Want Healthy Bonding With Your Baby? Change A Diaper
With the availability of household help (both extended family and paid) in India, we often raise multiple children without ever really diving into the messy, unpleasant chores that can define early childhood.
We’re talking about the care activities we think of as valueless busywork: the nappy changes, the bathing and massage, the food prep and provision, the laundry – virtually every task considered too administrative to be pleasurable. We hand them off to others, preferring to spend our time with our kids in a more worthwhile, memorable, enjoyable way.
Life without diapers sounds positively divine. But there is actually a clear and specific value to engaging in a daily dose of physical, bodily child care. For in passing off these quotidian chores to others, we’re missing out on an enormous amount of bonding with our babies. And it’s bonding of a type that is different – and in many ways deeper – than bonding with your baby through “fun time” alone.
Take diaper changes, for example, a task that has virtually no discernible benefit; most parents with the option to have someone else handle dirty diapers would jump at the opportunity. But studies have shown a benefit to diaper changes; something about the height of a changing surface, the proximity of the parent’s and baby’s faces, and the extended time for eye contact, physical touch, and uninterrupted communication strengthens the parent-child connection.
And keep in mind that because of the frequency with which babies (infants especially) need diaper changes, this is actually not an inconsequential amount of time in the earliest months. Nappy changes are one of the most repeated activities in a baby’s life, and therefore most deeply imprinted in his or her growing brain.
The same goes for feeding and bathing as well, from babyhood well into the toddler years. We often view these activities as chores, too, particularly because not all children enjoy them or make the tasks easy on caregivers.
But both meal time and bath time provide much the same function for children that they do for adults: They are times to recharge and relax, to interact socially, to exchange thoughts or stories from the day’s experiences (even if those thoughts are mere babble).
In short, they can be an important highlight in a daily routine. A parent who is available and engaged at these times is providing for a child social and intellectual stimulation, not to mention companionship, in precisely the most memorable and important parts of the day.
Another frequently-overlooked perspective, no less important than the bonding with your baby: In giving responsibility for our children’s hygiene and nutritional requirements to another, we are allowing someone else – possibly someone with little education and/or lower standards of health – to lay their foundation for lifelong hygiene habits and a relationship with food.
(We’ve heard from a few pediatric dentists who bemoan the fact that their patients’ teeth are ‘brushed’ by nannies, but never by parents, who frequently don’t even know the state of a child’s oral hygiene at the time of his or her first check up.)
Of course, no parent is at his best when his day is a series of chores, sprinkled with little fun interaction with his offspring. But with each of these seemingly inconsequential tasks, there is one over-arching benefit: Babies and toddlers develop a distinct attachment to people who provide life-sustaining support for them.
Call it a human survival instinct, but kids are programmed to respond to the adults who keep them alive. So, when it comes to building a relationship with a baby, whose only ability to recognize human connection is through being fed, bathed, and cleaned, there is inherent value in being one of the cherished few to do so for her. Play is crucial, but it’s a relatively small part of a baby’s daily experience.
Of course, it’s possible to establish a good bond with your baby without getting your hands dirty, so to speak. But even the most well-meaning and attentive parents would find it difficult to consciously touch, make eye contact and communicate with their baby with the same frequency and intimacy these tasks of care entail.
It’s easy to forget what proportion of a young child’s time, routine, and memory is engaged in these seemingly innocuous activities. Because they don’t seem fun – like playing or reading together – the bonding value of these chores is sharply underestimated.
But the effects can be consequential. Healthy attachment – fostered in the tiny, headache-y, sometimes disgusting daily chores of parenthood – has been shown to impact future development immensely .
The next time a diaper change is in order, remember that your time might be better spent at the changing table than picking out the latest toy.