Being a parent is doing the most important job in the world – raising a human being. A life is entrusted to parents and it is expected that they raise a healthy, well-rounded adult.
This is no small task! How can we make sure that our precious baby will grow up to be a successful, confident adult? Positive encouragement and engagement are two very important tools that should be in every parenting toolkit.
What does positive encouragement entail?
The sense of hearing is the most important source of input in your baby’s development. Therefore, whatever parents say to their baby will have a profound impact on their little one.
There is a saying that the way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice. Babies already know their parents’ voices while in the womb and from a very young age babies want to please their parents. Research shows that already before birth, we can positively shape our baby’s emotional development by speaking loving and nurturing words to our unborn. Even saying something like: “I hope it is a girl” can make an unborn baby boy feel very unwanted and vice versa. Parents are ultimately responsible for the development of their baby’s sense of self-worth.
How do I build my baby’s sense of self-worth?
This is where positive encouragement is key. I am talking of going beyond parenting where you respond immediately to your baby’s needs, Responsive parenting is the basis of feelings of love and self-worth in your baby and the pattern of responding on cue hundreds of times, makes your baby feel valued. I have often mentioned the importance of repetition for forming networks in your baby’s brain. A pattern of responsive parenting will store mental images in baby’s brain of what to expect in a certain situation.
But… and here is the big BUT, tending to baby’s needs on cue is not enough! Every responsive action needs positive verbal encouragement to build the emotional bond and to develop baby’s EQ. Actions without words to sooth and comfort, to encourage and praise, are like bricks stacked on top of each other without cement.
- Talk to baby in a loving positive way using every opportunity and situation.
- Skin-to-skin touching, singing and whispering comforting words are essential for baby.
- Encourage baby to try something new.
- Praise baby for every effort and little miracle he masters,
A baby who receives encouragement and praise feels loved, appreciated and valuable. These feelings are established and integrated into your baby’s sense of self and your baby is able to draw on these feelings of “I am a worthy, valuable person” in times of challenge, your baby is able to and will always want to apply that which he has learned during his early life, to relationships and situations. Make sure it is positive!
Allow your baby to express all emotions – even anger. Babies usually seem angry when they are frustrated, which is caused by something that is upsetting them. Babies cannot verbalise that which is upsetting them and this leads to frustration and perceived anger. If this frustration is met with a negative response from a parent, such as frowning, scolding, shushing or ignoring, a baby may suppress the feeling of anger in order to please the parents. If this happens often, the suppressed feelings may later manifest in some other negative way, it can even make your child physically ill. Always use positive words, such as: “It’s OK, my baby. Mommy/Daddy is here.” Try to avoid “no” as much as possible and replace it with a positive statement.
How do I engage with my baby?
It is very important that both parents engage with baby. Everything listed below can be done by both Mom and Dad.
- Talk lovingly or sing to baby in all situations and at every opportunity
- Read to baby and dramatise all the voices and sounds of the characters
- Play games with baby, such as peek-a-boo
- Use puppets and put on a show for baby with different voices and songs
- Babble with baby and mimic baby’s cooing and gurgles
- Laugh and giggle with and tickle baby
- Hold baby skin-to-skin while singing a lullaby
- Take baby’s hands and encourage baby to explore your face, telling baby what he is touching
- Encourage baby to do things over and over. Remember, repetition builds networks
- Explore everyday situations like eating and bath time, by talking about what is happening and make it fun
- Encourage baby to explore situations and objects and create similar situations or give baby similar objects if baby is very interested in something. You are nurturing a natural interest which may lead to a passion, e.g.: If baby loves to finger paint provide opportunities to do this. Add sponges and brushes as baby gets older
- Encourage baby to try to do something by himself. As parents we have a natural inclination to help, but encouraging baby to do it all by himself, gives baby a sense of achievement and teaches baby problem-solving, like fitting a puzzle piece into its slot. This builds self-confidence
- Praise baby when he has put in effort, not only when he has succeeded. This will teach baby that trying is important and not to give up
The first 1000 days are the most important in a child’s development. Make it count. Get down to your baby’s level and really engage with your baby. It is so worth it!