The art of communication with a new baby is a whole new ball game but the skills we need to learn are valuable skills for effective communication with anyone – it’s about active listening…
Crying is the obvious form of communication for babies, so we should never forget that that’s what it is. My beliefs tell me that a baby left to cry is not being listened to – it’s our job as parents to try and establish what is causing the upset and help them to regulate their emotions ie. teach them how to calm down.
Let’s remind ourselves why babies cry. They’re not manipulative and won’t cry to get their own way, only to have their needs met: they cry if they’re hungry, thirsty, tired, too hot or cold, dirty, bored, in pain or in need of love. If an older child was in need of any of these things we certainly wouldn’t leave them to cry for it!
Of course babies display other emotions too – really small babies show contentment and this time should be given as much focus as the crying, showing them the value of being happy and interacting…try not to do jobs every time baby is settled as you’ll miss out on quality time as well as the chance to recognise other signals before baby needs to cry to get your attention, such as early feeding cues (see below).
Later on, babies smile and laugh – it would be very hard to ignore these emotions and not join in! But there’s also excitement, shock and surprise, noises of frustration and looks of fear or concern to look out for. Naming all of these emotions accompanied with reassuring words is excellent practice helping to establish your little one’s understanding of and reaction to their feelings.
In the same way as with older age groups, baby’s body language helps us identify certain needs. It’s all about recognising consistent behaviours and learning to understand what they mean.
Our little one has a couple of traits that help point me in the right direction – one arm straight up and other elbow in the air with knees tucked up means “put me over your shoulder Mommy!”, and when lying on your lap, leg kicks tend to mean it’s time for some floor play! With these in mind, think about what your little one does…
Look out for the Moro reflex (arms and legs thrown out in response to a startle). We experienced this mostly on the changing mat and it told us “I don’t feel safe” (even though I’m flat on the floor!). A number of factors bring it on such as lack of resistance when moving limbs (rather than feeling the walls of the womb or your arms around them), lack of clothes, coldness of changing mat, etc. We looked at ways in which we could change the situation in response to those fears/dislikes; lying on a towel, giving them a minute to adjust, putting your face close so they know you’re still there, asking someone to hold their hands, placing something on their stomach such as a warm flannel, or propping up the edges of the changing mat so they can feel it around them. It’s all about developing ideas to ease the problem rather than just calming them after – that way they know you’re listening 🙂
Feeding cues are also an important part of body language – as a breastfeeding Mom you’re encouraged to look for tongue bobbing, fist sucking, rooting and lip smacking so you don’t wait for crying before feeding. However, don’t forget your child is individual – our baby’s tongue is always bobbing out when contented so I put off feeding until there’s a little moan in order to make the most of this time. Be confident about what you know about your child!
Apparently young babies have different signs of tiredness than we’re used to; flailing arms and legs is one of them, but this can also be linked to wind so if you do manage to work this one out let me know 😀
Baby’s eyes say a lot from day one; they tell you about their interests and teach them about the world, and you are the link. Respond to baby and what they are looking at…more often in the early days it’s your face that they are drawn too, so big smiles and melodic words are very important as they begin to learn about communication and relationships.
As they notice more and more, talk to them about what they’re looking at responding to their facial expressions too. And make a note of what they look at most often – if you can see connections then you can extend their learning; our little one stares at lights even when they’re off so we respond by turning them on and have purchased different shaped and coloured fairy lights, moving lights that can be tracked, we’ve made dens with silver blankets & black fabric and put lights underneath, and we’ve bought shiny windmills & paper that catches the light. Responding to their interest with repeated phrases also aids development even at this early stage – when baby looks at the light and hears “do you want Mommy to turn the light on?”, a smile breaks out and focus remains on the light til it comes on 🙂
We also noticed that bees on our toys always attracted attention so we now have spinning ones, hanging ones, crinkly ones and smelly ones dotted round the house. By recognising their interests you demonstrate that you’ve listened and value their interests inspiring further learning!
Look out for opportunities to teach the basic rules of communication – turn taking, patterns & sequencing, interest and, of course, listening can all be introduced by following baby’s lead. Pay attention to gestures, noises and movements that you can copy and then wait for a response. Their eyes will light up when they recognise your connection with them.
And talk as much as you can, about anything and everything so they can listen to this new wonderful language. You’ll be amazed how quickly they begin to understand.