HOW’S your relationship with your baby? How good is your connection with your toddler?
For Catherine Maguire, senior clinical psychologist and infant mental health specialist, these are key questions parents of young children should ask themselves.
“The bedrock of the child’s early emotional and social development is that good enough, nurturing, predictable and consistent relationship with the parent,” says Ms Maguire, after the recent launch of North Cork Infant Mental Health (IMH) Network Model.
This initiative is a response to ‘significant’ referrals of infants/toddlers with sleeping/feeding problems to primary care psychology services.
In many cases parents were finding it very difficult to soothe their children. The concern was the ‘considerable strain’ this would place on the parental-child relationship.
For over-stressed parents, it’s difficult to be in the kind of relationship with their child that the child needs.
Ms Maguire cites hallmarks of a good parental relationship: ability to tune in and read cues/ signals displayed by child; ability to respond quickly and appropriately to these.
“Parents need to see their child’s fussy moments as symptoms of distress and be able to give their child a felt experience of being understood,” she says.
For a good parental relationship with the child, mums and dads need to be able to reflect upon, understand and regulate their own emotions.
“It’s important a parent is able to read their child’s temperament and understand their own too,” says Maguire, citing three types:
* Easy: falls into rhythm easily;
* Slow-to-warm-up: needs a little more time;
* Difficult: needs more support, understanding and space.
Temperament, she says, is quite a stable trait across a lifetime.
“If your child has a slow-to-warm-up temperament and you’re the same, it can sometimes be a hard day when you’re both in the same space.”
Realising this — and that caring for baby/toddler will bring feelings of frustration and irritability — can help parents cope better.
“The big parental task is to stay calm and regulated [as young children] can’t self-regulate on their own. By staying calm, the parent mirrors the emotional state they want their child to be in.”
* More info: North Cork IMH — visit www.hse.ie/infantmentalhealth
* Think about what baby/toddler is experiencing.
* When parent signals to baby that they understand what s/he’s feeling, it promotes child’s feelings of security.
* Parent can signal understanding through sensitive facial expression, soft tone of voice, eye contact, soothing touches.
* Provide quiet routine before sleep time. Baby’s better able to fall asleep by himself/ herself if parent isn’t holding, feeding or rocking them to sleep.
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