How to Build Your Bond with Baby

Mother touching noses with new born baby girl
For many of us, the first time we meet our baby face to face, skin to skin, is the most incredible love-filled moment. However, this isn’t always the case for everyone. Approximately one-third of mothers don’t feel that magical moment at birth.

Whatever the reason, it’s okay! We see you and we know that you’re going to be a great mom! Believe it or not, the parent-child bond is NOT based on a single moment in time — it’s built over time. Clinical psychologist Dr. Tanya Cotler says, “The parent-child attachment bond is critical for social-emotional development for cognitive development, for the development of emotion regulation — but it does not rest on any specific moment in life, including the birthing moment.”
The 3 RS

Building a bond with your child is done millisecond by millisecond throughout your lives together. We chatted with Dr. Tanya Cotler in Season 1 of our podcast, 40 Weeks to Forever, and she introduced us to the 3 Rs, which provide us with the building blocks needed to create a warm, healthy, and loving bond with our children.

Reflect


The first R can start immediately. The second you bring home that tiny bundle, you can start building your bond through reflection. Reflection is the idea of reflecting on minds — seeing our mind and our child’s mind come together.

We all need to be seen and understood. One way we can do that for our baby is to narrate and reflect how they are doing. For example, if your baby is crying when you change their diaper, you could acknowledge how they may be feeling by saying, “Oh I know. You’re so upset.” Of course, you still need to change them, but by recognizing they are upset and reflecting on their mental state, you can help them feel seen and more secure. Dr. Tanya Cotler says, "That's actually probably one of the most key aspects to building a secure attachment. So, if nothing else, when people come to me and they say, ‘what should I be doing?’ I say narrate, narrate, narrate, narrate... all day long. What do you see your child doing? What's going on in their mind? It helps them feel recognized.”

Response


Response refers to the way we soothe our little one. When done correctly, it can also help your child feel safe. Using the same example given above, if your baby is crying when you are changing their diaper, the tone of voice you use and how you acknowledge how they are feeling is just as important as the words themselves. You know that gentle inflection you use when you’re talking to little ones. Your tone tells them a lot but so does your facial expression. Make eye contact with your little one, scrunch your brows, and shape your mouth like you’re saying ‘woah’. This mirrors their reactions and helps your baby feel seen. You’re letting them know you feel what they are feeling, and it helps them feel safe and soothed. This happens regularly throughout their life too. They fall and scrape their knee, you’re there to soothe them. “Ouch you hurt yourself. Do you need a kiss?” That is sensitively responding, and it helps them feel safe and seen.

Repair


Repair or ‘rupture + repair’ is a way of teaching our child NO and setting boundaries so they understand they can’t always have everything they want, the second they want it. This can cause some ruptures, however through proper repair, our children learn they can depend on us. Edward Tronick, a researcher who focuses on the infant-parent attachment, says it's a 70-30 split of rupture versus repairing. This means 70% of the time we are not responding perfectly sensitively. For example, your child wants to have ice cream before dinner. You say, “No, you cannot have dessert right now,” which makes them cry. However, when phrased, “Sorry, I know you really wanted dessert, but we can’t have that right now,” you’re both rupturing and repairing too. In this example we demonstrated all 3 Rs. We reflected they were upset, we responded sensitively, and have repaired.

To create positive attachment, rupturing and repairing takes a well-balanced ebb and flow. You really do want to embrace the messy bits and strive for a 70/30 split. Ruptures are good for development. They teach our kiddos we are two separate beings. However, even though we are separate minds, we are all connected. For example, the first time going to daycare or school can be a big rupture, but it’s a very important and healthy one. When you drop off your little one they may be crying, but you reassure them you will come back for them, and say, “You’re so sad, I know. You’re going to miss me and I’m going to miss you too, but it’s time for me to go.” So, we set the rupture right there because their mind and our minds are different. However, over time, when you leave and come back, they learn to trust the concept that mommy or daddy ALWAYS comes back. They learn that life is imperfect. They are learning they can move on from a negative space back to a positive space. They are also learning resilience!

Ruptures build hope, trust, and emotional regulation. There are often constant ruptures throughout their day, both small (like wanting the blue cup instead of the green one) and big (like going to sleep on their own). Striving to avoid these situations is nearly impossible and really quite unhealthy for our children. When parents do avoid these little rupture and repair moments, kids are not given the opportunity to build resilience, making it even more shocking to their system when a rupture does happen. We don’t want our children to feel like their world is falling apart when they experience the messy parts of life. So, while it doesn’t always feel like it, saying no can actually make you a better parent.
Every day you have a new opportunity to build a beautiful bond between you and your child. So, when that kiddo is grown up and their world feels like it’s crashing down, they feel comfortable picking up the phone and calling you. They know they are safe with you and trust you will do whatever you can as their parent to help guide them through life’s challenges.

*This information was taken from the 40 Weeks to Forever Podcast. Season 1, Episode 8: Attachment- Bond, Boundaries, & Bringing up Baby
Guest: Dr. Tanya Cotler PhD 


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