Psychology for Living

Gwen Randall-Young
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No such thing as a bad baby

On my last flight, I sat beside a mother and her young child. I was somewhat disturbed by how much aggression and hostility was in her voice when she spoke to her child. She repeatedly told him to quit crying because "nobody wants to listen to you." If he fussed, she admonished him to "give me a break." I wondered, if she spoke to him like this in public, what might happen in private?

This might not sound so bad, after all, who among us has not lost patience at times with our children? However, her child was only 15 weeks old. He fussed because his ears hurt due to the change in altitude, and on top of that, mom was handling him roughly. Through the space between the seats I saw his sweet face and big innocent eyes. His tiny baby toes curled under as only tiny baby toes can do. He was a gentle soul, wanting only love and comfort. What kind of life lies in store for him?
Even a 15-week-old being can be a teacher. Here's what he asked me to tell you. There is no such thing as a bad baby. They fuss because they are uncomfortable, not because they want to irritate. Sometimes it is hard to know what they need, and at those times, more than any other, what they need from us is patience. They do not understand anger. They cannot know that we are mad, only that it scares them. Babies are not just physically fragile, they are emotionally fragile as well. They must be treated and spoken to gently.
Harsh treatment in infancy, or ignoring their needs, can leave scars that may last a lifetime. If you are a stressed out parent of an infant, please do not feel you are alone. Most everyone loves babies, and would gladly relieve you for a couple of hours if they knew you were at your wit's end. Many of us have been there.
If you know someone who may be struggling or overwhelmed with a young baby, pick up the phone. We all belong to the same tribe and must care for and support our collective young. Besides, my little friend in row 12, seat C, may take comfort in his soul, knowing that in some magical way his difficult experience made life a little easier for another wee soul.
Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning Psychotherapist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books or CDs, visit www.gwen.ca
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