Crying in an Older Baby
6 to 9 Months - Play Day
Why they cry Now that your tot uses his hands to tinker with toys, sits up on his own, and possibly scoots around, he's gung-ho about putting his skills to use. When babies don't get enough playtime or become upset by limits, they can make it earpiercingly clear. Separation and stranger anxiety also crop up now as babes become better at distinguishing the familiar from the unfamiliar, says Dr. Swanson (cue the awkward exchanges with Great-Aunt Peggy). Finally, as teeth begin to cut through tender gums, some babies will express discomfort. Hang in there: The worst soreness usually lasts only a few days.
What to do Distract! Shifting the focus works wonders at this stage, since Baby may not realize the forbidden object (your dinner knife!) exists when it's out of sight. This concept is known as object permanence, and she'll get a handle on it soon. When you have visitors, greet them with a warm welcome, even a big hug, so Baby knows she's safe. Ask friends and family to give her time to warm up; not every kid can schmooze right away. As for sore gums, ease pain with a wet washcloth cooled in the fridge, teething toys, and, if necessary and doc-approved, a dose of Tylenol at bedtime to help her sleep.
9 to 12 Months - Near and Far
Why they cry After all these months, you're a pro at discerning whether Baby's sobs mean "feed me" or "hold me!" But there's a new reason for his yammering: He may sense you're out of sorts. Your little one is attuned to your feelings at this age, and your expressions can affect him. "When you smile, he smiles," says Dr. Karp. "When you're scared or angry, he can feel overwhelmed and cry." Your toddler-in-training is also on a quest for independence, so prepare for backlash when you stop him from running off or climbing, explains Dr. Altmann. Without real words, the best he can do is point or move toward an object—and hope you'll understand. Diaper-change wrestling matches can also spike at this age; busy little bodies hate to be confined and want to be boss—if only for a minute.
What to do If Baby seems to be reacting to your dip in mood, take a few deep breaths and try to start fresh, says Dr. Karp. If a squirmy tot wants to explore the stairs, relocating her to a safer spot still works, says Dr. Karp. Your peanut may also feel more in control if you teach her baby signs, such as those for "more," "milk," and "all done." For dicey diaper changes, offer a toy used only during that time, and put her on the floor if the changing table becomes too precarious.
12 to 18 Months - No Bounds
Why they cry He wants to explore! At this age, toddlers are on the move, into everything, and don't take kindly to limits, says Dr. Karp. The growth of your baby's brain and body outpaces his ability to speak, a lag that can result in meltdowns. Tots are not only miffed that you're setting boundaries but also peeved they can't physically do everything they want, says Dr. Karp. Another factor: If your munchkin's social calendar is filling with gym classes and playdates, naptime may get lost in the mix, and an overtired child can turn wild and weepy. A pared-down scheduled may be better. Finally, don't be surprised if Sweetie abruptly sours on the babysitter. "Separation anxiety can pop up again during this phase," says Dr. Swanson. Your child is thrilled to assert herself in the world, but doing so reminds her she is separate from you. Reassure her you'll return, as you always do.
What to do To cut down on the number of times you say "no," make your home a safe haven. Remove sharp objects and choking hazards, secure bookcases and other furniture to the wall, and put locks on cabinets and drawers at Baby's level. If being confined to the car seat triggers screams, turn it into a more hospitable spot with board books, and "heap on praise when your tot behaves well, since toddlers crave your approval," says Dr. Altmann. Stick to the nap schedule as best you can, even if you have to dash out of a party early. You'll ensure your lovebug has the energy to handle the ups and downs each day brings, and that's something to smile about!
Originally published in the December 2012 issue of American Baby magazine.