by Vimala McClure founder of the International Association of Infant Massage
Imagine you have just been through a very traumatic experience, something that really disturbed you deeply. You feel yourself on the verge of tears and unable to relax or concentrate, and you go to your spouse or a friend for help. You begin to talk about what happened to you and how you’re feeling about it.
After a moment of sympathy your friend begins to shush you, saying, “There, there, never mind. Please don’t cry. I can’t stand it when you cry. Come on, smile for me now. let me get you something to eat. Maybe you should go to a doctor.” You will probably dry your tears and internalize your pain in order to preserve this relationship and because your friend’s responses have told you it is not safe to be yourself in her presence.
Now imagine yourself in the same situation, with a different response from your friend. You begin to talk about what happened to you and how you’re feeling about it. Your friend looks at you eye-to-eye. She leans forward and holds your hand. “I’m here for you, tell me all about it. I can see you’re really hurting, and I want you to know that I love you and I want to help you through this.”
She puts her arms around you and you relax into deep sobs in the safety of her presence. You ramble on, sometimes incoherently, and she’s there, saying, “Tell me more. And then what happened? That must have been so painful for you.” You feel her genuine support and that trust enables you to really unload and, finally, come back to your center again. Your relationship with her is stronger; she feels good for having been there for you, and you are better able to go on toward healthy functioning.
When a baby cries for a physical reason, something needs to be actively done about the cry. If the cry is for an emotional reason, there are different ways to approach this. Within her article, Vimala suggests a three-step process, which is only one of several approaches.
1. Take a long, slow, deep breath and relax.
2. Clear all thoughts.
3. Connect with the baby, eye to eye if possible.
If the baby avoids eye contact, place their hands gently but firmly on their baby’s body and make a connect through their hands, saying that they would like to hear what baby has to say.
Stay with the baby, be relaxed and receptive, and listen and respond by observing your baby’s body language. Watch your baby’s mouth and eyes. When you are sure that your baby feels heard and has said most of what was needed to be said, then offer your comfort by rocking, walking, or patting to help get organized again. Invariably, a baby who feels heard will sleep more deeply afterward and will trust.
When we truly listen to our infants, we are fulfilling all of their psychological needs. The underlying message is, “You are worthy of respect. You are valuable just the way you are.” The baby is driven to agree, and grows in confidence, feeling a place in the world. The baby’s sensory receptors take this message in and the whole body relaxes. Vimala ends with:
The chalice of this infant’s heart is filled to overflowing, and as she grows she will seek opportunities to share her love with others. And how will she do this? By following the model she has been given. She will be there for others in the way her caregivers have been there for her. What a lovely, healthy cycle!