Many Adults Play a Role in a Baby's Life

Many Adults Play a Role in a Baby's Life

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

In today's world of baby sitters and daycares, most babies come into contact with outsiders. How do babies form attachment and develop trust in parents and other adults?

When babies form attachment and trust, they want to learn and do things that help them grow.

Many circumstances can jeopardize attachment and trust and thus the capacity to love. Some parents part their ways before the baby becomes a "child." Rapid changes in daycare and babysitters occur at a time when babies are learning to attach to parents.

Sometimes extended family members enter into a baby's life without giving him or her a chance for adequate preparation and familiarity. Circumstances such as hospitalization may force a parent to leave the baby abruptly overnight or several days under the care of others. Many babies after such abrupt separation cry until they are exhausted or asleep which adults might take as acceptance on the part of the baby.

Then, there are extreme circumstances such as the severe illness or death of a parent, severe marital conflict or abuse and neglect of baby. Parents may have adopted a baby who was raised in an institution and deprived of the normal infant-mother interaction. A parent may be going thorough a severe phase of depression, anxiety or drug-abuse during the critical phase of a baby's emotional development.

Since the above stated circumstances disrupt the regular and expected parent-child contact, let's call them as, "disruptive circumstances." Can such disruptive circumstances affect a baby's physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development? Perhaps.

Both parents offer vastly different experiences to their babies. When mothers pick their babies, they hug them and snuggle them close to their chest or, put them in their lap, feed them and baby talk with them. Fathers pick their babies, lift them up and down or, throw them in the air and catch them. Two very different experiences, but both provide critically important experiences.

A baby boy cries out of rage and hunger. Mother picks him up close to her body, rocks him, pats him and feeds him until he stops crying. The baby learns to calm down. Repetitions of similar experiences will teach his brain to quickly shift from rage to a calm and soothing state.

Suppose the baby does not receive similar experiences. Suppose the baby is left to cry for long periods of time. Finally, some adult comes and feeds the baby without providing the similar quality of touch and closeness and total love and commitment to the baby in that moment. As a result, the baby doesn't fully learn to calm down and experience the precious experience of contentment.

If the baby is substantially deprived of such gratifying experiences, it can also have implications for the development of his brain. The area of the brain involved in experiencing fear and rage, called "Amygdala", may become over developed or learn to keep firing for abnormally long periods of time. This may not be the only impact on the brain. Due to the lack of the experiences of the positive emotions, the area of brain involved in the processing of emotions, called, the "Limbic System," may remain underdeveloped.

Many adolescents and adults, males and females can stay in the state of rage for abnormally long periods of time and they are sort of incapable of calming or soothing themselves. They need another person, a drug or a violent action to release the tension.

To continue with the example of the critical experiences, remember that fathers too play an important role in a baby's development. As stated earlier, when fathers pick their babies, they lift them up and down, put them on their knees and play "horsie" or throw them in the air and catch them. Babies learn something very important from this; they learn to overcome their fear and turn it into fun. From fear to fun provides the base experience for subsequent adventurous and risk taking behaviors.

All babies when they are first thrown against the force of gravity want to cry. But, with the repetition of similar experiences, they learn to trust their bodies and trust the person who is throwing them into a precarious state. Their cry or near cry soon turns into gales of laughter. They learn to overcome their fear. They can even be brave to want more of the same. As regards the brain, scientists speculate that such experiences contribute to the richness and complexity of the emotional brain.

These examples illustrate how the simple and natural parental interactions with the baby contribute to such precious emotions as the love, trust, laughter and courage. Disruptive experiences, too many unfamiliar adults or transient caregivers may affect the quality of emotional experiences a baby receives.

Please don't pull your baby out of the daycare, ban the baby sitters and sit at home taking care of your baby 24-7. However, please evaluate all secondary caregivers carefully and make sure that they provide the stable environment and offer rich emotional experiences to your baby.

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Copyright 2002, Mind Publications 


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