Archive for Emotional

09 Jul 2012

What does it mean to have a sense of self?

No Comments ELECT, Emotional, Infants, Parenting, Socio-Emotional Development
Infants (0-24 months)
Emotional 2.3 Sense of Self
  • sucking fingers, observing own hands
  • showing preference for being held by familiar people
  • beginning to distinguish known people from strangers
  • showing pleasure in mastery
  • playing confidently in the presence of caregiver and frequently checking in with her (social referencing)
  • increasing awareness of opportunities to make things happen yet limited understanding of consequences of own actions
Hold the infant securely when she is meeting a new person. Look at the person and reach out to them.
This helps the infant remain secure with new people and build confidence as she expresses her preference for certain people.

 

Infants are people.

Take a moment and think about that. I know it seems obvious, but I think as adults and as caregivers we can forget that these tiny little humans who depend on us so completely are also individuals. They are unique individuals who are developing their own identities and personalities as well as their “likes” and “dislikes”. Infants are people, just like you and I are people. Now, being conscious of that, how does this affect the way that we engage with infants? How can we not only appreciate them as individuals, but support them in the early stages as they begin to develop a sense of self?

My first tip- allow babies some time to be naked. No joke. Infants are learning about their bodies; they are discovering their hands, their feet and all the different parts of their bodies, but to be able to do that they need access. How will they ever learn they have toes if their feet are always covered with socks or slippers? Additionally, bodies that are free from clothing have freedom of movement. There’s a reason babies love to be naked, so why not turn the heat up a notch and allow your infant some time to explore their bodies freely?

Another suggestion is to provide lots of opportunities for uninterrupted, child-initiated play. By this I mean allowing infants the freedom to select a material to explore and the freedom to explore that material however they choose for as long as possible. Infants learn about themselves and the world around them through exploration. When we allow them to make choices and take initiative in their play, we support their sense of self.

Thinking about your infants interactions with others, strangers in particular, you can support your infant by paying close attention to their cues. “Auntie” might want to hold your infant, but is your infant alright with being held by a stranger? Maybe they need a few minutes to get to know each other before your infant will want to experience close contact. Allow your infant to dictate the pace, which will help them to make choices, to feel secure and will allow this introduction of a stranger to be a positive, and not distressful experience.

An infant who is still developing their sense of self, continues to rely on their caregiver to provide a safe and secure environment. They trust us to provide freedrom to explore, appropriate materials and a safe space. Infants learn how to be secure in themselves by being secure in their caregivers.

Photo from: MGD Photography

01 Sep 2011

Can you “spoil” a baby by picking them up?

No Comments ELECT, Emotional, Infants, Parenting, Socio-Emotional Development
Infants (0-24 months)
Emotional 

2.2 Self-Regulation

Emotion Regulation

  • becoming calm when comforted by familiar adults
  • comforting self with thumb
  • recovering from distress and over-stimulation in a secure relationship
Respond to infant’s distress by supporting his self-soothing behaviours. 

When recovery from distress is supported by an adult, the infant’s attachment to the adult is reinforced. The infant learns that strong emotions can be tolerated and recovery is hastened.

The one thing that I wish that I could tell every new parent and caregiver is that you can’t “spoil” a baby by picking them up too often. I know that seems like common sense to many people but unfortunately that old way of thinking is still present in our culture today. I think that almost every person I have encountered with a young baby has had an older relative or neighbour tell them not to pick up their crying child.

What we know now, however, is that you can’t “spoil” a baby by picking them up. We also have a much better understanding of how important it really is that we respond to an infant’s distress. It is through our consistent responses to an infant’s distress that we reinforce our attachment with that infant. This  helps them to feel secure and is the foundation upon which a child learns to regulate their own emotions and behaviours. By consistently demonstrating to infant’s and young children that we will be there if they need us, they are able to learn to calm their own distress, knowing that their caregiver will meet their needs.

Understanding this, I also want to caution caregivers to “look before you leap”. What I mean by this is rather than rushing in to swoop up a crying infant, take a moment to determine why the infant is crying first. Do they have a physical need; are they hungry or tired? There are times when intervention is required by the caregiver, but there are other times when the infant simply needs comfort or support. This might mean engaging the infant in a different way. Rather than picking up the infant, you might choose to get down to their level, talk to them or place a reassuring hand on their arm or back, as you would with an older child or adult. We can offer this type of support, especially as the infant  becomes older and is learning to self-regulate.

It is through the consistency of our responses to children’s distress that we form secure attachment relationships and within those relationships, children are able to learn to regulate their own emotions. The way that we respond to children’s needs is so important and although there are no expectations that we will be perfect, our consistency and responsiveness is key to helping children’s socio-emotional development.

Photo by: Dan Harrelson (Flickr)

17 Aug 2011

First Feelings

2 Comments ELECT, Emotional, Infants
Infants (0-24 months)
Emotional

2.1 Expression of Emotion

  • expressing comfort and discomfort
  • expressing pleasure and displeasure
  • expressing anger, anxiety, fear, sadness, joy, excitement
  • showing affection with hugs
  • showing anxiety at separation from parents
  • showing clear attachment to parents
Observe infants to determine what senses and motor skills they enjoy and use for exploring.

Sensory and motor skills form the basis of individual differences in how infants calm themselves (self-regulation).

If an infant uses his visual sense to calm himself or pay attention, provide interesting visual stimulation to (your face or the infant’s favorite toy) to support self-regulation.

It can be easy to think that babies have two modes; babies who are happy smile and coo and play while babies who are sad cry. However what we forget in this assumption is that babies are people too with the same range of emotions that we experience as adults, although they aren’t yet able to express these emotions in the same ways that we do. Infants and young children are only just beginning the process of learning and understanding what emotions are, while at the same time experiencing them in a big way. This is why it’s so important that we acknowledge and label an infant’s feeling so that they can begin to learn to understand them and to manage them. This is also why it’s important to take the time to determine what a child is feeling before intervening. We are often quick to swoop in and try to “fix” a crying baby but how can we appropriately engage with an infant if we don’t know what they’re feeling.

If an infant begins to cry because of the frustration she is experiencing in her engagement with a toy and we pick her up and take her away from the toy, we remove the opportunity for her to work through her frustration. What message does that send? That if something frustrates you, you should give up? Will we further mislabel the feelings this infant experienced as “sad” or “tired” because we weren’t paying attention in the first place? Even worse will we send this child the message that it’s not alright to feel frustrated or to cry? For infants, crying is still the primary way that they are able to communicate their needs or express their negative emotions and we certainly don’t want to discourage that. We need to be respectful enough to allow the expression of all types of feelings.

We want infants and young children to express their emotions and to understand them. This means we need to pay close attention. As caregivers we should always respond to a crying baby in an observant and thoughtful way. This does not always mean picking a child up, but perhaps simply responding to them verbally. We should take the time to determine why they are crying so that we can respond appropriately. Further, although it’s easy to focus on the negative emotions and the act of crying, we also need to respond to and label the infant’s positive emotions, such as excitement or pride. Supporting an infant to understand and express their emotions is beneficial for both baby and caregiver.

Photo by Eric Fleming (Flickr).