One of the primary goals for Healthy Families is to support the attachment between parents and children in order to build Protective Factors. Protective Factors help make families safe, secure and happy, even when faced with risks and challenges. Protective factors include parents learning about and practicing how to develop a strong bond with their baby. Sometimes small changes in a mom’s behavior toward her baby can spark that relationship and make a big difference in how mom and baby grow together. This is one story of a mom, “Diane” (not her actual name), who is making sure her baby has a different childhood than she experienced.
Diane’s mother was an alcoholic. Diane was disciplined with a belt. When asked to describe her childhood, she said “painful.” Diane spent her childhood alone and tried to stay out of her mother’s way. She was removed from her home when she was 17 because of abuse.
One way Healthy Families promotes the parent-child relationship is by encouraging parents to do parent-child activities together. From the beginning, Diane said she was never played with as a child, and didn’t really know how to play. She felt very uncomfortable singing and playing with the baby. Week after week, the Healthy Family Home Visitor brought activities and used lots of encouragement to help Diane work through her process. The goal was to support Diane in developing joy in her relationship with her baby.
At first, Diane would do the activity because the Home Visitor asked her to do it. Slowly, Diane was able to elicit smiles from her baby, and Diane smiled back. As her baby grew and gained skills, Diane discovered that she enjoyed helping her baby discover and explore things. She even began to play anticipation games like peek-a-boo and played tickling rhymes with the baby. As Diane’s baby is growing and discovering more ways to play, Diane is learning right along with her.
Home Visitors share brain research with moms so they see what they are achieving with their babies. Diane is helping to create joyful connections in her baby’s brain, and build the baby’s self-confidence as well as skills. At the same time, Diane is also creating those connections in her own brain. By touching the joy of parenting, Diane is building a strong foundation of security and acceptance for both her baby and herself.
Claire Davis is the Program Manager for Healthy Families at Parenting Now!.