Written by Summer Jones, ZERO TO THREE
Between birth and age 3, a child’s brain develops one million neural connections per second (Center on the Developing Child, 2007). These connections are built through repeated experiences with their caregivers. Babies are born wired for connection, instinctively drawing responses from their caregivers that help strengthen the bond between them (Sullivan et al., 2011). The building of this bond, or attachment, is a two-way street between baby and their caregivers as they both respond to each other’s cues and seek interaction with one another.
These early experiences and relationships set the foundation for all future health and well-being. The same daily experiences and routines of babies and toddlers that may feel mundane for the caregiver are the many opportunities to connect with and respond to the child through eye contact, touch, play, movement, singing, and even simply talking and snuggling.
Babies and young children need predictable, responsive caregivers to feel safe and secure. We would all agree that it feels better when we know what to expect and have a predictable routine. Infants, toddlers, and young children are no different. When they are responded to with predictable nurturing care and can anticipate what will happen next, they feel safe and secure and can more easily cope with stress and transitions.
ZERO TO THREE provides more information for learning more about the importance of routines and how they can make parenting feel easier.
Military families typically experience unique stressors and more transitions than civilians. Frequent moves, a caregiver deploying, and/or working an unpredictable schedule can feel overwhelming or stressful for the servicemember and their family. Babies feel this too. This is why it’s critical that military families understand that a strong bond between a child and caregiver can alleviate stress or make it more tolerable. Even when the servicemember is away, they can continue to strengthen attachment with their child and stay emotionally connected to them. For tips on staying connected, hear what servicemembers and at-home caregivers share about being separated on ZERO TO THREE’s Babies on the Homefront app.
When caregivers do struggle with their relationship with their baby or young child, whether it’s the service member or partner/spouse, you can support them in various ways, such as:
- Help them notice their emotional state
- Encourage and/or practice mindfulness with them to help them be emotionally present
- Wonder about the child’s behavior or feelings with them, such as, “I wonder how baby feels when you smile at him.”
- Celebrate specific actions or interactions between the caregiver and child, “She knew it was you the moment she heard your voice. That shows how important you are to her!”
- Help to maintain predictable routines even at times of change such as permanent change of station (PCS), deployment, and reintegration.
When caregivers receive the support they need to be predictable and responsive to their babies, they can build close connections and loving relationships while also protecting young children against the impacts of stress and the unpredictability of military life.
What is one way you can help a family you work with or your own family have more predictability in their routines?
More resources for military families with young children and professionals that support them can be found on ZERO TO THREE’s Military Family Project site.
Center on the Developing Child (2007). The Science of Early Childhood Development (InBrief). Retrieved from www.developingchild.harvard.edu.
Summer Jones is a Senior Writer and Training
Summer co-presented two webinars for OneOp around Navigating Parenthood and Military Life and Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders and Military Life.
Jason M. Jowers
Co-Principal Investigator, OneOp