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Baby Tantrums

Crying Episodes Are Not Just for Toddlers
Article from: iParenting
By Shannon McKelden,

Tantrums aren't just thrown by toddlers. Younger babies cry, too, though they aren't usually set off by not getting that must-have toy from the toy aisle. So why do they do it and what can be done to diffuse the situation?

Why Do Babies Cry Anyway?

For babies, crying is a form of communication with the adults around them.

"Persistent crying in an infant can be stressful, especially for new parents," says Dr. Sharon Fried Buchalter, a licensed clinical psychologist and author of Children Are People Too: Unlocking the 8 Secrets to Family Happiness (Brundage Publishing, 2006). "It is important that parents remember that crying is a way for a baby to express his needs and feelings – it's their only method of communication until they learn to talk. Usually crying is an expression of a baby's need, such as the need to have a diaper changed, to be fed or to sleep. Crying can also indicate that a baby is over-stimulated or distressed by their environment."

Discovering the reason for the crying is the first course of action. "First and foremost, when their baby cries, parents should make sure their physical needs are met and that the baby is not in physical distress," Dr. Buchalter says. "So make sure the diaper is clean, the baby is not hungry and the baby is not hurt in any way. Once physical safety is ensured, parents should comfort and soothe their baby by holding them, rocking them back and forth, humming a lullaby, etc."

Infants also cry to let off steam. "If babies didn't cry, then it would be a cause for concern," Dr. Buchalter says. "Believe it or not, crying is a positive sign that a child is able to communicate."

Temper Tantrum on Aisle Five

Aside from the above-mentioned reasons for crying, there are babies who tend to cry excessively in public situations. Over-stimulation can set off a tantrum that can be disruptive and, frankly, embarrassing when it occurs in church or in a busy checkout line.

"When children are exposed to a lot of outside stimulus from the environment, they may have trouble filtering that stimuli, which can trigger more crying," Dr. Buchalter says. "For example, a trip to the supermarket with bright overhead lights and a loudspeaker can be quite distressing to a baby. Babies are also creatures of habit and routine. New environments and unfamiliar surroundings can trigger a crying spell in babies."

This is the case for Kara Gray, a mom from Dallas, W.V., who says her 8-month-old daughter, Sydney, is a tantrum thrower. "For about the first six months, we couldn't take her anywhere," Gray says. "She would cry at my parents' house, cry in the grocery store, in restaurants, you name it!"

Andrea McCann found herself in the same situation. "My daughter cried for at least 10 minutes every time we went somewhere," says the Norfolk, Neb., resident. "I would put her in the baby carrier and walk her around in a quiet place in the store. She would usually cry herself to sleep, and then I could shop."

Dr. Linda Gilkerson is the director of the Fussy Baby Network (www.fussybabynetwork.org) in Chicago, Ill., a free service that offers support for parents concerned about their baby's crying and fussiness. "Even young babies notice and react to differences in their surroundings, but each baby responds differently," Dr. Gilkerson says.

Some babies enjoy being out in public and go with the flow. Others may shut down and go to sleep if they feel over-stimulated. "Others respond by crying or fussing," Dr. Gilkerson says. "Most babies are comforted by the routines and pace of home, and when they are in public, this familiar comfort zone is disrupted."

Dr. Gilkerson also reminds parents that, like adults, babies have their limits. "Don't be surprised if a baby who looks happy one minute falls apart the next," she says. She adds that sometimes Baby will have a delayed response to all the stimulation and become fussy later in the day after they get home.

So what do you do with your unhappy infant in a public place? It's not always possible to rush home.

Liz Jamison of Columbia, S.C., finds that she needs to let her daughter just cry it out. "She is usually crying from exhaustion," she say. "If it gets really bad, either my husband or I will take her to the car (in the case of being in a restaurant) while the other person gets the food boxed up and pays the bill."

Gray finds this also works during the actual meal. "Most of the time, we have to eat in shifts," she says. "One entertaining/walking/distracting her while the other wolfs down a few bites; then we trade."

Crying can set up a vicious circle, too. "Parents often feel anxiety themselves when their baby cries in public," Dr. Buchalter says. "The anxiety felt by the parents can often be sensed by the infant, which can cause more tension. So parents should try to relax and understand that a crying baby is not uncommon. The crying will stop."

Sometimes the solution to tantrum-inducing trips is to limit what you do. "A good rule of thumb for families with young babies is to do less on an outing [rather] than more," Dr. Gilkerson says. "If you are going to visit a friend and then plan to go to the grocery store, consider choosing one of these activities."

Dealing with Disapproval

Some parents find themselves the target of disapproving glares when they have a fussy baby. Dr. Gilkerson acknowledges that it's easy to feel criticized and out of control. "You can try and find a place that is shielded from the hubbub and more calming for both of you," she says. "If this is not possible, you might talk to the people around you and say: 'I know my baby is crying; he'll settle down but it may take a little time.'"

Gray has found that people don't react negatively to her crying child. "Most everyone has 'been there, done that' and I've even had people in the next booth, two pews back in church, etc., make faces and otherwise try to distract/entertain her," she says.

On the bright side of all the tears, remember this too will pass. "Happily, around 6 months of age, when my daughter was able to crawl, she calmed down," McMann says. "She could do more for herself than just sit around and scream. I think the independence crawling gave her made all the difference."

Dr. Gilkerson encourages parents to remember that the first few months with their infant is for getting to know one another. "It's a process for all parents and it takes time," she says. "When babies cry a lot and are hard to soothe, this process is more stressful. That needs to be acknowledged. Parents sometimes think that they have done something wrong, or that their baby is mad at them."

Parents may find that just having someone to talk to is helpful in relieving the stress. "Parents are better able to cope with crying when they feel that someone understands what their experience is and can help them to settle and soothe," Dr. Gilkerson says.

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Did you miss Dr. Sharon on Lifetime TV, December 14th on The Balancing Act? Watch her appearance now and learn to “Lose the attitude. It could change your life!” Click here!

Dr. Sharon is featured in a recent parenting article on SheKnows: Click now to read How to Determine your Parenting Style

Dr. Sharon appears on CBS 12's Good Morning South Florida. Click Here to watch the segment

Dr. Sharon wins prestigious iParenting Media Award for “Children Are People Too”

Dr. Sharon wins prestigious iParenting Media Award for “New Parents Are People Too”

January, 2008 - Current Health, Balancing Act, by Tamekia Reece

January, 2008 - iParenting, "Baby Tantrums," by Shannon McKelden


Did you miss Dr. Sharon on Lifetime TV, December 14th on The Balancing Act? Watch her appearance now and learn to “Lose the attitude. It could change your life!” Click here!

Dr. Sharon is featured in a recent parenting article on SheKnows: Click now to read How to Determine your Parenting Style

Dr. Sharon appears on CBS 12's Good Morning South Florida. Click Here to watch the segment

Dr. Sharon wins prestigious iParenting Media Award for “Children Are People Too”

Dr. Sharon wins prestigious iParenting Media Award for “New Parents Are People Too”

January, 2008 - Current Health, Balancing Act, by Tamekia Reece

January, 2008 - iParenting, "Baby Tantrums," by Shannon McKelden