PARENT CHILD RELATIONS - Online
7400:360
School of Family and Consumer Sciences at The University of Akron
Professor Susan D. Witt, Ph.D.
NOTES ON PARENTING INFANTS
To accompany Chapter 2
 
Comments from parents about parenting infants:
 
"There is joy in watching her change, seeing her individualize.  From the beginning it seemed she had her own personality – we see this is not just a little blob of protoplasm here, this is a little individual already from the beginning.  She has always had a real specialness about her.  It was exciting to see her change."
 
"What I've discovered about parenting is there is a constant process of loss and gain.  With every gain you give up something, so there is sadness and joy.  The joy comes when he does something new, different.  He crawls and that's great, but the loss is you no longer have to get him something or carry him there.  Now I have to do less for him.  My role shifts the less I do for him.  So, it's a mixed thing.  He's growing up too fast.  I want to hold on to each phase.  I like the new phase, but I want to hang on to each one, too."
 
"It's the first time in my life I know what the term unconditional love means.  The wonder of this little girl and nature!  I have never experienced anything like that.  It is yes, without any buts."
 
INTRODUCTION
There are several things that we will consider in our discussion of infants and the best way to parent them.  One of the factors we will consider is the particular developmental stage the child is in, with regard to the theories of Erikson, Piaget and Freud.

The second factor we will consider is the way the child is developing, with regard to physical development, cognitive development, social and emotional development.  Third, we will look at how parents can best meet the child's needs and encourage healthy development of the infant.
 
DEVELOPMENTAL STAGE OF INFANCY  
Freud - According to Freud's psychoanalytic theory, infants are in the oral stage of development.  During this stage, the child is receiving satisfaction and gratification primarily from the act of sucking, whether it be on mom's nipple, a bottle, a pacifier, his/her fist, etc.  With newborns, when you put a finger or nipple near his/her mouth, the baby will automatically begin rooting around and try to suck the object.  These rooting and sucking reflexes are important to the baby because that is how the baby receives sustenance and nourishment.  In short, sucking is vital to the survival of the baby.
 
Erikson, who developed a theory of psychosocial stages of development would say that the infant is in the trust vs. mistrust stage of development.  During this stage (about the first year or so of life), the child is dependent on the caregiver for food, clothing, warmth and cuddling.  Infants can cry and call attention to their needs, but those needs have to be met by others.  If caregivers are reliable and feed the child regularly, change the child promptly when wet or soiled, stroke and cuddle the child, talk to and respond to the child, the baby will develop trust and feel good about him/herself as a person deserving
care.  Thus, the baby learns to trust the environment.  The child who is left to cry for long periods of time, has to wait too long between diaper changes, is left in a playpen for long periods of time, and doesn't receive much verbal or tactile response from caregivers will in all likelihood learn not to trust the environment.  Obviously, caregivers cannot always be prompt and satisfying, and all babies will have experiences that lead to feelings of mistrust.  But when most experiences are positive and basic trust develops, children develop the strength or virtue of hope - the enduring belief that even though things
might get dark and gloomy, wishes and desires can be achieved.
 
Piaget's cognitive development theory places the infant in the sensorimotor stage (the first two years of life).  At the beginning of this stage the child is learning about the environment through his/her senses.  Later on, as the child gains more mobility, he or she learns about their environment through motor activity - hence the word sensorimotor.  Initially, the child responds to the environment with reflexes - the rooting and sucking reflexes mentioned earlier and other reflexes which are common to infants but disappear as the infant grows and develops (Palmar grasp, Babinsky, for example).  At about one
month of life, the baby will attempt to repeat a pleasurable event that centers on his own body (accidentally putting fist in mouth and sucking - baby will, in an uncoordinated way, try to make that happen again because it was enjoyable to the baby).  As the
baby develops, he will then attempt to repeat a pleasurable event that occurs outside his own body (accidentally kicking a mobile, for example, and enjoying the movement/sound - baby will try to make it happen again, still not in a real coordinated way).
 
As the baby continues to develop, the baby will learn that objects continue to exist even when the baby can't see them (object permanence) and the baby will begin to anticipate events (mom takes the stroller out and the baby gets excited because baby knows that they will be going for a walk).  The infant starts to figure out that you can have all sorts of actions with an object rather than just putting it in your mouth (a ball can be rolled, tossed, bounced, dropped out of the crib - this is a great activity if you can get mom or dad to keep retrieving it for you!).  During those first two years of life, the baby develops cognitively from a little person who is primarily reflexive to one who is mobile and curious about the world around her.
 
TASKS OF PARENTING
There are several tasks that parents must carry out during their child's first year of life.  These tasks are listed below:
 
1.  Meet infant's basic physiological needs for food, dry clothing, and warmth in sensitive, responsive ways.  This means making sure that when the baby's diaper is soiled or wet, he gets changed promptly.  When the child wakes up hungry, she needs to be fed in a timely manner.  Parents need to keep in mind that when they are changing the baby
or feeding the baby they should also be talking to the baby, stroking the baby, cuddling the baby.  By doing that, the bonding between parent and child is nurtured and enhanced.
 
2.  Meet infant's needs for emotional soothing and regulation, for social interaction, cuddling, and affection.  As parents interact more and more with their infants, they learn the baby's cues - when the baby needs to be cuddled, when the baby wants stimulation, when the baby just needs quiet time.  It is important for parents to recognize the baby's cues and be able to respond to the baby appropriately.  I have, on occasion, shown a video in class which includes a segment on a mom who hadn't learned how to respond to her child's cues.  The attachment between mom and child was very weak and strained because mom's responses to the baby were not what the baby needed.  For example, when the child was fussy, mom automatically would put the child on her knee and bounce the child around.  Just from watching them it was easy to see that that wasn't at all what the baby needed.  Also, when mom would hold the baby, she held the baby in an insecure way, and the child would fuss.  An outsider looking at this could see that what the baby
seemed to want in that situation was to be held close in to mom's chest and to be slowly rocked.  Parents can love their baby very much but still not be aware of how best to meet the baby's emotional needs.  In those situations, it can be helpful for someone else (grandmother, other experienced moms, counselor) to help the new parent learn to read the baby's cues and be more appropriately responsive.
 
3.  Be an accepting, emotionally available, responsive caregiver who forms a secure attachment with baby.  Again, this comes from lots of interactions, the day-to-day activities that parent and child engage in.  While babies are a lot of work and it can be challenging to care for them, the parent who takes genuine joy in their child and transmits that enjoyment to the child will generally have an easier time with parenting and have a more secure child.
 
4.  Establish routines and daily schedules that provide optimal amounts of stimulation for the child's individual needs.  The key term here is "child's individual needs."  Parents often find that they have one child who likes to have lots of stimulation in the course of a day - looking at and batting at a mobile, listening to music in the house, having lots of bright colors around, and then have another baby only to find that this child likes things to be calm, enjoys being read to quietly but isn't fond of bright lights or colors.  This is actually one of the joys of parenting - learning the likes and dislikes of your baby, discovering things that delight the baby or soothe the baby.  Studies have found that most babies have an "easy" temperament and respond pretty favorably to their environment.  However, some babies are slower to warm up to things or have difficult temperaments (irregular routines, negative reaction to new things, etc.).  In those cases, the parents need to discover what does seem to soothe the baby and make sure to do that.  Look for the times when baby is most fussy and arrange the day so that the parent can let other things go and work on helping the baby feel more comfortable.
 
5.  Provide appropriate environmental stimulation in the form of mobiles, toys, pictures, books, music that engage the child's growing interest in the world.  Parents don't have to spend an enormous amount of money on toys for their baby.   Many communities have toy lending libraries with a wide variety of toys and equipment that can be borrowed (Akron has a wonderful toy lending library that is housed at the United Disabilities Services Building; there are hundreds of toys available for borrowing for both typically developing children and children with special needs).  Mobiles can be made out of objects around the house (making sure that there isn't anything unsafe that baby can get to).  Babies like to play with the pots, pans and plastic containers that most people have in their kitchens.  We all know that old saying that you give the child a new toy and "he'd rather play with the box."  Nothing wrong with letting the baby play with boxes of different sizes.  They can be stacked, nested inside one another, slid across the room, etc.  Books don't have to be bought, they can be borrowed from the library, and the selection is enormous.  When parents take the baby out in the stroller, rather than just pushing the baby along, the parent should label things in the environment.  "Look at the pretty blue flowers."  "There's Mr. Jones washing his car."
 
6.  Provide opportunities for safe exploration with objects and with the environment.  And here of course the key term is "safe exploration."  Parents should give babies many opportunities to have experiences in their environment.  Having a bottom drawer in the kitchen for things the child can play with while mom or dad makes dinner - tupperware, measuring spoons, wooden spoons - is a lot of fun for baby and she's learning too.  Most parents need a playpen for times when they need to confine the baby while they get laundry out of the dryer or have to go to the bathroom.  But parents should be careful about putting the baby in the playpen for long periods of time.  It has been found that children who spend lots of time in playpens have slower physical and cognitive development.  It's difficult to move around much in a playpen, and not much exploring of the environment is accomplished when the baby is confined for long periods of time.  Because the baby can't move around the environment as much, cognitive stimulation is decreased.
 
The list above emphasizes the importance of meeting the baby's needs.  In short, for that first year, the baby is very dependent on the parents to not only encourage growth and development, but for its very existence.  The parent who is neglectful or abusive during that first year is setting the child up for a lifetime of difficulty.  As the child grows and develops, he will become more autonomous and be able to make decisions (small ones at first) which leads to independence (which after all should be one of the goals of child rearing).
 
ENCOURAGING PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT
On average, the baby grows from about 21 inches at birth to about 28 inches at the end of the first year; birth weight usually triples by the end of the first year.  Growth, however, involves more than an increase in size and weight; it also includes organization of behavior.
 
Growth proceeds from head to foot - this is called cephalocaudal development.  Growth occurs first in the head and neck area.  Sight and hearing continue to develop, and eventually the baby becomes able to control his/her head.  Next, the baby is able to sit alone and to use the arms and legs.  At this point the baby becomes a toddler, learning to use the legs for walking.
 
The direction of growth is from gross (large muscle) activity to more differentiated and organized behaviors.  For example, the ability to pick up an object develops in stages.  First, the baby points to the object, then is able to reach for it in an awkward, sweeping motion.  Gradually the motions become more refined and better organized, so that by about ten months a child can pick up a small object with his/her thumb and forefinger.
 
At about three months, changes occur in the nervous system.  Increased brain development improves the baby's sensory abilities and bring more control of behavior.  Coordinated behaviors replace reflexes as reflexes gradually disappear.
 
Babies are more awake during the day and at night drop into a quiet sleep before dreaming.  At about eight months there are several changes in physical development.  The baby is able to sit up alone, and with control of the trunk comes creeping and crawling.  Babies can now move rapidly in all directions.
 
Most babies stand and then walk while holding onto objects for support.  This activity usually continues for a while before they can walk.  Babies will walk around objects, such as a coffee table, holding on for support before they take off on their own. This is called cruising.  Being able to move around has an enormous impact on babies’ exploratory and social behavior.  When babies crawl and move around their environment, they are able to look at, touch, and manipulate objects.  Exploration triggers new social reactions to babies.  When infants reach out for objects, parents often begin to name what they are touching and to describe the objects, thus increasing babies’ language.  Moving around also brings social changes because babies can initiate interactions with others more easily.  Crawling babies often get close to adults, crawl in their laps, smile and vocalize more at them; thus, locomotion is a reorganizer of babies' experiences.
 
It is important that parents understand what is happening with their infants as far as development is concerned.  The parent who understands the infant's stages of physical development is better able to provide experiences that encourage that development.  Giving the infant opportunities to develop his senses is important; thus, providing the baby with rattles to shake, mobiles to kick and watch, music to listen to, textures to touch, and stimulating objects to look at will all help the baby develop.  Once the child starts to move around, parents should make sure to provide a clean space for the baby to crawl around in and give the child lots of opportunities to practice her new skills.  To encourage both physical and cognitive development, parents should not put a child in a playpen for long periods of time.  This is confining and discourages exploration and curiosity.
 
Walking can be encouraged by spending time walking through the rooms of the house with the baby, encouraging the baby to hold the parent's hands and practice taking steps.  The baby should be guided through these developmental tasks by the parent and be given lots of opportunities for success.
 
Because  brain development is a part of physical development that is crucial for the healthy development of the child, it is important to encourage brain growth and development by providing a stimulating environment for the baby.  The newborn's brain is 25% of its adult weight; the brain at 6 months of age is 50% of its adult weight; and the brain at two years of age is 75% of its adult weight.  By the age of five years, the child's brain is 90% of its adult weight.  From these figures, it is easy to see that brain development during the first few years of life, and particular infancy, is extremely important.  It is important for the baby to have an environment that encourages this type of development.  Reading to the child every day, responding when the child makes sounds and coos, providing toys that stimulate the baby, singing to the baby - all these things are vital to the baby's brain growth and development, and thus the baby's cognitive development also.
 
COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT
Piaget believed that intelligence involves the individual's adaptation to the world in such a way that the person interacts effectively with the environment.  Piaget's theory emphasizes action in the development of thinking and reasoning powers. He believed babies and children have natural desires to approach the world and interact, to explore and learn.
 
Research on early learning has tended to support his theory.  Babies enjoy learning for the sake of mastering a task.  I have watched my own granddaughter illustrate this idea.  When she was about 9 months old my husband would sometimes put her on the pool table (always staying close at hand to be safe!) and let her roll the balls into the pockets.  She would work very hard at this, even when she got tired.  She would continue rolling those pool balls in a very determined way simply because she was eager to master the task.  As she's gotten older we have observed her repeating tasks over and over, getting a little better with the task each time.  Building with those large lego blocks, for example, or stacking up dominoes, knocking them over and stacking them up again have been
popular activities.  When she was about a year and a half, we got her one of those little shopping baskets with the play food in them.  She was very fond of loading the basket up with the food items, pushing the basket all around the house and then unloading them back at "home" (which in this case is a sofa in the living room).  She would do this ten times and not get bored, and expanded on what she was learning with this activity.  She added actually cooking the items once she got "home" with them.  (of course this involved getting out lots of pots, pans, measuring cups, mixing bowls, etc. which were then all over the house!).
 
As mentioned above, Piaget felt that infants progressed from being reflexive human beings to ones who learn to manipulate objects, are able to have goal-directed actions, and who develop curiosity about the world around them.  As the infant moves through those stages, his thinking is becoming more complex and mature.  The parent's role, again, is to provide a stimulating environment for the child, to encourage curiosity, to interact frequently with the baby.  Playing baby games like Peek-a-Boo, or Pat-a-Cake encourage cognitive development because as they are repeated, the baby is able to anticipate what comes next and learns the different parts of the rhyme.  Those types of games teach the child turn-taking, and encourage language development also.  Language development goes hand-in-hand with cognitive development and proceeds in stages.
 
Initially the baby's language is crying and parents learn to distinguish between different types of cries.  During the first few weeks of life babies make noises like grunts and noises related to eating.  During the second month they begin cooing and smiling.  After this, babbling begins.  Babbling consists of repeating syllables over and over - bababa, dadadada.  As the baby grows and continues to vocalize, the sounds become more characteristic of the sounds she hears.
 
Eventually the baby begins to make actual words.  Usually around the first birthday the baby says his first word.  By the time the child is two years old, she knows about 50 words, is saying two-word sentences, uses holophrases (one word stands for a complete thought - Up for example means, pick me up), and sometimes telegraphic speech (leaving out part of the sentence - Mommy go store, to mean Mommy is going to the store).  Parents need to understand that all these areas of development are happening concurrently - as the child becomes mobile and develops physically, he/she is also interacting more with the world and developing cognitively, and is hearing words and sounds, thus facilitating language development.  The parent who spends little time interacting with his/her child, doesn't read to the child, doesn't give appropriate feedback to the child's sounds and vocalizations is hindering the child's cognitive development.
 
EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Emotions are adaptive, regulatory processes.  Emotional responses provide signals to others and give information as to what the individual wants and needs - for example, the baby's crying signals a need for help.  Emotions also organize activity - joy motivates the person to continue certain kinds of behavior or interactions; sadness triggers behavior that might change a situation; fear motivates flight or a search for protection.  (You can probably think of times you have been moved to act a certain way depending on the emotions of the situation - feeling anger at significant other might make you break up with them, yell at them, have an argument and then make up, etc.)
 
Most experts agree that emotions are present at birth, but don't always agree on how many emotions are present and how specific they are.  Most, however, agree that by the end of the first year, babies express emotions of pleasure, delight, joy, wariness, sadness, anger, fear and anxiety.
 
Infants and adults participate in a complex emotional communications system.  In infancy, it is babies' primary task to let parents know what they need.  Babies will sometimes repeat their emotional responses until they achieve their goal.  They will cry until they are picked up or reach for an object with interest until an adult gets it for them.  From the earliest days babies can detect emotions in other people and respond to them.  One day old infants can discriminate and imitate expressions of joy, sadness, and surprise when these are posed by a live model.  Babies respond to their mothers' emotions and also pattern their own moods after them.  Over time mothers' positive feelings are related to an increase in babies' smiling and laughing.
 
Parents begin to guide babies to control their emotional reactions in the first few months of life.  They do this with both verbal and nonverbal techniques.  They avoid negative facial expressions that the baby can copy, and they emphasize the positive emotions.  Verbally, they encourage positive emotions with phrases like, "Give me a smile,"  "Laugh for mommy."  At the same time they discourage negative reactions with phrases like, "Don't cry," and "Don't fuss now."  To encourage positive emotions in the baby, it is the job of the parent to be responsive to the baby, model positive emotions themselves, avoid
screaming and yelling around the baby.
 
SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
The greatest source of comfort and positive feelings for babies is people.  The infant is introduced to the world of human beings by the quality of social experiences in the first year of life.  From the beginning, the child lives in the social and emotional atmosphere created by the parents.  When mothers and fathers feel support from each other, they are more competent parents and interact with the baby more effectively.
 
The first hour after birth is an important one for babies and parents.  During this time, babies are more alert and visually attentive than they will be for the next three or four hours.  During that first hour they may be most responsive to contact with parents.  The parents' first opportunity to hold, touch, and explore the baby and to receive some response in the form of the baby's eye or body movement is very important.  We handle this much better today than we did in the past because nowadays dads are in the delivery room for the birth rather than off in a waiting room separated from the mother.  Also, mothers and fathers get to handle their baby sooner than they did in the past and can continue this close handling by having the baby in the same hospital room with them.
 
As Erikson says, warm and supportive relationships between babies and the adults in their lives establishes a trust in the world around them.  This trust can generalize to other people and the world at large.  Touching and close physical contact help the relationship grow.  When mothers carry their babies close to their bodies they talk more to their babies and seem to understand them better.  The baby is more likely to form a positive attachment to the mother.  Attachment - a close, emotional, affectional tie to another person - is considered to be the most important factor in a child's social and emotional adjustment.
 
There are several theories of how attachment occurs.  Some say that initial attachment is to the mother only, because she provides food and nurturance.  Others say that the baby will indiscriminately attach to anyone during the early stage of life.  Still another theory suggests that the infant initially attaches to the mother and then gradually to the father and others in their environment (siblings, grandparents).  It is easy to tell a baby who has formed an attachment with another human being - the baby will go readily to that person, the baby is more easily soothed by that person, and the baby is less likely to be stressed when that person is nearby.
 
Strong attachment to a parent and fear of strangers have survival value for the infant.  They ensure that the child will stay close to the parent even though they are able to wander away.  A more important aspect of secure attachment is that babies gain a sense of their own value, and they use interactions with attachment figures to form an internal model of the way people relate to each other.  When they are accepted and cared for, babies feel loved and valued.  The child anticipates similar reactions and interactions with adults in new relationships.  Securely attached one-year-olds approach the world confidently, and in later childhood are more curious, more vigorous, and more persistent in attacking new problems.
 
There are ways to encourage secure attachment for babies.  One thing that has been shown to be very effective is the encouragement of early physical contact between mother and infant.  Mothers who use Snuglies or some other sort of close to the body device to carry their babies or keep their babies close to them for much of the day have been found to be more vocally responsive with their infants and had babies who were more securely attached than moms who didn't use them.  These mothers were also found to be more sensitive and responsive to their babies.
 
Another way to encourage secure attachment is with teaching programs given in hospitals at the time of birth.  Information that focuses on babies' temperaments and behaviors, the ways they send signals to parents and how parents can learn to understand those signals has been shown to be very helpful for parents in forming a secure attachment.  Programs to promote appropriate parenting skills that go into high-risk homes have also been shown to be effective at helping parents form a close bond with their babies.
 
SUMMARY
Becoming the parent of an infant is a daunting task.  Parents must move from the image-making stage of pregnancy to the nurturing stage of infancy.  They have to adjust the images they created of their anticipated baby and of themselves as parents with the reality of their infant and their actual skill in caring for the baby.  Adjustments can be difficult when expectations have been unrealistic.  To ease the transition to parenthood, six basic ingredients to promote parental well-being have been identified:
  •      Giving up the illusion of being a perfect parent. 
  •      Looking for information you can apply to your child and your living situation rather than exact prescriptions of what to do.  
  •      Learning the art of making decisions and setting goals. 
  •      Considering parenthood as a series of tradeoffs and realizing that decisions to fill one member's needs may mean that someone else has to wait. 
  •      Not trying to assume the role of parent without  support from others. 
  •      Looking after yourself.

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