Babies have very clear personalities that are evident from the moment of birth. Some are so calm and easy-going. Some look and sound mad. Some look worried. It’s possible that their individual journeys down the birth canal have affected their mood and disposition but their genes also play a major role. Psychologists now say that at least 50% of personality is present before parents have a chance to have an impact on their kids. As any parent of more than one child knows, each child is different.
Babies Impact on Their Caregivers
Babies have a strong impact on their parents. A relaxed and placid, cooperative baby makes the parent feel the same way. Such a baby inspires parental confidence even if this is the first child. Parents of easy-going, content babies feel successful as parents and this makes them actually like their baby even more.
Tense, irritable, crabby babies make their parents feel that way too! They make their parents feel helpless, inept and inadequate. This causes them to be somewhat aversive to their parents – after all, we tend to shrink away from people who make us feel like failures. Although it’s not the baby’s fault, parents can’t help but feel resentful toward an infant that refuses to be soothed or comforted. They try everything they possibly can, but still the baby remains unsettled and unhappy. After months of this kind of cycle, parents can feel distressed, burnt-out and detached from their infant.
Loving Difficult Babies
There is no trick to loving a cooperative baby. There is a BIG trick to loving a more challenging infant. With non-responsive babies, parents must remind themselves that gentle handling and patient care-giving DOES make a difference to the child. Difficult babies are stressed from the inside. When parents provide a soothing, confident handling from the outside, the experience does impact on the child’s nervous system. Agitated handling creates more agitation for the infant; calm handling gets recorded in the infants brain and its impact accumulates over time, helping the child to develop in an optimal way. Since parents cannot get immediate feedback from the baby him or herself, they must give THEMSELVES positive feedback instead. Every time you hold your difficult infant, actually tell yourself “I am doing therapeutic parenting. It is so good for my baby. It will help him/her in the long run.” By rewarding yourself verbally (and in any other way you want to!) you can help your own body and mind resist the stress of a (temporarily) thankless child.
In addition, make sure to engage in other activities that DO give positive feedback. Take breaks from your baby in order to do what you enjoy doing and what you feel successful at. Use a babysitter frequently in order to give yourself time to replenish your energy so that you can continue to give love to this baby without exhaustion, resentment and strain.
Seek social support, therapy, alternative stress relief and any other intervention that can help strengthen and nurture you because your baby needs you. You must undo the effects that the baby can have on your nervous system and continuously restore and re-balance your system.
By looking after yourself, you’ll be doing the very best for your baby. This is true for every parent and all the more so for parents of challenging babies.