Here are some time-tested listening tips that can help you decode the meaning of your baby’s cries, respond nurturantly, and gradually create a communication relationship so that baby doesn’t always have to cry to communicate:
1. View your baby’s cries as a communication rather than a manipulation tool. Think of your baby’s cries as a signal to be listened to and interpreted rather than click into a fear of spoiling or fear of being controlled mindset.
2. Better early than late. New parents may be led to believe that the more they delay their response to baby’s cries, the less baby will cry. While this may be true of some easy, mellow babies (they become apathetic), infants with persistent personalities will only cry harder and in a more disturbing way. Learn to read your baby’s pre-cry signals: anxious facial expressions, arms flailing, excited breathing, etc. Responding to these pick-me-up signals teaches baby that he doesn’t have to cry to get attended to. Again, forget the fear of spoiling. Studies have shown that babies whose cries are promptly attended to actually learn to cry less as older infants and toddlers.
3. Respond appropriately. You don’t have to pick up a seven-month-old baby as quickly as a seven-day-old baby. In the early weeks of cue-response rehearsals, respond intuitively and quickly to each cry. As you and your baby become better communicators, you – and only you – will know whether a cry is a “red alert come now” cry or one that merits a more delayed response.
Learn that magic cry-response word appropriately, which implies balance – knowing when to say “yes” and when to say “no.” In fact, you will naturally start off as a “yes mom,” then intuitively become appropriately a “yes and no” mom. When in doubt, say “yes.” It’s much easier to fix over-responding – you just back off a bit. It’s more difficult to repair the distrust that stems from under-responding and becoming disconnected.
4. Try the Caribbean approach. A system we have developed to model calmness to a baby is one we dubbed the Caribbean attitude: “No problem, mon!” Imagine your seven-month-old baby playing at your feet and you’re on the phone. Baby starts to fuss and give pick-me-up gestures. Instead of dropping the phone and anxiously scooping up fussing baby, put on your happy face, caringly acknowledge baby and make voice contact, “It’s okay, Molly…” In this way, your body language is reflecting, “No problem, baby; no need to fuss.” Another favorite phrase in the Caribbean is “don’t worry, be happy.” By your body language, convey to your baby – be happy, not fussy.