Taking Your Baby Out

Coping With A Crying Baby In Public

How Do We Feel When It Happens?

What is it we feel when our baby cries in public? Embarrassed? Frustrated? Undermined as a parent? Rarely do we feel something that we could describe as either positive or even neutral. It is hard to know whether the anxieties that our crying baby raises in us are the same in every parent around the world, or whether there is something particular in the Western, or even the British psyche, that magnifies the experience and makes it unbearable for some of us. Are we, as a nation, less tolerant of families in public places? Possibly. This only adds to our stress as our child screams his way through what should have been a pleasant coffee-stop. For each parent that experiences a moment like this, in a restaurant, shop, or cafe, or on a train, bus or airplane, it is probably a good idea, (once your child is safely tucked up in bed that evening), to examine the feelings the incident raised. We can question whether we need to subscribe to the pervading view our culture appears to hold. In turn, this may help us, next time, to not care quite so much, and relax, (and therefore focus on the solution) more.

How To Manage The Moment

So let's get down to some nitty-gritty practical advice for coping with your baby crying in public.

  • Respond, don't ignore. Sometimes when we are trapped in a moment that we really don't want to be in, we can freeze with indecision as to the right course of action. In the meantime, your baby becomes more and more distressed. Or it may be that this episode of crying in public is just one of many crying moments in your baby's day at present, and you are worn thin trying to cope. Nevertheless, this situation is still happening right now, and it requires you to take action, even if all you can do is hold your baby in your arms or wheel him or her away.
  • Think about your breathing. Babies can readily sense our emotional state, and your anxiety will only feed theirs. Calm yourself down with some steady breathing - try the following method; Breathe in through your nose to a count of three, and out through your mouth to a count of five, repeating for a few minutes, perhaps while you cuddle your baby. This will also give you time to think about what you could do next. Remember that at our most basic level, we are programmed to find our baby's cry distressing (to motivate us into action) but by locating some calm feelings you can 'let it pass' sufficiently to think clearly.
  • Go through the possible causes. Is your baby hungry, wet or dirty, cold, hot, over-tired, or over-stimulated? Work your way through each of these possibilities in turn. In the vast majority of cases, one of these will be the cause of your baby's distress. While it may prove harder to solve the problem if you determine that over-tiredness or over-stimulation are at fault, perhaps there is still some wiggle room that will allow you to resolve the situation. Can you take a brief stroll, cutting out visual stimuli for your baby with a muslin, blanket or coat? If you are attending an event where your presence is required at all times, can anyone else help?
  • You may, after trying all of the above, still have a crying baby on your hands. Some days are like this in the unpredictable world of parenting, and it does not mean you have failed. Consider whether the best thing for you and your baby is to leave (but try not to let the views of onlookers shape your decision too much).

How To Minimise The Risk Of It Happening Again In The Future

  • First and foremost, know your baby! This sounds rather obvious, but what we mean by this is that you should pay attention to your baby on a daily basis to understand his preferences, his dislikes, what causes him stress, or to seem over-stimulated. Every baby is different and what is one child's favourite environment is another's tortuous experience. As a society we vastly underestimate how stimulating the modern world is to a baby's eyes. For them it can be exhausting to go to a supermarket or shopping centre, and not all babies are good at switching off from it by closing their eyes. In her book The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems, Tracey Hogg categorises babies as either being Angels, Textbook, Spirited, Grumpy or Touchy, suggesting that they will cope with what life has to offer differently according to their profile. Angels will probably not be the ones to cry in public; Touchy souls may well be.
  • For younger babies, consider using a sling. There is considerable evidence that babies who spend a part of each day being carried close to a parent are calmer and more able to cope with changes to their environment.
  • Try not to let your need to be out and about disrupt your baby's usual routine too much. This can be very difficult when you are attending a special event, such as a wedding, but, even so, most thinking on this topic indicates that babies who are allowed to follow a similar pattern of eating, sleeping and waking every day are more content. So if there is a way to have the baby stick to his usual routine no matter what you are doing, the potential for a public meltdown is most likely much reduced.

Dealing With Onlookers And 'Commentators'

Don't judge yourself or believe others are necessarily judging you. You are going through a tough moment. All parents have had these moments, and therefore, more people than you appreciate are probably looking on, remembering these times in their own life, and sympathising with your predicament. However, if you do find yourself on the receiving end of unmistakable hostility or vocal criticism, here's how to get through it:

  • When people look on with obvious disapproval. Someone wise once said, "When people point a [metaphorical] finger at you, they are pointing three back at themselves." People who feel the need to make their disapproval clear as they look on, while you struggle to soothe your baby, are probably showing you more about how they run their own lives than how they feel about you and yours. They are best ignored, as any response you make may be perceived as provocative, while they have the defence that you 'misinterpreted' their looks. Try to think to yourself something that brings a little relief or amusement, something at their expense. The old adage about imagining your audience naked comes to mind, and is perhaps a good starting point! It's not admirable, but it works.
  • When people make unhelpful comments. Most of us would say that we always come up with the perfect retaliation to unhelpful criticism a few hours after the altercation. While it is tempting to wish that you could instantaneously respond with a witty, cutting remark that leaves the other person silent, ultimately, appealing to the better nature of that person is more constructive. Perhaps you can ask them to remember their own parenting challenges, or to give you the space to find a solution. Or, you could simply attempt to tune their words out. If you enter into heated discussions, your elevated stress levels will only exacerbate, not reduce, the tension your child is feeling.
  • When it is a frequent occurrence.Parents of children who have Asperger's syndrome often carry a supply of small cards printed with an explanation of their child's condition. It also includes some guidance as to how you, as an onlooker, can be helpful. These cards are specifically designed for the moments where their child is finding a supermarket shopping trip or other outing difficult, and the parent finds themselves subjected to hostile eyes or critical comment. The parent simply hands over a card to those whose attitude they are finding unhelpful in the hope that it will 'pull that person up short', make them think, have them realise the challenges of parenting in this circumstance. We share this story with you thinking that it is a model that can be copied. What if, should your child's public crying be frequent, you also carried a card that includes an explanation of how this is a tough situation for you and that the best thing onlookers can do is to not over-focus on you as you try to resolve the situation. (If you find you are struggling to manage, talk to your GP or health visitor. Ask for help before you reach crisis point).

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