Young children begin to reciprocate the bonding process by turning to the voices they know (and love) the most. Already at the 16th week of intrauterine development, babies eavesdrop on mom, dad, brothers and sisters and everyone whom mom often sees nearby, even a domestic dog. For this reason, Michelle Ponti, a pediatrician in London, Ontario, says it’s important for parents to initiate the bonding process by chatting and reading to the baby in the womb. By the time of birth, babies are ready to turn to the voices they recognize. “They can’t talk, but they can communicate with their eyes.
They can squirm and move their heads from side to side,” explains Claire Watson, a Toronto-based registered psychotherapist. Babies are well documented to be ready to look for faces, and one recent study found that babies can perceive faces in the same way as adults by as little as four months of age. But most of all they want to study the faces of the main guardians. They do this to see if they can trust you, Watson says. “The baby is sending signals that he wants to bond, wants comfort, and wants an emotional response in return,” she says.
When you reciprocate and look back with love, it creates a love bond between you and your child. Anything they look into each other’s eyes helps them quickly learn to trust you and want to develop their relationship with you. If the parents or caregivers don’t reciprocate and look back at the child with emotion on their face, Watson says the infant doesn’t develop a sense of faith that their needs will be met. “Even if they are full, they need not only food, but also an emotional connection.”