Your Baby Learns His Reactions From You

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I swear in front of my kid. When I knock something over I say “$h1t!” and the other day I’m pretty sure I even dropped the f-bomb. At this age (4.5 months), I don’t think it’s something to be too concerned about. It will be a long while before he’s repeating what I say and it’s not like those words actually hurt anything.

It’s so easy to view a baby of this age as something like a pet. I know that sounds awful to admit, but they have so much in common at this point. They communicate with you through cries and body language, they depend on you for most of their needs and although they can interpret tone of voice, they don’t know exactly what you’re saying to them.

Well, last week I was delighted to discover that Sidd is picking up on more than I thought he could at this point. We were at our playgroup where he was confronted with a baby a few months older than him who is larger and mobile. He’s been around these kids before, but usually there are more of them so they tend to distract each other. This time it was just the two of them, Sidd and Brandon. Of course Brandon was interested, was squealing with delight, crawling towards Sidd and wanted to touch him. How scary for a four-and-a half-month-old who can only roll over in one direction and wiggle toward a toy a few inches away.

When Brandon first approached, Sidd hesitated briefly and then cried. I picked him up to comfort him and let him sit safely on my lap while he watched Brandon. Once I felt like he had gotten used to the situation. I set him back on the floor and the two attempted to interact again. This time, Sidd didn’t cry, but stared at Brandon with interest and every so often glanced up at me and scanned my face. It was an inquisitive look, clear to me that he was checking in. I would smile back to let him know everything was ok. He would return the smile and turn back to Brandon with renewed confidence.

I had heard that kids look to their parents (or anyone they trust) to learn how to react to situations, but this is the first time I had seen it play out so obviously. What this means for me is that I now have renewed motivation to deal with situations calmly and assertively. If he sees me freak out because he fell down and hurt himself, he will learn that something common and not at all life-threatening is cause for panic. I guess it also means it’s time to get a swear jar.

Have you noticed your kids mimicking your reactions? How do you keep yourself aware of how you’re coming across to your kids?

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3 thoughts on “Your Baby Learns His Reactions From You

  1. So true, Katie! Especially the part about reacting to falls. While at first it sounds maybe cold, we never really reacted to Ana’s minor tumbles and falls. We just completely ignored them (as in didn’t react) when she was learning to roll, sit, etc. Just treated as anything else and would smile at her, not jump towards her or anything. If she did cry from the scare, I would smile and play with her rather than giving her that “baaaaaaaaby are you okaaaaaaaaaaaay” Mami voice unless I knew she really did hurt herself, and even then I didn’t overact. When she got a bit older and was walking we made it into a game where we would all yell ‘SAFE’ and do our arms like a baseball umpire making a close call at homeplate and smile and laugh and clap and she just had a BALL with it! To this day, she is SO TOUGH, still does SAFE, and can really maintain her composure and tell us with words rather than cries if she hurts herself. Doesn’t work for all kids (not so effective with my high needs son, but he doesn’t lose it either), but it is worth a try! And lots of kids will pick up EVERYTHING they hear too! We REALLY watch our mouths whenever Ana is even in the house bc she hears EVERTHINg, processes it all, and will repeat it back to us at the most unexpected moment. A month ago, she heard my brother (when she was upstairs in the bathroom and he was downstairs talking to my dad) drop an F-bomb. Last week, her preschool teacher told me that she dropped an F-bomb at school. The teacher asked her why she had said it she said merely ‘she wanted to.’ Teacher asked her where she had heard it “my Uncle Dustin at my Nana and Papa’s house”. WOW. BUSTED! haha. Good luck!

  2. loved reading about Sidd’s scanning your face to see how he should react to Brandon. i felt like i was right there seeing it, too. 🙂

  3. A friend’s three year old pointed to the butter and said,” Can you please pass the goddammit.” Evidently she heard this word over the dinner table and had added one and one. After my laughter, I admired the kid for how she was making meaning out of language heard around the dinner table. They begin to experiment with language a lot and we ought to handle it as it is…without the judgmental words of “bad” and other labeling. Our adult meaning of words can be quite different from a child’s and our reactions may be simply futile and even damaging in the long run.

    One of my sixth grade students was being teased by the boys in class and out of frustration she yelled out, “fuck off.” There was complete silence and the class turned to me. I signaled the girl out and when we were out of the room, I saw her trembling. I looked at her and said, “That must have felt good.’ She held me and wept out of relief. I asked her to wash her face and return to the class when she was ready. A year long relationship based on trust began right there.

    ( check this out in my book Teacher, You Look Like a Horse.)

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