As a parent of a new baby, you want to know everything about this little person. As you spend time admiring him, you will have many opportunities to discover his abilities and to interact with him.


Even though you may be thrilled to have your baby, adjusting to a new baby can be an overwhelming task. You are still recovering from the birth. The baby requires “24-hour-round-the-clock care” and you may be exhausted from late night feedings. You are filled with a new sense of anxiety and you may experience depression. These are all understandable and normal feelings. Limiting visitors and other outside demands may enable you to cope with the challenge of being a new parent.

“Learning to parent is a long-term process. We all make mistakes . . . learning to parent results from learning from one’s mistakes. You learn a lot more from mistakes than from successes.”

~ T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., Touchpoints, 2006.


Your baby, as a newborn, comes well equipped to “speak” a special language. This special language is her behavior. She sends signals to you to make her needs and wants known. These signals will come through in every behavior she demonstrates as you care for her. She is a good “teacher” and will let you know when you have met her needs.

“When you’re on the right track, her face will be placid and content, her body will be relaxed, and her responses will be organized and predictable. When you’re on the wrong track, she’ll be disorganized and unreachable. She will avert her face from yours. She’ll thrash around and be unable to get calm . . . You may not know what to do, so try everything . . . Over a surprisingly short time, you will learn what her behaviors are trying to tell you.”

~ T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. Touchpoints, 2006.


Everyday activities offer opportunities to give your newborn the one thing she needs most of all - you!

  • Feeding provides a wonderful time to interact with your baby. During feeding she will start with a short burst of constant sucking. Very quickly, she will change to a burst-pause pattern. A burst of sucks will be followed by a pause: suck-suck-suck-pause. These pauses are a signal that your baby wants to communicate as well as eat. She is waiting for you to talk gently or touch her. This may make the pauses longer and feeding time more pleasurable for both of you. Every baby deserves to be held for feeding. Communication and closeness at feeding time are as important as the food.
  • Diapering is another opportunity for you to interact with your baby many times a day. She will enjoy looking at something interesting and listening to your voice during diapering. Diapering provides several “face-to-face” interactions each day.
  • Bathing can be another important time for communication. Many babies do not like to be undressed. You can swaddle your baby in a cloth diaper or hand towel after he is undressed to help him feel safe. Then lower him into a warm tub, holding his head up with one hand. The diaper or towel can then be taken off. While he kicks and moves about, talk and sing to him.
  • Reciting nursery rhymes during everyday activities can serve two purposes. It is a fun way to interact with your baby and to introduce him to language and literature. It is also a relaxing activity for both baby and you. Rhythm is comforting!


You will spend much time and energy trying to figure out exactly how to comfort your baby. She will have her own special way to be held or moved to be comforted. Most babies need a self-comforting pattern to calm down and relax. Sucking is a part of this self-comforting pattern.

There are two kinds of sucking: nutritive sucking, which your baby uses for feeding, and non-nutritive sucking, which she uses to keep herself comforted and under control. Babies comfort themselves with a pacifier, finger, or thumb. You can decide which you want to encourage her to use as part of her self-comforting pattern.


“A vital task for new parents is to learn to identify the different cries of the newborn. Any cry on her part is interpreted as a call for help. Parents automatically feel that they must find the problem that is making the baby cry. This will take time. There are at least six different cries: pain, hunger, discomfort, fatigue, boredom and tension discharge.” ~ T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., Touchpoints, 2006.

All babies cry. Many babies cry long and often, usually increasing at around three weeks of age. Sometimes this crying is a fussy period at the end of the day. The baby is still trying to process and organize all the stimulation he is receiving each day. Crying is your baby’s way of adjusting to this new world. It is one of the baby’s normal six states of consciousness. Crying is not a sign of failure. IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT OR YOUR BABY’S FAULT.

Try this:

  • Keep calm.
  • Pick up your baby.
  • Check their diaper.
  • Offer a feeding.
  • Offer comforting.
  • If your baby has not calmed down, lay them down in a safe place, let them cry for 10-15 minutes to let off steam.
  • Pick up your baby; try to bring up a burp.
  • Let them have another cycle of letting off steam.


  • Swaddling: Wrap baby snugly in blanket or hold her close to your body with skin-to-skin contact.
  • Lay baby on her tummy across your knees; rub or pat her back.
  • Rock baby at 60 rocks per minute in an infant swing.
  • Walk with her tucked under your arm, with your hand under her tummy.
  • Hold baby so she can look around to see things.
  • Try giving her a bath in the evening.
  • Burp her well to get air out of her tummy.
  • Offer a pacifier or help her to find her thumb. Sucking helps relax her tummy.
  • Sing to her or play soft music. Sometimes a continuous sound such as a fan or radio tuned to static may help calm her.
  • Go for a ride in the car, putting her in a car seat.

Remember: If your baby cries excessively, see your doctor. He or she may have other ideas to help your baby.


Your newborn baby is equipped with a magnificent array of behaviors. He has all the skills needed to begin to discover and understand his new world. Your observation and understanding of these behaviors will enhance your enjoyment of these first few weeks. Understanding these behaviors will start you on the journey of a loving relationship with your baby.


Newborns seem to drift in and out of sleep with no order or sense to their daily pattern. Actually, there is a cycle of behavior in which your baby may exhibit six different states of consciousness: deep sleep, light sleep, drowsy, quiet alert, active alert and crying. By watching for your baby’s particular cycle you can predict his behavior and know whether he will be ready for feeding, sleeping or play. Understanding this can help you plan your day.

State #1 - DEEP SLEEP
Face relaxed and eyelids closed and still
Breathing is very regula
Body movements consist of startles or jerks

State #4 - QUIET ALERT
Eyes are open wide, bright and focused
State in which a newborn may have a prolonged period right after birth
Will look at your face and eyes
Very little motor activity
All energy seems to be used for seeing and hearing
Best time to interact and play with baby
May hiccup, yawn, sneeze or turn away to indicate “overload”

State #2 - LIGHT SLEEP
Eyes usually closed, but will flutter
Can see eyes move under lids
Occasional smooth body movements
Breathing is irregular
May make chewing or sucking movements
More vulnerable to the outside world

High motor activity
Eyes open/looks all around
Brief fussiness
Breathing is irregular
Kicking arms and legs
Spontaneous startles
May hiccup, yawn, sneeze or turn away to indicate “overload”

State #3 - DROWSY
May continue to have smooth movements
Eyes dull and unable to focus
Eyelids are droopy and fluttering

State #6 - CRYING
Infant’s communication - different cries for different needs
Eyes may be open or tightly closed
Face contorted and red
Arms and legs move vigorously
May change into a different state by changing position

The Newborn’s Five Senses


Can my baby see? Yes, at birth your baby’s eyesight is well developed. When you first lift your newborn to come face-to-face, his eyes will open and search your face, almost saying “Is it really you?” This is the beginning of a wonderfully special relationship.

What can my baby see?

  • Your baby can focus on objects 8” to 14” away from her (just about the distance between her eyes and your face as you hold or feed her).
  • Your face, more than any other object, holds a very special attraction for your baby. Babies enjoy exploring human faces. They usually scan the outline and then move to the eyes and mouth. Eyes are particularly stimulating!
  • Your baby enjoys objects with sharply defined outlines and bold contrasting colors. Examples of these are your face, picture books, and anything black and white.
  • Your baby is best able to focus when she is calm and alert. She can become “locked in” or hooked on what she is looking at and will stare at an object or face for periods of up to ten minutes.
  • Movement or change in her surroundings will also capture her attention. She is able to follow an object or face in an arc from one side of her body to another.
  • Another newborn reflex is tonic neck or “fencer’s pose.” When a baby’s head is turned to one side, the arm on the face side extends and the other arm flexes near the face in a fencing position. Take advantage of this reflex by propping brightly colored objects or images at baby’s side.


Newborns prefer human to non-human sounds. They also prefer high-pitched voices. Mothers and fathers instinctively raise the pitch of their voices when they talk to babies. You will find talking to your baby rewarding as he alerts and “tunes in” to your voice and face.

“Months before birth, babies’ ability to hear is already acute and well developed. They can distinguish between types of sound (for example, a buzzer or a bell), loudness and pitch, different voices, familiar and unfamiliar sounds, and they can even determine from which direction sound is coming.”

~ Marshall H. Klaus, M.D. and Phyllis H. Klaus, M.Ed., C.S.W., Your Amazing Newborn,1999.

Babies are comforted by rhythmic sounds. These sounds probably remind them of being in the womb and hearing the rhythm of their mothers’ heartbeat. Examples of rhythmic sounds are Mother Goose rhymes, music, a vacuum cleaner and a fan.


Touch is an important way for you and your baby to communicate. Skin-to-skin contact provides comfort, warmth and reassurance. He likes to be cuddled and will often nestle and mold to your body. Both you and your baby enjoy the experience of holding, stroking and rocking. One of the most comforting activities for your newborn is sucking on his fingers. As he develops, touch will be an important way to explore his world and initiate contact with you. Your baby also responds to other aspects of touch: different temperatures, texture, moisture, pressure and pain.


Newborns have a highly developed sense of smell. Your baby can distinguish between appealing (sweet) and unappealing (vinegar) odors. By the age of six days, a breast-fed infant can even recognize the smell of his mother’s nursing pad!


Taste is also highly developed in newborns. Your baby will show pleasure with sweetness and displeasure with slightly salty, acidic or bitter liquids.


Your baby is born with a set of automatic movements called reflexes. These are responses to specific stimuli. They have aided him in the birthing process and will be useful to him in the first weeks of life.

Moro - These “startles” consist of his throwing out his arms, arching his back, grimacing and then crying out. When there is nothing to grab or hold, or no one to hold the baby, each startle sets off more startles.

Rooting - This appears if you stroke a newborn on either side of this mouth. He will turn in the direction of the touch, searching for the breast or bottle with his mouth.

Grasping - A newborn’s hands are usually clenched in a fist. Once unfolded his fingers will grasp any small object placed high in the palm. The hold may last for a few seconds or possibly a few minutes.

Walking - While supporting the baby around the trunk in an upright position, place the newborn’s feet firmly on a flat surface and tilt his trunk forward to stimulate the stepping movements.

Incurvation - If you stroke along the side of the newborn’s spine while he is held by your hand under his belly, he flexes his whole body to the side that is stroked; when you switch to the other side, he flexes to that side.

Crawling - When the newborn is placed on his abdomen, he flexes his legs under him and starts to crawl, picking his head up to turn it and to free it from any obstruction of his airways.

Protective - Reflexes keep his airway clear. If your awake baby thinks his airway is obstructed, he will arch his head turning it from side to side. He will also bring one hand up and then the other, swiping across his face, to try and keep his airway clear.

Plantar grasp/Babinski - When pressing your thumb on the balls of the infant’s feet, his toes will give your thumb a “hug.” As you stroke the outer side of his sole, he spreads his toes out.

Why, oh why do babies cry?

"A crying child makes adults dissolve. Yet, all children cry, and at times they seem to need to cry…It is important to understand that crying is a universal, adaptive behavior and a baby's most effective form of communication."

~ T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., Touchpoints, 2006.

There is perhaps no more compelling sound in the entire world than the cry of a newborn. Parents are programmed to respond biochemically to their babies' cries, in a way that has ensured babies' survival since the beginning of the human race. Listening to a cry is disturbing. Parents will do almost anything to quiet it. Why, oh WHY do babies cry?

Experts offer numerous answers to that plaintive question, but the general consensus is that babies cry for many rea- sons. They cry because they are over-stimulated and need to blow off some steam. They cry because they are hun- gry. They cry because they are tired and need to expend some energy to settle to sleep. They cry because they are wet or because their bellies hurt. They cry because they are hot, and they cry because they are cold. Occasionally, they cry because they are ill. But mainly they cry because they have no other way to communicate their needs to you. Crying is a baby's most powerful means of communication. Nature provides that "healthy holler" to ensure that the needs of infants are met during that time in their lives when they must depend on others to fill those needs. THANK GOODNESS for the cry that lets parents know when a baby is in pain or in need of nourishment!

Research indicates that responding to a baby's cry will not lead to spoiling in the early months of life before he under- stands "cause and effect." In fact, responding to crying quickly is a way for parents to teach babies that their needs are important and that they can make things happen. Ignoring a cry teaches a baby that he is helpless to control his environment, and discourages learning.


Most babies, from about three weeks to twelve weeks of age, will have a period of fussy crying each day, often in the evening. During these crying sessions, you may notice that your baby's movements are jerky and that he thrusts his legs up and down. In the past, all such crying was assumed to be related to digestive difficulties.


It is true that during this intense crying, babies do swallow air during their gulping sobs. But for most babies, the cause of this crying seems to be more needing to "blow off steam." Parents who have charted their babies' crying have come to discover that these crying sessions seemed to organize the baby, helping him to sort out a better sleep session for the night or more awareness of his parents who are working so hard to help calm him.

Dr. Brazelton writes about colic: "I have come to believe that these difficult weeks serve a purpose. Not only does the end-of-the-day fussing seem to set up more regular patterns of sleeping, waking and feeding, but the baby also devel- ops a new awareness of parents who have worked so intently during this period to comfort him…The learning that takes place during this period may well be related to a new organization of the nervous system–end of the day fuss- ing has been the difficult but rewarding cost." ~ T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. Touchpoints, 2006.

What’s a parent to do?

Figuring out how to respond to crying is the parent's task. Keep these ideas in mind when your baby cries:

Your baby is probably not crying because you are doing anything wrong. His crying is a function of what is going on in HIS body rather than an indictment against YOUR parenting skills. A baby's fussiness is no one's "fault."

Learn to "read" your baby's crying. Is he screaming in pain, or fussing because he is over-stimulated? Very early in their babies' lives, parents usually learn to recognize about six distinct cries from their infant, communicating distinct needs. Try to notice a pattern to his crying, such as a time of day, to understand its meaning.

Change your baby's position or environment. If she has been in her crib, pick her up. If you have been holding her, lay her down. Sometimes, carrying a fussing baby outside will nip a crying jag. A short ride in the car has been known to quiet many fussy babies. Chanting nursery rhymes may help. Rocking a baby while chanting some sing-song poet- ry or humming a lullaby will frequently help a baby to quiet herself as she "tunes in" to the rhythm.

"White noise" such as a vacuum cleaner, running water or a washing machine will sometimes quiet a baby. The noise causes the baby to shut it out or "habituate" to it. An infant quiets and may even fall asleep in order to shut out the sound. It may move the baby to a sleep state, or the crying may start again when the noise stops.

You will soon discover what quiets your baby. Some like to be swaddled, while others can relax with a thumb or paci- fier. Try a gentle massage of her back or limbs. Use each crying session as an opportunity to learn more about your baby and what she is trying to communicate to you. You know your baby better than anyone else, and together, over time, you will figure out how to support her to spend as little time as possible crying.

Finally, if you have tried these things and you know your baby is not hungry, wet, cold, or in pain, lay him gently in his crib and go out of the room for a few minutes. Relax and breathe slowly. He may actually be further over-stimu- lated by your frantic efforts to quiet him. Remember that crying is a normal function of healthy babies and that your little one will be calm again soon.

A continually crying infant can prove mightily frustrating for a parent. If your baby's crying seems excessive, consult your doctor. She will have some helpful advice.


"Feeding requires a division of responsibility between parent and child. The parent is responsible for what the child is offered to eat, and the child is responsible for how much."

~ Ellyn Satter, How to Get Your Kid to Eat: But Not Too Much, 1987.

Before your baby was born, when you thought about feeding, you were probably deciding between breast and bot- tle. You probably talked to people to ask about their experiences, learned as much as you could about how to get started, and bought whatever supplies you would need to promote the method you chose.

Now that you have your baby, feeding takes on a whole new meaning. Feeding is the single best way for parents and children to get acquainted.

Probably during feeding more than at any other time, you and your baby are learning about each other. As you watch her struggle to latch on and get started, sucking furiously at first, and then settling into a calmer pattern, you gain insights about this little person who has joined your family. As you hold her near, you enjoy the softness of her skin and molding of her little body. You examine those tiny fingers as her hands relax after the feeding gets under- way. You enjoy the soft sounds of her nursing, and the smell of her sweet head.

And at the same time, she is learning so much about you! Your taste, your smell, and the feel of your arms are all communicating to her about who you are. After months of knowing you from the inside, she is coming to know you in a new way. She is learning that she can rely on you to fulfill her needs. You are becoming ever more the center of her universe.


  • Follow the baby's signals about what time to feed.
  • Feed promptly when the baby is hungry, before the baby becomes aroused from heavy crying.
  • Hold the baby so you can look at each other during feeding.
  • Hold the baby securely but not restrictively.
  • When using a bottle, hold it still at an appropriate angle; don't jiggle the bottle or the baby.
  • Be sure the nipple flows at an appropriate speed.
  • Stimulate the rooting reflex by touching the baby's cheek.
  • Touch the nipple to the baby's lips and let the baby open his or her mouth before feeding.
  • Let the baby decide how much to have, and at what tempo.
  • Let the baby pause, rest, socialize, and go back to eating.
  • Talk and smile, but don't overwhelm the baby with attention.
  • Burp only if the baby seems to need it; don't disrupt feeding with unnecessary burping and wiping.
  • Stop the feeding when the baby refuses the nipple or indicates satiety and lack of interest in eating by turning away, refusing to open the mouth, or arching the back.

"High quality feeding interactions during the first years of life tend to be positively linked to the child's subsequent cognitive and linguistic competence and to more secure attachments to major caregivers."

~ Barnard, Hammond, Booth, et al, Measurement and Meaning of Parent-Child Interaction, 1989.

So it becomes clear that feeding is really about much more than just food. Feeding sets up the opportunity for you to develop a relationship with your baby, and to teach him about social interaction and relating to others. How you relate to your baby during feedings provides him a pattern for communication.

"Feeding your baby involves more than simply ensuring good nutrition. You also nurture important social and developmental skills that will guide your baby for a lifetime."

~ DeLoian, More Than Just Eating, 2002


When your baby nurses at the bottle or breast, you probably notice that he settles into a rhythm: suck-suck-pause; suck-suck-pause. During these pauses, he is resting from the work of sucking and swallowing. But he is also wait- ing for you to respond to him in some way, either by a touch or a glance or a softly spoken word. Babies whose parents respond to them when they pause during feedings develop longer pauses as they look forward to the inter- action. Babies learn about taking turns and reciprocity from this give and take. They are really learning already about conversation from these very simple interactions around feeding.

A good night’s sleep?

Before you had children, you probably didn't think much about sleep. You slept when you were tired and you slept as little or as much as you wanted. When you became a parent, sleep took on a whole new meaning! You now think about how much your child sleeps because that will largely determine how much sleep you will get.

As new parents we often talk about how our babies are sleeping. We often misuse sleep as a measuring tool to characterize our babies as "good" or "bad" babies. A parent may say, "He's such a good baby, I even have to wake him for feedings." Or, "She keeps waking me all night. She is a bad baby." It is easy to see how your baby's sleep patterns could influence how you relate to your child.

Is it possible to have children and get a good night's sleep? YES! You can have an effect on your child's sleeping pattern at any age.

AND WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT SLEEP? Everyone needs sleep. Sleep restores our bodies and minds for normal functioning during the day.

Everyone cycles in a sleep-wake rhythmic pattern. Even before birth, your baby was cycling between sleeping and wakeful states. These states were probably close to the opposite of your sleep-wake pattern. Your baby found com- fort in your movements and slept during your activities. When you sat down or lay down, the movements stopped and she spent time being awake and active.

Everyone also has a cycle within his/her sleeping pattern. Sleep includes cycling between deep sleep (non-REM) and light sleep (REM). This cycle will happen several times during a long stretch of sleep.

A daily schedule will help your baby organize his sleep. It usually takes a minimum of 6-10 weeks for him to devel- op a good twenty-four-hour schedule. You will want to follow your baby's cues as a newborn. He will let you know when he is hungry, tired or ready for play. Not every cry means he is hungry.

Over those first three months, you will observe your baby's periods of waking, activity, feeding and sleep. You may even begin to anticipate his needs and know when to play with him, feed him, or put him down to sleep. Although you can NOT tie your child's activities to a clock, you can encourage him to eat and sleep at reasonable and consistent times during the day. If the times of his feedings, play, bath and other activities are constantly changing, chances are that his sleep rhythm will be irregular as well..

Everyone learns to associate certain conditions with falling asleep. We are all accustomed to certain conditions that offer us comfort and enable us to relax and fall asleep. For adults, it may mean the same side of the bed, the same pillow, watching TV or reading. For babies, it may mean rocking, sucking their thumb or sucking the breast or a bottle. For toddlers, it may mean lying in a certain crib, sensing a nightlight, being sung to or cuddling the same stuffed toy. The same bedtime routine will help encourage this self-comforting.

All of us cycle between deep sleep and light sleep several times each night. During these periods of light sleep, awakenings may take place. If the sleeping conditions we need for comfort are the same when we awaken, we are able to go back to sleep. If the conditions have changed (the bottle is gone, no more rocking, etc.), it will be difficult to go back to sleep.

It will be very important to your baby's sleeping pattern to encourage him to find a self-comforting pattern. Here are some of the ways in which a baby may comfort himself:

  • Thumb sucking/pacifier
  • Rooting around in bed
  • Rocking his head
  • Having the same blanket or soft toy
  • Nestling into the same corner of the bed

To encourage self-comforting try this routine: After feeding and soothing your baby, put him to bed quiet but not yet asleep. You can sit beside him to hum and pat him gently as he scrambles to find his pattern of self-comforting. This will help him in the middle of the night as he goes from deep sleep to light sleep and begins to wake up.


It may seem like you are always trying to get your newborn to sleep. She actually sleeps a majority of the time in the first few weeks. It may not be exactly on your schedule. She may seem to drift in and out of sleep with no order or sense to her daily pattern. While your baby is sleeping, she will cycle between deep sleep and light sleep several times.


  • Face relaxed and eyelids closed and still
  • No body movements/Breathing is very regular
  • Body in curled-up position
  • Unreachable by outside stimuli
  • Half of baby's sleep is in this state
  • Deep sleep and light sleep are alternated every 30-45 minutes


  • Eyes usually closed, but will flutter
  • Can see eyes move under lids
  • Occasional body movements/Breathing is irregular
  • Often makes funny faces (grimace, smile, frown)
  • May make chewing or sucking movements
  • More vulnerable to the outside world
  • May be roused to awaken sleepily and fussily or struggle to sink into deep sleep

"If your baby is sleeping six hours at a time during the day but is awake much of the night and if this pattern persists beyond the early weeks, then begin waking him earlier and earlier from the long sleep period so that he will start to treat this as a nap and move the longer sleep segment into the nighttime hours. Remember, in the early weeks you are for the most part following your child's cues, but it becomes increasingly more important for you to provide consistent structure for him. You can have an impact on his developing sleep pattern."

~ Dr. Richard Ferber, Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, 2006.

Learning To Trust Self and Others

Self-esteem begins when a parent holds her baby in her arms, looks her baby in the eyes, and calls that baby by name. This lets her know she is SOMEBODY. Gradually, as her needs are met–people respond to her cries and keep her safe and warm–she begins to understand that she is important.

Babies learn to trust themselves and trust others through experiencing a cycle repeated several times each day. First there is a need, such as hunger. Next there is frustration, such as crying. Third there is gratification or relief, such as being fed. These three stages result in trust. The child comes to believe in his own ability to get his needs met, and to have confidence in those who meet them.

Incredibly, at about the age of only seven months, every baby already expects success or failure when faced with a new task. Two systems–his own achievements (internal) combined with response from people around him (external)–lead him to this expectation.

Babies are excited each time they master a new task: rolling over, grasping a cracker, stacking blocks. These experiences form the basis of self-esteem. When a parent encourages and acknowledges the baby in these tasks, it reinforces this growing sense of competence. Babies demonstrate a growing confidence for accomplishment through trial and error. Parents who allow their children to try and fail give them the freedom they need to develop an expectation of eventual success. Without this combination of freedom and encouragement, some babies develop an expectation of passive compliance or even failure.

Many parents love their babies so much that they want to prevent them from ever experiencing frustration. However, some frustration compels a child to learn, as long as it doesn't overwhelm him.

When a baby is playing with a simple puzzle, parents must learn to sit back and watch as the baby struggles to fit pieces in, turning them, dropping them and trying again. He may struggle for some time with a piece–mouthing it, dropping it–and then finally he takes a chance again and this time he gets the piece in right. He looks around triumphantly to make sure you noticed, and you acknowledge that he got the piece in all by himself.

If you had stepped in earlier, you would have minimized his accomplishment. This time in the trust cycle, the need is his desire to get the piece in the puzzle. Second, the frustration is in his inability to get the piece in and his frustrated behavior as he tries. Third, the gratification or relief comes when he gets the piece to fit. And the trust he experiences at that point is trust in himself and his own abilities: a gift that only he can give himself with the support of a loving adult.

From infancy on, allowing children to do as much for themselves as they are able to do fosters their sense of self-confidence. Even when tasks take longer because the child is less competent than you are, it is important to give her the opportunity to try.

"You are not spoiling her by waiting for her to manage on her own. You are giving this new human being the room she needs to grow."

~ Maureen O’Brien, Ph.D., Watch Me Grow: I’m One-Two-Three; A Parent’s Essential Guide to the Extraordinary Toddler to Preschool

No amount of love from their parents can do as much for our children as their own sense of accomplishment. Your affirmation is powerful because it combines with the feeling of satisfaction this task has given him. Letting a child struggle a bit and become frustrated is a critical part of his recognition of his own success when it comes. There is no short cut to learning trust.


Parents can encourage their child's self-confidence by simply providing him with an environment that allows him to practice trial, error, frustration, success and achievement again and again. Here are some specific ways to do this from Touchpoints by T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. (2006).


One-four months: Lean over the baby to elicit his smiles and vocalizations. As he smiles, you smile. But wait, then, for his next smile or vocalization. When he produces it, then reinforce it with a gentle imitation. As he repeats it over and over, watch his face for recognition of his achievements in producing these behaviors. Don't overwhelm him.

Four-Six months: As you lean over him, vocalize gently. Wait for him to try to imitate you. When he does repeat it, let your face express your realization of what he's done.

Six-Eight months: Peek-a-boo in a way that will elicit his imitation of your play. Then follow his behavior, don't lead.

Eight-Ten months: Use a cloth to play peek-a-boo. Put it on his face, and then let him take over.


Five-Eight months: Let him hold a spoon or cup when you feed him.

Eight months: Let him begin to pick up two or three small bits of food to feed himself. Don't worry if he drops them.

Ten months: Let him imitate you with a few sips in a cup and with a spoon. Let him choose his own finger foods, giving him only a few bits at a time.

12 months: Let him continue to feed himself finger food, hold his own bottle (while you hold him!), and imitate with a cup.

16 months: Let him use a fork to spear his food. Let him decide whether he wants to eat or not, but don't try out a hundred things to try to please him.

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