The perfect mother responds to her baby every time they cry.
By now you know that that’s impossible. Not only that, it’s not even what’s best for your baby.
The question is – how can you know when to respond and when to let your baby work it out on their own?
It comes down to these three steps:
Let’s break it down.
First, the obvious. Why is it important to respond?
Attachment theory teaches us that in order to develop a secure bond with your baby you need to be (somewhat) consistently responsive to their needs. When your baby is distressed and you help them regulate they learn two crucial lessons:
- They can count on you to be there when they need you.
- How to co-regulate so that they can eventually regulate themselves (to learn more about co-regulation check out this post.)
These lessons allow your baby to develop independence and create close relationships with others.
But responding doesn’t always mean ACTING. It may mean giving your baby an understanding glance. Knowing HOW to respond is the tricky part.
Why is it important to observe?
When your baby is a newborn, responding to them mostly means feeding, soothing, and providing close physical contact. But as they grown their reasons for being fussy and distressed become more complicated.
By three or four months your baby is not just complaining about phyiscal needs but about emotional ones too. Suddenly they’re frustrated that they can’t reach a toy, or upset that you’re leaving, or angry when something is taken away. And as they grown their needs become more and more complicated.
The only way you can learn more about what your baby needs and their subtle cues is by OBSERVING.
That’s where the pause comes in.
When we hear our baby cry to want to act fast. We want to quickly satisfy their needs so that they stop fussing. But that isn’t always the best thing for your baby. As your baby grows and their ego develops they also need to start to learn how and when to soothe themselves or solve a problem on their own.
In order to figure out how to respond, you need to PAUSE and OBSERVE your baby.
Here are some examples of times during your day when it would be beneficial to you both to Pause and Observe before immediately responding with action:
- The First Whine
They’re playing with something and start to whine. You see that the toy they want is out of reach. Pause, Observe. Was the complaint momentary? Are they simply uncomfortable and need to roll over? Did they fivure out how to reach the toy on their own? Are they over it and on to something else?
2. The Helpless Glance
Your baby is trying to do something like put a toy into a hole, stack blocks, or open the door on their own. They keep trying and failing and now they’re getting a little frustrated. They look up to you. Pause, observe. The glance might mean – help me! But it can also mean – look at this annoying thing! See what happens if you assume it’s the second and only act when they need you to.
3. The Questionable Fall
If your baby is on the move they probably fall 27 times a day. Most of the time the falls aren’t serious and are usually followed by your baby looking up at you. In that glance they’re asking – is this something to cry over? Or – was this surprising and a bit painful but I can keep going? Pause, Observe, see what they need. Do they come to you? Do they just need an empathizing glance? Or do they need you to come to them?
With all of these situations, if you see your baby becoming more distressed you RESPOND. But when you hit these flagpoints you can pause a second and learn more about what your baby needs in that moment.
The more you do this, the more you’ll learn the body language, facial expreessions and tone they use when they absolutely need you to resond with action.
Important – if we don’t pause and observe we run the risk of teaching our baby that they are not capable of soothing themselves or figuring out things on their own. They’re looking for your cues. And every now and then, your desire to respond might be born out of your own need more than your baby’s.
Do you have a friend who’s wondering when to respond to her baby’s crying and when to step back and let her baby figure it out? Send her this post and tell her to sign up for more below.