What sets human beings apart from other members of the animal kingdom is their power of mental functioning. It is strange therefore that the mental health and development of babies is not given the same attention as physical health and development. This is probably due to the fact that without physical life there is no mental life, and priority must be given to keeping babies alive at all. So child health programs emphasize breastfeeding, cleanliness, immunization and nutrition.
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However, as infant mortality rates decrease and we become more concerned about quality of life, more and more attention must be given to the mental development of the 12 out of 13 babies who survive infancy. Unfortunately, there is in some quarters a wrong assumption that the mental life of babies does not really start in any important way, except for language acquisition, until they are several years old. It is also assumed that the child’s mind and brain will develop normally during the normal activities of a household and physical child care.
There is growing evidence to show that the course of a child’s cognitive and social-emotional development is strongly predicted by the quality of the early mother-child interaction. Communication between mother and child is vital for the growth of any infant’s sense of security and confidence and is a base to the proper development of the brain. Right from the moment of birth babies are “programmed” to send out messages to their caretakers, messages which ensure a strong emotional attachment between mother and child.
Mothers are normally “programmed” to respond to these messages so that a communication between the two starts. For a variety of reasons, including excessive other demands on her time, or because of postnatal depression or domestic, even civil troubles, mothers may fail to get this communication going. So, just as some mothers need help in getting breastfeeding going and in maintaining it, so some mothers need help in getting a psychosocial communication process moving.
It has become more and more evident that this process in the early months of life has long-lasting effects on the child’s later development. Some experts believe that strong bonding between mother and child and more effective mediating behavior from the mother might be a solution to curbing juvenile delinquency, a problem which is assuming alarming proportions in today’s society. The needs of babies are greatest in disadvantaged and low socioeconomic situations.