Being with Babies

Today, my girls and I met my husband and our boys at their group campsite out in the country to drop off a first aid kit he’d forgotten. As my husband and I walked up to the mess tent, one very nice woman was so happy and excited to see my baby girl, she just kind of swept in and picked my 8-month-old right out of my husband’s arms.

My baby wasn’t happy. That was way too fast a transition for her. She looked around and then that bottom lip started pushing out, the eyes welled up with tears and soon that cry started and she was swiftly put back in her daddy’s arms. The woman was very kind, and very sorry, and as a mom knew exactly what she’d done, but just found it irresistible to hold a beautiful baby. And I can’t blame her, she is pretty darn cute. 🙂

I stayed there for an hour or so and in that time my little girl had several boys fawning over her while in my arms (the boys even washed the thick layer of grimy dirt off their sweaty little hands to be able to touch her!) as well as more adults and was held by my older children. She loved every minute, smiling and playing. But she did not get over that initial fright and would lean away from this poor woman who now was being kidded for not being liked by my baby.

It all reminded me of the information below that I share with my students. Babies and young children can easily get overwhelmed or overstimulated. We truly need to respect them as people, respect their boundaries, and give them time and space to transition successfully from one activity or person to the next. There are specific ways we can help babies be able to integrate their experience, to feel safe and to build trust.

The following is an excerpt, used with permission, from Being with Babies: What Babies Are Teaching Us by Wendy Anne McCarty, PhD, RN, D.CEP, Founding Chair, Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology Program, Santa Barbara Graduate Institute, and private practitioner supporting babies and families globally. For all her publications and interviews, visit

Babies are showing us specific ways we can help them:

♦  Slow the pace down. Slow down inside yourself. Fast actions, interactions, and transitions from one thing to another can easily overwhelm the baby.

♦  Adapt the environment: temperature, lights, sounds, to their cues.

♦  Approach the baby with respect for their boundaries and be sensitive to their cues.

♦  Ask permission when you sincerely are giving them a choice, such as “Would you like me to hold you?” Then wait for a cue from them.

♦  Tell the baby ahead of time what you will be doing or what is going to happen, such as:

  • When you are going to break contact with them and move your attention.
  • When you are going to do something with or for them, e.g. “I’m going to pick you up to change your diaper now.”
  • When you are about to initiate a transition. This is an especially important time to tell them about the change ahead of time. For example, Daddy has been playing with baby and has to leave for work. He might say, “This has been so much fun playing together…and in a few minutes, I am going to leave for work. I’ll be back later and we will play more then.”

♦  Notice baby’s reaction to the changes and acknowledge them. Often our transitions can be too quick for them to integrate. To acknowledge that and pause helps the baby.

♦  Acknowledge or reflect what the baby is expressing. This is so helpful for the baby and a great way to interact with them, For example, “Oh, you’re reaching out with your hand. I see.”

♦  Tell the baby what you are feeling. If you are around the baby and are upset about something or are in conflict with someone, the baby will naturally pick up on it. It helps them if you identify what’s going on. They often feel it is something they did and so it can be helpful to say something like, “I’m upset about something from work today. It doesn’t have anything to do with you, but you may feel my upset.”


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