The PAPMI® Program: Enhancing Baby’s Emotional Development

The PAPMI® Program: Enhancing Baby's Emotional Development

As much as babies don’t talk and aren’t able to think from concepts as complex as those handled by adults, it’s clear that their mental world is very complex and dynamic.

In fact, in many ways, paying attention to their emotional well-being is as important as looking after their physical integrity. It is not in vain that during the first months of life the psychological structure that later on will become your identity and your personality is developed.

To learn more about how mental health professionals can contribute to the emotional development of babies and the establishment of correct attachment bonds between them and their parents, we interviewed Patricia Sánchez Merino, psychologist and part of the management team of Centro TAP , a clinic located in Madrid. In this psychological assistance center, an intervention program is developed specially designed to ensure that the emotional and affective development of the children is optimal during their first months after birth, a key stage.

The PAPMI® Program: ensuring good psychological development in the baby

Patricia Sanchez 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 raising a baby. This program, an acronym for the P/PapMI Program, is a set of practices and meetings with parents and the baby that aims to ensure that the emotional development of the little ones is adequate, and the bonding that takes place with the father and mother is also adequate.

In this interview, Patricia tells us the details about this form of psychological intervention and accompaniment.

What is the main objective of the PAPMI® Program?

The PAPMI® (Programa de Apoyo Psicológico P/Materno Infantil®) 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 18 months of age, with the aim of promoting, at this very specific stage of their development, a healthy emotional architecture so that they grow up with capacities for emotional regulation, skills to deal effectively with the environment, and secure attachment.

In addition, PAPMI® provides direct support and accompaniment to families. Parenting is a time when 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 their children’s development, in order to incorporate the best formula to enhance their strengths.

The aim is for this moment in life, which is breeding during these vital months, to be enjoyed in a safe manner.

On what kind of scientific research lines is PAPMI® based?

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 the life of an infant 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 by the time 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 this emotional security, this secure attachment, is rooted in the quality of the interactive experience in the first year of life with their most significant people.

PAPMI® has had studies supporting it since 1990, and from the results reporting its impact on the quality of attachment it has been found that the greater the follow up of the service, the greater the proportion of children with secure attachment. The proportion of PAPMI® children with secure attachment is significantly higher than the proportion in the general population used as a baseline.

What are the different phases in which this program is implemented?

PAPMI® has a 6-session quarterly schedule, from 3 to 18 months of age. 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 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 evaluate with the 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.

In each quarterly visit with the family we address aspects related on the one hand to the physical development of the baby to assess its developmental milestones, but we also stop to evaluate the emotional and relational well-being of the child.

In addition, throughout these sessions, parents have a space to share how the upbringing is going and to have advice from us in all aspects related to the upbringing process (sleep, food, tantrums…). The program is of support and accompaniment, so it pays special attention to the care and welfare of mothers and fathers, as well as the rest of the members of the family unit.

Even if newborns don’t yet speak, there are ways in which they learn to communicate with people who are watching over them. Does the program help to foster this communicative bond early and consistently, or does it focus only on creating the right environment in which the baby can develop well?

The Centro TAP team knows the importance of building a secure attachment at an early age. It is built from birth. Although babies do not have developed phonetic language, their ability to communicate needs becomes apparent from birth.

Parents are therefore the translators of these expressed needs, and that is why PAPMI® is key to providing the security for babies that they need for their development. When we explain what they need we build the communicative bond they need to grow up steadily.

As I was saying, there is a direct relationship between how we relate to our babies and the development of their emotional brains, so the foundation of children’s relational skills is undoubtedly developed in the first relationships with the mother or father. Intervention and counselling in the first 18 months of a baby’s life will enable him/her to develop emotionally in a healthy way.

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 it is reliable or points to how secure attachment bonds are actually built. So many parents following certain guidelines believe they are doing it correctly, which is not necessarily true…

Therefore, from the program, knowing how attachment is built, the types that exist and the consequences that each has, will facilitate key prevention families in stages after the first 18 months of age, achieving greater emotional well-being for babies who have gone through 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 through breastfeeding. What do we know about this process?

To build a bond that provides babies with secure attachment, families have not necessarily had to choose breastfeeding as the main feeding option after birth. We know that secure attachment is built by the safety, security and translation of the baby’s needs.

The important thing then is not what we do, but how we do it. We must make sure that we meet the emotional needs of the baby whatever the feeding option is after birth.

Is it possible to help the baby develop well emotionally without being totally exhausted in the process? Keeping an eye on the little one day and night can be exhausting.

In fact, PAPMI® provides families with the keys they need so that they do not exhaust themselves in the process of raising their children. When we don’t know the strategies and resources needed to “make it easy” the process the level of burnout is much higher than when we are aware of these skills.

PAPMI® is a program that reduces the uncertainty of parenting and therefore prevents fatigue during this sensitive period, as well as significantly preventing stress and anxiety.

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