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Building Blocks of Good Communication

Building Blocks for Good Communication

Building Blocks for Good Communication
Contingent Communication
Learning to communicate and listen empathetically (being attuned) is a vital part of forming a good attachment with your baby.

Studies show that a common element in healthy attachment is when a parent and child have a give and take way of communicating. This is called contingent communication. Parents teach respect by giving respect to their children. From the very beginning of life we can practice this kind of communication with our babies. When a baby smiles and coos and a parent responds in a like manner by smiling back and imitating baby, then pausing and waiting for the baby to respond again, the parent is teaching the baby, “I see you. I’m listening to you and I’ll give back to you a reflection of yourself that is valued so you can see and value yourself as well. I like you just the way you are.” (Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Mary Hartzell, M.E.d.: Parenting from the Inside Out)

In contingent communication, a parent gives respect to the act of listening. So often we don’t really listen to what is being communicated because we are busy thinking about our own feelings, or what it is that we want to do or say.
(Adapted from Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel J. Siegel, MD and Mary Hartzell, M.Ed.))

Tools for Good Communication:
1. Eye to eye contact: When a baby is born he focuses best on objects that are about 8 to 10 inches away. This is the perfect distance from his face to yours when being held in your arms. One of the first communications made between you and your baby is through eye contact. When nursing, don’t always be watching TV, talking to someone else, or planning your day. Be present and focused on your baby. Very young infants study their caregiver’s faces, focusing especially on the eyes.

2. Mirroring: As you make eye contact with your baby and study one another, you will begin to mirror your baby’s expressions and movements. Baby might yawn or tilt her head, and you might mirror these movements back to her. Repeat the sounds she makes while looking into her eyes. Babies will do this to us as well. We know that a basic mirror neuron system is present at birth. Newborns as young as 18 hours old are able to imitate certain facial movements. If you stick out your tongue, your newborn may copy you. The imitative ability that comes from mutual mirroring builds physical, social and cognitive skills.

3. Narrating: Tell your baby what you are doing to him; what he is looking at and/or doing. Name familiar objects as you touch them or bring them to baby. Talking to baby will not only strengthen your bond, but will help develop language skills as well. Mirror back your baby’s sounds, and ask him questions. Pause and wait for an answer.

4. Touch /Massage: Babies are very sensorial. Much of their learning at the beginning takes place through stimulating their senses. Giving your baby a daily massage is a wonderful way to calm and connect to your baby. Research shows that infant massage soothes your baby, and babies that are massaged tend to cry less, sleep more and get some relief from gas and colic. Touch and tickles are also very important for building body awareness. Research on skin to skin touching between parent and infant following birth shows that it contributes to better regulation of arousal, lower stress, more organized sleep-wake cycles, longer periods of restful sleep and overall calmness in young infants. This simply consists of holding your newborn to your chest or abdomen, with bare skin touching.

5. Be respectful when baby needs space. Sometimes babies aren't in the mood to talk or vocalize. Even babies need their space and a break from all the stimulation in the world. Your baby might turn away, close her eyes or become fussy or irritable. If this happens, let her be, or try silent cuddling.

Daily exercises to promote being attuned to your baby:
1. Take a few minutes everyday and try to imagine the world from your child's point of view, purposefully letting go of your own.

2. Be mindful of what your own expectations are for your baby. Are they realistic? Are they truly in your baby's best interest? Be aware of how you communicate those expectations to your baby.

3. If you feel lost or at a loss, remember to stand still, breathe, and listen carefully.

(Adapted from Everyday Blessings by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn)

Explore your childhood:
I encourage everyone to be introspective. Think about your childhood relationship with your own parents. What about your childhood did you like? What about your childhood would you have liked to be different? How did your parents communicate with you? Did you feel heard by them?

Book Recommendations:

Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting
By Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn

Parenting from the Inside Out: How A Deeper Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive
By Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. And Mary Hartzell, M.Ed.

By Jill Campbell, Psy.D.

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