Baby, Parenting

How to Give a New Mom Encouragement

Sometimes people say things that are meant to be encouraging but have the opposite effect. We’re going to go over some things people say that don’t help and also sure-fire ways to give a new mom encouragement.

Compliments Shouldn’t Revolve Around the Baby

I have a wonderfully behaved baby. But I know that has nothing to do with me. I just drew the lucky straw.

Because Sara is so well behaved in public, people often say to me, “She’s such a good baby because you’re such a good mom” or some variation of that. Every time I hear that I wonder what they would say if she was being fussy at that moment.

As well behaved as Sara is, she still has her fussy moments. They’re just usually at night when we’re home. I also wonder about the moms who have colicky babies and nothing they do can soothe their little ones. Are they bad moms because their little one isn’t always all smiley?

NO!

We have no control over a baby’s temperament.  A mom can do everything right in the book and still have a fussy baby. These are known to some as highly reactive from research done on Baby 19.

Baby 19A little baby crying.

The name comes from a study that was done on a group of babies. The first 18 babies were happy but the last one, 19, was extremely fussy.

Anytime a new object was introduced to baby 19, she fussed and cried. None of the other babies in the study cared about new things. As baby 19 grew up, she maintained a high level of worry. Being anxious was a natural part of who she was. The leading researcher, Jerome Kagan, called her highly reactive.

And she’s not the only one like that. Many people across the world have this type of temperament. And that’s okay.

Kagan noticed that highly reactive individuals usually do better in school, make lots of friends, and are less likely to take risks. He made it a point to employ high reactive individuals because they were better at research.

It’s important to remember that just because someone is born with a more anxious temperament doesn’t mean they are destined to be consumed by anxiety. Nurture does play a part and can help kids overcome the worst of the anxieties they face. That said, someone born anxious will never have the same type of carefree attitude as someone not born with anxiety.

Nature and nurture work together to produce individuals.

Back to How not to Compliment a New Mom

The story of Baby 19 was to make the point that sometimes you can’t do anything about a fussy baby and that is not reflective of how good a parent is. Complimenting new parents based on the behavior of their babies backfires as soon as the little ones become upset.

With an unhappy baby, parents can internalize that they are failing.

I wonder how people give compliments to parents with colicky babies. The compliments that people tell me don’t apply. Do parents of colicky babies just not get compliments? As far as I know, there’s no research on this topic to say yes or no.

But as individuals, we can work towards correcting our own behaviors of how we compliment new parents and encourage others to do the same.

Focus on Mom’s Actions (or Dad’s)

A compliment to a parent should be parent focused, not child focused. Here are some examples:

“You stayed up all night with him while he was stick and are still being so patient with him. You’re such a great mom.”

“Look at you holding your sleeping baby. Your face is full of love for her.”

“You’ve been keeping a close watch on your little one despite his desire to run all over the place. Great job Dad!”

Do you see the difference between these compliments and the one before? They focus on the parent’s actions rather than relying on the temperament of the baby.

Compliments like these apply to every parent, not just those lucky enough to have an easy baby.

Your Thoughts

I’d love to hear your opinions on this matter. Have you heard or experienced compliments that are baby focused? How about parent focused?

I learned about Baby 19 from the book Brain Rules for Baby which can be found in my reading list.

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Joe
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Joe

This is a really interesting, and well needed post. I have been told many stories of me when I was a baby, and apparently I was horrific. I wouldn’t stop crying violently to the point where the next door neighbours knocked on our door thinking my parents were abusive towards me. This was absolutely not the case.  However it did lead to my mum really believing it was totally her fault and she thought she was an awful mother- it was nothing to do with her, it was just me being a little brat! So yeah, mum’s definitely need compliments… Read more »

Karin Nauber
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Karin Nauber

Your post couldn’t have come at a better time. I have a co-worker who will be giving birth any day now. She doesn’t have the most high self-esteem to start with, so knowing to compliment her and how to do that will be a blessing. She needs encouragement as this is her first and was unplanned (at least on her and her boyfriend’s part)!

I like the suggested compliments to give to her irregardless of how her baby behaviors. I think she’s going to be a great mom! Maybe I will just tell her that!

aaronspilcher
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aaronspilcher

Hello, I loved your article! Although I would have liked to see more perspective for the father and ways to encourage the male role in a child’s life as well as the role that the mother plays! I loved how you touched on anxiety and how they are Hyper-Sensitive to external conditions. I have struggled with anxiety myself and learning about this has given me a ton of new perspective on new mother’s and your information about babies 19 from the book you talked about! My girlfriend has a cousin that has a newborn that has been reacting to things… Read more »

Courtney
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Courtney

Wow this is really cool! This is the first time I am learning about the Baby 19 study and it definietly seems to be a case by case or baby by baby discovery. I have told others many times, two kids can grow up in the exact same enviornments and the chances are high they will be very different individuals. Thanks for the examples of how to compliment a mother on her abilities rather than the nature of her baby. 

Euphrasia
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Euphrasia

I have never heard of baby 19. It is a good lesson to me.  Being an educator, all i knew about human behavior is from behaviorism, so it is a good lesson for me. Though as they grow, it helps to nurture them.  Wish you all the best.  Beautiful pictures and great research.

Anusuya
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Anusuya

Hey Nicole, Nice  article on new mom and baby. Compliment! to mom. I only have few. Baby gets all the compliment. You know what? Mothers are always taken for granted in my culture. They are compared to earth and can tolerate anything and everything. I remember my mom only gave me all kinds of compliments taking good care of my child when I never expected any from anyone.  To your point, the mother of a new born should be complimented. Tell me, how many night we stay awake for different reasons for the baby but still pretend nothing happened last… Read more »

John
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John

Is this to say that we should never compliment the child? I believe that this can be done without crediting the parent for whatever it is that you are complimenting. Such compliments as “That is just the cutest little outfit” and “What a beautiful baby” are reasonably neutral, but I also feel that some of these compliments can also serve to reinforce mom’s positive view of her baby. I definitely see how the baby’s behavior and tying the parenting skills to that can be detrimental because trust me, I had baby 19! I also had baby 9. Two completely different… Read more »

Claudia
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Claudia

I believe that the father has to help out a lot if he is present. That makes the new mom thing much more easy or some sort of support that is always helpful for new moms that are learning the ropes. I personally am very grateful for the support that my husband gave me. He also help out in action changing diapers and formula so support is very key in being a new mommy.

Rob S.
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Rob S.

This is so appropriate for me right now because my daughter is expecting her first baby soon! I know that she’s nervous and cranky and irritable right now.It’s evident that she will be going through a lot after the baby comes too. My wife and I will be there to help and offer her encouragement. Emotions will be flying high at this time. I know we went through it and it’s important to have a feeling of doing the best you can because most people might just concentrate on the baby and not the parents.They need help at first, just… Read more »

Jose Reyes
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Jose Reyes

Hello Nicole, What an interesting post, it gave me alot to reflect on the many times I probably have attended a baby shower and how a new mom may be taking things at any given moment. I for the matter do not have any children of my own, nor am I expecting a newborn any time soon but I have known plenty of mothers in my life wether it be a family member or a close friend, to quickly understand the message that you are bringing in this article. I take it that if you accustom a parent to associate… Read more »

Christy
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Christy

Great article about breastfeeding. I am breastfeeding my baby and I am having a hard time stopping. She is so healthy because I am breastfeeding. She was four weeks early and very underweight. She is still very tiny but has not been sick since I brought her home. I truly believe it is because of the breast milk. All that said, I am terrified to stop. I am now pumping and putting it in sippy cups but when do I change her to whole milk or should I go to formula before whole milk?

Daniel
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Daniel

I must say that this article is very interesting and I can say cute. My wife often tells me how she is getting compliments on the street because of our little baby and that is really nice. I think that all babies are cute but parent role also play a big factor how baby will react in public. I have seen many parents who sometimes yell on their kids which is wrong.

Kate
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Kate

Great article for people giving advice to new parents! 🙂  Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say, especially if you don’t have kids, but this really helped!

I’ll remember this in future, so much nicer to give compliments to the parent and their actions and make sure they know they’re doing a good job! 

Maureen
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Maureen

Never having had the pleasure of having kids I understand where you are coming from.  I also have never heard of this study with Baby 19.  I do not think it is right to judge a mother’s ability to raise a child according to how their baby is.  I also don’t think that the woman should be the sole caregiver when raising a child.  However as we all know it seems that most of the responsibility does land on the woman’s shoulders.  You are right when you say that some compliments really do not help.  Compliments can also be given… Read more »

Babsie Wagner
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Babsie Wagner

I believe your article really brings home the fact that when you are a new mom, you can be extremely sensitive to the smallest things, and people really need to be considerate and careful in what they say.  You outline the difference between a good compliment and one that might be well-intentioned but could be misconstrued.  Great website for the new moms and for those who have new moms in their lives.