By Vicki Thrasher Cronin
Licensed Parent Educator, Pre-K Teacher
The amount of research on the first five years of life has exploded in the past five decades. Today we know more than ever before how very important the earliest relationships are in the optimal development of our youngest children. Today we know that babies thrive on responsive parenting.
Everything you do with your infant matters. Everything. During the first year of life, your baby is learning to self-regulate and your prompt, sensitive and intentional response to his call is critical. Responsive parenting is learning that as you respond to your baby’s needs, you are teaching your baby how to ask for and receive help and how to calm and regulate himself. Your sensitive response also gives your baby a clear message that he is important, that he can trust you, always, to be there when he needs you.
In the first year of life, don’t worry about spoiling your infant. Instead, be intentional. Pause and allow yourself to think about what your baby may need. For example, when your baby stirs or when you hear your baby in the night, listen and give yourself a chance to get a “feel” for what’s next. Technology that allows researchers to monitor babies’ rustlings during the night tells us that babies, like parents, stir and/or awaken briefly a number of times each night. Sometimes your baby may need to be changed or fed, re-positioned or re-covered. Sometimes your baby will settle and go back to sleep on his own. And, sometimes, as he is learning the day and night cycle (circadian), he may awaken and just need to be close to you and gaze into your eyes! During the first three months of life, your baby is not only learning the circadian cycle, he is learning how to regulate himself. You’re the coach on this team.
Babies thrive on routine. The exact time is not as important as the over and over and over again that babies need to learn in order to trust that their needs will be met. It’s like a dance. Responsive parenting is learning your baby’s favorites. Your baby arrives with his own predisposition, his temperament, and he will let you know what he likes best. When you figure out what comforts and settles your baby, you respond in the same way each time. Responsive parenting is telling the other adults, who share in loving and caring for your baby, what his preferences are, what he likes and dislikes. Responsive parenting ensures that your baby gets the message that he is in a safe place and that he can count on getting his needs met.
Your baby will no doubt have some fussy times and he will count on you to help him learn how to cope with distress and how to prevent overload. These are lessons learned over time and from experience. It is very important during your baby’s first year of life that you remember to slow down, be patient and be responsive to the now in your baby’s day. The lessons of the first year, both yours and your baby’s, are life-long lessons.
The first year of life is a big investment. It is the investment of time. It is the holding, cuddling, rocking, singing, talking, rhyming year. It is the year of getting to know each other, getting in tune, getting connected, for a lifetime.