Onward to Babyland, and a workshop led by Dr. Jean Kelly called “Promoting First Relationships,” also the name of the program she directs at the UW’s Department of Family and Child Nursing. The goal of the program – based on attachment theory and reflective parenting – is to help babies by helping their (highly stressed) parents relate to them.“Infant mental health is social and emotional health,” Kelly says. “Babies exist in the context of relationships. How a child thinks and feels about himself early on affects all other experiences.”
The couple dozen audience members are largely professionals who work with parents, and they are fully engaged as Kelly rolls videos of kids acting out or withdrawing in social situations.
A baby’s path to trust and security, Kelly says, must include the following from his caregiver every day:
- Love and attention
- Empathy and understanding, which “increases a child’s trust that he is understood.”
- Comfort when distressed – “This is compassion, which is empathy in action.”
- A predictable world – “In general, children need to have some sense of predictability or it gets to be stressful.”
- Play and exploration
Toddling can present new challenges for parents, Kelly says, as a child begins to move away from them to explore the world. “With highly stressed parents – and that is the group we usually work with – sometimes their stress has originated from loss and trauma,” Kelly says. “These parents can internalize their baby’s toddling away from them as rejection or another loss. It’s not a loss at all!”
Toddlers also love power, and parents can give them power in the form of choices, especially at play time, Kelly says.
Kelly shared several handouts that her program gives to parents; you can check them out on the program's Web site.