Relationships are critical to our development. The brain needs connection to develop to its fullest emotional potential. The limbic brain, in charge of emotional development, needs environmental stimulation (that’s us parents) to function well. Good limbic functioning means successfully learning to connect with others and identify and regulate feelings. Research has found that extended eye contact affects blood pressure and heart rate, supporting that our brains crave connection.
The brain is primed to connect, so babies are born ready to make contact using their eyes, voice, and facial expressions. All the daily things you do with your baby over and over again stimulate your baby’s brain growth – smiling, talking, singing, holding them, and feeding them. The input comes in and encourages more growth of neuronal connections which develop the areas of the brain that help us to process feelings. This healthy brain development is what enables us later to have meaningful and fulfilling relationships.
Babies learn about relationships very early on, from their relationship with you, their parent. Babies need their parents to attune to whatever is going on for them and meet their need. How you respond in your interactions with you baby, creates associations that babies build on as they grow up. We internalize messages about how relationships work and about ourselves in relationship. For example, when I cry, mom picks me up and holds me, or when I cry, nothing happens. If I’m hungry someone feeds me, or if I’m hungry, I cry for a very long time. These are inscribed in the brain and will influence behaviour, expectations, perceptions, and, thus, how we show up in relationships. Now, it is impossible to respond all the time, right away, and in the perfect manner. Do your best to be a mindful parent, and learn from your mindless moments (Harville Hendrix & Helen LaKelly Hunt, Connected Parents, Thriving Kids).