Is it possible for your baby to become too attached to you?
That's the question many parents may find themselves pondering at some point during their child's first years. Mothers and fathers can often confuse being attentive to a newborn or toddler's needs with smothering or spoiling the child.
There is a widespread sentiment that too much warmth and affection will lead to a child who is too needy or 'clingy'. But according to experts, this notion is false.
Study after study shows that parents can't turn infants and toddlers into brats by showing them too much affection or devoting too much time to their well-being.
In fact, according to research, parents should be more concerned with whether they are being attentive enough than with whether they are being too attentive. Generous amounts of warmth and affection are critical for brain development and actually promote independence.
Researchers have spent decades studying children's early attachment to their parents and concluded that strong, secure attachment in early childhood contributes to positive outcomes throughout life.
Attachment reflects how safe, comfortable, and assured a child feels. Babies and toddlers need this sense of security in order to fully develop the skills that help them grow into independent, confident children.
Attachment also has long-term benefits. Experiencing secure attachment in early childhood is associated with pre-k and school readiness. It will also enhance a child's ability to function effectively throughout middle childhood and adolescence.
Early childhood research shows that a young child needs to feel safe, nurtured, and loved. These feelings will in turn allow him to develop strong social and emotional skills. Later on, these early skills help him learn about appropriate ways to behave and control his emotions.
Secure attachment fosters independent thinking, cognitive skills, and promotes social and emotional adjustment. It helps children adapt to new environments, become self-reliant, and develop positive friendships with peers.
Whether or not a child experiences secure attachment is largely dependent on parents' behavior, and the bond that is established between parent and baby.
Ways to promote secure and healthy levels of attachment include maintaining a positive home environment, offering consistent attention and tender care, and promptly responding to signs of distress (crying, whining, or 'acting out').
Parents of infants and toddlers should work to remain calm, loving, and attentive. Try not to become frustrated by periods of incessant crying, frequent prompts for attention, or temper tantrums. At this age, these are expected and normal. Research shows that when infants continue to experience warm, responsive parenting, they soon become less likely to cry and show other expressions of distress.
Unrealistic beliefs about how babies and toddlers should behave can lead to harsh parenting practices such as yelling, spanking, or ignoring. These promote insecure attachment. According to The Urban Child Institute, instead of leading to better behavior and more independence, harsh parenting can cause infants to become hesitant to explore, play, and express themselves freely. Its negative effects can last a lifetime.
Parents who adhere to the 'spare the rod, spoil the child' philosophy may believe that harsh discipline is warranted by improper behavior, that it is necessary to set the tone for what is expected, or that it is a quick fix to silence cries. However, this type of parenting is not healthy for young children. It actually has adverse effects and can cause a child to act out even more just to get attention when what they are really seeking is love.
Secure attachment not only encourages social and emotional stability, but also helps circumvent parenting challenges that often arise during early childhood. While raising babies, parents must remember that there is no such thing as too much affection, too much attention, or too much care.
In fact, research proves that parenting is one aspect of adult life when doing things in excess is actually encouraged. When contemplating the most appropriate ways to meet your child's needs, remember that it is impossible to give your baby too much love. It's perfectly OK to throw caution to the wind.
(The New Tri-State Defender has partnered with The Urban Child Institute to make sure every child has the best chance for optimal brain development during the critical first three years of each child's life. This is one in a series of stories and columns in our campaign.)