Supporting your baby’s resilience
For a few years now, the ‘catch word’ in raising children has been resilience. But many parents are confused by what resilience is and why it’s so important. Essentially, resilience is the ability to bounce back after challenges and to recover quickly. Resilience is also about older children and adults having a sense of optimism, of good things happening and being able to manage when life isn’t going too well.
Of course, small babies don’t know anything about resilience. Their job is to have their needs met as quickly as possible and to grow, learn and develop. Though even from their earliest days, babies are forming foundations or building blocks in their brain to support their resilience. Every time you respond sensitively to your baby, they are learning that they are important and to feel safe.
No matter what age your baby, give them lots of affection, cuddles and kisses. This will help to build their neural pathways and to feel safe and secure.
What helps to shape resilience?
A baby’s gender, genetics and the environment they grow up in all influence their capacity for resilience. Their temperament and personality are also major influences. There are some things you won’t be able to change for your baby; however, you can do a lot to help them become as resilient as possible.
- Focus on being responsive to your baby’s needs. When you’re choosing how to respond, think about what will help to maintain and build a good relationship between you.
- Care well for your own needs. You can’t give what you don’t have. If you’re struggling with anxiety, depression or other mental health issues, you won’t be able to fully focus on your baby. Even though they’re little, your baby will be very skillful at ‘reading’ your responses and mood.
- Support your baby’s exposure to other trusted adults. Babies learn to become social by being exposed to other people. They also benefit from being cared for in different ways which then supports their adaptability. As adults, we don’t all respond in the same homogenous way and are highly individual. Your baby will only know this if they have the opportunity to spend (supervised if necessary) time with other caring people.
- Support your baby’s exploration and attempts at doing things for themselves. Babies need to practice new skills and have a sense of failure, then trying again as they develop mastery. Sit back, watch and be patient as you give your baby time to learn on their own.
- Help your baby to manage ‘big’ feelings. Small babies often become overwhelmed when they don’t understand what is happening. One of your many jobs is to help them feel safe and supported. You won’t always know what your baby wants or needs from you, though a good response is to always be kind and gentle.
- Aim for a simple life. It’s hard enough in the early months and years of raising a family without taking on unnecessary stress. Small children are great barometers for what else is going on in the household. If you’re stressed, they’re likely to be too.
- Talk to your baby about how they’re feeling. By naming emotions they’ll learn to describe what they’re feeling when they become verbal and communicate more clearly.
- Try not to do the same, predictable things all the time. Some variability is good for small children because it helps them to become adaptable.
- Try not to insulate your baby’s world too much. Different places, environments and people will help them to become resilient. Your job is to make sure they’re safe and to help them to feel secure. Be ‘tuned into’ their cues which mean they need your reassurance or they’re doing just fine. Sometimes we respond to our children more for own reassurance than for theirs.
- Play games and have fun. Take turns and be fully present during play. Play is a child’s work and they need lots of interaction and joy every day.
Other tips to help build resilience
Talk to your baby, even if they don’t seem to be very interested. It’s not what you’re saying, but your tone and animation which will make a difference.
Read to your baby every day and to focus on the simple pleasure of doing this.
Avoid aiming for perfection in your parenting and instead, be “good enough”. Check information about Circle of Security (COS) for more information.
Trust yourself to know what your baby needs and how to best provide this. You are the expert when it comes to your baby; even though it may not always seem like it, you are.
Written for babyU by Jane Barry, Midwife and Child Health Nurse, May 2023.