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Attachment & Bonding

Dear Debi,
I have a 2-month-old in my care. Her motherís asked me to limit how much I hold her because she may become too attached to me. Is there such a thing as holding a baby too much?
Xushie , Hayward, CA
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Attachment is the basis for all social and emotional development
  • Pay attention to babyís signals and respond appropriately
  • Be sure to play with babies
Expert Advice
Laura Cardenas Villagran
Laura Cardenas Villagran
Marriage, Family and Child Counselor
You really canít hold a baby too much. Some children simply need more holding than others. Kids have different temperaments Ė some kids, for instance, just donít want to be held. Parents need to be informed that holding a baby for long periods of time will not make that child spoiled.

Some cultures make it difficult to know what attachment is. But when thereís a good relationship between the parent and the provider that helps the child develop socially and emotionally. When thereís conflict, attachment lacks, and the child backs away from both the parent and the provider.

Attachment is important because it provides the basis for all future relationships, and according to researchers is also the basis for subsequent mental health. Attachment is the strength of the bond between parent or primary child care provider and child. It helps the child develop both socially and emotionally. It is the basis of how they relate to others. Itís the basis for even how we see our spouse. Studies show that kids who have difficulty with attachments when theyíre young, are more likely to later become divorced and have difficulty in relating to others.

Attachment is also related to developing a sense of trust Ė trust that the childís needs will be met, that theyíll be taken care of and protected, and that the world is a safe and welcoming place. For example, babies who are left screaming for long periods because theyíre hungry come to see the world as an unfriendly place. They canít trust that anyone will take care of them.

Babies communicate with us through all types of signals. Thereís different types of cries that providers need to be aware of that tell the child care provider what the baby needs. There are cautionary ones and signals you can teach other parents and providers to look out for. A child who gives no response or a child whoís been abandoned doesnít necessarily mean they donít need to be held. They either cry too much or they donít cry at all. But you donít want a child to go to either extreme. Some people say, ďThe child never cries, so he never bothers me.Ē But they donít realize that child still needs to be held. Just because a babyís quiet doesnít mean he doesnít want to be picked up and comforted.

Research shows that playing with children helps to facilitate attachment. Insecurely attached babies had parents who were not playful. In fact, they often were silent, serious, unsmiling, and didnít display much facial expression. They were insensitive to their babiesí interests and social cues. Sometimes there isnít an attachment between the parent and the child because the child has more of an attachment with the child care provider. In that is the case, we try to build that bridge. Providers have to be aware that their job is not to replace the parent. If the child cries in the presence of both the provider and the parent, the provider should show the parent how to hold him.

If youíre a parent and you have a child and you have to go to work when the child is three months old, you wonít be able to determine what he or she needs since most of the childís day will be spent with the provider. The provider becomes essential in bridging that gap. The parent must always be the primary attachment. The provider must always remember he or she is not in control of the childís life.

Anything that may interfere with the parentsí or child care providerís emotional connection to the baby can make a babyís attachment difficult. These include mothers who are unhappy about their pregnancy, a medically fragile or disabled baby, stress in the parentís life, a parentís mental illness or substance abuse.

In these cases, intervention like parenting classes and on-going support can strengthen the bond between parent and child, but, unfortunately most parents of insecurely attached babies donít have the benefit of this intervention.
Child Care provider Comments
Family child care provider for 4 years
I think you can spoil babies by picking them up too much. After an infant is over 6 months of age is when they need to learn self-soothing, so you donít become their human pacifier. I hold babies, dance with them, constantly moving their bodies. I think babies respond physically in their bonding because they feel you holding them, they feel trust when they are being held. They open themselves up to trusting you.
Alma Martinez
Alma Martinez
Child care provider for 10 years
When the babies start to cry, I always go to them and pick them up. I donít think you can pick up a baby too much. Some people think otherwise, but I say, ďItís a baby! ThatĎs what you do!Ē
Provider for 10 years
Some parents and child care providers believe holding a baby too much will spoil the child, but I donít think so. If I hold a baby a lot, he knows that I care for him.

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Topic: Social & Emotional Development
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