Early Parenting

Our earliest memories are rarely earlier than our third birthday, at least not consciously that is. But conscious memories are not everything. A baby’s neural networks are wildly expanding with every stimulating experience it receives, and is busy learning all about its new world.

Infantile Amnesia

Early studies of pre-school children confirm that when a group of children experienced an emergency fire evacuation due to a faulty popcorn maker, they were asked to recall the event seven years later. Those children who were four to five years old at the time easily recalled the incident and what caused it. However, children who were three years old or younger at the time of the event, could not remember the cause and claimed to be outside at the time. Other studies confirm that a child’s first memories occur at about 3.5 years (Bauer, 2002). This is referred to as “infantile amnesia.” By four or five, children begin to remember experiences (Bruce Et al., 2000).

Memories of our pre-school years are very few because our brain organizes memories differently after age 3-4. As the brain cortex matures, toddlers gain a sense of self, and their long-term memory storage increases (Howe, 2003).

Tough for Parents

For parents, their infant’s blank memory can be quite disconcerting. Parents spend countless hours with their babies – bathing, feeding, playing on the rug, diapering, and rocking them to sleep. But, will the baby remember their parents if they disappeared before age 4? Probably not. 

Nature of Attachment

Just because infants don’t consciously remember, the need to bond with their mother is intense. The attachment bond is a powerful survival impulse that keeps infants close to their mothers. For many years, developmental psychologists felt that infants became attached to those who satisfied their need for nourishment. Numerous studies conclude that infants become attached to parents who are soft and warm and who rock, snuggle, pat, bounce, as well as feed them. Much of the parent-infant emotional communication occurs via touch (Hertenstein, 2002), which can be soothing or arousing, as in tickling. The human attachment also consists of one person providing a safe haven when the infant is distressed and a secure base from which to explore.

Contact and Familiarity

Contact and familiarity are vital to formation of attachment. Familiarity-based attachments form during a critical period, which occurs shortly after birth, when certain events must take place to facilitate proper development (Bernstein, 1989).


Children, unlike birds or other animals, do not imprint with the first moving object they see after birth. Children become attached to what they’ve known. The need for familiarity of nearly everything is most important. As the saying goes, “familiarity breeds contentment.”

Sensitive Mothers Best

Do human infants pick up their mother’s tendencies? Studies show that sensitive, responsive mothers, i.e., those who noticed what their babies were doing and responded appropriately, had infants who showed secure attachment. However, insensitive, unresponsive mothers who rarely responded to their baby, or outright ignored them at other times, had infants that were often insecurely attached. 

Many studies confirm that sensitive mothers and fathers tend to have securely attached infants (DeWolf & Van Ivzendoorn, 1997).

Impregnating vs Nurturing

As these examples indicate, researchers have more often studied mother’s care rather than father care. Infants who lack a caring mother are said to suffer “maternal deprivation.” Those lacking the care of a father are said to experience “father absence.” While fathering a child has meant “impregnating,” mothering a child has meant “nurturing.”

Fathers Important to Child’s Success

Over 100 studies show that a father’s love and acceptance are comparable to a mother’s love in predicting the child’s health and well-being (Rohner & Veneziano, 2001). In one massive British study following over 7,200 children from birth to adulthood, those children whose fathers were most involved in parenting, including taking a keen interest in their education, tended to achieve more in school. Even after taking into account such factors as family education and family wealth (Flouri & Buchanan, 2004).

While debate continues, many researchers believe that our early attachments form the foundations for our adult relationships (Fraley, 2002).

This report is not a diagnosis. We hope this information can guide you toward improving your life.

Review our Knowledge Base or the links displayed on this page for similar and related topics.