Children can be, and most often are, quite resilient. That does not mean they are immune to stress, however, or to its resulting responses in the brain and body. In fact, children are highly vulnerable to stress during the first few years of life. As a parent, you can help your children learn how to respond to stressful situations starting at the baby stage.
First, most babies will stop crying if you pick them up. Physical touch, especially close bodily contact, helps infants regulate their arousal system. Close bodily contact has a calming effect partly because it nudges the release of oxytocin. As Parenting Playbook has mentioned on other occasions, oxytocin is an antistress chemical that is released at birth. It is a calming chemical, and it also helps a mother and her new baby bond.
The comfort offered to a baby when he or she is cuddled and held close provides warmth as well. Warmth also releases oxytocin. If you keep your thermostat at about 70 degrees F. and/or wrap your baby in a snuggly blanket, you will be helping him or her release that nearly magical, calming chemical. Remember that you want to keep your baby comfortably warm, not too hot.
You have probably noticed that infants like to suck on things. Sucking does have a calming effect on babies, so you can help yours find his or her fingers, thumb, or fist. You can also offer one of your fingers. Pacifiers, if used at times when a baby needs help to calm down, are another option.
In addition, rhythmic movement and rocking are calming activities for babies. When you pick up and hold your baby close and then walk around or rock in a chair, he or she is experiencing rhythmic movement along with the warmth of your body. Movement in a stroller or car also calms most babies. Think about and try to achieve a rhythm that will remind baby of what it felt like to be securely settled yet gently moving inside the womb. The key is gentle movements. Your calm influence will affect your child’s brain and body.
Another soothing activity that will remind your baby of the womb is playing something with a low, rhythmic sound. The sounds of the washing machine and clothes dryer come to mind. Some parents have had good luck calming their baby by recording mom’s heartbeat and playing it for their baby to hear. This heartbeat technique seems to work best for newborns.
Your baby may get fussy because he or she is either bored or over-aroused. It’s a good idea to keep handy some small, soft toys for entertaining your baby if novelty is needed. If you think your baby is over-stimulated, try taking him or her to a room that is quiet with soft, low lighting.
Many options exist for helping your precious bundle of love learn to deal with the stresses of life, and starting in the baby stage will be the foundation for the toddler years to come and beyond.