Suggestions for Creating A Healthy
Emotional Foundation During the First Six Months
By Olive M. Pemberton, Ph.D



Helping the infant to trust is a major responsibility of all parents and caregivers. A gentle, soft beginning for the infant needs to be provided. Trust is the beginning of emotional growth.

Parents have a tendency to forget that each was once a tiny baby and needed time and gentle, loving care. Or that human babies are less mature at birth and slower to learn than any other species. Gentle respect for the ways of infants is important. They need to feel secure.

Infants cannot express their emotions in words. Their signals, cues, and cries are their only survival techniques. The adult's responsibility is to learn these unspoken cues and respond to them with loving, caring respect.

During the first few months of life bonding begins - the emotional foundation of trust. The infant has to develop a feeling that his/her world is safe and secure. This feeling of trust, which later should become a solid belief, is needed for the baby to mature to an emotionally healthy functioning adult. It is the cornerstone of self-esteem.

The transition from darkness to bright light comes in the first month; from muffled sounds to loud noises; from gentle rocking motions to quick and sudden movement; from a warm temperature to degrees of hot and cold; from a flow of nourishment to separation from nourishment. All of these sudden adjustments need weeks of gentle, quiet protective caring.

Babies need time alone with each parent every day. Time that is totally uninterrupted ‹ no radio, no stereo, no TV, no telephone, and no reading material. Attention to your baby for about twenty minutes can boost baby's trust of your love for him/her. And you boost your own understanding of the ways of your precious child. A good time for this to happen is after a nap, a feeding, or in the evening before bedtime.

Trust, love, sensitivity to needs is communicated when adults respond kindly to the infant's "language". For instance, when baby smiles and you smile back saying, "What a happy baby you are," your baby will gradually learn that smiling indicates sharing of happiness. But if you smile when your baby is feeling sad or distressed, you are projecting that you do not understand baby's feelings, or think s/he shouldn't have sad feelings. Learning not to have confidence in our own feelings can start this early in life.

Infants communicate in many ways: ‹ when whimpering, or just being fussy; both fists will clench for twenty seconds or so as arms and legs flex and stretch; or facial color may become red. Baby is letting you know that it's near or past feeding time, a diaper is wet or dirty, or a toy has fallen out of the crib. Or possibly there's a sudden unexpected loud noise in another part of the house, or outside, like a car backfiring. By recognizing the cue and responding to the problem, baby learns to trust the caretakers. Remember, baby needs to know that his/her world is safe.

The first six months are a continuous learning experience for both the baby and parents. Following are additional examples of baby's cues and an adult's helpful responses:

-A strong, healthy, loud rhythmic cry indicates baby's need for companionship. Pick baby up. He needs body contact, hugging and stroking, and to look over your shoulder at his/her world.

-An angry cry is loud and strong, irregular and inconsolable. This cry says s/he is disturbed and unhappy. Find out why! For example, if baby is exploring an object and you take it away from him/her because you want to do a diaper change, that is upsetting to baby. (How do you feel when someone interrupts something you are enjoying? Are you happy when that happens to you?) Trust and security can be taught by allowing baby to explore the object while you change the diaper, softly telling him/her what you are doing and why. This is a gentle way of dealing with another person's feelings of self-respect, and an easier way to change a diaper. Your respect for your baby's feelings teaches him/her to have respect for other's feelings.

-When your baby is physically hurt there is a long wail before s/he takes a break for the next long cry. The unexpected prick of a pin; a doctor's needle; bath water that is too hot; bumping his/her head against something hard, not only hurts but startles baby. S/he needs your gentle, soft consoling voice saying that you know how s/he feels. If you ignore baby's feelings by trying to distract with a smile and toy, baby will feel misunderstood and isolated and not understand why. Baby is being taught to mistrust his/her own feelings. It is wise to take a few seconds to acknowledge and respond to baby's feelings before directing attention to another experience.

-Often a cold wash cloth is quickly picked up and rubbed hard around baby's mouth. Baby will pull away and cry. A baby's skin is very sensitive to sudden changes in temperature. A cold cloth and rough treatment startles a tiny baby. Trust is created when a parent wipes baby's face and mouth, first by gently stroking the cheeks with a warm soft cloth. Then clean baby's whole face without fuss.

Do you know that moving your baby from a lower to a higher spot needs to be done slowly so your infant's body can adjust to changes in heart rate, vision, and position? Move baby comfortably from sleep to wakefulness, to diapering and feeding in the same slow and quiet way each time s/he awakens. This gives baby a predictable secure pattern to follow. (Are you aware of the changes that take place in your body when your usual routine becomes unpredictable?)

Other ways of developing security in your baby can occur during play time. While baby is on his/her back slowly move a toy or rattle back and forth in front of his/her eyes. This gives baby a good feeling. Your soft, gentle voice calls baby's attention to its location as you move it. Doing this is helping eye-ear coordination and teaches your infant how to be involved with another person.

Baby needs space to feel safe. If someone is too close, or puts a toy too close to baby's face, s/he may sharply turn his/her head. If adult actions and/or sounds are too animated or too loud, baby can become anxious. You need to take care of your baby by removing the object or adult(s) out of baby's sight, or to quiet the sound. With your intervention baby regains the feelings of trust and security and returns to the toy or adult(s) when ready. It can take up to three months for your infant's body to get used to eating, moving, and being in new ways. And it takes this long for most parents to figure out their baby's moods and feelings. When both parents and baby feel more secure and trusting of one another, baby will relax into regular eating and sleeping habits, and be more alert when awake.

It is important that each day your infant's feeding, playing, and napping times occur at regular hours. This enables baby to learn how to schedule his/her own hunger and sleep urges into orderly patterns. Your baby is learning patience since s/he will be able to anticipate what is to happen. It can become a good rhythm for all of you.

Visitors, relatives, and strangers play a vital role in developing trust and secure feelings in your baby. The best time to take baby visiting or to have visitors is in the morning when baby is more rested and relaxed. Pay close attention to your baby's cues. Baby knows and feels safe with your voice, your size/shape, physical and emotional conduct. When a visitor looks or acts different from you, anxiety is felt by baby. Staying close to your baby in these situations helps him/her to cope with the differences.

Baby's likes and dislikes become very selective during the third to sixth weeks. S/he might choose to gaze at a red banner rather than to look at a blue bird. S/he might prefer to be propped up in an infant seat instead of his/her crib or a big chair. These choices are usually based on baby's feelings of comfort or discomfort. Baby needs quiet time to integrate new likes and dislikes.

Quiet times, without noise from radio, stereo, or TV, are needed for baby to learn how to be alone with him/herself comfortably. The more quiet times a baby has the better s/he can sleep through the night. Even when waking during the night, baby can amuse him/herself until falling back to sleep, having learned to be content with his/her own company.

Do Not Be Discouraged
It may take a whole year for your tiny one to learn to really trust you because so many things happen that may be frightening or surprising.

Did you know that your little one has to learn to love you? Baby's aren't born to be able to love at first sight. How often have you been in a new and strange environment, where new things happen to you daily? Some frighten you. Are you able to trust and love those persons in charge? It's not easy for us nor for baby. And, it takes time!

Many times baby may feel unloved and express it by crying, whimpering, or fussing. If you're not understanding of this behavior, you may lose sleep. Be aware that your changed moods can cause your baby to be fussy. S/he may be unable to understand what's going on or how to respond to you.

Both parents need to treat their baby kindly on these occasions. Your baby needs to feel free to express frustration without being punished or jerked around, yelled at, or put into a situation that is terrifying and dangerous. Unpleasant actions from parents or caregivers can produce anxiety and fear in a baby ‹ the opposite of trust.

It is my fervent hope that after reading these articles, parents and caregivers will take to heart the privilege and responsibility they have in taking care of a precious human life. Attaining emotional well-being and maintaining it is a life-long project. The earliest attention and understanding of this goal by parents can make this process much easier.

For those who are interested, I present programs on The Growth and Development of the Brain and Emotions from Birth through the First Three Years of Life to community organizations, churches and schools for a fee. Questions or comments can be sent by e-mail to: oliveom@juno.com 

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