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Babies: Make Them Feel Safe

crying boy being held up

Shannon Greer

Babies are hardest to read because the signs -- crying and irritability, which can indicate strain in older kids -- are seen as normal for infants. "Look for subtle behavior changes such as fussing at times when your baby is usually calm," says Tamar Chansky, PhD, author of Freeing Your Child from Anxiety. Your baby is reacting to the present moment, so take stock of what's going on around her. For instance, is she particularly cranky when you spend a couple of hours at the mall or running errands around town? "A visit to the grocery store can be very stressful for infants because of the onslaught of noise, light, and strangers," says Dr. Chansky. To ease her anxiety, you might plan only one stop per trip out of the house. And while you're out and about, talk to her about what you're doing, the things you're seeing, even narrate your to-do list. Make direct eye contact and use lively facial expressions and vocal tones. The point is to connect with your baby. When you trade smiles, talk, coo, and play with her, you build her sense of security.

One of the best ways to make your baby feel safe is to comfort her whenever she cries. "Some parents think the attention will make a baby more dependent and clingy, but the opposite is true," says Megan Gunnar, PhD, professor at the University of Minnesota's Institute of Child Development, in Minneapolis. Research shows that a crying baby who is soothed quickly tends to cry less, not more. "When your child is upset, just holding her calms her down, especially if you can take a relaxing breath first," adds Marcy Axness, PhD, an early-development specialist in Los Angeles. "Plus, interacting and connecting with your baby wires her brain in a way that eventually helps her calm herself. Babies who haven't been comforted don't develop that internal capacity to self-soothe."

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