What is your role as a parent?
Babies come into the world helpless and dependent on others. They need to be taken care of and feel safe, both physically and emotionally. The most important role you have as a parent (in addition to providing food and shelter) is protection of your child and providing comfort when they're distressed. This builds trust in your child that you will be there for them when they are frightened or overwhelmed by something. This also helps your child learn to regulate their emotions, and better understand those of others around them.
A related role is to encourage learning and exploration. Children are born with a desire to learn and explore their environment.
Your child will do this naturally as long as they feel safe and protected. You can help this process by expressing delight when something new or exciting is discovered by your child. You can also help by setting up situations which are appropriate for the age and ability of your child so they are more likely to experience success. This builds confidence and willingness to continue to learn new things.
Children will inevitably become frightened or upset by something. If the parent can be responsive, that is, tuned into what the child is feeling, and then can act in an effective way to soothe the child's distress, that child can then cope more effectively with whatever is causing their alarm. This helps them learn ways of handling any new situations of distress more easily on their own.
When the child's explorations are not supported, or when so much of the their time and energy is being taken up seeking comfort and security from an unknowing or unwilling caretaker, this exploratory urge gets dampened, and their ability to trust and rely on others gets distorted. This can, depending on how often it happens, turn into a lifelong problem, and the child may struggle with shame and low self-worth through life.
A nice graphic presentation of this process has been produced by the Circle of Security International:
For further understanding of this topic, please see the links below:
from the National Center on Parent, Family and Community Engagement
from the Centre of Excellence for Early Childhood Development
from Zero to Three
Yale Child Study Center
Hospital for Sick Children- Toronto
from Help Me Grow
from Parenting Science- Gwen Dewar, Ph.D.
From Parenting Exchange- Karen Stephens
From Building Your Family- Joanne Solchany Ph.D., R.N
From The Mule
From the Baby Center
Extensive parenting information site
Promoting the social emotional development and school readiness of children 0- 5
From The Center on the Social and Emotional
Foundations for Early Learning