What makes a baby happy? Being fed, dry and rested are certainly important, but ultimately the answer to the question is deceptively simple. You.
Newborns are incredibly vulnerable. The systems which control temperature, spatial perception, and motor function are just getting warmed up, and they are unable to do anything at all for themselves. Unlike so much other “lesser” forms of life, human babies would simply die at birth if left unattended. The cerebral cortex, which controls behavior and moods, won’t even begin the kick in until your baby is at least six months old.
Knowing all of this is tempting to think that your infant is a wailing mass of unpredictability, but anyone who’s experienced parenthood knows that nothing could be further from the truth. The constant across all cultures and all babies is their unwavering need to be nurtured and made to feel secure. Your baby is intimately attuned to your smell, touch, and sound, and your moods and behaviors substitute for their own until they are able to develop and control their emotional universe.
Raising a mindful and happy baby, therefore, depends in part on your ability to provide a soothing and comforting world within which they feel loved and safe. That doesn’t mean, however, that all babies are the same or will respond in like ways. Some need more holding, while others are content to be near you without necessarily touching all the time. One baby will wail if you’re out of sight, where their sibling was easily distracted by other people. Regardless of your baby’s unique personality and needs, these tips will help soothe their anxieties and set them on the path to developing empathy, focus, and self-care.
When you’re holding your little one, take the time to really look into her eyes. Parents tend to stare for hours into the faces of their newborns, but lose the habit as the weeks pass and life becomes more complicated. If you’re holding your baby because she’s upset, focus exclusively on her. Your baby is unlikely to be comforted if you’re simultaneously holding her in one arm, trying to fix dinner, and answering the phone. Stop, focus, and look.
It doesn’t matter if you can’t hold a note, sing anyway. Singing isn’t an auto-function, and as you concentrate on the words, you’ll find it almost impossible to think about anything else. When you sing, you’re giving your baby your full attention, and they will respond to the calm sound of your voice and the rhythm of your breathing. If you sing to your child, your child will one day return the gift and sing to you.
They may not understand a single word, but babies love to hear the rise and fall of your voice, especially when it is directed at them. Reading forces you to sit down, relax, and focus on what’s immediately before you. Point to the pictures, describe what’s happening in the story, and let your little one touch the pages. As your child grows out of picture books, keep reading to them before bed, even after they’re able to read on their own. The need for connection and focused attention doesn’t end with infancy, and reading is one of the best ways to give your child an undistracted piece of your time.
There is nothing more mood-altering than taking a walk, and unless there’s a tornado on the horizon, you should make an effort to get out with your baby every day. Turn off your cell phone, put your baby in a front-carrier, and just walk. Your baby may well fall asleep, but the point isn’t to have them learn the topography of your neighborhood. It’s as much for you to spend a few moments in contemplation as it is for the baby to experience new wonders. Stroke your baby’s head, sing, talk, walk and decompress.
Mindful awareness is about paying attention to what’s happening around you in the here and now, and in parenting it begins with focussing on your baby. There is perhaps no greater joy than seeing your baby take his first steps or become absorbed in playing on his own. With those milestones comes a growing independence that allows you to gradually go back to doing things by yourself, if only for a few minutes.
Over time, however, your baby’s ability to amuse themselves will lead you to spend less and less time directly focussed on each other. Don’t let that time disappear altogether. Make a concerted effort to set aside at least an hour every day where you do nothing but pay attention to whatever is occupying your little one. Embrace the little changes, and make sure you’re present to experience them all.
Babies thrive on love, and there is no better way to express that emotion than to give your child your undivided attention. Without distractions, without an agenda, and for no other purpose than to let them know that they are loved.
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