Friday, June 1, 2012
Are You Adding to Your Baby's Fears?
While some babies are just more fearful than others, there is a lot you can do to help your baby deal with his fears or you can make things a lot worse. In this post, we'll focus on babies' fears.
Temperament and Fear in Babies
In past posts, we've shared information about babies "temperament," the specific set of traits that give babies their unique personalities. We've also talked about how babies' temperaments can influence their relationships. Babies who are timid or who have intense reactions to new things are more likely than babies who are not to become fearful in new (or crowded) situations, especially when they are older than 6 months. Parents with those babies are not going to be able to keep them from reacting when they go into large groups or loud and busy places. But, parents can make things much worse if they don't understand how babies learn about their world and their emotions.
Your Face Says it All
Instinctively, babies will look their caregivers' faces when they are unsure how they should feel. When they see something new, they will glance at mom or dad to see what they think of the new object. Smiling, relaxed faces send a signal that the object is safe to explore. When babies meet a new person, they will look at their caregiver's face to figure out if this new person is safe and friendly or someone to avoid. This is called "social referencing." Parents who understand social referencing can help their babies deal more positively with new situations. For example, any parent in the situation described above is likely to be upset (embarrassment, frustration, and even a little anger may be on the parent's face). Their timid baby sees the large loud group and pulls back. Someone comes closer and the baby starts to cry, looking quickly at the parent's face. Seeing mom's negative expression makes the baby certain that this is a scary situation and things get much worse. Alternatively, parents who understand what is happening can keep their faces and body language positive, relaxed, and reassuring as their baby looks around. They can let friends and family know that the baby needs a minute to get used to things before they come too close.
While staying positive won't take all the fear away, it won't last as long. Don't forget that "repetition to soothe" can be helpful in calming babies at any age but you want to make sure that you don't look or sound upset while you soothe your baby. And if you can, try not to keep the baby away from all the fun for too long. While your fearful baby will need lots of your attention and reassurance, your baby will learn in the long run that friends and family are not so scary after all.