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Baby Becomes A Person With Your Help
Your Growing Child Becoming a Person
‘What colour eyes will he have?’ ‘Suppose he has Grandpa’s nose or Uncle Joe’s feet?’ ‘I hope he has your nature ... my mother’s intellect ... your father’s wit ... my father’s practicality...’ Suppose ...’
The questions have lasted nine months and have now been answered. Or at least some of them have. ‘It’ has become ‘our son, our daughter’: birth-blue eyes are now settling to their natural colour you’ve checked the nose in profile against Grandpa’s and breathed a sigh of relief, though you’re not too sure about the size of the feet.
Some of the questions have been answered but only the future will answer the others – ‘What character, temperament, personality will he have?’
Yet the future is being made in the present. So far it has been easy to observe physical progress. Book in hand, you have checked reflex, and grasp, or applauded the first smile: on Monday you thought you had a genius, on Tuesday you weren’t so sure. But understanding the development of personality the characteristics that make your child uniquely himself and different from anyone else can see more complicated, particularly as you know his personality is being formed by your handling. Character, temperament, personality – call it what you will – is formed by a combination of the traits your child was born with and the influence you bring to bear. Given a basic temperament, your job will be able to help him master his environment, to be aware of him as a person and to judge and assess the moments when he’s ready to be helped on to the next stage of development.
Because readiness is a familiar word it would be easy to overlook its particular importance when it is applied to learning. Readiness means the stage just before learning a particular skill and it demands from the child a level of motivation, competence and maturity: he must want to be able to do it. It could be likened to the moment in mid air when you have left the side of the swimming pool but have not yet hit the water. It is your sensitive ability to recognise the stage of readiness which will most help your child’s formation of a healthy personality. You can provide the essentials for a healthy personality whether you are a single parent, married, divorced or part of an extended family. The cornerstones are a loving, steady relationship, continuity of care and affection, adequate stimulation and opportunity for attachment initially to one person, later to others.
Watching a child come to terms with his body and his world is to see an almost frightening single-mindedness at work. At four months he tries over and over again to roll from tummy to back or vice versa. He tries, fails, attempts again – and to be able to turn from back to front your four month old must have the ability to selectively push off with one arm and leg while holding the other against the body while at the same time suppressing the asymmetric tonic neck reflex.
It sounds a tall order for a four month old – and yet they all do it, and watching those frantic scabblings on the rug you know that though your baby is not quite there, he is at the stage of readiness. Just as his physical progress takes place in a logical and orderly fashion – sitting, crawling, walking – so will the developmental steps towards personality.
Even before birth you know your baby will be a unique individual. Birth deepens that knowledge in the first amazing face-to-face confrontation with a new human being. Awe often overrides love in those first moments of encounter. There may be too many emotions for love to be an immediate reaction ... weariness, apprehension, fear of inadequacy may be densely jumbled, but with a properly managed pregnancy and birth love grows rapidly.
And with love grows sensitivity. Within hours of his birth you’ll know what his particular cry means and you will learn his individual likes and dislikes. Dedication and commitment deepen so that you respond automatically through your own weariness to his daily and nightly demands ...He has caused changes in your life and you have responded by modifying your own behaviour to meet his needs and tempo. The baby’s welfare takes precedence over your own: in such a way the cornerstones of personality are being laid, as within his limits, the baby learns that he is loved. And he meets you half way: the more intensely re reacts to you, the stronger you become attached to him; the stronger your attachment to him, the more he becomes attached to you.
He listens to your voice, responds to your face, and snuggles into your arms. Your baby makes deliberate efforts to hold your attention and this interaction between you and your child is the beginning of a process important to the formation of personality. A three-month-old baby will wriggle, smile, make efforts to attract his father’s attention showed that if the father sat impassively and unresponsive the baby after a while cried or else became quiet and looked away, sucking his fingers for comfort. The father had blocked interaction. When he responded with smiling and talking to his son, the baby’s movements became stronger and more rhythmic and he was obviously pleased. When your baby flirts with you in this way you will have an opportunity to see this in action. What you are doing is showing him that he is of interest to you and that you value him as a person. You ate helping him towards the beginnings of self respect.
But you are still allowed to be human, on the off days the foundation may show hair cracks but the structure will survive. Other demands and inclinations will occasionally dictate that he has to wait a little longer for his feed or for his toy to be picked up. This won’t leave a permanent scar on his personality. Babies are surprisingly resilient and unless a baby is subjected to very severe deprivation of outright injury he can tolerate a fair amount of stress for short periods.
Examples of severe deprivation would include being left alone in a cot without stimulation for most of the day and night for several months, or being fed for days and nights with a propped up bottle instead of being cuddled. A temporary upset or family upset would not leave lasting damage; some stress is needed to build a healthy personality and we all experience it to a degree. A life without stress could lead to a vulnerable blandness. It is when the stress is prolonged – if for instance parent is seriously depressed or ill for some time – that you might be concerned about the effect on your baby, and it would then be the time to ask your doctor, health visitor or clinic for advice. There is no one style of parenting, family pattern or surroundings that would be right for all children. If there were we might be raising near clones instead of individuals.
The parents’ goal is to provide the best environment and support system they can for their baby and simply being themselves will provide the right background. You can’t force your baby to develop, only provide the conditions in which he will be encouraged to develop.