How to instil love from an early age
Your child will begin to hear "I love you" from the first moment they are born, but how do they begin to understand the feelings and actions that go along with these unique three words?
Our actions and words will significantly impact how children learn and feel loved. Parents' or carers' first lesson on love is bonding!
Bonding and forming strong attachments are critical during a child's first years of life. Developing a solid bond causes the parts of your baby's brain responsible for social and emotional development, communication, and relationships to grow and develop in the best way possible.
In addition, the early months and years of a child's life can shape how they respond to the world around them.
Touch becomes an early language when a baby is born, as babies respond to their parent's or carers' soft touch with skin-to-skin contact.
One of the main reasons that breastfeeding promotes bonding is the large amount of skin-to-skin contact that is involved. Skin-to-skin contact increases the parent's/carers' and baby's oxytocin levels, increasing positive hormonal interactions. In addition, close interaction allows close eye contact and provides meaningful communication at a close range.
As your little one grows, these beautiful moments of close contact become less often, so make the most of them.
Creating bonding experiences within your everyday routines, bathtime, dressing time, bed routine, etc., are great moments of quality interactions, so take your time, don't rush and enjoy the moment of closeness. For example, as you bathe your little one, take time washing each part of their body, describe what you are doing, the movements, the textures, and sing a song with your little one.
Dads, partners and bonding
Mothers have an advantage in bonding as they are the baby's primary caregiver at the beginning of their life. However, partners should realise early on that bonding with their baby can happen in other unique ways.
If your baby is crying, don't be afraid to soothe them, gentle rocking and singing can help you calm your baby down and get them to sleep.
Take over some of your baby's routines; for example, at bedtime, this will give you some precious alone time for your partner and a lovely way to continue bonding. Share night-time feeds, nappy changing, bath time, etc.
Bonding teaches your baby to trust you, communicate their feelings to you, and eventually trust others.
Respond to your baby's communication attempts; your baby will communicate with facial expressions, body movements, and vocalisations. Talk to your baby; use a lively voice with ups and downs to help your baby tune in. Start a conversation with your baby by mimicking your baby's cooing and other sounds.
Play with and enjoy interacting with your baby. Prepare yourself to give, let go, and respond. Interact and play at the baby's pace. Develop back-and-forth games together. Make games more complex over time, but let your baby guide you.
Now your baby might not need you at all times, as when they were newborns. So be aware of when your baby is ready to interact, talk, sing, dance, or play with them. Remember, don't be on the phone or computer; give them your full attention.
Rhymes are a fun way to introduce your baby to language and rhythm; not only that, they are great to share with your little one and have some quality time together.
Learn some toe rhymes, such as "This Little Piggy" and "Round and round the roses"; these are all about touch and tickles!
Tummy time is another lovely way to spend quality time with your baby, and it can help to support the development of essential muscles in their body. Start by being on the floor and placing your baby on your chest, skin-to-skin, and gently talk or sing to them.
As your baby's physical skills and confidence grow, their way of playing will change. They will be ready for the more physical types of games! Your baby will love playing rough and tumble with you, rolling around the floor, playing with the aeroplane and the bicycle, and tickling each other.
Be a good role model
Children look at us as their role models and first point of contact when dealing with situations they do not understand. We instil love by providing our children with a happy and healthy world.
We must consider the language we use with our children and model the behaviour we want to see in our children.
Show your little one care about the environment; start by collecting some rubbish on the street or gathering recyclable items in your home. By showing loving actions and not just saying "I love you," we represent virtue. We can show love to everyone and everything around us by looking for what each person or thing needs to be happy and healthy.
Get to know your baby and follow their lead
All babies and toddlers are unique and learn differently at other times. Just like adults, your baby needs to feel known and listened to.
Attend to your baby's needs by following their lead and tuning into their interests. For example, if your toddler is interested in mini beasts, go mini beast hunting at the park, look at the worms and how they move and teach them the 'There's a worm at the bottom of my garden' song. If your baby enjoys emptying and filling, supply them with activities to keep exploring this concept.
As your baby grows, their bond with you and other caregivers gets stronger; they gradually build confidence and roam further from their "secure base". Finally, they will understand that there is always a safe place to return to (even in their teenage years).
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