After teaching families about gentle parenting for over ten years, the number one question I receive is: “When will our children be old enough for us to use these strategies with them?”
Believe it or not, my answer to this question is always: “The day they are born.”
I often get push-back on this answer because it seems like there is no way that babies are going to understand or remember anything we do with them when they are newborns.
Sure, our babies might not remember the exact words we said to them, or how many times we rocked them back to sleep, or how we rubbed their back to calm them down when they were crying, but they will learn that when they have a big feeling we will be there to support them, and they can count on us to help them through these emotions.
4 Ways to Bond with your baby
Here are some gentle parenting strategies that I teach in my Parenting Little Kids course that can help you begin to build a strong connection and bond with your baby today! These are simple, practical tools you can start using with your newborn baby and continue to use throughout your child’s entire life!
Narration is a simple tool that we can use to help our infants learn about their big feelings. By narrating what is going on (imagine yourself as a narrator reading out an audiobook, but instead, the audiobook is the situation currently happening with your child), we can let our baby know that we see their frustrations. By continuing to use this tool as our children grow and develop, they will begin to connect the dots between how they are feeling and the words they need to explain to us how they feel.
This doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Narrating can be as simple as saying, “Looks like you need a diaper change!” This tool aims to help our little ones connect what they are experiencing with how they are feeling.
“I hear you crying! It looks like you are hungry.”
“I hear you; I am just in the bathroom. I’ll be out soon.”
“Oh, you lost your soother, here you go!”
By continuing to use this tool, the hope is that someday our children will be able to use the words they’ve learned through your narration to tell us they are feeling overwhelmed. Narrating is a great way to start building up their emotional intelligence.
We can expect that our infants are going to cry to get their needs met. They might cry for food, sleep, milk, comfort or other reasons that we don’t always understand. Some people try to sell products, courses, or materials that make us feel like we are doing something wrong if our baby is crying. This can cause so much anxiety, and the reality is, some days, we can shush and swing our babies all day, but they will still cry.
It can be helpful to recognize that crying is a normal part of infant development. When they are crying, they aren’t saying, “you are a bad parent”; in fact, they are saying, “I trust you and need you to get curious about what is going on for me.”
So how can we get curious and tune in with our babies?
Picture this: you are in the living room with your family, and your infant starts to cry as they are playing on their playmat.
Now, instead of running over to comfort them, you slowly walk over. You survey the area notice they have pushed their favourite little toy just out of reach. You narrate to your infant: “Ah, I see you are feeling frustrated; you can’t reach your toy.” Once you get there, you move the toy back into reach for your child and say, “Here is your toy. Is that what you were looking for?”
By using slow curiosity – not rushing over to fix the situation and stop the crying quickly – you are letting your infant know you see their frustration. Through this process, they will begin to learn emotional words and connect their situation and how they feel. This process also teaches our infants that we, as their parents/caregivers, are safe and reliable, and we will show up for them when they need it.
We can teach our children how to regulate their emotions and find their own calm by modelling being calm ourselves.
For an infant, the co-regulation process might look like using a soothing voice, rocking them or rubbing their back to calm them down when they cry. As they become toddlers, this process will look a little different. They will need to learn how to manage high states of emotional arousal, and they do this by watching how we respond to them when they feel upset.
In time, the child learns that they can expect a soothing response following a big emotion or feeling (instead of more chaos). They will learn how to give this soothing response to themselves, so they no longer need to engage in the meltdown.
When we support our little ones through their big feelings, it is important to remember that it is not always our job to make them feel better or fix their emotions. Sometimes we just simply need to be there for them and allow them to express what they feel.
By going through the process of co-regulation starting when our little ones are babies, we are teaching them that they can always trust us to support them when they have big feelings, and they will learn that we will always be there for them, no matter what.
An essential part of gentle parenting is building a strong bond with our little ones. We can use intentional eye contact throughout the day to help develop this bond. When our baby makes eye contact with us, they start to make connections about who we are. They begin to understand that we are their trusted and secure person. They will also begin to differentiate us from being their source of food to being the person who feeds them; they will learn that our voice is attached to us, and they will start to understand emotions just by seeing our facial expressions.
Making eye contact when your baby is crying or upset can also help regulate their emotions as they take on your calm. Eye contact is a simple but very effective way to connect with your baby!