Navigating the emotional ups-and-downs of a baby often challenges new parents and nursery workers. Dr. Scott Turansky’s book “Baby Adventure” offers insights into providing real solutions for your young child.
“My baby seems angry,” one mom reported. “Is that possible? Should I discipline him? He’s only four months old, but I don’t want to encourage it and develop bad patterns.”
This mom is asking a good question. Emotions are a part of our lives. We all experience emotions and interpret the emotions of others. Some babies seem to demonstrate anger at a young age, but the anger of an infant isn’t to be interpreted the same as a demonstration of adult anger. Babies have very few choices when it comes to expressing needs and desires. They can’t communicate with words but they can display emotion. Be careful when you think your baby is angry. Likely he’s communicating an unmet desire, or a blocked goal. This isn’t the time to begin discipline, but a time to respond to the need.
Other babies appear to be anxious or nervous, easily reacting to sounds, activity, or disturbances. You might characterize them as sensitive. A controlled environment seems necessary in order for this baby to get through a decent nap, and that includes temperature, light, and noise, a rather challenging task in most households. This baby may appear jumpy or easily upset.
Other babies tend to get overwhelmed easily. Dramatic crying or uncontrollable screaming can make you wonder if your child is possessed or has some psychological problem needing some form of therapy now, at just a few months of age.
If a baby seems to be expressing anger or appears to be quite sensitive, this is usually an indication of a child with a greater emotional makeup. Some kids have an extra scoop of emotion. It’s part of their God-given design. Please keep in mind that, when handled well, this is an asset, not a curse. Emotional people are usually able to better understand the emotions of others. They can sense the emotional climate in a room and know when another person is hurting. Our culture sometimes views emotions as negative attributes. But when you think about it you see that those who learn to use their emotional sensitivity in positive ways become great counselors, pastors, or even salesmen who can sense the best time to clinch a deal.
A child who is easily overwhelmed with emotion, or experiences emotions with a degree of intensity, will likely be that way for all of life. You don’t have to solve all of the emotional problems of a child in the baby stage. One of the things you can do now though is to teach about comfort. As your child gets older, you want to teach more about anger and anxiety and how to respond to them, but for now, view your child’s emotion as a cry for help, reaching out either for comfort or for solutions to life’s problems.
By bringing comfort or solutions into your baby’s life you teach a number of things. First of all, you teach that their communication and cries for help work. A solution is produced. Eventually you’ll teach your child how to use manners and ask with graciousness, but for now you’re teaching that solutions are available when you initiate. Babies also learn to trust through experience. When Mom or Dad resolves the problem or brings comfort to a difficult situation, you baby learns that life is predictable, a foundational belief in order for trust to develop.
Infancy is a time to learn about comfort and security. Take time to soothe an angry baby and comfort a sensitive child. In early infancy, that may mean rocking and consoling. In later infancy it may also include redirecting and soothing.
In time, your child will learn to comfort himself, develop self-control, and understand what peace looks like in practical terms. But for now, you’ll set the stage for emotional health by modeling a godly approach to emotions and by offering comfort when you baby is upset. Your responsiveness to your baby’s emotions will become the precursor of your child’s development of emotional management and seeking God for comfort.
As you see emotions develop in your baby, take some time to reflect upon your own emotions as well. God has created you to be an emotional person. Emotions aren’t bad, but they can be upsetting and dangerous if misused. If you struggle with anger, ask God to give you a greater understanding of self-control, peace, and forgiveness. You might want to memorize James 1:20 which says, “Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” That verse contains an important principle that parents can use for the rest of their parenting journey. The tendency to get angry is common, but if you’re trying to help your child grow, then your anger is likely to get in the way.
If you tend to be anxious yourself, you might want to meditate on scriptures that talk about the value trust and relying on God, especially when things are uncertain. For example, Psalm 56:1 says, “In God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” reminding us that our primary objective is to trust in God not in the opinions of others.
It’s not wrong to feel angry or anxious. It’s what we do with that feeling that’s so important. As you help your child learn to handle emotions well, you’ll likely be reminded of strategies for your own emotions and one of the most important ones is to go to God for comfort.
When you model problem solving and provide comfort for your baby, you’re introducing spiritual growth in the life of your infant. You don’t have to wait until your child is a preschooler or in elementary school to teach about God. Right now you’re the model that your baby sees every day and many of the things you do reflect God and become the basis for further spiritual development in the future.
Used with permission of Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, RN, BSN. All rights reserved. National Center for Biblical Parenting