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Now Is the Right Time!
As a parent or someone in a parenting role, you play an essential role in your infant’s success. There are intentional ways to grow a healthy parent-infant relationship while forming a trusting, loving attachment that will cultivate confidence and establish foundational life skills.
It may seem like the only things infants are capable of in these early months of life involve eating, sleeping, and crying. In fact, they are learning so much. Your infant’s brain will double in size during the first year of life. They are deeply engaged in building the foundational social and emotional skills that will set the course for their lifetime.
Confidence simply means a belief in self. Where does that confidence come from? It begins with the trusting relationship you cultivate with your infant. The bond you have with your infant forms a solid foundation from which your child can feel safe to explore the world. For your infant to feel a secure attachment, they have to feel comfort, support, and safety from you and that you are responsive to their needs.
Infants grow their social and emotional skills through loving interactions with you and your responses to their needs. As children develop their social and emotional skills, they also build their sense of confidence. As a parent or someone in a parenting role, you can foster confidence through your relationship with your infant by focusing your attention on helping your child grow social and emotional skills. Confidence is…
- Self-awareness: your child’s deepening sense of who they are, understanding their identity and their strengths and limitations.
- Self-management: your child’s ability to manage their emotions constructively, such as when you help them calm down when they’re upset.
- Social awareness: your child’s ability to see from another’s perspective and to empathize with others.
- Relationship skills: your infant’s new capacity to initiate, grow, and sustain healthy relationships with others.
- Responsible decision making: laying the groundwork for your child’s ability to reflect – before choosing words or actions – on the consequences in order to not cause harm.
An infant’s confidence begins with confident parents — parents who are committed to learning from and with their infant. Confident parents are not perfect. They simply offer themselves the grace and permission to reflect on and learn from their mistakes. Mistakes do not define who they are.
The key to many parenting challenges, like building confidence, is finding ways to communicate so that both your needs and your infant’s needs are met. The steps below include specific, practical strategies to prepare you.
Whether it’s your 3-month-old crying uncontrollably when you leave their sight or your own feelings of inadequacy when trying to respond to your infant’s crying, establishing regular ways to build a trusting connection along with teaching your child vital skills will build confidence.
Today, in the short term, building confidence can create
- greater opportunities for connection, cooperation, and enjoyment;
- trust in each other; and
- a sense of wellbeing and motivation to engage.
Tomorrow, in the long term, building confidence in your child
- develops a sense of safety, security, and a belief in self;
- builds skills in self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationships, and responsible decision making; and
- deepens family trust and intimacy.
Five Steps for Building Confidence
This five-step process helps you and your infant build confidence. It also builds important critical life skills in your child. The same process can be used to address other parenting issues as well (learn more about the process).
These steps are done best when you are not tired or in a rush.
Intentional communication and actively building a healthy parenting relationship will support these steps.
Step 1. Getting to Know and Understand your Infant’s Input
Infants may cry between two and three hours every day. In fact, their primary form of communicating with you is through crying. Paying close attention to your infant’s facial expressions, movements, and sounds helps you better understand what they are trying to communicate. Your efforts to learn from your infant build trust and create empathetic interactions that promote confidence. In becoming sensitive to the small differences in your infant’s cries and expressions, you
- are responding to their needs;
- are growing their trust in you, sense of safety, and sense of healthy relationships;
- are offering greater motivation for you and your infant to work together;
- are deepening your ability to communicate with one another;
- are growing your own and their self-control (to calm down when upset and focus their attention); and
- are modeling empathy and problem-solving skills.
Consider how the distinct sounds of your infant’s cries connect with their body language. It is okay if you are unsure or don’t know what your infant is trying to communicate with you. Every infant is unique, and it takes time to learn. Check out these common cues and see if they match your infant’s feelings and associated needs.
- If an infant is uncomfortable, they may use a less intense, short, whiny cry like “eh, eh, eh.”
- If an infant is in pain, their eyes may be closed or may open for a second and look blankly into the distance. Parents often feel a greater sense of urgency with this cry. If it’s gas pain, they may scrunch up their face and pull their legs up.
- If an infant is scared, their eyes may remain open. Their head may move backwards. They may have a penetrating look and an explosive cry. They might suddenly extend their legs, arch their back, and then curl up again — an involuntary startle response.
- If an infant feels angry, their eyes may be half open, half closed either in no direction or a fixed location. Their mouth may be open or half-open. Gestures may accompany crying, and they may arch their back to show they are upset. Intensity gradually increases.
- If an infant is hungry, they may produce a cry that looks either similar to anger or discomfort depending on the intensity. Cries can be short, low-pitched, and they rise and fall.
- If an infant is tired, they may rub their eyes with them closing and opening. They may pull at their ears and yawn.
Working to identify their specific cries and physical cues can help you be responsive to their needs. For example, if an infant is uncomfortable, respond by loosening or changing clothing or swaddling or changing their position and see if it helps to soothe. If your response to your infant’s cues doesn’t seem to help, that’s okay. Test another response and see if it helps to soothe. It takes time to learn what your infant is communicating with you. As you practice, you’ll get better at recognizing their style of communication. They will feel a greater sense of your understanding and responsiveness, so that your interactions become more two-way instead of one-way.
Decide on a plan for calming down when you are the only one with your infant. Research shows that infants cry less when their caregiver is less stressed. Ensure your infant’s safety, then close your eyes and breathe deeply. A child’s crying and frustrations can be challenging, so be sure to take breaks when you need them.
Step 2. Teach New Skills by Interactive Modeling
As a parent or someone in a parenting role of an infant, there is a lot to learn about understanding your infant’s rhythms, temperaments, and needs. Because of all this learning, you will make mistakes and even some poor choices. How you handle those moments can determine how you help build your infant’s confidence. Offering yourself the grace and permission to not be perfect can ease your anxiety in responding to your infant’s needs. Learning about developmental milestones can help a parent better understand what their infant is going through.1
- 0-3-month-olds respond to their parent’s voice by turning their head toward, becoming quiet, or smiling. They make eye contact and cry differently depending on the situation. They coo and enjoy playful facial interaction with others. They also can be comforted by a parent’s touch or cuddling.
- 4-6-month-olds listen and respond when spoken to and make consonant sounds through babbling to gain attention. They make different sounds to express feelings and enjoy playful interactions like peek-a-boo. They raise their arms to be picked up.
- 7-9-month-olds use sounds and syllables in babbling to communicate and gain attention. They recognize their own name and turn to objects and people when mentioned. They participate in two-way communication, can follow simple directions when paired with physical gestures, and offer simple nonverbal cues like head shaking to indicate “no.”
- 10-12-month-olds are using “Mama” and “Dada,” can follow simple directions, and say one or two words with full sentences of imitation babbling. They understand “no” and use their hands to communicate needs. They point to objects of interest and explore when placed on the floor.
Teaching is different than just telling. Teaching builds basic skills, grows problem-solving abilities, and sets your child up for success. Teaching also involves modeling and practicing the positive behaviors you want to see, promoting skills, and preventing problems.
- Ensure daily face-to-face interactions. When face to face with a parent or someone in a parenting role, infants increase their sense of security and learn about themselves and their emotions. Their tiny facial muscles change to mimic your own. Research shows that eye contact increases heartbeats in parent and child and helps the infant learn about others’ emotional experiences.2
- Talk up close to your infant. Make a point when they are in a high chair, crib, or stroller to get down on their level. Narrate what’s going on around you or tell a favorite memory or story.
- When encountering new people or situations, get on their eye level and introduce your infant to those new experiences to help them feel safe.
- Express love up close. Children need to hear they are loved at every age. Start now and get in the habit of assuring your infant that they are loved no matter what.
- Hold your infant close regularly. Infants require close contact with their parents. Skin-to-skin contact reduces stress and promotes immunity to disease. Heart rates sync as well as emotions when infants are held closely.
- Rocking in a rocking chair is a soothing way to connect and hold an infant.
- Baby carriers offer a way to move about with your infant close to your heart.
- Share the holding. Enlist other trusted family members or friends to share in holding your infant close.
- Offer sensory exploration. Infants come to know and understand the world and the objects around them through all five senses — touch, taste, smell, sound, and sight. Keeping safety and supervision in mind, place objects near your infant for exploration.
- Infants in their first year of life can benefit from regular time on their tummy. Lay your infant down on a blanket. Include items within or, if attempting to crawl, just out of reach for infants to explore including baby-safe mirrors, blocks, and board books.
- Reading regularly with your infant grows literacy skills and offers time for valuable connection. If they are able, allow your infant to choose the book and help turn pages to involve them in reading.
- Offering time to explore water is wonderful playtime for infants keeping safety and supervision in mind. Whether you provide a bowl with cups on the kitchen floor or get into the bathtub, infants can exercise their hands and body movements while learning about water and play.
Don’t expect a long attention span with any one activity. Follow your infant’s lead. They likely will signal with a short cry or simply change their attention when they need to shift their focus.
Step 3. Practice to Grow Skills, Confidence, and Develop Habits
Your daily routines are opportunities for your infant to practice vital new skills if you seize those chances. With practice, your infant will grow their skills over time as you give them the chance with support. Practice grows vital new brain connections that strengthen (and eventually form habits) each time your infant works hard toward a goal or demonstrates belief in themself.
Practice also provides important opportunities to grow self-efficacy — a child’s sense that they can do a task successfully. This leads to confidence. It helps them understand that mistakes are part of learning.
- Allow your infant the chance to take steps to meet their big challenges, whether they are working on tasting new foods for the first time, exploring the objects in their environment, crawling, or cruising the furniture.
- Be sure to consider how you can create the conditions to support their success like creating a quiet, organized environment with infant-appropriate board books or toys.
- Initially, practice may require more teaching, but avoid taking over and doing it for your infant.
Step 4. Support Your Infant’s Development and Success
At this point, you are developing your infant’s skills and growing their confidence by allowing them to practice so they can learn how to do those new tasks well and independently. You can offer support when it’s needed by reteaching, monitoring, and coaching. Parents and those in a parenting role naturally offer support as they see their child fumble with a situation in which they need help. This is no different.
- Initially, your infant may need active support. Use “Show me…” statements and ask them to demonstrate how they can work hard toward a goal. When an infant learns a new skill, they are eager to show it off! “Show me you can move toward the mirror.”
- Recognize effort by using “I notice…” statements like: “I noticed how you worked extra hard to get to that toy.”
- On days with extra challenges when you can see your infant is scared of new people or situations, offer confidence in your infant’s ability to face the unfamiliar. In a gentle way, you can say, “This is my friend Anna. I am excited for you to meet her.”
- Actively reflect on how your infant is feeling when approaching challenges. You could offer comfort items to help your infant face new challenges. “Would your blanket help you feel better?” Swaddle your infant, or you may use a pacifier to offer comfort.
Don’t move on quickly if your infant shows interest in trying something new. Infants often need more time to stick with a challenge or pursue a goal. Your waiting could make all the difference in whether they are able to gain skills over time.
Step 5. Recognize and Celebrate
There are so many amazing changes and developments to celebrate with your infant. Each little achievement is something worth recognizing and celebrating.
Taking the time to recognize and celebrate can promote safe, secure, and nurturing relationships. It makes children feel secure and loved, which helps their brains develop. It builds a foundation for strong communication and a healthy relationship with you as they grow.
Though it is easy to overlook, your attention is your infant’s sweetest reward. Your recognition can go a long way to promoting more positive behaviors and expanding your child’s sense of confidence. You can recognize and celebrate your infant with the following actions.
- Smile at your infant.
- Make eye contact.
- Use caring facial expressions.
- Be physically gentle and caring with your infant.
- Use words to celebrate and encourage. Recognize and call out when all is going well. When your infant is trying new things, call it out: “I notice you reached for your toy. I love seeing you try new things.”
- Build celebrations into your everyday routines. Promote joy and happiness by laughing, singing, dancing, hugging, and snuggling to appreciate one another.
The first year is filled with amazing changes — and not just for your child. Don’t forget to recognize and celebrate your own development and milestones as a parent.
Engaging in these five steps is an investment that builds your skills as an effective parent to use on many other issues and builds important skills that will last a lifetime for your child. Throughout this tool, there are opportunities for infants to become more self-aware, to deepen their social awareness, and to work on their relationship skills.