All About Observing
How do we know what a baby is really trying to tell us? How can we help them communicate their needs and wants? Before anything else, we must observe! Babies give us many signals and cues which help us gain a better understanding of how, and what, they are communicating. It’s easy to assume we know what they need or want, but often we are deciding based on our own feelings rather than what the baby is truly telling us.
What happens to baby when we observe and respond appropriately?
It can be hard to sit and observe your baby, especially if they are crying. It takes patience and practice, but is so very worth it! When a baby feels heard and understood, their confidence increases, they feel more stable and calm and their relationship with you will improve. Your bond will strengthen and you will find that you both feel more confident and happy in your daily interactions. As they get older, your child will feel more comfortable opening up to you, sharing ideas and secrets. By observing and responding appropriately you are developing a trusting relationship between you and your baby.
How do you feel when someone ignores what you are telling them or assumes they understand what you are saying, without actually listening to you? Probably frustrated, annoyed, and unimportant. You may feel like your ideas and thoughts don’t matter, that the person you’re talking to doesn’t actually care about your thoughts or ideas. Your baby will feel the same way. It is easy to assume that a baby doesn’t have complex feelings, but they are human, just like you and I, and their feelings/emotions are justified, valid and real!
Tips for observing baby
Observing is more than just watching your child. It involves seeing them through a fresh set of eyes, leaving assumptions and judgements at the door, so that you can truly understand what your baby is communicating. Crying is the hardest thing to listen to. We want to fix the problem right away and will try anything and everything to do so! However, often taking time to try and understand WHY your baby is crying will mean you respond more appropriately and your baby’s needs will be fulfilled, and their voices heard.
- The current moment. Look and listen. What is happening? Maybe baby was playing happily and has suddenly started to cry. Look around, has anything changed? Maybe her toy has rolled away and is out of reach, or was there a loud sound that could have scared her? Has he gotten himself into an awkward position? Before picking your child up to bounce/cuddle them, give them a comforter (like a soother or blanket), or feed them, make sure you have first tried your best to understand WHY they have started to cry. Picking them up or giving them food or a soother may stop their crying, but is that really what they needed or wanted? The goal is not to stop the crying by any means possible, but rather to understand what your child is telling you and respond appropriately.
- The previous moment. Your baby is trying to tell you something. Stop and observe the current moment (see above) and then consider what happened before the crying began. As adults we are accustomed to changes in our environment, loud noises, being in large groups of people, etc. Babies, however, are not. Perhaps your baby was being passed around from relative to relative, and now you are holding her and she begins to cry. If we just look at the current moment, you may think she doesn’t want to be held by you. Yet when we look at what happened previously, we can see that baby has been held TOO much by too many people!
- Environment. Babies are very sensitive to changes in their environment. Something as simple as a new bright light in their bedroom, a window being opened and cool breeze blowing on them, or noisy surroundings, can cause a baby to change their behaviour and communicate with you that they need a change. Observe the environment, put yourself in baby’s shoes. Observe your baby’s cues to help you distinguish what they are trying to tell you (see below).
- Baby’s Cues. Your baby will give you signs of what she is trying to communicate. Let’s say the new light in her bedroom is too bright for her. She will look away from the light, squint her eyes, cry, wriggle about trying to move away from the light. Take the time to really watch your baby’s gestures, facial expressions and listen to the sounds they are making. In time, you will come to recognize that certain sounds indicate certain feelings or moods. It may appear that a baby is just crying and not giving any other signals, but in fact, if you pause and really watch baby, you will begin to notice that they are providing you with other signals as well. Watch their face, their gestures, the way the hold their body, where they turn their head. Give yourself time to get to know your baby and their cues.
- Give Time. Give baby time and give yourself time. Baby may feel temporarily frustrated because their ball rolled away. They fuss and cry. If we take the time to watch and don’t rush in with a reaction, baby may begin to try and reach the ball herself, and often will succeed! When we jump in at the first sound of frustration or upset from baby, we are denying them the chance to solve a problem, learn and succeed. We are also denying ourself the opportunity to observe and learn about our baby’s cues and communication style. By picking up baby each and every time she fusses or cries, we are cutting of a big part of the communication train. We are not learning or trying to understand WHY he is crying. We are only trying to put a temporary band aid over the problem.
But I still don’t know why baby is crying!?
Sometimes a baby may cry just for the sake of crying. They need to release tension, stress, emotions, just like you and I. As an adult we have learned ways to cope with these difficult feelings. Babies don’t have this capability just yet.
Sometimes a really good cry is just what they need! If you have observed your baby and responded in ways you found appropriate, your baby is fed, changed, not tired, and overall well cared for, your baby could very well be crying for the sake of crying.
It is hard to listen to our babies cry. It triggers an emotional response from us. We want to do all we can to make them feel better, to see them smile. So what can we do when all baby needs to do is have a cathartic cry?
Hold your baby, let them know you are there for them, stay somewhat still, try to avoid too much bouncing, shushing, and noise making. Often a baby will have a good old cry because they are feeling over stimulated and it is a way to release their tension. If we add to their stimulation they will only cry more!
Make the environment calming. Lower lights, ensure a comfortable temperature, turn off music, TV and other noises that could cause baby to become upset. Take baby away from the rest of the family and have alone time with them.
If you become overwhelmed and can no longer listen to baby cry, ask another adult to take over. If there is no other adult available, put your baby down in a safe spot (eg. crib) and leave the room for a few mins. Take a break, breathe deeply, and return to your baby once you feel ready. It is better to let your baby cry in a safe place, then accidentally hurt baby because you are frustrated, overwhelmed and upset.
Phew, that was a lot of information!
After all of that reading, you may be feeling overwhelmed! That’s OK. Remember we are all learning, each and every day. Try some of the suggestions, one day at a time, baby steps. If one day just seems to be crazy, overwhelming and just all together a complete right off, don’t worry! In time, you will notice changes, you will feel more confident, and soon you will be observing like a pro, without even thinking about it. All in good time my friends, all in good time!
Comments, questions, concerns? Please get in touch. I’m here to support YOU!