I’ve recently seen several posters with a sad looking infant and the phrase, “Never shake a baby. NEVER.” I’ll start by saying that I wholeheartedly agree that noone should EVER shake a baby.
I understand, however, why parents often feel tempted to do things that are physically dangerous for their children. It’s 3am and your baby is awake for the fourth time. She’s inconsolable. She won’t eat. She won’t sleep. You changed her diaper a few minutes ago. She just…won’t…stop.
As a parent, this is an overwhelming and all-too-common situation. It’s the nightmare scenario that is impossible to wake from because you’re never actually asleep long enough to dream! So what is a desperate parent to do? I want to share just a few possible approaches to handling this situation to help you feel a bit less crazy in those moments. I’d say not crazy at all, but as much as having kids is rewarding, it’s just a little crazy, right!? My ultimate hope, though, is that regardless of whether you feel better at 3am you will NEVER do anything that could harm your baby that you will immediately regret. Check out these strategies for getting through those sleepless screaming nights:
- Take a deep breath. It seems simple, but breathing is something we do without thinking and the way we do it can have an immediate impact on how we feel physically and emotionally. Try pressing your index and middle fingers against the vein in your neck and slowly breathe in and out. Notice the slight slowing as you breathe out instead of in. Quick, shallow breaths can raise your anxiety level and slow, deep breaths can lower it. Breathe in for a count of 4 and out for a count of 4, and then bring your focus back to your baby. Repeat as often as needed.
- Talk to yourself. Yes, I know I said that it can feel crazy at times being a parent, but that’s not the kind of crazy we mean here. Use “positive self-talk” to get you through the most difficult moments. Say (out loud) things like, “I can do this,” “This won’t last forever,” “This is only a phase,” or “She needs me to stay calm.” Be your own coach and encourager. Your child won’t mind the talking. Heck, they’re probably screaming anyway so it’s not going to wake them up. Your calm voice just may soothe them and help them sleep.
- If you have a partner to trade off with, do it! Parenting is always easier when the load can be shared. Talk with your partner about a plan for those rough nights when nothing seems to work. As is always the case in relationships, communication is key! It’s better to have your partner get less sleep because you passed the baton to them than to yell at or shake your baby.
- Try singing while you rock/bounce them (every parent knows the “bouncing baby walk”). Sometimes the difference in tone will calm them. Remember that they don’t know if you’re a good singer or not. They don’t care. They just like hearing that you are near and in control.
- Check for anything that may be bothering your child. Are they getting pinched by a zipper? Having a hard time breathing for any reason? Arm/leg stuck in the slats of the crib? One of your stray hairs wrapped around a finger, toe, or penis? In addition to being generally upsetting, these can each be dangerous to the baby in their own way.
- If all else fails, just walk away. Not forever. Not even for a long time. Just get yourself a quick break for 2 minutes to collect your thoughts and feelings. Generally speaking, crying is not bad for babies. It’s how they tell us the need something. We just need to make sure there is nothing dangerous or painful that is causing them to cry. Take a short breather and remind yourself that crying is their job. They’re communicating the best way they know how. In the long run it will be better for you and your baby if you make sure your emotions are back to baseline before trying to soothe them.
No matter what happens, whether the strategies above are effective for your child or not, remember that your baby is not trying to annoy you. They’ll have plenty of time to purposefully push your buttons when they’re 2, 3, or any of the teenage years! Right now they just need you to be a safe, calm presence that they can count on to meet their needs.
If you find yourself struggling with the constant demands of parenting, if it’s starting to wear you down physically and emotionally, or if there is anything in your life that needs work so that you can be the emotionally and physically available parent you want to be for your children, get in touch with me at 657-200-8080 to set up a consultation at one of my Orange County offices. You can also reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.
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