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•Talk with your child about emotions in order to help him recognize and control his own
•Use face-to-face interaction, tone of voice, song, and touch to make your infant feel safe and secure
•Start a gratitude journal to help your child appreciate the good things in life
•Nurture self-esteem with “try, try again” activities and simple chores
•Create a “What are they feeling” deck of cards to help your child understand and practice emotions
•Use games and songs to help your child practice self-control
•Overcome temper tantrums, aggression, shyness, separation anxiety, and other challenges
Whether your child is as easy to raise as a sunflower, as difficult as the prickly holly bush, requires the patience of the delicate orchid, or is as active as the exuberant dandelion, Baby Hearts helps you provide the emotional support that may be the most important gift a parent can give.
Nature's Contribution: The Biology of Emotions
There's More to "Mothering" Than Meets the Eye, Scientists Discover
New York, New York. What happens when Mommy Rat runs away from home, leaving her litter of pups to fend for themselves? They get hungry--very hungry. No surprise there. But according to Columbia University professor Myron Hofer, there's a lot more than that going wrong when Mom "turns tail" and runs. In fact, hunger is one of the least of the abandoned rat pups' problems. Like a harp that stays silent without someone plucking at its strings, rat pups left without the cuddling, licking, and delicious smells and rhythms that constitute mothering in their world lack the ability to maintain many critical biological functions, the control of which is necessary for life itself. Their body temperatures drop, their heart rates increase, their breathing becomes erratic, their sleep-wake cycles are disrupted, their growth and stress hormones go haywire. In short, the result is true biological chaos, a level of disorganization that can kill.
Researchers studying human mothering say there's an important lesson in all of this for us. Like the rat pup, the human infant may look like an independent little unit (especially in those identical little maternity ward cribs), but that's a serious, even deadly, misperception. The newborn human baby is dependent on our tender loving care for much more than food and diaper changes. Just like rat pups, human babies require proximity to a warm body--one that breathes with regularity, strokes and cuddles, smiles and smells--to keep their biological systems in line. Or one could say, like the silent harp, human babies need their parents' love to create the sweet, concordant rhythms that make for the beautiful music that is healthy life.
Biological Regulation: An Evolutionary Gamble
Myron Hofer's work with rat pups is both exciting and exceedingly important. Instead of seeing motherhood through a veil of sentimentality, he has proved that what parents routinely do (or should do) with their babies is absolutely critical for their survival. There were earlier clues, of course, particularly in the many tragic cases of failure-to-thrive syndrome in orphanages, where food was plentiful, beds were clean, but anything approaching mothering was considered too expensive, too time-consuming, and totally unnecessary. These babies literally withered and died. And now we know why.
Both the problem and the strength of the human baby is that she is a work in progress. If human babies were prewired upon entry into the world, there would be no capacity to change, to adapt to different environments, to learn. In other words, if human babies were only a product of "nature" rather than equally dependent on "nurture," human progress would have ground to a halt a long time ago. Instead, evolution took a chance, sending us newborn babies that are far from ready-wired, trusting that it could also nudge the big humans around these helpless creatures into providing them the attention needed to get their immature biological systems up and running in an organized, self-sufficient way.
Parents as the "Gelatin Molds" of Early Development
Human babies may arrive totally dependent on their parents to keep their biological rhythms working right, but they don't stay that way. Over the first nine months of life, the infant gradually becomes able to exert his own control over his breathing, heart rate, sleep-wake cycles, stress reactions, growth hormones, and the like. But it doesn't happen automatically. Again, this progress is not prewired. The active support parents provide the baby during those early months helps shape his own control mechanisms. Feeling the parent's breath go in and out sets a pace for the baby's breathing. Hearing the parent's voice stimulates synchronized body movements. Being predictably roused from sleep and soothed back into it stabilizes sleep-wake cycles. The warmth of the parent's body and stroking of the baby's skin regulates his temperature. Touching the baby's face stimulates sucking. On and on it goes. But if that parental support is itself erratic or disorganized, then the baby's developing ability to regulate himself will be compromised accordingly.
When we explain the gradual development of biological regulation and the important role played by parents to our undergraduate students, we like to use the metaphor of the gelatin mold. The function of a gelatin mold is to contain the liquid gelatin until it slowly solidifies enough to hold its own shape once the mold is removed. Typically, the shape that results is a lovely, rippled mound with a flat spot on top for a dollop of whipped cream. But the shape the gelatin finally assumes won't be so pretty if one or all of the following things go wrong: (a) the mold itself is bizarrely shaped, (b) the mold is removed before solidification is complete, or (c) the mold itself is too flexible to provide a consistent shape.
In this metaphor, babies, of course, are represented by the gelatin, with parental interactions, daily routines, and physical closeness acting as the mold that holds the gelatin together until it can solidify. Without the mold, the gelatin simply runs all over the place, achieving no coherent shape as it hardens, just as a baby's biological rhythms disintegrate into chaos without the strength and warmth of a parent's arms to hold them in place. That one person's breathing, heartbeat, and nearness might exert such power over another person's behavior may at first seem far-fetched--but notice what happens the next time you find yourself close to someone who yawns!
Individual Differences in the Gelatin
Children differ in many ways, including how much support they need early on to regulate their biological systems. Continuing the metaphor, they differ in how solid their gelatin is to start with. Although some babies seem to develop reasonable sleep-wake cycles within weeks, for other babies the process can take months. Similarly, some babies will be soothed quickly when upset, while others require rocking for what may seem like hours. And some babies can sleep through the sound of the vacuum cleaner, while other babies flinch at the sound of a car door closing outdoors. Such differences can be genetic in origin and can run in families. In other cases, particular characteristics of the prenatal environment (the amount of maternal stress, for example) may be playing a role. Whatever their source, these individual differences in the newborn baby's gelatin contribute significantly to differences in infant temperament apparent from Day 1, the topic we turn to next.
Inborn Temperament: Variety Is the Spice of Life
What a boring world this would be if we were all alike, if we were all cut with the same cookie cutter. How would those of us who are shy be wooed into joining the action? How would those of us who jump in with both feet be persuaded to look before we leap? Fortunately, nature has guaranteed that we aren't all alike, even at the very beginning.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
On a very serious note, there is good evidence that some babies need more help than others to keep their breathing regular, particularly when they are asleep. These babies, it is hypothesized, are the ones at most risk from dying of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. As evidence, researchers note the young age at which most SIDS cases occur (before four months) and an impressively lower incidence of SIDS in cultures where baby and mother routinely sleep together, proximity that presumably provides the child with a stable breathing pattern and frequent arousal episodes.
There is a downside, however, to cosleeping. New research strongly suggests that the fewer items in the sleep environment that might accidentally cover the baby's mouth and nose (pillows, crib bumpers, blankets, etc.), the lower the chance of SIDS. Many pediatricians worry that the parent's body or bedclothes pose such dangers. As a compromise, some parents are using baby beds that attach directly to the side of their own bed, allowing easy access and close monitoring without the added worry of obstructing the baby's breathing.
By far the most successful recommendation of all came in 1994 in the form of the "Back to Sleep" campaign launched by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The aim was to shift parents from routinely putting babies to sleep on their tummies to always putting them to sleep on their backs. As a result of these efforts, the incidence of SIDS in the United States is estimated to have declined by 40 percent.
The fact that babies differ from Day 1 is hardly a surprise to most parents--at least on an intellectual level. However, thanks to years and years of exposure to the well-behaved, cuddly babies popular among advertisers and greeting card designers, too many parents (particularly first-time parents) are indeed surprised at--and not fully prepared for--their baby's unique personality. It's as if they were expecting the perfect rose and received a happy-go-lucky sweet pea instead. It's cute, all right, but why doesn't it stand up tall and straight in the vase?
That's why it's so important for parents to know about the variations in what researchers call infant temperament. Once you know the wide variety from which the florist can pick, you'll be better prepared to enjoy the surprise when your doorbell finally rings and your particular flower is delivered. "Oh, goody! A sweet pea!"
Cataloging Infant Temperaments
Carrying the metaphor a bit further, researchers tell us that there are four particularly popular flowers--or inborn temperaments--in the florist's greenhouse (none of which, by the way, is the perfect rose). Before identifying these four, let's first describe how this conclusion was reached. We have two pediatricians, Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess, to thank for the original, painstaking cataloging of infant temperament. Based on exhaustive interviews with parents of 136 children followed from age two to adulthood, they identified nine dimensions along which children reliably differ:
2.Adaptability (Are transitions hard?)
3.Willingness to approach new things
4.Tolerance for frustration
5.Intensity of emotions (both positive and negative)
7.Predominant mood (positive or negative)
8.Predictability of rhythms
9.Sensitivity to external events (stimuli)
Recognizing that some of these categories overlap, Chess and Thomas consolidated the groupings down to three: the "Easy" baby, the "Difficult" baby, and the "Slow-to-Warm" baby. As more and more researchers began viewing babies through these lenses, it gradually became apparent that Chess and Thomas's divisions were not giving "activity level" a prominent enough place. The result, as Alicia Lieberman reports in her excellent book The Emotional Life of the Toddler, was a gradual consensus that a fourth category needed to be added: the "Active" baby.
As we discuss each of these in turn, it's helpful to keep in mind that the four represent certain average profiles, or prototypes. In reality, of course, every baby's personality reflects a unique blending of the nine variables just listed. As we'll discuss later, it's also crucial to keep in mind that "biology is not destiny"--that although nature is the starting point for personality, nurture's forces (including you) have a huge role to play thereafter.
The Four Most Common Flowers
With all this as prelude, just what are the four most common flowers in the greenhouse and the inborn temperaments they represent? They include:
1.Baby Sunflower (aka the "Easy" baby)
2.Baby Holly (aka the "Difficult" baby)
3.Baby Orchid (aka the "Slow-to-Warm" baby)
4.Baby Dandelion (aka the "Active" baby)
We have chosen the plant analogy for several reasons. First, and most obviously, the specific plants and flowers really do seem to share characteristics with the babies they represent and, therefore, provide an easy way to remember the distinctions. The second reason is perhaps even more important. Although different from one another in many ways, each adds great beauty to the world--even the misunderstood dandelion, whose vivid yellow head creates golden meadows in the summer sun. Just as is true of every child on this earth, each of these plants adds greatly to the variety that is the spice of life. In addition, to grow tall and fine, all four plants require a specific blend of sun, soil, and water--just as each child, no matter what her inborn temperament, needs her parents' uniquely suited tender loving care.
Parents are gardeners--planting the seeds of faith, truth, and love that develop into the fairest flowers of character, virtue, and happiness in the lives of their children.
--J. Harold Gwynne, author
Here are the four flowers in more detail.
Baby Sunflower: The "Easy" Child. What distinguishes a sunflower? First and foremost, it's easy to grow. Look in almost any nursery school's child-tended flower garden and you'll find sunflowers for that very reason. Even four-year-olds can't kill them! Second, they face the sky as if eager for each new day's gift of sunlight. Third, they have an inborn tendency to grow straight and tall, inspired from birth to show off their warm and happy petals to any and all who pass by.
The "Easy" baby is like that too. She wakes up happy, her rhythms are fairly predictable, she adapts to change without undue protest, she's open to new experiences but not impulsively so, she's moderate in both her positive and negative expressions of emotions, and she's fun to be around. In short, she's got the sunny, easygoing disposition that all parents assume their baby will have. Fortunately, according to Chess and Thomas, 40 percent of parents are right.
Baby Holly: The "Difficult" Child. There's beauty in the holly bush's dark-green foliage and brilliant berries, but first one has to deal with the overall prickliness of the leaves. With tiny thorns at each of their six corners, these leaves are ready to scratch and poke at the least invasion of their territory, causing even the most skilled gardener to don sturdy gloves to prune and care for them.
Like the holly bush, the "Difficult" baby is by nature "prickly" and a challenge to nurture well.
Excerpted from Baby Hearts by Linda Acredolo, Ph.D., and Susan Goodwyn, Ph.D. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted August 6, 2005
Baby Hearts is a must have for every new parent! I wish it had been available when I was pregnant. The research is very interesting and tips are invaluable. I've already started using some of the tips and am seeing immediate results. It has tips on separation anxiety, stranger anxiety, fears, empathy, agression and so much more. We use the Baby Signs program and I stopped counting when they reached over 100 signs. So I knew when Baby Hearts was released that it was going to be fantastic. I'm giving the Baby Hearts book to every new moms baby shower I attend
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