When the doctor first places your sweet bundle of joy into your arms, it’s hard to imagine the lifetime of joys and frustrations that are ahead of you. The first smile, first words or first steps can make your heart melt. The sleepless nights, weeks of teething or temper tantrums can just about put you over the edge.
We often say that babies don’t come with an instruction manual, but if you ask around, you’ll find a wealth of advice on how to care for your new baby. Often, other parents or family members (even strangers at Wal-Mart) are quick to offer tips on diapers, the best tricks to get your baby to sleep or even how to soothe a colicky baby. Unfortunately, not a lot of people talk about what to do when you feel like you’re about to lose your temper with your baby.
While it is never justified, the majority of caregivers don’t set out to injure a child. Physical child abuse is most often the result of mounting frustrations and a complete loss of control. When parents lack healthy support systems, are completely exhausted or overly frustrated, they may find their tempers exploding and lash out or lose rational restraint. Children with special needs, multiple siblings or conditions like colic or acid reflux have an increased risk of being injured by a frustrated caregiver.
Head trauma is the leading cause of death in child abuse cases in the United States. Abusive Head Trauma or Shaken Baby Syndrome can be caused by direct blows to the head, dropping a child, throwing a child or shaking a child.
Nearly all Abusive Head Trauma victims of suffer serious, long-term health consequences such as vision problems, developmental delays, physical disabilities, and hearing loss. At least one of every four babies who experience Abusive Head Trauma dies from this form of child abuse.
Abusive Head Trauma can happen in children up to five years old but the highest rate occurs among infants just six to eight weeks old, which is when babies tend to cry the most. Frustration with a baby’s crying is the #1 trigger reported leading to Shaken Baby Syndrome. So, what’s the good news? Abusive Head Trauma is 100 percent preventable.
If a baby in your care won’t stop crying, here are a few things you can try to help calm both of you.
- Check Basic Needs: Are they hungry or need a diaper change?
- White Noise: “shushing” a baby, using a white noise app on your phone or even running the vacuum can create the kind of noise that babies find soothing.
- Movement: Gentle rocking, walking in a stroller or a car ride can lull a baby to sleep.
- Walk Away: Laying your baby down safely in a crib while you take a break can be a healthy way to manage the situation. Take deep breaths then go back and check on your child in 10 minutes or so.
- Ask for Help: Call a friend or a family member who can talk you through ideas to help calm you or your baby down.
- Call a Professional: Contact your pediatrician to see if there are any undiagnosed medical needs or get some tips on how to cope when you’re feeling frustrated.
Children might not come with an instruction manual, but there are lots of resources if you feel like you need help coping with a crying child. Visit www.purplecrying.info, www.cdc.gov or www.allbabiescry.com for more information.