By Dr. Aisha Hamdan
Many parents mistakingly equate parenting with discipline. Effective parenting begins from day one in a baby's life by establishing bonding.
Congratulations!! You and your spouse have just given birth to a bouncy baby boy or girl. As you become acquainted with your little bundle you begin to ask yourself many questions: "How will I cope with this new responsibility?"; "Will I be able to raise my child as a fully functioning, psychologically healthy person?"; "Will I be capable of protecting my child from the evil in this society?"; "What do I need to do to build a strong Muslim character in my child?" Whether this is your first experience at parenthood or one in a line of blessings, the same questions surface each time a new being appears. In upcoming issues of this magazine we will try to provide some insights into methods that will lead to positive outcomes for the concerns that are often raised. One can use the analogy of building blocks, with the first blocks placed at the time of birth. Many people believe that the task of parenting does not begin until a child can walk and talk and get into mischief, requiring some form of discipline from the parent. The term parenting is often equated with discipline. This understanding is inaccurate, however, because effective parenting begins at birth with a phenomenon known as bonding or attachment.
What is bonding?
Bonding is the formation of enduring emotional ties between an infant and a special person in his/her world (usually the mother). It is a process that takes place over time involving an affectionate, reciprocal relationship between these two people. The interaction usually occurs in this manner:
- the infant cries or expresses discomfort;
- the caretaker responds in an attentive and loving way, fulfilling the needs of the infant;
- the infant smiles and coos as a sign of contentment;
- the caretaker is gratified to know that she/he can please the infant and produce such a response.
- It is a beautiful, harmonious interplay that is a part of Allah's universal plan. It plants the seeds of the social and community ties that are so important in Islam.
Bonding is vitally important because it can affect the psychological and social development of a child. Scientific research has shown that children who were securely attached in infancy are more competent in certain social and cognitive skills: they are more curious, competent, cooperative, and self-directed than those who were insecurely attached. They are also more likely to be sought out as friends and chosen to be leaders. In school, they tend to interact with teachers in friendly and appropriate ways and are more likely to be independent, seeking help from teachers only when needed. Children who were insecurely attached tend to experience more difficulty in these areas and these effects may carry over into later years. Poor attachment has been found to be one factor in an equation that explains problems in adolescence such as juvenile delinquency, teenage pregnancy, drug and alcohol use, and more.
Fostering a strong bond with your child
How does a parent build a strong bond with her/his child and foster secure attachment?
1. Stay home with the baby. This is the ideal situation (although not always possible) for both the mother and the child. Allah has assigned women the role of nurturer and caretaker and has created them with characteristics that fit this role. Since bonding develops through many interactions between parent and child it only makes sense that they be together for this to occur. It is a disturbing situation when a woman goes back to work 6 weeks after the baby is born leaving him/her in daycare for 10 hours a day. She then comes home too frazzled and exhausted to have any interactions with the baby much less quality time. If it is absolutely necessary for a woman to work it is important to find a competent, caring person to take care of the child, preferably a Muslim. It is possible for a child to bond with more than one person.
2. Breastfeed. Allah has provided humans with a natural technique for development of a bond through the prescription of breastfeeding: "The mothers shall give suck to their offspring for two whole years." [2:233]; "And the bearing of him and the weaning of him is thirty months." [46:15]. This is another example of Allah's infinite wisdom that has only recently been proven by scientific knowledge. There are numerous health benefits from breastfeeding as well as emotional and social effects that will last a lifetime.
3. Respond to the infant's needs as quickly as possible. A significant part of the bonding process involves trust. When the needs of the baby are fulfilled, he/she develops trust in the caretaker and in the world. Crying and fussiness are forms of communication that signal that something is not quite right, and it is the responsibility of the caretaker to determine what should be done. Experienced parents are able to distinguish various cries and their associated needs. It is also possible to sense the early signs of needs and take care of them before the infant becomes upset. Caretakers who do this well usually have babies who are very content, secure, and enjoyable.
4. Communicate with your infant. There are many ways to send messages of love and care to your infant. These include talking in a soft voice, "answering" sounds by cooing or imitating, singing, smiling, hugging, stroking, massaging, making eye contact and much more. Mothers and infants tend to develop their own special language that really is an expression of their love for each other. One of the most wonderful gifts from Allah is the beautiful, bright smile of an infant that says "I am loved and cared for and I am returning that love." What amazing synchrony!
Following this advice does not guarantee that your child will develop according to your wishes and it will not alleviate your concerns, but it is an initial building block that will provide a strong foundation upon which to build. It is important to remember throughout the whole building process that our children are only a test for us and that we must always rely on Allah.