There wasn’t a trigger that I know of. I didn’t change my parenting nor our routines but one day Little One woke up and he had become one anxious baby.
I sneezed. He cried. He saw a guitar…he cried. The Christmas tree went up and he clung on for dear life. As well as this, he clutched on whilst sleeping and if he couldn’t find you, he’d wake. And putting him down was impossible!
I understood that things would be unfamiliar and therefore frightening but he was becoming scared of things that had never bothered him before. So, I took to Google, my holy grail, to see if it could enlighten me.
What I Found
During my searches, I found that it was perfectly normal for babies to suddenly become anxious and that this could happen from around 5 and a half months old and beyond. The reason for this anxiety is that they are beginning to recognise the familiar and unfamiliar – their world has got a little larger. There is also an element of control which is taken from them when they meet something unfamiliar which can also instill fear.
Knowing this, I set about trying to deal with the anxiety. Here are 6 steps that we tried and found worked:
6 Steps for Dealing with an Anxious Baby
- Smile – Often, babies look to their parents in search of a reaction. Smiling reassures your baby that everything is okay. If your baby is seeming fearful, catch their eye or place yourself in front of them and smile!
- Positive comments and your tone of voice – There is no point turning to your child and asking, “Why are you scared?”. This is counter effective, especially when they’re too young to respond. The questioning tone is all your child is hearing rather than feeling reassured.
I find that there are two effective ways to respond. The first is using a reassuring tone and explaining what it is:
“It’s okay. That loud noise is the washing machine.”
The second, which I prefer, is to be enthusiastic about the thing they’re fearful of, such as:
“Oh wow! Can you hear the loud hoover?”
“What an exciting tree!”
Remember to keep wearing those smiles. I won’t lie, you’ll probably feel utterly ridiculous but your enthusiasm should rub off so that they no longer feel scared.
- Don’t force them – Forcing your baby to face something they are anxious about is wrong in every sense. Although you may mean well, put yourselves in their shoes. Those who are fearful of spiders would not be happy bunnies if somebody forced one upon them!Introduce them slowly and give them control. Place them facing the item but at a distance. Follow their body language. If they are leaning or moving towards the item then move towards it at their pace.Are they moving themselves away? Then this is the time to stop and try again another day, which leads on to the next step.
- Exposure, exposure, exposure – When you find that your baby is still unsure, then the next step is exposure. Avoiding what they are scared of is not going to achieve anything as you are not helping them to convert the unfamiliar to the familiar. For example, Little One was terrified of the hairdryer so every time hubby dried his hair we went to have a quick look at what the noise was all about. Eventually, the fear subsided as it shifted from the unfamiliar to the familiar.
- Demonstrate – Demonstrating that you are not scared is an easy way to address fear. Your baby trusts you so by showing them you are willing to touch the item or talk to an unfamiliar person confirms that it is safe for them too. Seeing me strum his Dad’s guitar put Little One at ease and eventually, he changed his opinion of the guitar.
- Prompt them – Admittedly, this has been my biggest faux pas. Whilst baking in the kitchen, I turned on the mixer with Little One sat close by. Unsurprisingly, arms and legs started waving and Little One began wailing. I hadn’t prompted him that I was about to make a loud noise. After that, it took weeks to build up Little One’s bravery and that is my fault. It is so simple to give a little signal:
“Ready…the loud noise is coming now…”
“_______ is going to come and say hello. Are you ready?”
The steps might seem like common sense, yet, I regularly hear parents asking their baby why they are scared or telling them not to be silly. I, too, have been guilty of it! Of course, I’m not telling anybody how to parent their children, nor am I claiming to be an expert. However, we have found that we’ve had success with these 6 steps. Although Little One will continue to be anxious as he meets more and more unfamiliar things, at least we are making his world a little more familiar!
Tell us what your children fear. Have you got any successes to share? Comment and let us know!
– Tee ????