Five Things to Keep in Mind When Caring for an Infant


Be swaddled with attention.

Five Things to Keep in Mind When Caring for an Infant

1. From birth, your baby is as actively involved in shaping and influencing you as you are him

Indeed, sometimes the baby does a better job of it than adults. The problem is, that at the same time babies are trying to exert control, parents are also trying to shape the environment for them. The desired result is not always the same.

What to do? Understand that parenting is a partnership rather than a one way process. Babies are not blank slates nor lumps of clay; they are active participants in the process. From birth, your baby is working on communicating with you and others around him. Listen to what your child tells you — with his voice, his body and his face — and work with him to meet his needs.

2. For babies, there is a wide range of normal development

Children develop skills in four major areas — small and large muscle movement; awareness and knowledge of the world; social; and language. Each baby comes into the world with her own time table as to when she will develop certain skills and abilities. Once you understand that there is a wide range of normal development, you will also understand that comparing infants is unwise and unfair to both the babies and the parents.

Recognize differences and let your child develop at her own pace. While there are some things you can do to encourage and facilitate your child's explorations, don’t rush her or try to change her timetable. She will do things when she is good and ready. Rest assured, by the time children are 18 months old, timetables converge and, in terms of development, most children are developing quite similarly.

If you have serious concerns about your child’s development, talk with your health care provider. At clinic visits, providers often look for issues that might be outside the norm.

3. Babies have inborn temperaments and those temperaments vary

I'm sure you've heard people refer to certain babies as "good" babies. Usually, they're talking about infants who sleep a lot and fuss a little. In truth, babies are neither good nor bad. They just are. Some babies fall asleep in their strollers or on their parents' shoulders at baseball games, in church, or out shopping. Once saturated with stimulation, they tune out or they drop into the passive alert state, where seemingly entranced, their eyes glaze over and they tune out further stimulation. Place an active baby in the same setting and rather than drifting off to sleep he may become increasingly stimulated, get worked up and cry a lot.

Author T. Berry Brazelton, MD, of the Brazelton Institute, describes a continuum of temperament that ranges from passive to normal to active. At the active end of the continuum, children are potentially hyperactive or attention deficit. At the other end, children are placid and calm. In between, you’ll find a wealth of variations.

Whatever your child's temperament, learn about it and learn to work with her. Though some people may think you are coddling and spoiling your child when you place her needs first or equal to your own, keep trusting your own instincts and listen to your baby. In the end, you'll find it is much easier to change routines than it is to change your child's temperament.

4. Babies learn about the world through association and repetition

Sometimes we are deliberate about teaching our children about the world; other times we are unintentional. If, for example, you respond to your child each time he cries, your baby learns through association and repetition that he can trust you to be there when he needs something — whether it is comfort, food, touch or attention.

If through association and repetition the child learns that you are inconsistent — sometimes you will respond and other times you will let him work out his own distress — then your child might learn he can’t trust you or others, or his own ability to communicate. Think about how you interact with your baby because oftentimes you’re teaching lifelong lessons.

5. Consistent, predictable patterns help bring order to chaos

Predictable routines, such as those at bath and bedtime, help your child anticipate what’s going to happen and increase your baby’s sense of control and security. Pay attention to the importance of even the simplest rituals. Sing the verses of favorite songs and play games such as peek-a-boo or "how big" the same way each time. When your child recognizes a familiar pattern, he will be more excited about the activity and able to participate more fully. These daily routines and rituals serve to build and strengthen the lifelong attachment and sense of trust between you and your child.

* We alternate the use of him/her.

Content provided by Rick Bell, PhD, LP. Bell is a father and a psychologist. He is co-founder of the "For a Father and His Baby" program.