by Dr Andrew Roberts | Queensland Centre for Perinatal and Infant Mental Health
The first few months with a newborn are filled with very intense, sometimes confusing emotions as parents learn to adjust to their new roles and way of life. At the same time, your baby is also trying to adjust to huge changes in their world. It helps to remember that both you and your baby are trying to figure things out together, and it takes time and effort to do that.
It’s important to remember that a child’s mental health and wellbeing needs to be nurtured from the moment they are born. Your baby can’t tell you what they are feeling or what they need. There will be times where you might have to guess, and you won’t always get it right.
If babies could talk, here are some things they would tell us.
When we’re enjoying time together
I love when you look at me and smile. (It feels wonderful).
I like when you talk to me or sing to me. (It teaches me about sounds).
I like when you gently rock me or slowly dance with me. (It teaches me to enjoy moving).
I like when you hold me softly in your arms. (It teaches me about touch).
Be patient with me. I’m learning.
When I’m exploring the world
Try to imagine the world through my eyes. I love it when you are interested and explore the world with me.
I don’t like things to change too much while I’m trying to figure all this out. But I don’t like having a really strict routine either – I can’t read a watch yet! Somewhere in the middle is OK with me.
Sometimes when I’m exploring I get scared. I need to know I can always come back to you to feel safe again. Then I feel confident to go back to exploring and learning.
When I’m in danger and I don’t realise it, I rely on you to protect me.
You keep watching and I’ll keep changing. You have my permission to be amazed by me!
When I’m upset (and possibly making you feel upset, too)
Try to stay calm, because this will help me to feel safe and calm. Reach out for help from others.
I will cry when I am uncomfortable. I will cry when I am hurt. I will cry when I am afraid.
I never cry because I am upset with you.
Sometimes it’s all too much. If I turn away, it might just mean I need to take a short break.
My feelings seem really big and scary sometimes. When I’m distressed, try to stay with me and comfort me, even when that is hard for you.
Sometimes it might help to distract me, but most often it helps to just hold me, so I feel that someone understands. Show me that I don’t need to be afraid of my big feelings.
Eventually I’ll get better at calming myself. Again, be patient with me. I’m learning and it’s not easy!
When we’re figuring things out together
This ‘growing up’ is hard work. You can’t ever be ‘too’ kind to me.
I know sometimes we don’t get along. When we have a problem, I need you to be with me again afterwards. I need to know we can get through these things together.
There is no one ‘best way’ that a parent and child should be together. Being curious about your baby’s experience in the world makes your relationship richer. Being kind and caring, and delighting in our babies, helps them feel safe and secure.
When your children have a relationship with you and feel safe and secure, they will not only be more confident to explore the world, but also more confident to return to you in times when they need your help.