“Slow down, and then slow down some more. Indicate, and tell even a child who doesn’t understand verbal communication yet, “I’m going to pick you up.” And then comes my magic word. If people only remember that one word: Wait. Then you wait and the child gives a signal, most likely. It depends on the age. And then that means,”Aha. the penny dropped, I understand. I’m ready.” Then you pick up the child.
Very few people do that. Most people grab, and they pick up very fast as if they are picking the child up out of a fire. Everybody always rescues. I tell the mothers, “Imagine a giant comes who is much taller, stronger, bigger, and grabs you and you don’t even know what will happen to you. It’s scary. So, slow down. Give yourself time. Tell your child what you are going to do. Wait for a little response.” Magda Gerber
The inspiration for this post came from a recent conversation that occurred in as unlikely a place and with as unlikey a person as I could have ever imagined. I was in a courthouse in Delray Beach, Florida, talking with the State’s attorney. She asked for my contact information. I handed her my business card. She looked at it briefly, and then said, “What is it you do anyway?” “I work to support and educate parents to understand and enjoy their babies more, and to feel more confident and relaxed in their parenting role.” “How exactly do you do that?” “I write a blog, do personal consultations by phone or in person, and offer play groups for babies and their parents.” “Can I ask you a question?” “Sure.”
“My son and his wife are living with us. They have a new baby who is just 4 months old. We’re a close family. But I wonder… The baby cries and cries. It’s been a long time since I had my babies. I know babies cry, but I don’t remember mine crying so much. I worry because our household is very chaotic. There’s a lot of noise, a lot of activity, and a lot of people coming and going. The baby’s mom and dad hold him a lot, which sometimes calms him, but lately, when they put him down after he falls asleep, he wakes crying even harder, and can’t be calmed. Is there anything we can do to support him more?”
And there was my cue.
No matter what your circumstances, no matter how chaotic the environment, no matter if you’ve heard of RIE or not, there are two simple things you can do to support your baby in adjusting more easily to his world. You can slow down and listen, (or observe), which will help you to begin to understand what your baby may be trying to tell you he needs, and you can talk with your baby, which will help him to make sense of his world, and to understand you.
It can be helpful to understand that all babies cry. This is a baby’s primary form of communication. A baby’s cry is meant to elicit a response. Some will cry more, some less. This may be due in part to a baby’s personality, environment, and/or birth circumstances. It doesn’t mean that something is wrong with the baby or the parent. Most likely, the baby is crying because his system is immature, and it takes a good 3-4 months for him to adjust to being here on earth. In the early months, babies are settling, and everything is new and overwhelming to them. How we respond makes a difference in what they learn and how they experience us and their world.
Recognize that a simple change in position, from being snuggled in arms to being placed down in a crib for sleep, can be experienced in the baby’s body like a small earthquake, especially if it happens when they are asleep, and they’ve had no warning. So, it’s best to put the baby down when he is relaxed and drowsy, but not yet asleep, and to do this as slowly and gently as possible, and AFTER you have told him you are going to put him down (even if he has fallen asleep in your arms first).
Sometimes, you may be able to determine a cause for the crying, and act to alleviate the discomfort. He may be hungry, wet, tired, too hot or too cold, and feeding, changing, reducing stimulation and/or putting him down to sleep, or adding or subtracting layers of clothing may soothe and comfort him, and the crying will abate. It doesn’t hurt to tell him you are trying to understand, and to ask him why he is crying, or what he may need.
But sometimes, you may not be able to discern a reason for the tears, and no matter what you do, the crying may continue. Knowing and understanding that this is normal and natural can go a long way towards supporting both babies and their tired, overwhelmed parents. When your baby cries, take a moment to pause, listen, and do your best to try to understand what your baby is telling you.
“So then what?” Get into the habit of talking with your baby from early on, even if it feels odd, even if you don’t think he can understand or respond. (Recent research tells us that babies as young as two months old DO know, understand, and anticipate our intentions.) Tell him what to expect, and what you will do, before you do it, and then, pause and wait for his response. (Some parents have reported that silently counting to 10, before moving on, helps them to pause and slow down to wait for the baby’s response.)
These two simple things- slowing down, and getting into the habit of talking with your baby and letting him know what to expect, will make a world of difference in his experience and yours. If you do this from the beginning, you will be establishing a relationship, communication, and trust that will last a lifetime, and serve to support both you and your baby now, and as he grows. Try it, and see if it makes a difference!