difficulty coping, feeling overwhelmed
- Experiencing signs of stress, nervousness or anxiety
- Experiencing excessive difficulty with parenting, that is impacting on your ability to function form day to day
- Struggling with substance or alcohol use
If you notice any of the following signs, our team of highly skilled and well experienced Child and Adolescent Psychologists are here to help. Call us now and take that first step towards helping your child.