Updated: Jun 24, 2019
Attachment parenting, tiger, helicopter, hummingbird, free range, authoritarian.... there are more labels for parenting now than you can shake a jar of pesto at. Modern labels have adapted from the four main parenting styles psychologists labelled back in the 1960's:
- Authoritarian Parents
- Authoritative Parents
- Permissive Parents
- Uninvolved Parents
When we become parents, we often seek approval for the path that we find, placing ourselves within a label. We are all trying to get it "right" and we find comfort in knowing others are doing it the same way. Cultural and social preferences and relationships can influence us greatly.
When we create labels, we create acceptance and justification of belonging to a group but when science and research shows a clear preference for building healthy brain development, is it time to ditch the various labels and push towards raising awareness of what is best for our infants?
Last week was Infant Mental Health Awareness Week #IMHAW19 and we saw some fantastic research articles helping us to understand how to build a happy brain. In 2019 not only do we have a mental health crisis but we also have neuroscience showing us how simple it could be to make a difference. Whilst we are taking positive steps to raise awareness around mental health issues in schools, it needs to start at the beginning.
Dr Rosie Knowles from Carrying Matters offered some simple steps to building a happy brain:
1 - Be a responsive parent
2 - Hold you baby; give them the gift of soft touch and cuddles
3 - Try a baby carrier
4 - Talk to your baby smile, laugh and play with them. Engage in plenty of eye contact, and respond encouragingly to their attempts to communicate
5 - Look after your own mental health and get some support
6 - Believe that you matter too; if you are a mother, if you are a father, if you are a caregiver. You are an essential part of the family unit and you will thrive best when you all try to work together,
" Your baby does not need a perfect parent or carer; your baby needs a loving, well-supported caregiver. It is a learning curve; a journey you travel together, mostly heading in the right direction. You don’t need to get it right all the time, your baby’s brain will not revert back to a jungle because you all have bad days." Dr Knowles
We are still working hard to shift myths around babies being spoilt. In our previous blog Crying to Communicate we discussed how babies are not capable of manipulation. Experts in infant development such as Dr Margot Sunderland help us to understand that infants do not have the higher rational brain function to manipulate their parents and the negative aspects of not responding to a babies cries. “Leaving your baby to ‘settle herself’ can have long-term adverse consequences for her body and brain. To control an adult, a baby needs the power of clear thought, and for that he needs the brain chemical glutamate to be working I his frontal lobes. But the glutamate system is not properly established in a baby’s brain, so that means he is not capable of thinking much about anything, let alone how to manipulate his parents”
You are not spoiling your baby by responding to their needs, you are making positive steps to building a happy, healthy brain. We need to greet that age old advice "you'll spoil that baby" with a beaming knowing smile that we're making positive connections.
Cue based programmes such as those led by The International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM) can help parents to understand their baby's unique cues through nurturing touch and identify how to respond with love and understanding. The IAIM mission statement is 'to promote nurturing touch and communication through training, education and research; so parents, caregivers and children are loved, valued and respected throughout the world community.'
We need our mission to reach every parent, not just the "attachment" parents or the "authoritative" parents. We need to work together to raise awareness of how to build happy and healthy brains and improve mental health and for there to be only one parenting label - Responsive Parent.
'Building Connections from Bump to Baby'
Margot Sunderland 'What Every Parent Needs to Know' 2016