Take a look in the Parenting section at any major bookstore and you’ll find a wide selection of books promising to make your baby the happiest in the neighborhood or so quiet and calm that others will think that you have some sort of magic touch.
What these books don’t tell you is that everything you need to know to calm your baby, you already have right at your fingertips.
There’s no magic technique and certainly no formula that can be applied to EVERY baby EVERY time he or she is upset. Take some time to get to know your baby and yourself, and you may find that you know just what to do to bring about that calm, cuddly, sweet, and cooing baby you always imagined yourself enjoying.
Many of the calming techniques suggested in these books are things that you may find yourself doing naturally and that your mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother have done for years before you. They are things that you’ll see veteran mothers doing absent-mindedly any time they’re in the same room with a crying baby…whether they’re holding that crying baby or not. They are actions you may use without even realizing that they’re techniques.
Some of these techniques are:
- Feeding, changing the diaper, putting the baby to sleep Before trying anything else, make sure that these basic needs have been met.
- Changing the environment Overstimulation or boredom can create cranky kids. If the environment is too overwhelming to the senses, turn off the lights, change the music, stop demanding eye contact and interaction, and allow your baby to chill out. If your baby is lacking stimulation, provide something to interact with…keep in mind that your face is the most preferred play item!
- Swaddling Wrapping your baby firmly provides a similar sensation to the tightness he or she felt when snuggled in your womb. Swaddling can help provide proprioceptive input that can regulate and organize behavior. For some babies, swaddling even beyond three or so months is warranted.
- Bouncing, swaying, rocking, patting These movements are soothing and again, can mimic the movements your baby experienced while he or she was on the inside. This is why babies will frequently fall asleep in the car or in the stroller (both of which can be good calming strategies).
- Shushing, singing A gentle and constant chant in your baby’s ear can distract your baby and allow him or her to attend to something other than what’s causing the fussing.
- Massaging You don’t need to have taken any special class to know how to touch your baby and firmly yet gently massage his or her muscles. This kind of deep, yet gentle touch can be calming and can help regulate and organize behavior.
Again, there’s no magic formula able to make every baby stop being fussy, and you should be leery of literature that suggests this.
Fussiness is a form of communication and frequently, the most powerful and effective way for your baby to get your attention. Teaching your baby early on that his or her needs will be met swiftly and effectively will reduce the necessity for fussing. And on those days that nothing from your bag of tricks seems to work, rule out ear infection and any other physical ailment and then call your local veteran mother to come to the rescue!
Teaching self-soothing can be more challenging with some kids. These kids just don’t seem to come equipped with that internal calming mechanism and may continue to need some external help well into school age. An Occupational Therapist trained in Sensory Integration can be helpful in these situations and an evaluation could be warranted.
In the meantime, here are some strategies to try:
- Keep routines and structures simple and clear. For some kids, too much time without structure can lead to disorganized behavior. Find ways to create structured activities and assign tasks to everyday routines.
- Use frequent physical touching and guiding. Sometimes children need more than just verbal input to process a request.
- Establish a Calm-Down spot in your home or classroom. This spot should be free of many visual and auditory distractions but should allow for some movements like jumping, pounding, swinging, rocking, etc.
- Continue to use techniques that provide deep pressure, such as swaddling (with a much bigger blanket than you used with your infant!), massage, squishing between sofa cushions, etc.
- Provide fidget toys during highly structured activities like circle time or any other setting that requires your child to sit and attend. These items should be small and quiet toys that do not distract other children but that provide some sort of calming stimulation for your child. This can be a Koosh ball, a water tube, a vibrating teether, etc.
If your child seems to have extreme difficulty calming, talk to your doctor about your concerns and perhaps follow up with an Occupational Therapy evaluation.