My Baby Won’t.
Every new baby feels like a miracle, your first new baby is a total wonder and surprise, and so is your second, and third etc. At first you are just overwhelmed with this perfect miniature person, the tiny fingers, the minute toes, the desperate mouth and relentless nappy end. But then you begin to realise that this baby is his own person with ideas and attitudes and wants. Some of what this baby likes or dislikes may be strange, some of it embarrassing. It is hard if your baby screams whenever someone wearing glasses comes near, harder still if the person is Granny. Babies have a number of instinctual responses. Some make sense and are functional; some serve no purpose at all. How can you help your baby to deal with things or people he finds difficult?
New babies are amazing. Within the womb, your baby is getting accustomed to your voice so that he will recognise the voices of the people most important to him as soon as he is born. They are born perfectly equipped for all the parenting systems that kick in at birth – their visual focussing distance is that distance between their eyes and the eyes of whoever is cradling them, they have rooting instincts that enable them to nuzzle in to the nipple that will provide food, they cry with pain and discomfort, they can control very little of their bodies – they can manoeuvre their hands to hit something in roughly the right direction – and they poo and wee when it’s necessary. But within two days the baby will look preferentially at his mother’s face – if given several female faces to look at he will choose to look at his mother’s – and now, apparently, they have discovered that babies who are less than a week old will choose to look at a face with the symmetrical features associated with beauty rather than at one which would be considered unattractive. The baby learns who its primary caretakers are, learns to smile at about six weeks, starts copying facial expressions and then starts to make noises, responding and copying the sounds made to him by another person. The baby also starts training you ; he lets you know which tastes he likes or dislikes, when he is ready to sleep, when he likes to play, what type of touch is soothing to him.
By about four or five months, you have some idea about the sort of person he is – calm, easy going, anxious, brave, curious, sleepy etc. This might also be a baby who cries when he sees a furry animal or someone with glasses or a beard, or someone who is a different colour. You can avoid cats and dogs; it’s very difficult indeed if your baby cries whenever Granny visits and tries to hold him, or, rarely but devastatingly, when Daddy tries to pick him up. These seem to be quite irrational responses and there is very little to be done about it in the short term. As the baby gets older, he will become more accustomed to these people but there is little to be gained by forcing him into Granny’s arms as he squirms and wriggles and cries to get away.
From about eight months – and often a little later – the infant starts to be seriously aware of different people. He chooses whom to be friends with and develops a close attachment with those whom he sees most often. This is not just one person and most babies develop an attachment with several grown-ups – parents or carers, perhaps the person or persons they see most often at Nursery.
Attachment is defined as ‘an intense emotional relationship that is specific to two people, that endures over time, and in which prolonged separation from the partner is accompanied by stress and sorrow’. This is a very critical stage in Infant Development; attachment refers to close physical support and sustenance and is founded on a quality of care and predictability. The child who is securely attached to parents and has positive expectations of himself and others, is more likely to approach the world with confidence. Attachment underpins a child’s healthy emotional and personal development; and is essential if the older child is to be able to make attachments to other, less significant people as he gets older. This attachment forms the base from which he will develop the confidence to take risks by making other relationships, or trying new activities – confident that he has a sound base to return to.
But this difficult time can also signal the beginning of marked likes and dislikes that the child can make very obvious. I have numbers of infants who scream at anyone of another colour – to the serious embarrassment of the parents – or at anyone with make-up etc. For a little while it can be laughed off, but this gets harder to do. What should you do if a best friend or relative who falls into your child’s ‘unacceptable’ category, visits? Imagine Aunty Beth is visiting. You have been friends for years. Your child does not like her, no-one knows why. Firstly, tell the child that Aunty Beth is coming, and make clear that she is coming to visit you, not the child. Encourage Aunty to say ‘hello’ briefly but otherwise to make no attempt to talk to the child. Aunty is there to be with you, the child is incidental. You will find that your child either withdraws, or, more probably, after a little complaint, comes to sit on your lap and then puts their head between you and Aunty. Move the child’s head gently to one side and go on talking to Aunty; and then talk briefly to your child. You are not ignoring the child, he or she just has to wait his turn. In the end, your child will become used to the conversation and may feel the desire to join in. Increasingly, either during this visit or the next, the child will go closer and closer to Aunty. Aunty might look at the child and say ‘hello’, or just smile. Aunty makes very little move towards the child until the child makes some friendly gesture to Aunty. And then, but only then, can Aunty start to talk briefly to the child. Aunty Beth then talks with you again. Later you might play a game together, or you might leave the room briefly; for now, your child can control the contact he or she has with Aunty Beth. Given the control, the child will soon choose to join in.
Most grow into older children who can deal politely with adults of any and every shape, size and colour. At the beginning, before the child can deal rationally with unspecified fears, a little space can help a great deal.