Empathizing with an Infant


We are nearly at six weeks with our new little bundle, and the differences between our two children are already stark. Our daughter and wonderful first-born spent her “fourth trimester” screaming and crying for the most part. She was very difficult and hard to please, but a quick learner and she hit all her milestones early. She is still the same way, just with less screaming. So far, our son is calm, hardly ever gets fussy, sleeps a lot eats a lot and poops a lot. I am enjoying how he is becoming more awake and alert during the day. He is even smiling and laughing already. I don’t remember our firstborn laughing this early. We would get a little smile occasionally I remember it was the best part of my day. I am not trying to compare the two, I am simply letting you know how it was different from what we are doing now.

Before I get going into this post, I would like to point out that when #1 was an infant I had not heard of empathy parenting, but still was practicing an attachment parenting style. For our boy obviously I am actively trying to be an empathetic parent.

So, empathy parenting on a toddler is a challenge, but on the surface appears to be more relevant and easier to achieve. We may not always see eye to eye but a toddler can more easily communicate and therefore as a parent you get an almost immediate response to your behavior. When approached, your toddler can say “I am feeling fussy, I am feeling angry.” They might not understand why, but that’s when it is our job to step in and help them understand and cope with how they are feeling and show them the appropriate way to handle their emotions. And when they are in full meltdown mode where communication from them is almost non-existent except in tantrum form even then as an empathetic parent I can see an immediate reaction when I get down to her level and calmly tell her that I hear how upset she is and I understand she has a big emotion. I can immediately see her start to listen to me and we can slowly work through the tantrum together.

So, how do you do that with an infant? How simple, or complex, are the emotional needs of an infant? I certainly feel that they have the same need for love and understanding as a toddler would. Even the colicky infant needs you to be supportive and understanding. In some ways it is harder to be empathetic with an infant. They might not respond immediately, they don’t really understand the meaning of the words we say (but they understand the tone,) they have no basis for how to express any emotion or need except to cry. It can be very frustrating just trying to get through this stage of their lives let alone try to empathize with whats going on inside them and how that is affecting their behavior.

So far he is a pretty chill baby boy

So far he is a pretty chill baby boy.

I say it is MORE critical now then ever to be understanding of an infant’s need and feelings. THAT is the time they are learning, they are getting their first exposure to everything. That is the time they learn to trust (or not) and who they can rely on. They have never seen the sun, or your home, or you, or anything! Everything is new. I certainly know I get overstimulated if my day has too many errands, and while newborns are so adaptive and amazing at processing new information, they are constantly bombarded by the new. It is a lot! Sometimes they can feel overwhelmed too and just need someone to hold them, or they may just need some time to relax in bed and stare at nothing in particular. Being empathetic and really paying attention to what is going on with your infant will help you ascertain what they need.

HOW can you be empathetic with your infant? Personally, I find being close a lot helps. Baby wear, breastfeeding, holding them instead of setting them on a mat or a crib. I would say, at this point I chose to hold my son most of the day, and at night he sleeps next to me nestled in my arm. Just look at them, focus on them. Try to delete as many distractions as you can. I am not saying you need to spend 24 hours gazing into your infants eyes, just a few times a day make a space of time that is really just for them. Certainly to be a happy and healthy parent you need you time as well. Just try to make sure there is a balance.

If you have a particularly fussy infant, like I had with my daughter, you will need to spend more time trying to understand them and you will probably be more frustrated. I certainly spent a lot of time frustrated with my first. All the information I had been reading and learning about at the time, none of it helped. I felt very lost trying to care for her in that stage. I feel perhaps if I had known about empathy parenting maybe things might have been a little easier. They say colic is where an infant can not be calmed down no matter what you do. Our daughter would calm down, but it sure took a LOT of work to get her that way. Think pat-rock-bounce and sway for hours with the shower running on cold (for the sound.) Maybe though, I would not have been so frustrated and depressed if I had understood why she was behaving that way.

My daughter was SO fussy during her "fourth trimester"

My daughter was SO fussy during her “fourth trimester.”

My only piece of advice when using this parenting style on a very fussy inconsolable infant is to just try to remember they are new and everything is new to them. That is a lot to deal with. Remember, you are their only source of comfort, and when you leave they don’t yet understand that you aren’t gone forever (out of sight out of mind.) I know it can be hard and it is frustrating for you, but even if they are crying and upset continue to hold them and calmly soothe them and show them your love. You might not see the immediate result, but certainly it is better than abandoning them to their own devices all the time. However, I will note, if YOU are feeling like you are at the breaking point yourself PLEASE by all means set them down in the crib and walk away for a few minutes to collect yourself. An angry frustrated mama at the point of having a meltdown herself can’t possibly hope to calm down an infant. They will pick up on how you feel so the calmer you are the better and everyone needs a breather now and then!

If you have a colicky infant and try empathy parenting, how well does it work for you? I welcome all comments! I will continue to update as our children grown on how being empathetic and understanding has helped them grow.

For more information don’t forget to check out my affiliates bundle sale going on now until July 10th!

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