Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Developing Stress Response in Infants

Who wants to see their child distressed?  No one does.  But isn't it inevitable and normal for all children to go through stress in life?  One way we can help develop a healthy stress response is to gradually give them space to safely explore their environment.
"Healthy stress regulation systems prepare children to meet a range of challenging and stressful events without becoming overwhelmed. Over a lifetime, emotionally healthy individuals draw on this internalized system to tolerate both normal daily stress and larger, more catastrophic stress. The ability to moderate stress to tolerable levels is key to emotional health and resiliency. The absence of healthy stress regulation results in individuals who are easily overwhelmed or who respond in maladaptive ways."  (by Heidi Holman)  
Loving your children and creating a secure attachment and bond is so important.  This will effect all the emotional relationships they make in life.  We should seek to make sure our children are well loved and cared for.  Holding, rocking, hugging, giving eye contact and give them the physical attention and fulfilling their emotional needs.  Could this be overdone to the child's detriment?  An interesting TV documentary, "Hyper Parents and Coddled Kids."addressed some of the issues of this parenting style.  This has been a highly controversial issue lately, I believe this type of parenting starts in infancy.  I think hovering or "helicopter parenting" is tough because parents are truly doing so much for their children but this is showing it's a little too much.
As you let your mobile infant move away from you, and try to figure out things on their own, their stress response is being developed.  If they are so dependent on mom or dad because they are always hovering over them, telling them what and what not to do, it may be more difficult for them to adjust when they are left with babysitters, nursery, or preschool.  If they are use being able to play without mom or dad right there they are more likely to be more comfortable in a new environment.  I have always been curious why some babies/toddlers are just fine going to a babysitter and other children scream and cry into hysterics no matter what the sitter does.  These are children who are well loved at home.  I took a class recently about child development and they mentioned that many children who get really upset when mom and dad drops them off to day care or to school have not developed a healthy stress response because parents have not given them the opportunity or space to do so.
I remember that most of my babies went through a stage where they would cry as soon as I walked out of the room and then when I would reappear they would stop crying.  This is a normal stage of development and we can help them through this by playing peek a boo games, and giving them a more contained area to play in. When they are very small, the safe contained space may be a playpen.  A playpen is a perfect place for them to be where you know they are safe and can play independently and explore without you.  Start with a few minutes a day if baby is not happy with this.  Gradually add minutes where they have some independent play time.  I incorporated "playpen" time in baby's routine once or twice a day.  I found it was a great time when I need some personal bathroom time or a much needed shower.  When they get older you may want to expand the area to a toy room or their own bedroom.  Even though it's so important for children to be able to explore safely in their environment on their own, we need not forget that we are their best playmate, let them lead out and then give them space when it's time to grow.

1 comment:

  1. My babies all went through the "scream when they are left with the babysitter" phase, including my youngest who does it now. As the others did he screams when I'm leaving, and then calms down soon after and is fine until I return. Then he screams again so I'll go to him. It's funny and reassuring that they are developing normally, and I loved this article that reinforced my assumptions that I am not a bad parent for not always playing with my kids. Thank you Heather!


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