Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?

Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?
Alternative Psychotherapies: Evaluating Unconventional Mental Health Treatments

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Adoption, Fostering, Child Care, Babysitting: Getting to Know a Baby

When we meet new adults, most of us have a whole routine we do in order to be friendly and find out whether we like each other. We ask questions of the right kinds, as convention dictates—where do you live? Do you have children? Are you interested in gardening? (et cetera--  but we save “do you come here often?” for other purposes). The new person may ask similar questions back, in a friendly way, or may not seem interested in us; either way, we find out something about them and begin to figure out what kind of relationship we have. If another adult likes or does the same kinds of things we do, that helps establish whether we’ll get along well or not.

But how do we get to know a baby who doesn’t talk at all or understand much speech? Adoptive and foster parents have this problem to deal with, and on a more limited scale so do child care providers and even new babysitters. Each of these adults needs to know “who the baby is”--  how he or she is unique, and how he or she resembles many other babies. It doesn’t necessarily work well to assume that a particular baby is a “generic baby” who can be cared for in a general “right” way; each baby has biological predispositions to behave in certain ways, and may already have had experiences that have created other personality characteristics. When adults fight against infants’ individual characteristics rather than working with them, the result is likely to be dissatisfaction for everyone involved

How do we identify those individual characteristics? Observation is our only option--  but what to observe? Where to begin? How do we find out what is unique about this baby, and what is like other babies we know?

Here are some questions you might want to ask about any baby you are trying to get to know:

  1. Does the baby like to be held? Does the baby arch or stiffen his body when held? Does he or she push or pull away when held? Does the baby cry when held? Snuggle in when held? Calm down quickly when held? Act different with some people than with others?
  2. Is the baby comfortable being moved? Does he or she get cranky when moved around in space, or when you change his or her body position? Does the baby cry or look fearful when moved? Does he or she tolerate or like being moved in a circle or held upside-down? Does bouncing around make the baby smile or giggle?
  3. Does the baby like movement games or songs? Does the baby seem to look forward happily to someone playing games? Does he or she watch, or turn away when someone starts pat-a-cake or other games? Does he or she participate?
  4. Does the baby try new ways to play? Does he or she like for you to play in new ways, or prefer familiar ones? Does the baby pay more attention to new toys or to old ones? Does he or she touch and explore toys, or turn away from them? Does the baby bang or manipulate toys?
  5. Does the baby use the mouth for playing? Does he or she avoid mouthing toys or gag when putting a toy in the mouth? Stuff too many toys in the mouth? Chew on toys? Smile or laugh when mouthing toys?
  6. Does the baby use the fingertips or the whole hand for play? Does he or she reach for and grab toys? Does the baby hold onto a toy for a minute or two? Does the baby cry when a toy is put into the hand or close the hand to avoid a toy?
  7. Does the baby use both hands for play? Does he or she pass a toy from one hand to the other?  Does he  or she use one hand or the other but not put them together? Does he or she reach across the body for a toy or bang two toys together?
  8. Does the baby eat strained or solid foods? If so, does he or she sometimes refuse to eat? Does he or she like different food textures, or cry or gag when new textures like lumpy foods are given? Does he or she have strong likes and dislikes about foods?
  9. Does the baby seem to like having more than one form of stimulation going on? Does he or she seem to “tune out” if there is more than one form of stimulation, like a squeaky ball with a rough texture? Does he or she fall asleep or cry if too many things are going on?
  10. Does the baby seem to like all kinds of stimulation—sights, sounds, and touches?  Does the baby avoid toys with certain textures? Does he or she seem to like to look at bright colors, or prefer to look at plain or quiet sights?
  11. Does the baby go to sleep easily? Can he or she fall asleep in many different places? Does he or she need to be rocked, cuddled, or bounced for a long time before going to sleep?
  12. Does the baby calm easily after an upset? Does he or she go on crying even though rocked and cuddled, and does the crying go on for an hour or more?

All these questions together will help an adult come to understand the unique individual personality of a baby. In addition, if you know the answers, you will have an idea of the baby’s normal “baseline”--  the ways he or she usually acts. Knowing that baseline will let you know whether  something unusual is going on and whether the baby is getting sick or is disturbed by some event. It also lets the adult caregiver understand that when a baby reacts negatively, this often has to do with the baby’s own personality and is not a judgment of the success or failure of the caregiver.

The answers to these questions don’t let us “prescribe” the right way of caring for a baby. However, they do let us avoid some things that cause negative reactions in the baby, and to seek out as much as possible things that lead to positive reactions. This does not mean that the baby will never in its life have to experience things it doesn’t like! It does mean, however, that we can choose as much as possible to make the baby happy and to make ourselves happy because the baby is happy—thus building the best possible emotional relationship between us.




5 comments:

  1. This does not mean that the baby will never in its life have to experience things it doesn’t like! It does mean, however, that we can choose as much as possible to make the baby happy and to make ourselves happy because the baby is happy—thus building the best possible emotional relationship between us.

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  2. You're winning this one, no doubt about it! There really is nothing to add, except I hope a lot of people read it. It's one of those things people have to learn when it comes to dogs, 'cause when you rub a dog the wrong way, he might let you know in a way you won't like. I guess human babies have to take a lot of crap if people don't really listen to them because they've got no teeth, they can't force us to respect them.

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  3. I like that you added that knowing the baby's baseline also allows you to know when something is wrong. When my 10 year old was an infant I noticed that every time I picked her up she would start crying. This was very much unlike her. I also noticed it depended on how I picked her up. I realized something was wrong and probably hurting her so through the process of elimination I found that her left arm was bothering. I immediately took her to the doctor. While there the nurse, in a very snippy way, said, "how do you know it's her left arm that hurts"? Obviously she was insinuating that I knew because I must have been the one to hurt her. I calmly said, "process of elimination" and explained how when I realized something wasn't right I laid her flat on her back and manipulated each limb until I found what didn't feel good to her. Ultimately her left collar bone was broken. Come to find out my babysitter's 1 year old son had leaned against her in her car seat so he could give her a hug. The point of this story, though, was that because I knew my baby I knew when something was wrong and I was able to get her treated quickly.

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    Replies
    1. Sometimes parents have to be detectives!

      I would hope that nurse might think things through and realize that if a mother had caused the injury, the family needed support and education, rather than immediate censure and closing off any help that could be given.

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