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?
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.
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.
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.