Growing Great Kids: Kids who are secure, confident, caring and kind – children who grow to believe that life is about being happy with yourself, not needing to be better or have more than others.
After a lifetime of working as a teacher, mother, educational psychologist, academic and author I am now a grandmother – with a granddaughter of 18 months and a grandson of 9 weeks. I have decided to write about how they are growing up, what is going well, what is tricky and what they need at different ages and stages. I am also planning to put this into a wider context of the world in which they will be living. I am hoping that this might be helpful for other families. This is the first and it underpins everything else.
Love is Everything
Both my grandchildren were born into families that were not only pleased and excited to have them, but also well prepared, able to provide shelter, warmth, nutrition and emotional support.
The old adage – it takes a village to raise a child – is evident every day. Extended family, friends and neighbours have been there with time, food, patchwork blankets and soft toys. The fathers have good paternity leave and/or have been working part-time to provide support. What a difference all this had made to those critical early weeks of infancy and the child’s first experiences of the world.
So many families, especially these days, lack these basic resources making it much more difficult for them to meet their child’s needs. Every time I read about the rising cost of living, the stress this leads to and the breakdown of relationships I think about what needs to change at policy levels for the next generation to have the best chance of being healthy, safe and loved.
To DO Love You Have to BE Loved.
One of the most interesting pieces of research I’ve come across shows that having supportive friends in pregnancy impacts positively on the child’s development at age 5. Really? I found this amazing – but If you think about this, it makes sense.
The strength of the parent-baby bond in those first few months is the most important factor for future wellbeing. Primary carers need to have the emotional resources to respond to their baby’s needs. Not many of us would choose to get up to give a feed, change a nappy or rock a crying infant in the middle of the night. We need our sleep, some more than others. Having a small infant requires an approach that goes beyond ‘what do I want’ to ‘what does my baby need’ and how can I give this? Having someone say you are doing a good job and being there to give a couple more hours sleep the next morning is worth more than gold to a new parent, usually the mother if she is breast-feeding, and importantly to their growing child.
Building a Baby’s Brain so they Learn to Both Love Themselves and Others
First the negative: Although you do not have to immediately be there for every whimper, leaving a young baby to cry for long periods in those early months has negative consequences for that child’s development. A young child does not ‘learn to self soothe’, they shut down. Over time when their cries are left unanswered they learn that no-one comes, and this undermines the child’s future ability to trust that their needs will be met. This risks damaging future relationships. The rise in toxic cortisol caused by the stress also leads to an inability to later regulate emotions.
For more information about the neuroscience behind all this read Sue Gerhardt’s book Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Baby’s Brain. It’s not expensive and easy to read.
Now the positive: every moment in these early days is magical in more ways than you can imagine for your baby’s physical, emotional and psychological health. You are laying the foundation stones for their future in every single thing you do.
- Although not always possible to stop a baby crying, just picking them up helps reassure them their communication is heard and has had a response.
- You cannot overfeed a breast-fed baby – they will let you know when they have had enough. Letting your baby find the nipple rather than pushing them onto it is often successful and leads to less sore boobs. Google
- Regularly looking at your infant while feeding or soothing them matters for positive connection and a sense of belonging to each other.
- Speaking and singing to them gently also builds the bonds between you.
- Holding, cuddling and smiling is not an optional extra – it is the basis of security and all future relationships
- Rocking, bouncing and walking with the baby helps with both digestion and sleep.
- This needs to be balanced with not over-stimulating a tired child.
- Holding a baby close releases oxytocin into your own body – this is the wonderful sense of warmth, connection and wellbeing that can be utterly joyous. It is available to anyone including grandparents!
With grateful thanks to my son and daughter and their partners for letting me refer to their journey as parents in writing these blogs about Growing Great Kids. The next is on ‘Talking with babies’.