The psychologist Patricia Sánchez Merino tells us about the PAPMI® Program and its benefits.
As much as babies do not speak and are not able to think from concepts as complex as those handled by adults, it is clear that their mental world is very complex and dynamic.
In fact, in many ways paying attention to their emotional well-being is just as important as ensuring their physical integrity. Not surprisingly, during the first months of life the psychological structure that later will be transformed into his identity and personality develops.
To learn more about the way in which mental health professionals can contribute to the emotional development of babies and the establishment of correct attachment links between them and their parents, we interviewed Patricia Sánchez Merino, psychologist and part of the management team of TAP Center, clinic located in Madrid. In this psychological assistance center a specially designed intervention program is developed to ensure that the emotional and affective development of the little ones is optimal during their first months after birth, a key stage.
The PAPMI® Program: ensuring a good psychological development in the baby
Patricia Sánchez Merino is a psychologist and co-founder of Centro TAP, an organization that has as one of its star services the application of the PAPMI® Program to families in which a baby is being raised. This program, an acronym for Maternal and Child Psychological Support Program, is a set of practices and meetings with parents and the baby that aims to ensure that the emotional development of the children is adequate, and the bond of attachment that established with the father and mother is also.
In this interview, Patricia tells us the details about this form of psychological intervention and support.
What is the main objective of the PAPMI® Program?
The PAPMI® (Maternal and Child Psychological Support Program®) is a Social Innovation project that covers a basic need in babies and families, who are users of the Program: it provides babies with comprehensive care from 0 to the first 18 months of life, with the aim of promoting, in this very specific stage of its development, a healthy emotional architecture so that it grows with capacities for emotional regulation, skills to cope effectively with the environment, and secure attachment.
On the other hand, PAPMI® provides direct support and accompaniment to families. Parenting is a time where moms and dads need specific knowledge to make sure they are doing the best for their babies, so the Program is a support that helps them understand and know what to expect about the development of their sons and daughters, in order to incorporate the best formula to enhance your strengths.
It is intended that this moment of life that is upbringing during these vital months is enjoyed in a safe way.
What kind of lines of scientific research is PAPMI® based on?
Neuroscience studies on early brain development have shown that socio-affective experience affects brain architecture. Speaking of the importance it has on neurological connections, the first thousand days in a baby’s life and the interaction it has with its reference figures in this period are very important.
On the other hand, studies on emotional development have also documented that children who have developed emotional security when they reach the second year of life have more social competence when they enter the school environment, and fewer problems in regulating their emotions. As in the case of brain development, we know that emotional security, that secure attachment, has its roots in the quality of the interactive experience in the first year of life with its most significant people.
PAPMI® has studies that support it since 1990, and from the results that report its impact on the quality of attachment it has been detected that the longer the service is followed, the higher the proportion of children with secure attachment. The proportion of PAPMI® children with secure attachment is significantly higher than the proportion that exists in the general population used as a baseline.
What are the different phases in which this program is implemented?
PAPMI® has a course of 6 quarterly sessions, from 3 to 18 months of life of the baby. At the beginning of the program, a first introductory visit is made with parents, a little before the baby is 2 months old, to learn about the family structure and thus provide them with personalized information. We know that each family and their babies are different, so each process is totally adjusted to the people who use the service.
In this introductory visit, we are evaluating with parents how the areas involved in the performance of the new role are, providing the necessary support so that the experience is exciting, confident and positive.
At each quarterly visit with the family, we address aspects related, on the one hand, to the physical development of the baby to assess their development milestones, but we will also stop to assess the emotional and relational well-being of the child.
In addition, throughout these sessions, parents have a space to share how parenting is being and to have advice from us on all aspects related to the parenting process (sleep, food, tantrums …). The program is support and accompaniment, so it pays special attention to the care and well-being of mothers and fathers, as well as the rest of the members of the family unit.
Although newborns are not yet talking, there are ways in which they learn to communicate with the people who are aware of them. Does the program help to strengthen this communicative bond early and consistently, or does it focus only on creating a correct environment in which the baby can develop well?
The Centro TAP team knows the importance of building a secure attachment at an early age. This is built from birth. Although babies do not have a developed phonetic language, their ability to communicate needs is evident from the moment of birth.
Parents are therefore the translators of these expressed needs, and therefore PAPMI® is key to providing the security to babies that they need for their development. When we explain what they need, we build the communicative bond they need to grow stable.
As I said, there is a direct relationship between how we relate to our babies and the development of their emotional brain, so without a doubt the foundations of children’s capacity for relationship are developed in the first relationships with the mother or father. Intervention and counseling in the first 18 months of the baby’s life will enable him for healthy emotional development.
Why is it important to know the attachment dynamics that are established between the baby and the parents during the first months of the child’s development?
There is a lot of information about attachment construction, but not all of them are reliable or indicate how secure attachment bonds are actually built. So many parents following certain guidelines believe they are doing it correctly, not necessarily being true …
For this reason, from the program, knowing how attachment is built, the types that exist and the consequences that one and the other have, will provide key prevention families in stages after the first 18 months of age, achieving greater emotional well-being for babies who have undergone PAPMI®.
We know the importance of attachment, since children with secure attachment explore their environment without fear, establish bonds of trust, regulate themselves emotionally, have greater autonomy, are children who express their needs, have greater self-confidence, etc.
One of the most interesting aspects of attachment between babies and mothers is the emotional bond that is created with breastfeeding. What do we know about this process?
In order to build a bond that provides babies with the construction of a secure attachment, families have not necessarily had to choose breastfeeding as the main feeding option after birth. We know that secure attachment is built on safety, protection, and translation of the baby’s needs.
The important thing then is not what we do, but how we do it. We must ensure that the emotional needs of the baby are met regardless of the feeding option after birth.
Is it possible to help the baby develop well emotionally without being totally exhausted in the process? Being aware of the little one day and night can be exhausting.
Indeed, PAPMI® provides families with the necessary keys to avoid exhausting ourselves in the parenting process. When we do not know the strategies and resources necessary to “make easy” the processes, the level of exhaustion is much higher than when we are aware of these skills.
PAPMI® is a program that reduces the uncertainty about parenting, and therefore prevents fatigue in this sensitive period, in addition to significantly preventing stress and anxiety.