bond with baby

Communicating with Baby

Over-stimulation & Intrusive Interactions

Father abd BabyParents' sensitive interactions play a crucial role in forming a loving relationship with Baby. Their sensitivity is about being aware of and understanding their baby's needs and being responsive in ways that communicate warmth and love - such as via their tone of speech and singing, smiling facial expressions, their gentle use of touch and the rhythmical flow of movement as the baby is rocked and soothed. Sensitivity is also about allowing Baby to be an equal partner in sharing enjoyment during interactions by giving him time to respond to you.

However, some parents can actually over-stimulate their baby or be intrusive with their interactions. Such parenting behaviour can cause the baby distress, and if continued disrupts the enjoyment of the developing parent-baby relationship.

Over-stimulation is about 'over-loading' Baby with too much stimulation or information at any time - whether it be too much talking, touching or playing with Baby, too many toys and play items around, background noise from television or continual music or people around him. Young babies can only cope with small 'pieces' of information at a time and need to be given 'breathing space' to process it. And there are some babies who are more reactive to stimulation and uncertain situations compared to others so they require parents to be sensitive to such needs (discussed in Bonding and Beyond → What Can Disrupt Parents Bonding with Their Baby? and → Infant Temperament). Unlike adults, babies can't verbalise when they have 'had enough'. They depend on parents' sensitivity and understanding of knowing when enough is enough by reading their signals that communicate an over-load, such as Baby:

  • Trying to avoid face-to-face contact by turning his head away
  • Squirming and having vocal outbursts
  • Becoming agitated to the point of being distressed.

Parents need to recognise such signals as Baby 'saying' ... STOP ... WAIT and let me process this little bit of information as I recover from the excitement ... then if I'm not too exhausted I will be READY for more ... which is usually shown by looking back at Mum/Dad. So, over-stimulating Baby plays no part in forming the loving bond or benefits his learning and development (discussed in sections Let's Play and Development and Learning).

Intrusive interactions are opposite to sensitive interactions, and just as sensitivity is communicated via parents use of voice, gestures and body movements so too is intrusiveness. Furthermore, parents who are intrusive tend to have demanding or controlling expectations of their baby. For example, they may disrupt or take over their baby's exploratory play, talk in an insistent tone such as 'look at me ... you're not watching', handle or play with the baby in a rough manner and use touch insensitively such as poking. The baby feels threatened from such interactions and instinctively tries to protect himself by 'shutting off' and avoiding the parent's contact. As a consequence of this type of behaviour the baby is unable to form a secure attachment, which becomes detrimental to his growth and wellbeing (discussed in Bonding and Beyond → Infant Attachment).

To read more about babies' social and emotional development and the importance of parents' sensitive nurturing go to Development and Learning → Social and Emotional Development.