From the very first moment a baby is placed in the arms of a parent, the opening steps to establishing a sense of safety and security begins. As with all things parenting, there are many schools of thought on how you should best respond to your infant. However, as Susan Spieker, the director of the Center on Infant and Mental Health Development
notes, “This is a dance back and forth. Every family works it out different…The key is to give babies a secure enough base that they can venture out, engage in the environment, experience the challenges, rise to those challenges, and then make developmental leaps” (
University of Washington, n.d.). Opinions on how to best establish a sense of security for an infant range from attachment parenting
techniques, to those who prefer a more regimented or program suggested approach to child rearing, such as using sleep training methods, etc. Whatever you choose, there are a few overall guidelines that are helpful.
In short, enjoy that soft cheek, those chubby legs, and that sweet belly. Stroke your baby, explore infant massage
techniques, and rock and cuddle to heart’s content – yours and theirs. Sing to them, talk to them, and even read to them… even if it is your e-mail that you read out loud just so they can hear your voice. Just knowing you are there lays the groundwork for a secure infant.
We now know that how a child is touched, nurtured, and spoken to in those early years makes a dramatic difference in how he or she functions later on in life…The truth is that science is finally validating what our common sense has long told us. (Snell, 1999)
Respond to Cues
There’s this old school of thought that says you can spoil a baby by holding them too much, or responding to cries too quickly. But actually, research has been showing just the opposite.
Darcia Narvaez, a Notre Dame psychology professor says, “Researchers found that kids who were held more by their parents, whose cries received quick responses in infancy and who were disciplined without corporal punishment were more empathic — that is, they were better able to understand the minds of others — later in life. (As reported by Szalavitz, 2010)
This doesn’t mean you need to rush to your baby’s side at the first whimper. And certainly older babies can be taught to self-sooth. However, what it does mean is that if your instinct is kicking in, and baby needs you, you will go a long way in establishing their sense of security when responding to their cries.
If you’d like, you can introduce a comfort object, such as a security blanket, lovey, or special toy to your baby. This is something baby can cling to when they are feeling any sort of distress, and find some comfort. Some parents encourage pacifiers, while others prefer an infant self-sooth, perhaps by sucking their fingers. And a few babies find only one comfort object to their liking – mommy’s arms or breast. Sometimes baby chooses something parents would prefer they didn’t. If that’s the case, just remember that these days are fleeting and you are giving the gift of secure attachment to baby, no matter what it is they choose.
According to AdoptiveFamilies.com, adoptive families can, and do, bond just as successfully as biological ones. Of course it depends when in infancy you adopt your child, but there may be time for adjustment on both your parts. Remember that this is a very natural part of the process and that patience, consistency, and the use of the discussed responses above, as well as connecting to adoption communities where you can learn from wise parents who have gone before you.
All of these techniques will go a long way into helping your family, whatever it looks like, to welcome your very precious little one into your home and begin to establish the sense of security on which babies will thrive.