by Kira Charles, GCFP, Child’Space Practitioner
Lately there have been a number of articles about how people never get time away from work. They are at the beck and call of the ubiquitous cell phone. They are tired, overstressed and feel like there is no escape. Did you know that babies can feel this way too?
You want your baby to be stimulated, to laugh, to look you in the eye and understand the little games you play with her. But remember that your little one is really new to this great big, loud, bright, busy world. Moreover, the brain is wide open, with billions and billions of neurons all sending information into that young brain. Even in the happiest of moments, there can be that point when the baby has had enough togetherness. Your baby craves your attention but she also needs to rest from the onslaught of information.
There are some undeniable signals that your baby needs a break, such as fussing or crying. However, babies also have other, more subtle ways of communicating. By using their eyes, their lips and their bodies, they can tell you when they are happy or when they have had enough. Interpreting your baby’s personal idiom helps him to feel listened to and safe and may avert some meltdowns.
What are the small, subtle signs that a baby is ready for some downtime? Her color may change or her breathing may start to hitch. She may break eye contact and turn her eyes away. Yawning, which is known as a signal of tiredness, can also mean that your child has looked into your eyes too long or played enough patty-cake. Similarly, a slight turning away of the head is a way the baby says, “Give me a breather.” If you ignore the signal, your baby might start to kick or wave her arms, frown, pout or tongue with an open mouth. This is an opportunity to back off before the baby really lets you know she’s had enough by pushing away with her feet or strongly turning away or going into a crying jag. These signals don’t mean that you can’t continue your conversation or game in a moment. It just means your baby needs some breathing room.
Downtime does not only mean sleeping. Downtime can mean allowing the baby to just lie quietly and watch the sun move across the room. That would probably be a little slow for you, but fascinating to a baby.
Understanding cues can make you a better parent and attune you to your baby. “Attunement” is the term used to describe the way a parent reacts to a baby’s moods and emotions. Well-attuned parents detect what their babies are feeling and reflect those emotions back in their facial expressions, voices, and other behaviors. The role of attunement is important in helping children to recognize and regulate their own feelings. By responding to your baby with warmth and consistency and by respecting your baby’s need for a break, you build feelings of trust and sense of self and deepen your relationship as well.