It should come as a relief to stressed and exhausted parents that “good enough” is, well, actually good enough when it comes to parenting. A recent study done at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania indicates that responding to your baby’s cries at least 50 percent of the time is enough to promote infant attachment.
The research explored the “secure base” concept—the idea that infants need to know that they have an adult who cares for them consistently, in order to have a base from which they can learn and explore. This secure base of attachment is super important for babies’ development. It’s linked to better school readiness as well as fewer mental health issues later in life.
The bar to achieve secure attachment might not be as high as we once thought.
The study found that to achieve that crucial secure base, the caregiver needs to soothe a distressed baby at least half of the time. As lead researcher Dr. Susan Woodhouse told The Globe and Mail, “It turns out that babies are pretty forgiving, and that there’s a lot that you can get wrong and still have a secure baby.”
In the study report from Lehigh, Dr. Woodhouse says, “What we found was that what really matters is not really so much that moment-to-moment matching between what the baby’s cue is and how the parent responds. What really matters is in the end, does the parent get the job done—both when a baby needs to connect, and when a baby needs to explore?”
In other words, parents shouldn’t worry about orchestrating their kids’ lives to be perfect—like today’s all-too-common helicopter parenting style. Instead, if parents simply respond at least half of the time to meet babies’ basic needs such as food, sleep, and cuddles, while also recognizing babies’ needs for space to figure things out on their own, their child will still feel attached and secure.
Adding this study to the wealth of other parenting studies, The Swaddle, an online news source specializing in gender and cultural reporting, summarizes that “children who are securely attached to their caregivers may show distress upon separation, but are able to compose themselves because they trust the caregiver will return. This style of attachment sets up children for healthy relationships throughout their lives.”
File this research away to remember next time you’re just too tired and overwhelmed to tend to your kid’s whimpers. You can’t come every time your child wants something—and it turns out that’s actually a good thing.