With an almost-one-year-old in your home, you're probably busier than you used to be. Gone are the days when your baby slept most of the time and was blissfully immobile. Now, it's all about babyproofing your electrical sockets and keeping stuff out of your little explorer's mouth.
While your 9- to 12-month old probably doesn't wail quite as much as she did when she was a newborn, her crying becomes more purposeful as she gets older and wiser. That means it's your job to discover the reason for the crying and respond in the right way. Crying jags are no match for a parent who knows what to do! If you're at a loss, try some of these ideas to stop a tantrum or prevent it altogether.
- Stop night crying. Your baby's old enough to understand cause and effect. For instance, she knows that when she cries at night, you'll rush in and pick her up. More often than not, when an older baby cries at night, it's because of boredom or separation anxiety—not discomfort. Nip the problem in the bud by going to your baby when she cries, but not picking her up. Instead, lay her back down and say, "It's bedtime," firmly. Repeat the process, allowing for a short (5 to 10 minute) period of crying before heading back in. At first, it might make your baby more angry, but over time she'll learn that crying doesn't produce the results she wants.
- Check your response. A study published in a 2011 issue of Infant Behavior and Development found that the way a parent responds to a crying baby had a profound effect on the child's later development. Hey, we know that dealing with your tiny tyrant can get frustrating, but yelling, stomping, or getting mad could stunt your babe's emotional development. Instead, try responding in a warm, affectionate tone. She'll calm down faster and you'll be positively affecting her development. If you get to a point where you simply can't respond in a calm and patient way, call for a babysitter and take a grown-up time out.
- Distraction techniques. Older babies often fixate on something that distresses them. You might put up a gate to stop her from crawling down the stairs, and she rewards you with a total tantrum. Stop the screaming by offering a distraction. Grab out some blocks, or turn on some music for a quick dance party. As she forgets about what was bothering her, the tears will stop and she'll join in the fun.
- Teach sign language. A 9-month-old might not be able to tell you what she wants verbally, but that doesn't mean she can't communicate. Nine months of age is the perfect time to start teaching baby sign language. Pick three to five "core" signs and then sign the word each time you say it. Over the course of a few weeks, your baby will pick up the habit. Knowing that your little one wants "milk" or "food" can really help reduce tantrums due to frustration—for the both of you!
- Try food. Experimenting with the taste and textures of finger foods can provide a welcome distraction if your little one starts whimpering. Holly Klaassen, baby expert and editor of The Fussy Baby Site, says, "Since most babies are eating solid foods at this point, meal time can be a great distraction for a cranky baby. Giving her tiny bits of different foods and letting her pick and choose, letting her feed herself apple sauce or other soft foods—it may be messy, but a guaranteed fuss-buster!" When you're desperate to get some peace and quiet, plop your baby in her high chair and load up the tray with soft foods that she can pick and choose from—just don't forget that smashing and squashing is all part of the process.
- Run a bath. Babies love the sensation of warm water, so it's no secret that a quick, supervised bath can get your little one to calm down. Baths don't have to be for bedtime only. Just run a few inches of water and sit nearby while your baby happily splashes away her crankiness.
- Make an appointment. All babies cry, period. After all, it's the only way they know how to communicate. But there's a huge difference between normal crying and crying that is indicative of a problem. A 2011 study by the Korean Pediatric Society found that excessive crying after the age of 3 months could mean problems later on. "Persistence of crying beyond the first 3 months predicts a higher prevalence of behavioral and emotional disorders in children with excessive crying than in children without excessive crying," reports the study. "It is therefore important to offer timely help through developmental counseling, physiotherapy, or even parent-infant psychotherapy." If you think that your baby's crying more than normal, bring it up at your next well-baby checkup, so you and your pediatrician can come up with a treatment plan together.
As you near your baby's first birthday, you're going to see a major shift in her behavior and her communication skills. From binkies and bottles, your life will now revolve around playtime and Cheerios. Just remember to relax and enjoy the ride, even if your babe is in the throes of a totally embarrassing grocery store tantrum. It happens to the best of 'em!