Sensitive Mothering

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SENSITIVE MOTHERING IS ESSENTIAL TO THE SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE CHILD. DISCUSS THIS STATEMENT IN THE CONTEXT OF RELEVANT DEVELOPMENTAL THEORY In this essay I will explain that sensitive mothering is essential to the social and emotional development of the child and I will discuss this statement in the context of relevant developmental theory.

'Sensitive mothering' is defined by Ainsworth (Brandon et al., 1999), as the interaction style between the mother or primary caregiver and the baby. It involves the ability to understand the baby's emotions and cues, creating a synchronised and attuned relationship where the baby learns to regulate her/his emotions and behaviour.

When babies are born they do not talk, they need to use other signals to communicate their needs. They smile, seek eye contact, reach, grasp, babble, cry.... If caregivers are sensitive to this signals they become more involved with the infant. Babies love to imitate adults faces and enjoy listening to the human voice. Infants are pro social beings who love to interact with adults (Davenport, 1994).

New born babies have some incomplete systems of body function and behaviour which will only develop through social interaction (Gerhardt, 2004). Baby's emotions start at a basic level, they feel contentment or distress comfort or discomfort and they rely on their primary caregiver to manage their states. A sensitive mother reads the infant emotional signals and helps her/him to calm her/his distress and recover a feeling of comfort. If someone does it for them they develop the ability to do it for themselves when they grow up.

Depending on the caregiver response to the infant states, patterns start to appear and 'internal working models' (Bolwy, 1988) emerge. The 'internal working model' gives an understanding of the self, other people and relationships. It is the infant's mental representation “of their own worthiness based on other people availability and their ability and willingness to provide care and protection” (Brandon et al, 1999, pg21). It forms during the first months and years of life as children experience the behaviour and feelings of their main caregiver. Children's personalities begin to acquire a regular enduring quality, they begin to expect certain things of themselves and others.

When the caregiver is sensitive, responsive and fulfils the baby's need for comfort, warmth and regulation the infants develop an 'internal working model' that view themselves as lovable and worthy of care. They see other people as available and supportive and can value others and cooperate. They develop a sense of trust that they will be safe and cared for, they are willing to explore the world because their caregiver is a secure base that will be there in case they need support.

But in the opposite situation if parents are insensitive, rejecting, interfering or emotionally unavailable the infant will develop a poor sense of self. They will experience other people as unpredictable and unreliable. They lack a secure foundation to support their explorations.

The most relevant theory in the field of emotional and social development is the 'attachment theory' devised by John Bolwy (1988). 'Attachment' is the emotional bond that develops between the caregiver and the infant during the first year of life providing emotional security and protection. He believed that children who had been separated from their primary caregiver or suffered emotional neglect where likely to suffer behavioural and emotional problems (Davenport, 1994).

Growth of attachment in babies is gradual (Deacon, 2007), they show attachment to the person who shows them affection and interacts with them, not to those who attend purely their physical needs, although it is usually the same person. Between three and six months the infant starts showing preference for their caregiver, the interaction with the mother is increasingly attuned and the baby is able to read...
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