Babies are a powerful reminder of the fragility and mystery of life. After months of hoping and loving and planning, with friends and strangers alike commenting on your pending childbirth, you are suddenly (and perhaps not for the first time) in charge of another life.
One of the many important lessons you will learn is about bonding. Nearly as vital as food and cleanliness, forming a meaningful physical bond with your child helps prepare them for life as a human being.
There are four important phases of bonding that every parent should understand. It starts with the familiar cuddling, head-smelling, and skin-on-skin goodness every parent knows so well. But this is just the start of a process for your child.
Here are the four key phases of bonding, also described as “stages of attachment,” and how you can foster them with your child or children.
For the first six weeks of life or so, a baby will gladly and smoothly move from the arms of one caregiver or another. During the pre-attachment phase, the baby is entirely helpless and completely dependent on others for every aspect of their care.
Sadly for many mothers, all those months of talking, singing, and otherwise forging a bond with your baby might seem wasted. Some parents joke that their newborn is a traitor, seeming to love everyone just as much as the people who love them most.
This phase passes quickly, as your child becomes accustomed to more familiar voices and faces.
During the indiscriminate phase, your child begins to differentiate between strangers and known caregivers. She might cry if handed to a completely new person, especially if that person speaks in a loud and obviously unfamiliar way.
She is starting to develop a sense of family and who cares for her. This has benefits, in that a crying child can still be calmed by a large group of individuals, one of whom is likely around all the time.
This is the beginning of learning patterns of attachment that will serve her well throughout her life. This indiscriminate attachment starts to fade after about six months, when your baby starts to be a lot more picky – and let’s say discriminating – about who they want to be with.
Then comes the phase that is equally encouraging and discouraging for a devoted mother: the discriminant phase.
Suddenly your little girl has a very clear favorite caregiver and – yay!! – it is you!! Se wants to be with you all the time. She cries when he leaves your arms. Alternatively, even if she was happy with someone else for a while, suddenly and without warning she may decide she needs the comfort only you can give. Finally! All that work over all that time has paid off. She really loves you! She understands how you feel about her.
It is so rewarding.
But also, boo! Suddenly, she can’t go to someone else’s arms for meals or for comfort or just for a minute so you can change out of the shirt she just puked on for goodness sake!
The clear downside of the discriminate phase is its demand on one caregiver. If your baby only takes food or comfort from one person, then that person has to be available,
This is tough. You perhaps were already struggling with returning to work or your own other attachment issues, and suddenly she has to be with you everywhere. And you can’t stick her back in the belly to accompany you quietly and relatively demand-free.
Nope. You’ve got yourself a full-time baby.
Enjoy it, though, because soon enough she will discover the joys of other people.
For better or for worse, somewhere around the end of the first year, your baby will make another important step in her bonding journey.
She will develop bonds with multiple caregivers.
From her experience, and after venturing out from your arms to learn that she was safe, fed, and cared for by multiple other people, she will now start to trust them too.
This is different from indiscriminate phase because she can now tell the difference between other caregivers.
She may even rotate her favorites, much to Dad’s delight! Luckily, now she can easily go with the favorite auntie, or the in-laws for an evening if you want to go out on a date.
She will easily switch between arms, and only cry for you or Dad at periods of high stress or exhaustion.
She is well on her way to learning how to make friends and various attachments and the world of dating …. Okay, that’s still a few years away. Soon enough.
Are you worried about whether your child is attaching to you and your family and friends correctly? Are you anticipating a new addition and want to learn more about how to help bonding happen according to schedule?
Struggling with co-parenting, or just looking for an outlet for the stress of parenting? You likely will benefit from talking to a licensed therapist like Sakina Issa.
Luckily, these conversations can happen discreetly and by appointment using the same tools you have grown comfortable using at work, like Zoom or GoToMeeting. Just click the button in the upper right hand corner.
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