When either of my twin girls start crying, it strikes a nerve that I didn’t even know I had before becoming a daddy. It hurts like nothing else has ever hurt before. It’s a big lump of concern wrapped in guilt and sprinkled with doubt that I’m failing at being a good parent. If you’ve ever felt the same way, here are some words of encouragement and advice.
First, here’s the most important thing to remember about a screaming baby: Babies are not grown-ups.
Shocking, I know. But as parents, we attribute so much of a child’s behavior to adult-like motivations that we sometimes forget that these little people are not tiny adults. They are infants with a very limited toolbox for addressing concerns.
When my baby cries, it's a big lump of concern that I’m failing at being a good parent.
If an adult screams, it typically means an emotion so powerful that it can’t be conveyed in the dozens of other ways that we have learned to communicate our feelings. But when a baby screams, it could mean almost anything: “I’m hungry!” “I’m not hungry!” “I have a tooth coming in!” “I’m too hot!” “I’m too cold!” “I’ve got a dirty diaper!” “I have a fever!” “How dare you leave the room for 20 seconds!”
Babies quickly learn that smiling and giggling won’t get these concerns addressed, so the siren goes off. Just keep in mind that the siren is simply a signal that something is wrong and not a signal that you’re failing as a caregiver.
It can also help to remember that this stage is temporary. Soon your baby will be able to verbalize their needs to you much more clearly. Veteran parents will often say that they can even tell what their child’s needs are before they can speak just by listening to the way the baby is crying. I’ve seen this happen a little with my twins.
One of them has a cry that she only makes at night when she wakes up suddenly from a deep sleep. After some serious sleuthing and consulting with her doctor, I realized that my daughter suffers from nightmares. When I hear that particular scream, I immediately hold her and speak reassuringly while letting her slowly wake up and realize that it’s me. Once she’s found my beard with her little fingers and opened her eyes to see Daddy, she gives a shuddering sigh and drops her head to my shoulder. Success.
Finally, while your baby’s emotional state is important, so is yours. So what do you do when you’re trying to soothe your child and find yourself getting really angry?
My suggestion: Please gently put the baby down somewhere safe and step away for a few minutes. If you are able to, get someone else that you trust to take a shift. If you have no other support network, call 911. Do whatever you have to do to prevent the emotions of the moment from causing unthinkable consequences, such as screaming back at the baby or even getting physically violent.
No matter how good you or your children are, occasionally screaming babies are a reality for all parents. It’s hard. Of course it is, but despite all the long hours and ringing ears, just remember what those little faces look like when they’re smiling, and tell yourself it’s worth it. Because it is. It’s all totally worth it.