Getting to Know Your Newborn by the Expert Bonnie Berk
Newborns are amazing and each child is unique. Every baby is born with innate characteristics that, for the most, determine how they respond to different environmental stimuli. These characteristics are called “temperament.” As parents, our job is to observe our children and notice their unique qualities and then provide them with the best environments that support their individual personalities.
As an example, my son never liked loud noises. So when we would put him in situations with loud music or lively conversations, he became over-stimulated and unhappy. As a result, we, meaning our family, suffered. So after coming to terms with the fact that he is his own person, I tried to avoid situations that would be upsetting to him and life was a lot more enjoyable.
So, despite our own best efforts, our children are who they are, not who we would like them to be, and the more we realize this, the easier parenting will be. Initially, your baby will exhibit a wide range of behaviors in various situations, but by about two months, you may start to notice some consistencies in your child’s behavior. Spend some time observing your newborn to discover who your child really is by noting his or her behavior in the following areas:
- Regularity: This refers to the predictability of biological functioning like eating, sleeping and elimination. Your baby is on his or her own schedule. Your job as a parent is to follow your baby’s clues and support his or her own internal schedule. It is counterproductive to try to get baby to conform to your ideas of when to eat, when to sleep and when to have a bowel movement. Make life easy for yourself. The more you understand your baby’s needs and habits, the more satisfied both you and your baby will be.
- Activity Level: Notice your child’s motor activity and the proportion of active and inactive periods. Honor your baby’s need to balance out the active with the inactive. Try to notice when baby gets tired and provide both space and time for rest. Also notice when your baby needs some activity and plan ahead of time for appropriate play like taking a walk outside, telling a story or just dancing to music.
- Sensory Threshold: This refers to the level of stimulation needed to evoke a response. The neurological system continues to develop for several years after birth and some baby’s are more sensitive to stimulus than others. Learn about your baby’s ability to handle sensory input and provide environments to help your baby stay calm. Holding your baby close to your heart in times of stress or upset and breathing slowly and deeply will teach your child how to calm down on their own. It will also help your sanity in times of stress.
- Adaptability: Your baby’s ability to adapt to changes in daily routines or new experiences is innate. Some baby’s are fine with change, others are not. If you find your baby has a hard time with change, find ways to ease him or her into a new routine or change and be supportive. Even though baby cannot talk, listen to verbal and nonverbal clues when trying something new. And while your newborn may not understand the meaning of your words, your baby can hear the tone of your voice. So be aware that “how” you say things to your newborn has more of an impact that “what” you say.
- Mood: Some baby’s are generally happy and others tend to be fussy. It is not a judgment, but rather an observation. Notice your baby’s overall attitude and try to help turn negatives into positives.
- Distractibility: Being able to distract your baby can be useful, especially as he or she becomes a toddler. Notice how an outside stimulus affects your baby’s ability to change his or her behavior. Learn what things gain your baby’s attention.
- Attention Span: Typically, baby’s and small children have short attention spans. This relates to the length of time an activity is pursued without interruption. Watch your baby with a new toy or listening to music, a book, etc. When baby gets bored with something, he or she may get a bit cranky. So, be prepared to change activities or situations when baby is no longer paying attention.
As you observe your newborn’s behavior, you may be better able to anticipate needs and avoid stressful situations. Remember though, as babies grow and change, parents need to adapt parenting styles to meet those changes. Knowing about your baby’s patterns of behavior and your willingness to adapt to these patterns will make growing a family a more rewarding experience.
The following says it all:
Speak to Us of Children
by Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.”