African American mother and baby


Want to stress out an infant?

Have a mother look at her baby with a “still face,” no expression, interaction or words.  Before long, the child will do everything he knows to engage and connect with his parent.  If the parent doesn’t respond, the baby can experience acute stress and anxiety.

Want to see what I mean?  Take a minute and check out the Still Face Experiment, in which a mother tests this theory, with dramatic results.

Watching this video, I can’t help but think of the many parents I’ve seen in public spaces who seem to take good physical care of their children, who are typically well-groomed and neatly dressed), but who appear to be very disengaged from their babies.  Often, these parents are teens plugged into their phones and/or iPods.  I’ve seen some of these infants and toddlers do everything they can—just like the baby in the video—to get their parents’ attention.

Frequently, the child resorts to improper behavior, which does get the parent’s attention, but in a negative way.  The parent often scolds her child with a mean mug on her face, sometimes curses or even hits the child for interrupting her. Ultimately, the only “reward” they receive from exercising their natural instinct and need for their parent to interact with them is the message that what they want is bad and wrong and will result in punishment.

Decades ago, experts weren’t aware of the importance of high levels of engagement with babies, even newborns.  Today, we know that the more positive, loving, nurturing and attentive interaction a child has with their mother/parent/caregiver, the stronger, healthier and happier that child will grow up to be.  They are more likely to succeed in school and in life if they have received the proper attention when they need it most.

Speaking of school, there might be a link between the “minority” achievement gap that is epidemic throughout public education in our country today, and the fact that low-income children are said to suffer from a 30 million word gap that causes them to start school behind their wealthier peers.

In this groundbreaking study, Betty Hart and Todd Risley entered the homes of 42 families from various socio-economic backgrounds to assess the ways in which daily exchanges between a parent and child shape language and vocabulary development. Their findings were unprecedented, with extraordinary disparities between the sheer number of words spoken as well as the types of messages conveyed. After four years these differences in parent-child interactions produced significant discrepancies in not only children’s knowledge, but also their skills and experiences with children from high-income families being exposed to 30 million more words than children from families on welfare. Follow-up studies showed that these differences in language and interaction experiences have lasting effects on a child’s performance later in life.

The results of the study were far more severe than anyone could have anticipated…

Read the rest of “Do You ‘Mean Mug’ or Ignore Your Infant?” at Dr. Patton’s website,

Dr. Stacey Patton, author of That Mean Old Yesterday – A Memoir, is an adoptee, child abuse survivor and former foster child turned children’s advocate, journalist, historian, college professor, and motivational speaker. She has written for The New York Times,Washington PostBaltimore SunNewsday and The Crisis Magazine. She blogs at Spare The Kids.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

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