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Connected Baby

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Surely, everyone has seen a funny photo somewhere in the lines of “like father, like son”  ( or mother/daughter) , you may even have one yourself, where you and your little one got captured sporting  nearly identical facial expressions. We laugh,  “like/like” quote comes to mind. “Strong genes!” - you most likely thought, or “an accident”. But is it really? If it were , in fact, strong genes, or an accident, then why that very same thing happens to those babies and children that are adopted?

The answer lays in studies that were released by Suzanne Zeedyk, PhD, and confirmed by several others that followed up on the question.

Earlier this week The Bump has published an article about the importance of a parent-facing stroller and its effect on the child’s speech development , a study also conducted by Zeedyk in 2008 ( and we talked about the importance of the very issue here as well) The result of the study was clear:

“The take home message of the study was that it does. We found that simply turning the buggy around doubles the amount of conversation that babies experience.” ( S.Zeedyk , PhD)

And if there would have been a doubt placed into just one single study, another one performed in New Zealand has just replicated those findings:

“First, the amount of conversation observed to be occurring within parent-child pairs, out walking in public spaces, was very low. Blaiklock’s observations showed that they were even lower in New Zealand (5%) than in the UK (22%). Second, conversations were more likely to be going on when strollers faced toward the pusher (8%) than when the stroller faced away (.5%). Finally, outward-facing strollers are by far the most common model, even for infants estimated to be below the age of 1 year (68% vs. 12% of observations where a stroller was being used as transport, the remainder of his observations comprised of supermarket trolleys (3%) and infants being carried (17%)). Blaiklock concluded: “It is possible that parents may not always be aware of the value of making use of the one-to-one interaction opportunities that occur when accompanying children in prams.”

That , however, is not the only thing that Suzanne Zeedyk is actively trying to tell the parents.

In the video below Suzanne talks about the importance of connection with the baby. She mentions that the baby looks up to the parent to see WHAT the reaction should be to a certain situation. The baby doesn’t know what to think and it is the parenting figure , a person that the baby is seeing in front of them , is their guide to an entirely new world of emotions and expression.

 

 

If any doubts are to arise in your mind, take a look at these pictures. Something that I found on my phone which was in possession of my 10 year old then. None of the pictures are posed. As a matter of fact, I didn't even know about their existence until a week or so later, but they popped into my mind as I was reading the article written by Suzanne.

 

 

You can undeniably see that mine and baby's facial expressions are corresponding, while neither one of us are doing so consciously. And funny as the last picture is, it too relates to the topic: the figure of copying - the mom ( or me) in this case - was occupied and away. And the baby proceeded with the same too. Think of how many more "mini-me" experiences can pop to your mind now, even if they didn't before. And the term "mini-me" of  itself now takes a new meaning on, doesn't it?

Imagine now , what happens if the baby’s word is limited to - what we as parents may think is better. “The outside! The new things! The fun things - wouldn’t it be so much better, then staring at the same face every day, every minute and every hour?” - may be the parents’ thoughts, but they are definitely not what babies think, according to Zeedyk:

“ The stroller years are precisely those when human brains are developing more rapidly than they ever will again. Young brains are being shaped by every single tiny experience that a child has. If outward-facing buggies significantly decrease the amount of chat that a baby gets to have, that will inevitably be impacting on language development. If the world that the baby is looking out to is alarming, because it is full of loud traffic, shopping bags, and random adults’ knees, then the baby might end up a bit anxious. It’s understandably easy for busy parents to overlook that anxiety or the opportunity for chatter when they are feeling hassled, trying to negotiate all that traffic, and they can’t hear the baby or see his/her facial expressions.”

continuing on: ” …every minute of a baby’s experience is having an impact on their brain development. This includes the time that we adults think of as ‘in between’ time. While we may think of the time in the buggy as ‘just nipping into the shops before we get home’, the baby doesn’t know that. The time in the buggy is as ‘real’ for him or her as any other time.

Babies especially need attention and comforting when they are feeling uncomfortable and at risk of being overwhelmed. It is in these moments that they most need reassurance, which comes through the responsiveness of someone they trust. It is through relationships that babies learn how to deal with their discomfort and anxiety. Having a buggy that faces away, especially probably during the first year, makes it more difficult to let your mum or dad know that you are needing them. The more time that babies have to spend in anxiety, the more their brain comes to expect anxiety, and thus goes on to actually create it.”

It is also worth noting, that not only parents and manufactures are the ones who expressed interest in learning about the importance of the strollers. The same did the UK  National Literacy Trust - who commissioned the research, and the Sutton Trust, who funded it. Why would two such large and seemingly unrelated organizations would show interest in the strollers? - a question Suzanne Zeedyk mentioned in the article on her blog , with the answer to follow: they had teachers behind them. The very witnesses of the children’s steady decrease in children’s linguistic abilities upon starting school, and the thought of whether the contemporary designs of the strollers that face outward rather then inward, toward the adult , might be a possible contributor as well.

Studies sometime sound so official and so dry. What does it really mean when we read:

“Of the nearly 3000 observations that volunteers made of parent-child pairs, talking was observed in only 22% of those observations. Talking was twice as likely to be happening when children were being carried or walking (more than 40%) than when they were in strollers (less than 20%)” ?

That that really means is that your every day changes. You life changes. Your baby’s smile arrives on the morning and stays there for quite a long time. Suzanne shared an experience on her blog :

“I remember in particular one of the mothers who took part in that 2008 study. Like all the participating parents, we had invited her to take her baby out for a walk in a stroller that we’d provided, which faced either outward or inward. Half way along, myself or one of my students met the parents and helped them switch to a stroller that faced the other direction. This mum came back from that walk saying, “I had no idea how much of a difference the direction of a stroller would make. We had such a good time when she faced me. I am off right now to buy a new stroller.” And she did! I wanted to send a request to Mothercare for a commission on the sale they had just made because of my research study.”

I know the feelings of both. I felt this mother’s disbelief and happiness when I placed my first baby for the first time in an inward facing stroller, who then was 9 months old, and whose stroller we had to ship from Europe, because nothing was available on the US market at the time. And I experience Suzanne’s feelings every morning when I open my instagram to see dozens of comment flags pop up from happy owners of Stokke strollers,  or emails from followers and readers that express just that - the awe and joy to see how much the baby appreciates the new, parent facing stroller and the great positive changes this fact along brings with it.

And then I get my own boost of happiness when I see the smiling face staring at me just at a kissable distance from the beautiful Connection Line of strollers that Stokke created with my - and yours - child in mind. For the benefit of us all, but centered on the one that matters most: 

the baby.