by Anya Dunham, PhD
Wondering about how to build attachment with your baby? Mind-mindedness can help; most parents have never heard of it, but some practice it intuitively.
Your baby will be
ready to connect and form relationships as soon as he or she is born. According to the theory of attachment, each baby needs to have at least one person with whom they have a strong and mutual emotional bond.1 Many parents wonder about how to build attachment with their babies from the very early days.
The idea of attachment is important, but often misunderstood. Some books and online resources present secure attachment as physical attachment. They view attachment parenting as a set of specific practices and techniques like babywearing, bed-sharing, and breastfeeding.
Some or all of these may fit beautifully into your family; they have for ours. But techniques do not necessarily equal attachment. Attachment is the quality of your relationship with your baby, not just the techniques you use.
Research shows that secure attachment forms best when parents are sensitive and mind-minded.
Sensitivity is probably not a new concept for you. Sensitive parents try to interpret their baby’s signals accurately and respond promptly and warmly. They help their baby regulate emotions and provide a sense of safety: a secure base to explore the world from.
But have you heard of mind-mindedness?
Mind-mindedness is a certain way parents see their babies: not only as little bundles of joy and potential, but as people with minds of their own.2 They know that babies are tuned in right from the start. Mind-minded parents notice and consider their baby’s emotions, sensations, and needs. They adjust their views and practices as they watch their baby’s behaviour, instead of relying on pre-conceived notions, their own feelings and wishes, or general ideas of what babies need or should be doing.3
And it makes a difference.
Babies whose parents are mind-minded tend to have a better physiological capacity to regulate their emotions4. In other words, it is easier for them to stay calm, and to return to a calm state. Later on, babies who grow in mind-minded environments tend to develop stronger bonds with their parents, learn to speak earlier, and recognize and understand emotions and needs of people around them better.5,6
I like to think of mind-mindedness as tuning in, seeing baby as a complete, whole person with a mind of their own, and considering baby’s perspective.
You can begin practicing mind-mindedness as you prepare for your baby's arrival. Next time you are around a baby or a young child, ask yourself how they may be feeling or what they might be thinking. This is often easier to do when you don’t know the child; when you do know them, their likes, dislikes, or their appearance might come to mind first:
“She is always so active”;
“He is such a good eater”;
“What a cute baby”.
But to practice mind-mindedness, try to focus on what the child may be feeling or thinking in this moment:
“She might be overtired”;
“I think he is really enjoying apple sauce”;
“This baby seems fascinated by the balloons”.
Once your baby is here, you can practice mind-mindedness during the daily care routines. Think about how you could do things with your baby rather than to him.
In the early days, tell your baby what you are about to do: “Let’s change your diaper. I am going to carry you to the changing table”.
Another way to practice mind-mindedness is simply being with your baby. Hold your baby or lie down next to her and watch her quietly. Try not to think about what you want her to do or what the charts say she is supposed to be doing at this age. Don't actively engage your baby. Try to simply see her in the moment, as she is. Notice what she is looking at, what she is working on, and what might be hard for her. Infant specialist Magda Gerber called this way of being with babies "wants nothing quality time" (wonderfully explained here by Janet Lansbury).
You will not always know what your baby needs; that would be impossible. But try putting yourself in your baby’s shoes as much as you can. It will become easier as you get to now her better, and as she grows.