It’s difficult to think of babies as self-assured creatures. After all, we’re more used to seeing them as vulnerable and defenseless little beings dependent on adults for their every need. But even infants develop a sense of security day by day based on their experiences. Parents can help their babies have experiences that are “confidence builders.”
Bowlby and Ainsworth’s Attachment Theory provides us with an insight as to which sort of experiences will build confidence in babies. Attachment Theory is based on the idea that confident babies are infants who are secure in their parent’s (or main caregiver’s) presence. Two behaviors characterize secure attachment: reaching out to parents when they are around and engaging in exploratory behavior. The former shows that the baby has bonded or “formed an attachment” with their parents. The latter shows that the child sees his or her parents’ presence as a “secure base” where they can try out things without coming to harm.
What are some ways that parents can help form secure attachment with their babies? Consider the following tips:
Attend to Your Baby’s Cries in a Timely Manner
While some parenting strategies advocate letting babies “cry out” their distress, doing so can easily send the message to babies that parents are unreliable or even disinterested in their welfare. The surest and best way to develop confidence in babies is to show them that you are consistently around when they are hungry, soiled, upset or in pain. Responding in a consistent and timely manner helps your baby create a mental picture of a loving and attentive parent, a picture that will provide comfort and security during times of distress. On the other hand, when babies are not attended to in a timely manner, they may come to feel insecure. They can’t count on having their needs met. This sometimes leads to anger and other times it may lead to despair and withdrawal. It does not lead to confidence.
Babies ultimately learn self-esteem from the amount of attention their parents provide them. Whether this a purely sensory phenomenon — that is, babies receive stimulation from their parents’ touches, hugs and kisses — or a more emotional one is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is that it works! Showing a baby affection by smiling, talking, caressing and holding makes him feel not only loved, but also confident. Affection is the easiest way parents can communicate to infants that they are persons worth loving, and this message helps foster their self-esteem!
Encourage Them to Explore
Insecurely attached babies are those who cling to their caregivers for dear life, afraid that if they so much leave their parents’ presence the parent will go away. If you want to develop a confident baby, encourage your baby to explore, play and enjoy themselves within your presence. It is your presence (or the presence of another trusted caregiver) that helps build the baby’s confidence and independence for later. Babies need to know that support is very close by. If they’re in their crawling stage, for example, then let them go after a toy a foot or two away, always making sure that they have you within their vision. If something upsets or startles them, make sure that they can easily crawl back to you for comfort and safety. Better yet, provide positive reinforcement when they have successfully explored and played. A smile, a hug or a coo “Wow, you got the toy, very good!” can encourage a child to be more autonomous even as early as the infancy stage.
Provide Activities and Toys That can Help Them Develop Skills
It’s the same for adults as it is for babies: you become more self-confident if you know you are capable. Every developmental milestone successfully completed is an achievement! So do give your babies plenty of things to do that’s appropriate to their age. For example, at 4-5 months, babies are learning to discriminate among the different shapes and colors within their range of vision — so why not provide additional support by clamping a mobile on their crib? Encourage them to reach out to toys, and communicate with you what they want. At their walking stage, provide them with plenty of incentive to exercise their leg muscles. Giving babies generous amounts of stimulation through toys, communication, outings and so on, helps them become more confident in the world. They are learning that they can do things and that they are securely loved. All of this helps babies feel confident.