Babies younger than six months old do not cry because they were born with a bad temper. Crying at this age is for a valid reason. They need something and that is their only communication skill. They are hungry, tired, collicky or just want to be held. Logically, most parents know this. But in the midst of a crying jag, it can be easy to start labeling. Saying your baby has a bad temper can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The truth is an infant is not developmentally capable of a true tantrum, those come later. When you start witnessing a change in how anger is expressed, it is time to take action. Now, that is not to say you can eliminate hot temper tantrums. I have raised four children and am not that naïve. But, while they are babies, thankfully there are still things you can do to stop a bad temper from taking root.
When you keep a consistent routine, the baby knows what to expect. If you notice your baby tends to show anger at a certain time during the day, adjust the routine. Change up eating and sleeping patterns to smooth out the emotions.
Avoid over stimulation
My daughter tended to lose it after running errands or whenever company came over. She needed a steady, calm pace. While I could not give this to her all the time, I did attempt to schedule in time to help her dial it down. Rocking helped, as did turning off any extra noise.
Get over the hump
Anger due to frustration while trying to reach a developmental milestone is another common reason. A very valid reason, I might add. Learning how to sit up or crawl is tough. Some babies, just like adults, can be hard on themselves, not to mention the fact that these skills can be exhausting.
Employ effective tools
This is where the rubber hits the road. Your reaction to your baby's behavior plays a big part in how deeply this behavior is ingrained. Practice reflecting your child's emotions at a young age. The extra communication can help you sort out your own feelings about the out of control babe. "Wow, you look angry, what seems to be the matter," or if you already know maybe respond with, "Gee, those are some wild eyes," or "My what a big voice you have."
Watch for danger signs
Anger is a very common, natural emotion. Hurting others, plotting revenge or manipulating is not an acceptable way of dealing with it. While an infant is not quite ready for their evil monologue, if you consistently respond with anger, remember your baby is watching. Take a time out for yourself when you cannot control your own emotions. Sleep, food, over stimulation, also known as stress, can affect a parent just as powerfully as a baby. Take care of yourself.
Often the best way to deal with an angry baby is to distract them. Some are easily distracted, others need more intense methods. Let them look in a mirror, show them something out the window or offer a shiny or noisy toy. Singing quietly is the method that worked with my oldest. His frustration and angry outbursts were calmed by a goofy, made-up song more often than not.
Start young, because when anger is indulged and allowed, it will continue to grow. But do not expect a baby to hold it all together, all the time. In fact, child psychologist Dr. Sarah Landy recommends not squelching all angry emotions: "To expect a child to be good, not to express anger, can be detrimental over the long term for the child and result in anxiety and fears and can result in explosive anger." Six months, a year, eighteen months, this is the training ground, for both your baby and yourself.
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