As an infant, we were technically dependent on someone else. We were like living in a survival mode. Our relationship with our caregivers is the first one we experience and how our caregivers respond to our needs and how they manage it is key in our learning journey of regulation.
Most would think that infants are just mainly feeding, sleeping, pooping, peeing, and crying. That’s what it may look like but really they are bombarded with so much stimulation. They go from being so warm and safe in the womb, to being outside where there's bright lights and different sounds. Talking about infancy resilience is extremely important for parents to be able to help their kids develop some resilience during the infancy stage and start gaining these skills from the beginning.
Importance of Having a Self-Regulated Parent
Self-regulation is the act of being able to take care of yourself and comfort yourself and soothe yourself. This is something that is taught and something that we learn as we grow. Having a self-regulated parent or caregiver is extremely important in a child’s development as they are just mostly mirroring a lot of the feelings and energy they receive from the people around them. A baby who hasn’t had any experiences is needing to be taught how to self-regulate by their caregivers who can only properly do so if they are regulated themselves. Parents, especially during this stage, would need all the support they can get to stay regulated in order to co-regulate the baby.
Dr. Christine Rivera, a clinical psychologist specializing in children and family, emphasizes how a large part of the infancy stage is focused on the baby learning to self-regulate with all the stimulation that is coming at them. During this period, they are not really differentiating between adults a lot yet but they are really needing the comfort of a common adult to help them take in all of the these new feelings and experiences.
How you develop secure attachment could also be contributed to how your parents were able to handle or may have struggled with your crying. That whole aspect of the child being able to know that it is okay to cry and that the parent can be a container for them and can stay regulated. Down the road, you’ll be able to express your feelings because your parents or your caregiver was able to contain it and was there for you no matter what. One way of developing secure attachment is if your parents continuously are able to attune to you and meet your needs.
Staying self-regulated is a matter of figuring out what you need to do with that initial anxiety. Dr. Christine Rivera used to compare it to a picture of an airplane where you have to put on your own breathing mask before you put on your child's breathing mask. You need to regulate yourself before you can regulate your child. So we always want to be able to support ourselves or find that support if we're not currently.
Most Common Struggles during the Infancy Stage
- Transition to pregnancy, birth and having an infant. Pregnancy and birth is such a big transitional period for the family. When a woman becomes pregnant, there is this nesting stage where parents would prepare for the home and how they would be giving birth, or how they will be able to manage their jobs while taking care of the baby. There’s so many things coming at you that your thought process can be all over the place. This goes not only for the mom but also for the dads or the other partner where they are just also trying to figure out how this new system would work.
- Exhaustion. Almost always new parents is like, ‘I never thought I would be this exhausted’ or the first thing you hear is like, ‘I don't remember what sleep feels like.’
- Feeling of isolation. There are moms who are experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety after birth and not being able to share what they are going through makes it feel more isolating.
- Sense of guilt and shame around having those ‘not ideal’ feelings. This stage will not be the ‘best experience of your life’ at all times. It’s always going to be a combination of the good and the not-so-good kind of days. And that is okay, you can hold both.
- A lot of trauma is being triggered. When the baby is still in the womb, you feel that they are super safe and that you can absolutely protect them from anything outside. But once they're out in the world, it can feel really triggering and really different if you've had really traumatic experience.
From the infant’s perspective, not being understood may be one of the biggest struggles. They are trying to be regulated in their new environment with so much stimulation compared to what it was like in the womb, and yet they are not able say what they really want and what they really need. It would also greatly affect the infant if the parent is really anxious as the child is going to feel that energy. It will be struggling not only for the parents to stay calm but also for the child to communicate that they don’t need to be fed, or changed, just that they need a calm presence.
Read Part II of the blog HERE to get some techniques on how to stay regulated and manage your struggles during the infancy stage.
If you want to listen to this amazing episode with Dr. Christine Rivera, please visit https://www.thebeyondresiliencelife.com/blog/infancy-resilience.