Family Matters: Baby love can lead to a fine future

Michelle Buckley with one of the toddlers
Michelle Buckley with one of the toddlers
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Here are Michelle’s simple ideas:

How can what you do in the first 12 months affect the rest of your life?

Homestart's Karen Minors, right with a mother and her child

Homestart's Karen Minors, right with a mother and her child

Well according to the experts it sets out relationship patterns, expectations for life and self image as well as affecting the development of brain systems responsible for healthy emotional, social and cognitive development.

For many over-tired new mums that sounds like a huge task but the good news is taking action is really simple and a lot of it comes naturally.

Michelle Buckley works for Home-Start Sheffield and she believes it is vital for parents to realise the impact they have from the very first day.

“Lots of research shows that babies have this window of opportunity for their brains to develop so it is important that they are stimulated from 0 to 3,” Michelle explained.

“I didn’t realise how important those first weeks of life are. If the baby knows that the person who looks after them will take care of your needs it makes them more secure.

“If nobody has taken any notice of you, it is amazing the impact it has on you. You need somebody who is there to stimulate you and give you that information.

“The interaction we have with our mothers affects absolutely everything.”

Simple activities can make a big difference such as hiding objects inside pieces of paper for youngsters to find and putting up mobiles for them to look at.

Michelle believes investing time in those first years can help them have better relationships with others as they get older as well as helping them at school.

Put technically, babies who don’t thrive emotionally are likely to develop high levels of cortisol in their brain which develops symptoms of insecurity, anxiety and hyperactivity.

Those who grow up with a secure attachment to their parents are more likely to be confident and successful in their learning.

Michelle’s role at Home-Start includes overseeing the Baby’s First Year Programme, which is the only initiative of its kind in the country and originated in America.

It works on the theory that if you start working with mums before they give birth, the outcomes are better for the children later in life.

There are also chances to tackle pre-birth issues such as the importance of eating healthily during pregnancy.

The project targets young, vulnerable mums most in need of help but also offers support and guidance to anybody who wants it.

Some of the work takes places in family’s homes and each mum is linked to a volunteer who uses their own experiences to offer practical help.

There is a push on the baby’s development and brain development as the mums are introduced to ideas such as baby talk.

But there is also a dual aim of helping both the baby and the parents to develop together.

The team looks into how the mums were parented themselves and the vast majority who are referred to the course left home at the age of 15.

The discussions are all kept confidential so the mums know they have somebody to talk to in a bid to find the best way to bring up their own child.

Michelle says one of the most effective ways to get mums to change the way they interact with their own baby is to record them so they can watch it back.

“We video the mums with their babies and they watch it back. It is so powerful in getting mums to focus on the baby’s cues and needs,” she said.

“The purpose is for the mums to look at the baby and themselves and see what the babies likes and doesn’t like.

“One mum kept patting the baby and it was obvious the baby didn’t like it. It wasn’t appropriate for me to say that but she could see it for herself on the video.

“It can be difficult to watch but the whole idea is to learn from that and build on that.”

Home-Start works with those most in need but has great advice for all parents trying to do the best for their child.

“We encourage mums to talk and communicate with their babies. We explain how important it is to talk to your babies and not just sit them in front of the telly,” Michelle said.

“There was one mum who just wanted to tell somebody things about the baby, like the baby had smiled for the first time. It is a very simple thing but it made her day. Some of the mums just don’t have that kind of support.”

Tips For Stimulating Babies

Here are Michelle’s simple ideas:

Talk to them

Turn the TV off

Make a lot of face-to-face contact

Use many forms of facial expressions

Cuddle them and tell them you love them

Make eye contact

Don’t leave them to cry - go to them whenever you can

Make sure they know you are there