Many of us were raised with the notion that children were to be seen and not heard, which most often meant that one did not speak until spoken to. It also implied a certain behavior standard, especially in the company of adults.

In the '50s and early '60s, it was thought that a child could be emotionally damaged by receiving too much affection. This was probably related to the myth from that era that babies become spoiled if they are held too much. Modern psychology and contemporary knowledge of childhood development have debunked these myths.

The emergence of interdisciplinary field of infant/toddler mental health takes this one step further by revealing the science involved in the attachment and bonding process. What we now know is that becoming an emotionally stable person requires lots of holding, touch and nurturing during the infant and toddler years. The baby’s developing brain is learning how the world is and whether or not he/she is valuable.

The truth is that during the first year of life, a baby can’t be held too much. Engaging adults is the baby’s primary job. In order for the brain to get the right messages of its existence in the world, the baby needs care from attuned parents and caregivers.

In these early months, social/emotional development, learning and attachment are knitted together. Skin, being the largest organ of the body, is stimulated while being held. This in turn fires messages in the right brain, whereby the child learns to trust, which has to happen in order for the individual to be able to learn.

What happens early matters. Brain research in the last 15 years demonstrates that how we learn and relate to others is “biologized” in the attachment process in infancy. Early experiences affect brain development and lay the foundation for intelligence, emotional health and moral development.

Nurturing and dependable relationships are necessary for optimal early brain development. It is within the emotional relationship between child and caregiver that communication and language emerge. When there are disruptions in the consistency of this relationship, delays in language, play and healthy self-expression can occur.

It is critical that the infant have a strong relationship with at least one primary care giver or attachment figure in order for the brain to grow. When the child is able to express his thoughts, emotions, problems or conflicts in symbolic ways such as play, gestures and language, less acting out occurs.

The research on children from orphanages supports the notion that early disruptions in attachments, early instability, trauma and deprivation are likely to continue to manifest themselves as problems throughout life.

The structure of the brain and developed patterns of behavior are increasingly difficult to change as one gets older. It is best to get things right the first time than to fix them later.

One might think that raising children, as instinctual as it is, is just not rocket science. Well, maybe it is!

Susan Lorenzen is a licensed professional counselor of mental health and clinical supervisor at Behavior Management Systems in the Family Pathways Division. Contact her at 343-7262.

(3) comments

Chalyras

She is on point! I am the result of not getting either from parents who believed in letting a child cry him or herself to sleep. My sister would stand in front of tv and rock back and forth whereas I'd rock in chair or slept like the dead a few minutes later stop breathing then it continues into my adult life. I was born prematurely so I had health problems; ear infections, allergies, chicken pox, eyesight, and stomach. Also was diagnosed with HSV 1 and didn't help both parents was emotionally absent even though literally present in front of me. My dad held me for pics as well as my grandmother once not grandpa or mom. The only pics I have of me are alone with crooked teeth, frizzy hair, laying in laundry bin never another soul. As result, I am labeled schizoaffective disorder with severe depression. Currently take Risperdal and Celexa for hearing voices and anxiety attacks. Also am overweight 220 at 5'2 so will not be bothered by anyone. Reason being molested by my moms s best friend's son and neighbors son across the street from my house. Ohh, lets not forget had to look forward to great day at school to being smacked upside head, hair pulling, shoved and kicked down the stairs during emergency drill session or even kicked in the butt. Now, I am very bitter, cynical and critical of others but have always maintained control of myself avoiding personal and professional relationships at all costs because of no manifestations of love so its foreign to me. I can view others who have these very good attributes, happily giddy for them, yet its not for me only to observe and not be a participant. That's just how it is for me.

julieATN

Susan -- great article! It's wonderful to see in print that A BABY CAN NOT BE HELD TOO MUCH! And to acknowledge the critical importance of attachment to the child's overall mental health. What we do with our babies truly matters!! We parents at the Attachment & Trauma Network can tell you very clearly what happens when our babies don't get what they need. www.attachtrauma.org

Bea

Thanks Susan for your comments! I enjoyed reading the article and am grateful for your supportive words about the importance of caring and nuturing infants.

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