Research shows that your baby will develop faster if you are quick to imitate the gestures and sounds she makes. Babies have also been shown to prefer it when you make eye contact, as well as when your face is animated and responsive. And children who have responsive relationships with their primary caregivers are more likely to develop insights into other people’s feelings, needs and thoughts. “Parents and other family members who are alert to these early interactions can help lay the building blocks of social interaction,” explains Pasco. So don’t feel guilty if you just gaze into your baby’s eyes and coo for half an hour— you’re doing a really important job!
As your baby grows, the mechanisms through which she bonds with you increase. “One of the clearest milestones comes between seven and nine months, when babies tend to begin exhibiting a preference for particular caregivers,” says Pasco. “Your baby might go from being happily passed around family members to wanting to be carried by just you. It may feel like grandma is being given the cold shoulder, but this is a positive sign that your baby is actively choosing a particular attachment. So rather than seeing ‘separation anxiety’ as a problem, we should see it as evidence of a great bond between a mum and her baby: she’s simply expressing her view that she’d rather be with you!”
But don’t think this means you should be the sole person caring for your baby. Research suggests that young children benefi t signifi cantly from strong relationships with a wider circle of people, as long as the primary attachment bond—the one with you—is secure. “This means your child feels she has someone she can go and feel safe with,” says Pasco. “Her social world expands enormously in her first three years, but it’s supported by having a strong bond to fall back on.”
Your child becomes increasingly sophisticated at this relationship business. “We now know that toddlers begin to build the basic ability to grasp what might be going on in other people’s minds from the age of about one or even younger,” says Pasco. Studies show that somewhere around the age of 12 months, a child typically begins to follow the gaze of people around her. Try it for yourself: if you look at a ball, your baby will probably look at it too. This new skill helps her begin to predict what might be in other people’s minds, or what they might do next. It opens the gates to a new kind of social interaction, one that might eventually include taking turns, for example, and other
It’s wonderful to watch your child develop new skills and slowly broaden her horizons, and even more so when you remember that it’s your love that’s set her up for success. So if you ever find yourself doubting that you’re doing a great job at this parenting lark, give your baby a cuddle and ask yourself: would she rather be anywhere else in the whole wide world? Simply by loving your baby, to her, you’re the best mum in the world. ■
A recent study found that men who take their babies out in a sling develop a stronger relationship with them. So do the same yourself —it works for mums too!
When you’re soothing your baby, slow down and connect with her, rather than rushing to find a quick fix.
From age one, when you’re playing with your baby, clearly look at an object before picking it up. This will help her realise that you are thinking.
Prolonged physical contact with your baby stimulates the creation of new brain neurons, helping to form memories and bonds. Cue more cuddles!