This author has witnessed a number of situations where an infant is crying, even screaming, and his or her parents have basically “ignored” the child. Many of these scenes happened in airports, but there have been similar situations in grocery stores or malls, in restaurants and in parks, where a child was trying to express his need in the only way he knows how, and was not being acknowledged, paid attention to, or accommodated.
In one instance the parent reached into the baby bag, pulled out a bottle and started adding the formula while carrying on a conversation with another adult. All the while, the child continued to cry. Even though the parent understood what the child needed, he didn’t let the child know that he was paying attention. A similar example of this would be if a patient in a hospital rings for the nurse. The nurse sees the light go on and realizes the patient needs something. Rather then stopping by the room to let the patient know that they have another patient to handle first and will be back in a few minutes, they just continue what they are doing and don’t acknowledge the request. Most patients I know become upset that someone doesn’t help them immediately; but if the patient had been acknowledged and the situation were not an emergency, most patients would be willing to wait a bit until the nurse was free.
Child development experts agree that after about three months of age, a child can begin to learn patience. For example, if a child is crying for a bottle, it is important to acknowledge the child’s needs by saying something like “I know you want a bottle. I’m warming it right now and then you’ll have some nice warm milk.” In the instances witnessed, it would have been much better if the parent had said something to the child to let them know that a resolution to their discomfort was coming – either a bottle, a new diaper, or to be held.
There is additional stress on children in public situations like airports, stores or restaurants, sometimes reflected from the adults they are with. So it follows they may need a bit more attention to help them feel secure in an unfamiliar place.
And speaking of security, this author also witnessed a parent yank a toy out of a child’s hands to put it on the TSA belt at the airport. The child started to scream and there was no explanation of why the toy needed to go onto the belt. The child was then taken, still screaming, through the metal detector without an explanation. It would have been so much easier on everyone if the child had been prepared for this process and then talked through it. This little one was confused, angry and traumatized all at the same time.
Crying is baby’s way of communicating. Although all babies cry, this author believes that you can actually teach a child to cry. Unmet needs result in more crying – longer and louder – as a child learns what he has to do to get what he needs. A newborn crying for a prolonged period to get a bottle or to be picked up is learning that he is not important. He wants to get your attention and will do whatever he needs to do to get it. You can avoid unnecessary crying by planning ahead: anticipating needs, washing bottles while baby is asleep rather than when he is screaming for one, having clean diapers at hand.
Have you ever seen a parent with a screaming child in a store around the holiday season? You know the child is tired, yet mom or dad insists on finishing the last of the shopping. No one is happy in this instance – not the child, not the parents, and probably not the other shoppers. It could be less stressful if parents planned their day around their child’s schedule. Do your shopping when your child is alert instead of when they need their nap. Schedule dinners out early or take snacks to help your child make it until the meal is served.
Hold and carry your child. All babies need to be held and touched, they enjoy human contact. Their developing self-esteem is dependent on feelings of security and holding your child assures him he is loved.
If you have one, use a front pack baby carrier. The carrier is designed to hold baby close to your chest while allowing your hands to be free. Baby is happy as he can hear your heart beat and feel you close and you can use your hands to do other things while providing comfort to your child. These carriers are great ways to bond with your child and the straps are adjustable so other adults, dad especially, can also use it to carry baby.
The bottom line is respect — treat your infant the way you would like to be treated. Acknowledge her needs, plan ahead, and you will find parenting to be more pleasurable for both of you, leaving more time to get to know and enjoy your infant.
Thomas is program leader of Baby Steps to Stronger Big Island Families in Waimea, with Play and Learn groups in Waimea at Waimea Elementary School, and in Honokaa at the North Hawaii Education and Research Center. For more information on the organization, or for a schedule of their activities and events, call 887-1228, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit their website at babystepshawaii.org.