English: Own photo, july 2005. nl:User Magalha...

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Today one of my pregnant colleagues said she was thinking about going back to work when her new baby is 8 weeks old. I tried to say that the first year of a baby’s life is very important but I can see that without any psychological knowledge it might seem entirely a question of mother’s choice. After all, no one can ever remember their first year of life. On the other hand, research suggests that a baby’s first year is fundamental to their sense of security.

Attachment is a strong emotional bond between a caregiver and a baby and it said to form between 6 and 9 months old. Children who are securely attached to their mother want to be close to them especially when they are upset or scared. They dislike being separated from their mother and show pleasure at being reunited with their mother. Securely attached children use their mother as a safe and secure base from which to explore their world.

Schaffer and Emerson ( 1964)  observed infants from birth to 18 months old. They found that securely attached infants had mothers who responded quickly to their demands and offered the child the most interaction. It was not how much the mother fed, bathed or changed the child that mattered but the communication between the mother and baby. Mothers who were prepared to play, be responsive and interact in a type of conversation with their babies were more likely to have strongly, securely attached babies.

So why is a strong, secure attachment so important? Research shows that secure children are more likely to form good relationships with others as a child and as an adult. Securely attached children are also less likely to become aggressive and have good self-esteem.

So what happens if a parent finds it difficult to bond with a child? Some parents may feel it is difficult to interact with a small baby and may focus on attending to the baby’s needs rather than on communicating with the baby. However, being responsive to a baby and attempting to communicate with it is extremely important in the long-term. Psychological studies have shown that when mothers ignore their babies’ signals, the babies quickly become distressed.

Fortunately, most parents find it easy to communicate with their babies and the majority of parents are able to fine tune their responses to their babies’ actions and expressions. However, some mothers may find this difficult if they are suffering from postnatal depression or if they did not have particularly good relationship with their own parents. It is also the case that some babies are just more easily upset and cry more, making it more difficult for the mother to bond with their baby. The good news is that parents with even a more difficult baby can learn to be responsive and sensitive. Boom (1994) offered training to 50 mothers of babies aged 6 months assessed as having an irritable temperament (personality). At 12 months they were compared to a control group of irritable babies whose parents had not had the training. It was found that, unlike the control group, the number of securely attached babies in the training condition had increased significantly.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon, Smashwords.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks and Apple ibookstore.