Why the early years are so important
By Elaine Hunter
Having a baby is one of the most emotional experiences you will ever have – woman or man; you will be blown away by the miracle that is your new child.
But did you realise that the way you treat your baby in the first years of life can improve their brain function, ability to fight disease and to cope with adulthood?
Experts have now discovered that addictions or illnesses like depression and anorexia can be linked with how babies have been cared for.
Sue Gerhardt, psychotherapist and author of controversial new book Why Love Matters, has found that a baby’s nervous system is shaped by early relationships and claims she can prove how the development of the brain can determine future behaviour.
Positive facial expressions, hugs, kisses and loving care can all improve your child’s ability to cope with life as an adult.
“It is possible to predict future problems as early as the age of six to 10 months, not from the baby’s temperament so much as the mother’s behaviour coupled with the baby’s temperament,” Sue Gerhardt explains.
“Mothers who are not able to meet the needs of their baby are likely to be helping to incubate future aggression and conduct disorder.”
As the novelty of a new born wears off on sleep-deprived parents; the tiny bundle of joy begins to represent a challenging period because parents are forced to give up their old life to look after this new one every minute of every day.
In our highly materialist driven world, new mothers find themselves going back to careers or jobs for money or adult stimulation – resulting in many babies being cared for by strangers in nurseries.
Experts like Gerhardt and child guru and author of bestsellers like Raising babies and Raising boys, Stephen Biddulph are now warning that these children are missing out on the constant love that a one-to-one carer can give. Biddulph agrees and has spent the past five years examining national and international studies of infants in long-term nursery care.
In his book, Raising Babies – Should under 3s go to Nursery? he claims that during the first two years of life, brain development unfolds at its best with one-to-one care. This care could be from mother, father, a loving relative or, if necessary, a single, attentive paid carer.
So what can we do about it?
Gerhardt says: “The first sources of pleasures are smell, touch and sound. Babies can recognise their parents’ voices from the start and prefer them to any other.
“Being lovingly held is the greatest spur to development, more so even than breastfeeding. In mother’s or father’s arms, where it is safe and warm, muscles can relax and breathing deepen, as tensions are dispersed by gentle stroking or calm rocking.
“When we are physically held, we know we are supported by others.”
Top tips to being a better parent
- Listen and react to what your new baby is trying to tell you. Let yourself communicate with your new baby on their level.
- Hold and love your baby as much as possible; lots of hugs, smiles and positive faces and voices.
- If you have to work, try to spend childcare money on employing someone who can give your child one-to-one attention instead.
- Your child is learning from you, so try to be a good role model and be aware of how you are treating him/her.
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