Sarah Norris – The Baby Detective
Real Life Parenting – How to Cope When Things Go Wrong
One of the most important skills as a parent is being able to tell if changes in your baby’s behaviour are just a passing phase, or whether it’s a new phase, because if we can’t tell the difference, we might start trying to fix something that isn’t actually broken and accidentally make things worse !
First tip – Don’t head straight to developmental apps, Google, your friends or online mum’s groups, because when you do this you are likely to jump to conclusions and leap in with lots of different ‘fixes’ before we’ve even figured out if anything really needs fixing.
Over the years I’ve developed a simple system for parents to follow when they are faced with a problem and that system is called A.I.M which stands for Assess, Investigate, Modify
Basically it means see what’s really happening, figure out why and then fix it or in this case, most importantly, decide whether it’s something that needs fixing or not.
So, the first stage is…
Stage 1. Assess – write down exactly what’s happening just like you would tell a doctor your symptoms.
Don’t overthink it, just use an app or a notebook and describe what you can see.
- what is happening ?
- when it started ?
- is it getting better, worse or constant ?
Saying ‘baby is difficult about going to bed’ will not help, you need to observe and record their actual behaviour e.g half an hour before bed baby started getting grouchy, he was happy in the bath, but then started crying when he was taken into his bedroom. He was ok for the story but refused to get in to bed for his story etc. This gives us a much clearer and objective view of the situation, and it also strips away our emotional reactions so it helps us see more clearly.
Sometimes even doing this is enough to help your realise what the problem is, so it’s always a great first step.
Stage 2. Investigate – This is where you start to look at possible causes, so look for other things that happened in the run up to the change.
- travel ?
- hectic/stressful day with lots of visitors ?
- vaccinations ?
- illness ? Has anyone else been ill around him in the last week ?
- start or change to their childcare ?
- have naps changed ?
- morning waking time changed ?
- any signs of teething ?
The answers to these questions become the clues you will use for your investigation to figure out why your baby might be changing their behaviour.
This information is better than anything you will get from Google because it means you are focused on your baby, your family and your situation…
…You are listening to what your baby is trying to tell you.
THEN you can go and check Google, Apps and your family and friends/online mum’s groups to check if at your child’s age there are any physical or emotional milestones going on, e.g growth spurts, sleep disturbances, nap changes, extra clingy phases, or might they be ready for weaning (any time from four and a half to six months).
You can also check with local mums if there are any bugs going round in case your baby might be coming down with something.
This is where you start putting your information together with what you know about your own child, and decide if it’s a passing phase that requires patience and minimal change, or a new phase that needs you to change something in baby’s routine.
It also means you can avoid any potential mistakes, for example, it’s not a grear idea to sleep train when your baby is ill or hungry (from needing to wean).
So what if you’ve looked at all your information and you still can’t decide if it’s a temporary phase or a new phase ?
You wait for at least 3 days, change as little as possible, and see if the problem sorts itself out.
What do I mean by change as little as possible ?
If you leap in and starting changing things you can actually upset your baby and make things worse because babies like and need patterns and routines, it gives them stability and reassurance.
By trying too hard and jumping in with lots of different ‘fixes’, you could be destabilising a situation and making it worse by confusing the baby and making them feel a bit more insecure and unsure.
- Stick to your normal routines, and your normal ways of settling your baby
- Keep as calm as possible, and give your baby every chance to settle back down.
And this same advice also goes for adapting to a developmental change.
If you have a system in place where your baby can settle themselves when they wake up in the night, or settle themselves at bedtime, then you need to keep encourage them to do that.
Even though they’re feeling different you’re still doing the best thing possible by sticking to your normal way of doing things.
Another important point is that if your baby has a certain level of independence and self settling, if you go in and give them extra feeds or extra cuddles they quickly start to change their expectations and become more dependent on you which is very definitely a backward step.
This is why it helps if you’ve gone through my process because you can rule out thigs like hunger, illness, or emotional upset etc.
You can go in and respond to what you know is happening rather than what you suspect might be happening.
If you get to this point and you have gone through the checklist, you’ve eliminated a lot of possible causes and you’ve tried keeping changes to the minimum for 3 days, have a quick re assessment and see if the situation is improving, staying the same or getting worse by going back to the Assess Phase
If it’s the same or improving, it might be worth leaving things for a few more days in case it settles down on it’s own.
It can take 2 or 3 weeks sometimes, and whether or not you can leave it that long depends on how much it’s impacting you because you’ve got to take yourself and the rest of the family into account.
Babies don’t exist in isolation, and if what they’re doing is really pushing you over the edge, maybe waking a lot in the night, then that suddenly becomes more of a priority and you might need to move on to the next stage
Stage 3 – Modify.
This is when you start to try and change things to improve the situation.
You’ve done your assessment, you’ve investigated and ruled out possible causes, and you’re ready to start the final stage.
By now you probably have a list of things to try via the internet and other parents but what you MUST NOT do is to try them all at once !
Doing this will confuse yourself and your baby, and you won’t know which ‘fix’ is working.
Choose 1 fix/change, implement it for 3 days, then re assess what is happening to see how well it is working.
If things are improving, try that same thing for a bit longer, if not, move on to the next thing on your list.
Try that, then reassess…and keep going until you’ve figured out what works
So, to recap…
- Wait 3 days with minimal changes (wait longer if you can)
- Modify 1 thing, wait 3 days
- Modify something else, wait 3 days (unless its an absolute disaster !)
- Reassess…and so on.
Reason for waiting 3 days ?
Babies have been programmed for our whole evolutionary development to spot patterns and that’s how they understand and learn language.
It’s how they learn physical movement and it’s how they learn how to fit into the society that they were born into.
They also live in the moment more than us, which means they can adapt to changes quicker than us (and how they learn bad habits so fast !)
By waiting 3 days we give their minds and bodies time to learn the new pattern, and accept it.
If you feel 3 days is too long to wait, then at least wait 24 hours.
The AIM process is something I’ve developed over 30 years, and for the last 10 years have been teaching it to my clients so I know it does work.
I hope this blog and my process helps give you some structure and direction through all your baby’s different phases, because I know it can be confusing and disheartening.
And if you have any questions, or need help working through the process, please come and join my free FB group, Baby Solutions,
I’m in there every day and am genuinely always happy to help people figure out their babies, so never feel afraid to ask for help,
I’m Sarah Norris, a Baby Care Consultant and Parenting Coach.
I have spent over twenty five years, often working 24 hours, 6 days a week, supporting hundreds of families with new or young babies aged from newborn to 12 months old, and often helping with their toddlers and older children.
I help parents discover what parenting style they want to use to care for their baby, and offer advice on different approaches that might suit them and their circumstances best.