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Building Secure Infant Attachment: REACTing in 5 Easy Steps

Building attachment security centers around the idea of responsiveness. A primary caregiver needs to be physically and emotionally able to respond to a baby's needs in a caring, loving, sensitive, and timely manner. How do you go about doing this? I've created a little acronym to help you remember some key steps: REACT. Whenever a baby is in distress (or needs your attention for one reason or another), it is important that you REACT.

RESPOND ASAP
Ideally, this means that you increase your physical proximity to your baby as quickly as possible. But as I know from experience, sometimes you are simply unable to get over to your baby very quickly. At minimum, a verbal response is needed. Yelling out, "I'm on my way, baby!" or "It will be okay! I'll be there soon!" Anything to let your baby know that you hear them and you're on your way. You want them to not feel alone.

EVALUATE WHAT'S WRONG
Here, you want to literally ask your baby what's wrong. Even if you already know the answer. It's a good habit to get into. "Why are you sad, baby?" or simply asking "What's wrong?" shows your baby that you care about her well being. It shows that you are motivated to help. It allows your baby to start trusting that you will be there in her time of need.

ACKNOWLEDGE FEELINGS
Once you figure out what's wrong (and sometimes it's just loneliness), then you can move to acknowledging your baby's feelings. This is very important. Babies, toddlers, preschoolers (and even older children and adults!) want to know that they are understood. And when a baby believes that you understand them, secure attachment is being built. They want to know that their feelings are real, important, significant, warranted. Tell them. "This is frustrating. I understand." or "You are so sad. I would be too if I was this hungry." It may sound silly to have these conversations with your infant, but they are important.

COMFORT WITH TOUCH
Once you are able to get to your baby, it's important that you don't just talk to them. Pick up your baby. Hold, hug, rub, bounce, and carry around your baby. Human touch is vital to human development and especially vital during times of distress.

TAKE IT EASY
Whatever you do, try your hardest not to lose your cool. Yelling at, speaking meanly towards, ignoring, or getting physical with your baby are things you should avoid at all costs. I get it- this can be very hard to do when you're running of little sleep, little patience, or a combination of the two. We've all been there. But this is not about you and your feelings. This is about your baby who is in distress. Your tiny, little baby who needs you to help him calm down. Your baby needs you to be his rock. So it's your job to muster up all of your energy to help him achieve that goal.

Here are some sample interactions that you might have with your baby, gradually implementing the security-building steps discussed above.


Poor Example
Your baby is in distress.
You let your baby cry while you finish writing an email.
When you finally walk over to the child, you say, “What’s wrong, baby? Are you hungry?” You realize that it’s time for your baby to eat and you see that your baby is putting his hands in his mouth a lot. You say, “Ok, I’ll get you a bottle.”
You walk away to get the bottle ready.

Better Example
Your baby is in distress.
You immediately walk over to your baby and say, “What’s wrong, baby? Are you hungry?” You realize that it’s time for your baby to eat and you see that he is putting his hands in his mouth a lot. You say, “Ok, I’ll get you a bottle.”
You pick up your baby and take him with you to get the bottle ready.

Best Example
Your baby is in distress.
You immediately walk over to your baby and say, “What’s wrong, baby? Are you hungry?” You realize that it’s time for your baby to eat and you see that he is putting his hands in his mouth a lot. You say, “Ok, I’ll get you a bottle.”
You pick up your baby and rub his back while saying, “Shhh, it’s okay. I know that you’re hungry. It’s time to eat.” You continue to shush him and tell him that the bottle is on it’s way while you get the bottle ready.


To learn more about this method described above and more tips for building security in your baby, watch this Facebook Live Mini Lecture by myself, Dr. Jennie Rosier:




Want to learn even more about infant attachment? Here are some excellent articles related to building secure infant attachment:
 
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