Did you rush to comfort your baby as soon as he or she started crying? Did you cuddle your child even after he or she began to calm down? Were your eyes only on your kid at all times if you even suspected something might have been wrong? If that all sounds like you, you might have also been accused of being too sensitive to your child's needs, or even spoiling them too much with hugs and kisses.
But if that ever happened, you can rest easy knowing that science is on your side here. According to a new study published in <a target="blank" href="http://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fbul0000114">Psychological Bulletin_, the level of parental sensitivity is an important indicator of how healthy the infant-parent attachment will be. Researchers also found that the parent's ability to "mentalize" — stay attuned to their baby's thoughts and feelings — also plays a strong role in the security of the attachment between the parent and child. As you might imagine, this early attachment in life has a huge impact on kids as they get older.
"There are strong differences in the quality of attachment between children, and these differences have in turn shown to be extremely important for understanding differences in the development and mental health of people," said researcher Moniek Zeegers, PhD. "Children who feel securely attached are, among other things, better at regulating their emotions, have higher self-esteem, and exhibit less emotional and behavioral problems."
So what does it take to be a sensitive parent who successfully mentalizes? Researchers say that parents who are good at mentalization think consistently about the emotions, thoughts, needs, and preferences that could explain a baby's behavior.
"For instance, a mentalizing parent sees which toy the baby prefers or whether a baby becomes overstimulated because of a game like hide and seek, or when a baby is inquisitive about a cat walking past," said Dr. Zeegers.
If that all sounds like you as a parent, give yourself a pat on the back!
h/t Science Daily