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BONDING THROUGH SENSORY PLAY

By: Hudi Schweky



Within the first 24 hours after a baby is born a beautiful bond takes place between mother and child. This bond occurs through skin-to-skin contact, which is touch input and eye contact. The eye contact occurs as the mother is holding the baby in her arms and lovingly admiring his tiny little features. It is widely debated as to how much vision is available to babies 0-1 days old. However, recent studies have proven that babies can visually attend to their mother from 8-12 inches away. The touch input occurswhen mothers naturally caress the baby, rub his tiny hands and feet, and stroke his cheeks. Hashem ingeniously gave new mothers this natural motherly instinct, designed to secure the bond between mother and child.

Other animals, such as reptiles, do not need to be nurtured by their parents in order to thrive. A snake lays a thousand eggs and then abandons them. Their species still survives though, because of the sheer number of eggs that the snakes lay. Even if some don’t make it, there are plenty that do.

Humans however, need to be nurtured until adulthood in order to thrive.

Recent studies have shown that when children feel bonded to their parents they present with increased visual attention. Intact visual attention, which is the ability to visually attend to a task, helps children perform better academically and socially. Visual attention impacts academic success because focusing is a huge part of learning. It also helps in the social arena, because eye contact is all about visual attention. When you are making eye contact with someone, you are visually attending to him.

A mother can be the very best nurturer, and the child may still not feel the security of attachment to his mother. There can be a large variety of contributing factors that would impede the natural bonding, such as a traumatic birth, or the child and mother being separated during the first 24 hours after birth.

The good news is that bonding is not something that only takes place at birth. Rather, it is an ongoing process throughout childhood. Parents bond with their children in many ways. Dads tend to roughhouse play with their children and give their children “rides” as a way of bonding, whereas moms tend to read books, sing songs, etc.

Spending time or bonding with your child is a greatthing to do. This is hardly a new topic. It is something that is widely lectured about by leading psychologists, teachers, principals, and parenting coaches.

Here is the OT twist, incorporating a sensory component to bonding, which reminds the brain of the initial bonding that took place soon after birth, and makes the connection that much stronger. In order to maximize those special times you spend with you child, try to incorporate the touch input and eye contact. And most importantly, have fun!

Sensory Bonding Activities

Row Your Boat: Hold your child’s hands and gently rock back and forth, singing Row Your Boat. This activity incorporates touch input and naturally promotes eye contact in a fun and loving way.

Clapping Games: Clapping games such as Miss Mary Mack improve eye contact and help the tactile system mature.

Peek-a-Boo:Playing peek-a-boo through a tunnel promotes eye contact and is so much fun!

Ball Bops:Each person holds a small therapy ball and tries to bop the other person’s ball. This activity increases eye contact and provides deep pressure and touch input.

Knee Rides:This is a wonderful bonding activity! Place the child on your knees and bring your knees up and down or back and forth. This activity naturally promotes eye contact in a funand loving way.

Some differences you may see after such activities include your child being less jumpy, more relaxed, more organized in his movement, and more focused.

Feeling Positive

Being mindful of our beliefs helps us connect to our children. Focusingon feeling positively about our children helps them feels secure. Believing that your child has the potential for greatness (even if he has a meltdown in front of the whole supermarket!) breeds confidence. Believing that each child is a work in progress and has the tools to overcome his weaknesses, can be very encouraging and help keep our beliefs positive.

Hudi Schweky, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with extensive training in Sensory and Reflex Integration. She utilizes a child-centered, movement and play based approach to assist children with autism, learning challenges, developmental delays, and attention issues. She is also the founder of the Theraflex, LLC in Lakewood, NJ.