Consider emotions of babies during Infant Mental Health Week

Stock image.
Stock image.

IT’S Infant Mental Health Week and we are encouraged to consider the emotional wellbeing of the tiniest members of our community.

The Australian Association for Infant Mental Health (AAIMHI) is an organisation that aims to promote the importance of healthy social and emotional development of infants.

The following are a few key ideas from a recent statement on ‘responding to baby’s cues’.

AAIMHI believes that an infant’s attachment to his or her caregiver is of central importance.

Research has shown that infants are innately attuned to the facial expressions of their caregivers and babies use facial expressions, vocalisations and body language to communicate.

Responsiveness of the caregiver is crucial to the infant’s development of trust.

We know infants are aware when their attempts to communicate – including their cries – are ignored and they may become confused, frustrated and distressed.

If this happens consistently, infants may cease to express their needs in an open and healthy manner as their trust falters.

Recent scientific research indicates that routinely refusing attention to a crying baby may be detrimental, but parents should be reassured that babies are resilient enough to cope with incidental lapses, and this resilience increases with age.

It’s also important to note that such events and delays can also be healed, babies will bounce back when their feelings are heard and validated.

We also know that all babies cry and have fussy periods but they will become more distressed if left to cry alone, and this can precipitate negative long-term psychological consequences if done repeatedly.

There is emerging evidence that the same brain systems that control physical pain also relate to the psychological pain that comes with the feeling of disconnection from a loved one.

When parents help babies manage their difficult feelings, babies learn how to do this for themselves and thus develop a healthy capacity for self-regulation.

In summary, parents and caregivers can improve the quality of the attachment relationship by paying attention their own expressions and reactions, whilst observing and responding to their babies’ cues, and promptly responding when babies cry.