A bit of theory


Bonding and attachment develop between a child and the primary caregiver, usually the parent. Bonding is an attachment that grows over time, through shared experiences that translate into love and trust. A child with secure attachment rallies to a trusted individual when he encounters a new or uncomfortable situation, feels safe in exploring his environment regardless of stressful elements, and exhibits better control of his emotions in times of pain, anxiety, or illness.

Did you know…

Bonding develops early on.

  • For the parent:
    • At the first ultrasound, parents can see the fetus move and hear the baby’s heartbeat. The existence of their new little one becomes very real. Parents begin to envisage life with the latest addition to the family.
    • Starting around the fourth month, the mother can feel the baby flutter, move, and kick. Parents touch the baby bump with their hand to feel it…. Exciting times.
  • For the fetus:
    • In the first few weeks of pregnancy, the fetus starts to develop the senses of touch, taste, and smell. The various flavours in the mother’s diet filter through to the amniotic fluid.
    • At some point, the fetus can perceive sounds from inside the mother’s body, and later, can hear her voice.
    • The fetus lies within a sensory capsule. Stimuli from the outside world permeate through, carrying information about the mother, her surroundings, activities and sounds of daily life, and, yes, even cultural background.

At Birth

Babies are born with a repertoire of behaviours allowing them to elicit their mother’s attention and keep her close by. Babies signal their needs by gazing, making sounds, crying, grasping. After birth, as time goes by, babies refine these skills and learn others.

Birth to age 3 months

This is the pre-attachment phase. Babies like to interact. They learn to smile and coo. They may grasp a finger or a toy held onto their hand. Young infants turn toward people, but cannot necessarily tell one apart from another. They signal their needs by crying and looking around for someone. This is the way they attract the attention of a potential caregiver, without preference as to whom. In the first three months, they begin to track, grasp, smile, babble, and snuggle up during exchanges, engaging the caregiver with their continued charm to stay close by. These behaviours form the basis of social interaction and favour attachment.

  •  Express discomfort by crying or fussing
  • Turn in the direction of voices
  • See objects at a distance of 12″ or less
  • Look at faces and make eye contact
  • Enjoy physical closeness – in fact, touch helps babies calm down
  • Recognize the mother’s smell – indeed, prefers it to that of a stranger
  • Smile at a particular individual, starting at age 2 months


Age 3-6 months

The next phase is “attachment in the making”. Babies gradually learn to differentiate familiar from non-familiar faces, voices, and communication styles. They continue to respond to regular caregivers, but start to exhibit a distinct preference for one or both parents. They show expectations of certain reactions in response to certain cues.

  • Smile more readily at familiar individuals than others
  • Recognize a familiar voice and turn head in that direction
  • Find ways to self-soothe and calm down
  • Gaze at faces and be fascinated by facial expressions
  • Communicate emotions with simple facial expressions
  • Babble



Age 6 months to 2 years

This is the clear-cut attachment phase. Behaviours become more sophisticated and directed toward a particular individual, most often the mother or father. The child knows that you can be depended upon at all times and feels safe to explore. The special bond between the child and parent becomes obvious. Spontaneous and friendly responses toward others diminish; strangers are regarded with caution. Babies and toddlers may also make substitute attachments, favouring a particular doll or carrying around a blankie. The child may show separation anxiety if you leave the room. When you’re not around, the child may become somewhat fearful and hesitant to explore. Also, once mobile, very young children often cling to the attachment figure and follow that person everywhere.

2015_08_14_22WHAT BABY CAN DO … 6-12 MONTHS
  • Copy, mimic, imitate
  • Use sounds to express needs
  • Engage briefly with other children
  • Play alone when parents are nearby
  • Express feelings such as anger, joy, sadness, and anxiety
  • Seek affection and physical contact from parent – such as reaching arms out
  • Have a favourite object for comfort • Express likes and dislikes
  • Show preference for social activities like listening to songs, waving bye-bye
  • Become more and more independent


2015_08_14_17WHAT BABY CAN DO … 12-18 MONTHS
  • Recognize self in mirror
  • Give hugs and kisses
  • Do things alone; sometimes defy commands
  • Say a few words
  • Explore more and more
  • Share toys with parents
  • Respond to facial expressions
  • In a novel situation, look at parents to see their reaction and adjust own behaviour accordingly



motriciteglobale_chariotWHAT TODDLER CAN DO … 18-24 MONTHS
  • Express a wide range of feelings – fear, anxiety, joy, empathy
  • Say “No”
  • Play alongside other children and mimic parents’ behaviours – play pretend games
  • Laugh when someone does something funny



Good to know…

The father plays an important part in the child’s life, as much so as the mother. The father’s active involvement in child care contributes to a stable environment and provides an additional layer of social interaction. Sensitivity and appropriate responses from the father help shape child development. Interactions with Daddy are different from those with Mommy. Fathers tend to play physical games. Children pick up on these activities as well. Through their differences, the father’s and mother’s behaviours complement each other and add to the child’s realm of experiences.

Your role as parent is to protect the child from dangers to physical and psychological well-being and development. As a parent, you are the one who best understands your child, who knows his individual needs and preferences and how best to respond. As the child grows and develops new skills, your role evolves to allow him the freedom and space that will foster further growth and independence.


Temperament is the way an individual reacts and interacts in various situations. It’s one aspect of personality. A baby is born with his own particular temperament. Temperament influences the baby’s interactions with the surrounding environment, first and foremost with the parents. In fact, the baby’s temperament will help define bonding and attachment in infancy and early childhood. It is also a window into the adult that the baby will ultimately become.

Three types of temperament

Easy. The child is generally in a good mood. Activity level varies. The child adapts readily to new situations and is easily approachable. Reactions are mild to moderate in intensity.

Slow-to-warm up. The child’s activity level is low to moderate. It takes him a while to adapt to new situations. The child sometimes withdraws on first encounter. Reactions to environmental stimuli are mild.

Difficult. The child has strong reactions to environmental stimuli. Activity levels vary. The child has a tendency to retreat when approached.

Because attachment develops from continued interaction with your child, it’s worth exploring your child’s primary occupation, play.


To play is to have fun!

Remember the games you played as a kid? What were your most cherished childhood memories? Just for fun, perhaps see if you can recreate some of these experiences for your child. Think of activities that are fun, engaging, and age-appropriate. Be creative, stir in some new ideas as well. Bonding is easiest when you feel good and enjoy the time you spend with baby. In essence, all aspects of daily routine (feeding time, bathtime, diaper changes) can be playful. Just take that special time to share a little bit of fun together!

Play impacts on all areas of child development. It is the all-encompassing activity that occupies most of your baby’s waking time. It helps develop fine and gross motor skills and perceptual abilities. In play, babies handle objects of all shapes, sizes, and textures. They look, listen, touch, bring objects to the mouth and taste them. This is the way they learn about their surroundings. Playing in different positions opens new vistas and encourages movement, developing the strength and endurance to move on to the next stage of mobility development. Through play, children also learn social skills – copying others, sharing toys, understanding others, making oneself understood, taking turns. In pretend games, children pick up clues about the world around them, how to do things, what motivates others to act the way they do. Playing is when young children discover all they can accomplish and practice new skills (like sitting and walking) until they get it just right.

For optimal child development, play is best left unstructured. Children are then free to choose whichever activity suits their fancy at any particular time, without expectations of goals and performances. It’s done just for the fun of it! Through play, young children naturally perfect skills and abilities and accomplish whichever goals they have set for themselves (e.g. empty all the toys from the container or go through the pages of a book). Children are justifiably proud of what they’ve done. Through play and exploration, they acquire expertise and experience and rise to ever-increasing challenges… and learn.

Stages of play

The type of play children engage in varies according to age, developmental level, gender, personality, temperament, and life experience.

Observation play/Solitary play
(0 to 2 years)
Babies watch others and mimic.
Parallel play
(2 years and up)
Toddlers play side by side, with similar toys but no sharing. They are very active and tolerate each other’s presence, without really interacting.
Associative play
(3 years)
Toddlers play and interact with each other, sharing toys but no common purpose. Each still has own agenda.
Cooperative play
(4 to 5 years)
Children play in groups, cooperating with each other. They assign roles and scripts for pretend play.
Competitive play
(6 years)
School children are competitive, constantly checking how they measure up to self and others. They engage in group efforts to reach predetermined goals.
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