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Raising a Loving Child

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New parents are often concerned about raising their baby to grow up to be a kind, loving adult. They wonder what they can do to get their little one off to the right start. You may be relieved to know that there are a number of ways to encourage a loving nature, and you are probably doing many of them already!
 
One of the most important things you can do to make sure your precious little one develops the capacity to give and receive love in adulthood is to create an intimate, loving relationship with him now. This will build a secure attachment between the two of you, which is vital to your child's emotional well-being. Here is how you can promote this bond:
 
Adjust to Her Tempo
Let baby know that her needs and timetable come first. As you carry out routine care — diapering, dressing, bathing, feeding — adjust your tempo to that of your baby. For example, some babies nurse intensely for a long period of time. Others are snackers. They latch onto the nipple, suck for a while, go off the nipple, gaze around the room, then go back to nursing. An attentive parent tunes into her baby's tempo and style of nursing. An attentive parent gradually becomes aware of all the different cries a baby has, such as a fretful cry on awakening, a piercing cry when a new tooth starts to break through, or a loud wail when she's hungry. A secure baby is one who feels understood by her parents, and who doesn't feel rushed when her needs are attended to.
 
Tap the Power of Touch
Touch is crucial, so you'll want to make sure you cuddle your baby a lot. (Don't worry about spoiling him — it's impossible at this tender age!) Look for opportunities to hold him: For example, when sitting in a rocking chair, lay him across your tummy. When doing household tasks or shopping, use a kangaroo pouch that frees up your hands and yet allows baby to feel the full warmth of contact against your body. Caress him gently when you are dressing or changing him. Let your hands convey the deeply loving message of how special he is. Always handle your baby lovingly and gently, with consideration and kindness. Your infant will begin to understand that he is profoundly loved, and be better able to share that emotion with others later.
 
Be Responsive
Sensitive responsiveness to your baby's signals of distress help her build the secure attachment to you that provides a strong cornerstone for later cooperation. Attend to her discomfort promptly. If your baby has gas pains or colic in the early months, try rubbing her belly gently. Hold her against your body to warm her belly and ease the pains. Murmur reassuringly to let your infant know that you empathize with her troubles. Hold and massage her and gently jiggle her tiny body to try to get out that hurtful gas bubble. Letting a baby cry for a long time teaches her that folks do not care for her miseries. It is much easier to grow up caring about other's troubles when your own hurts and distresses elicited concern and helpful actions from your parents when you were a baby.
 
Model Loving Behavior
As baby grows, you will want him to see many instances in which you show consideration to others so that he can learn by your example. When a friend is visiting with a child, for example, be sure to use a gentle voice and show interest and attentiveness so that your child sees how you treat people other than him. He will grow up in the next few years with a loving model of how to treat others, because he has received kindness from you and has watched and observed your thoughtfulness with friends and other family members.
 
The Unbreakable Bond
The work of building a secure attachment with your little one takes time. But how glad you will feel many months from now when you return to baby's room and it is quite clear that she only has eyes for you! Perhaps you left her in her crib playing happily, and now you notice that as soon as she hears your welcoming voice, she stills her body to hear you better, then eagerly turns her head to search for you with her eyes. Victory! Lovingly and with attentive care you have built a secure, pleasurable bond. Your little one has been learning to trust you to care for her needs in your very own way. She has learned to feel comfortable with how each parent diapers, cuddles, and plays with her. You are available without tense rushing, just when your care is needed to increase your baby's comfort. Your child is bonded to you, confident of your love. One day, your efforts will be rewarded when you are in the company of your grown child, who is now a loving adult.

About the Author

Alice Sterling Honig, Ph.D., is a professor emerita of child development at Syracuse University. She is the author of Secure Relationships: Nurturing Infant-Toddler Attachments in Early Care Settings.

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