Thursday, February 11, 2010

Reader Question: Dealing with “Brave” Babies

Another of our readers asked “My baby is not afraid of anything, dogs, heights, people, the oven, nothing. She's just trying to take steps. Any way to make her more cautious?”

I certainly know what it is like to have a fearless child. One afternoon when my son was 2 years old, I was at a backyard party. When I put him down for a moment, he darted off and jumped into the pool which was just a few feet away. Since he couldn’t swim, I immediately jumped in with all my clothes on and pulled him out. As I put him up on the edge of the pool and reached up to pull myself out, he jumped in again! He was just so sure that he could do anything if he tried! Needless to say, I held him with one hand on the edge as I finally got out of the pool. Yes, my son was fearless, frighteningly so. Unfortunately, your baby is not likely to change anytime soon. A better strategy is to accept your baby’s personality and be prepared.

As we’ve mentioned in a previous post, infants are born with a set of personality traits that form their temperament. While many of these traits may change over time, others remain. With fearless babies and toddlers, it is essential that parents are constantly on the lookout for danger. Since your baby is just starting to take steps, you should baby-proof your home now as if your baby was already walking. Any time you leave your home, make sure that you look around every environment to see what your baby might get into. The moment your baby reaches, steps, or jumps towards danger, you’ll need to be there to scoop her up. Make sure that you tell anyone who cares for your baby about her boldness, even if you are nearby. Many people expect that babies’ would be naturally afraid of dogs, ovens, or heights, but many are not. Infants are not capable of responding to reasoning or discipline and their curiosity and drive to explore will win every time. It is far safer to rely on removal of potential dangers and redirection when your baby is headed for trouble.

As your child gets older, you will be able to teach her what she can and cannot do but even toddlers can’t respond quickly enough to your words to be safe if there is immediate danger. Toddlers don’t have a lot of control over their bodies and impulses so your daughter will still need you to help her stay out of harm’s way. As she learns more about the world, your daughter will become more cautious but maybe never as cautious as you would like her to be. Your daughter is likely to be an adventurer for many years to come. In the meantime, finding safe ways to encourage her explorations might be easier on both of you. Lots of activity in secure baby-proofed places will help her (and you) get some well deserved peace.

Next time: More answers to readers’ questions!

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