Babies, infants, and toddlers cry. Often they cry a lot. Sometimes it seems as though the only thing that will stop them crying is a mum or dad who is willing to carry them and pace the floor for hour after hour through the middle of the night to help them settle and stay calm.
Here are 9 evidence-based strategies for keeping your little one calm:
A baby always cries for a reason. She may have a wet or dirty nappy. She may be hungry. She could be in pain. She has no way of telling you except to cry out. Her cry is every bit as serious as it sounds. If your baby cries, pick her up and identify the cause. It not one of those three reasons (wet/dirty, hungry, in pain), consider other solutions on this list.
Increasingly, researchers are finding that children’s temperaments are related to their parents – from birth. Parents who are calm generally have children who are calm. Parents who are anxious or stressed often have babies who are highly reactive, and who cry more. Try an approach the world serenely and see if your baby can ‘catch’ your calm charisma.
Babies are biologically wired to be close to their parents. Attachment research shows that when a parent leaves the room, a toddler will usually react with distress. Often our children will be calm simply by having us close. This may mean allowing them to sleep in your bed, setting up something for them to play with while you work in your office or the kitchen or the yard, or finding some other way of keeping your child close.
As exhausting and frustrating as it can be, evidence shows that our children are soothed when we hold them in our arms. Their heart rate slows. Their breathing calms. Their restlessness subsides. I recall one night I held my daughter as she screamed and a family member said, “You may as well put her down. Holding her isn’t making any difference.” I put her down and she screamed and writhed more! I picked her back up, preferring to hold her while she was distressed than to see her upset added to by being isolated. (Researchers have discovered that the holding must continue a long time. Put the child down, and crying often recommences.)
Oh, and by the way, it seems that children cry less when we are more responsive to them. The idea that if we ignore them they’ll stop doesn’t square with the evidence. Picking up and holding a crying baby leads to a calmer baby who feels safer and more secure.
Babies love being massaged and rubbed. If they are unsettled (but not screaming), they will often respond and relax with skin-to-skin touch. But light touch is uncomfortable and overly-stimulating. Don’t go for anything deep tissue! But note that babies prefer a firm touch or squeeze. They love being held close and firm (but not hard or too tight).
A really interesting brand new study has found that when we sing to our little children, rather than talking to them, they soothe faster. They also stay calm longer. Soft, gentle lullabies can help calm a distressed baby.
Researchers have found that babies are calmer in drug-free environments. We know that alcohol, particularly during pregnancy, can have significant impacts on a baby’s temperament and wellbeing. And cigarette smoking during pregnancy and when the child is young can impact on the child’s sleep and health, which affect the child’s irritability, calmness, and wellbeing.
It makes sense that if your child is unsettled, you should have your Doctor take a look at him. Your GP can spot things you may not be able to find. It is always worth a trip to the medical centre if your baby is crying a lot. Colic, reflux, exhaustion, diet, and so on may be the cause of the chaos.
It seems that we sometimes make things harder for ourselves than we need to. Most of the time a crying baby or toddler will be calmed and soothed by a calm, loving parent patiently responding to the child’s cries by picking him up, changing his nappy, feeding him, singing or talking quietly to him, and offering lots of hugs and reassurance.
It is true that some children aren’t soothed by anything. Have the GP check them out. And continue to be patient.
Our baby has no other way of communicating that things aren’t right. Be patient. Be kind. Be calm. Their distress will eventually pass – and it is more likely to pass quickly when we approach them with love and gentleness.