Responsive and Trusting Relationships Are a Strong Foundation for Your Child

mom and toddler daughter

Relationships shape our lives, beginning at birth. Babies connect with their family, gazing at their faces, crying and cooing. What parent can resist a newborn who stares in their eyes? Your baby is learning who you are—a very important caregiver in her life. Babies also show connections with family when they play “my turn, your turn” games such as “peek-a-boo, I see you” or, during meal times, “I drop the spoon, you pick up the spoon.” These early back-and-forth interactions help your baby trust that you are available and care for her. Building this trust happens when you consistently respond to your baby’s wants (play), needs (affection, food, and diaper changes), and schedule (sleep time).

Some babies respond more than others. It may be difficult to engage babies who are colicky in back-and-forth play when they don’t feel well. Babies born with developmental delays or who have vision or hearing problems also may be slower to respond. Parents may have to “work” more at playing—catching their baby’s gaze or responding positively to each of the baby’s efforts to connect. Showing affection and caring for your baby is very important even when your baby responds differently. You are providing the early building blocks in his social and emotional life.

Warm, responsive, and trusting relationships develop from many positive interactions over time. Our daily routines often set the stage for children to feel safe and secure in their home or other familiar environments. We use routines to meet many daily demands. For example, most families have a routine for morning and nighttime. These routines are predictable and repeat every day. Your child can predict and depend on you to help them get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, and start their day. Likewise, at night children will fall asleep quickly if they have a bedtime filled with affection and predictable routines. Before turning off the light, do you rock your baby, sing a lullaby, or read a story? Doing this every night tells your baby or toddler that you care for them and that you are available.

Children who experience responsive and trusting relationships often learn that they can soothe themselves until their parent comes. Over time they learn to manage their feelings and cope with occasional changes in schedule. By responding consistently to your baby and engaging your baby in playful interactions, you are creating a relationship to last a lifetime.

Publication date: 2016
Originally published in the EIC Newsletter: Volume 29, Issue 2