Parenting Counts is a product of Talaris Institute.


It’s a Stressful Life

How do you teach your child to handle everyday stress?

Let’s face it – stress is a part of life. And babies can get stressed too. Just as you can feel stressed sometimes, babies can get stressed when their needs are unmet. When babies get stressed too often, it can harm their health. Our brains begin to learn how to deal with stress when we’re young, and too much stress early may set a pattern for the way we deal with it later in life.

You know it when you feel it.

Stress is complicated. What’s stressful to one person may not be stressful to another. Our bodies usually get stressed when we feel afraid or really anxious about something/ to understand stress, it helps to know more about what the brain does when we feel we are in danger.

Fight or flight.

When we are anxious or feel in danger, our brains react by creating a stress response in the body. Stress hormones are created, which lead to physical changes in the body. You might notice some of the following things happen:

  • Sweaty palms
  • Rapid and shallow breathing
  • A faster, pounding heart
  • A loss of appetite

These changes are not always bad. In fact, this reaction can help us survive by preparing us to run away or defend ourselves if needed. This is not harmful to us for short periods. But long periods of stress can lead to health problems.

Stress is hard on babies.

Babies can get stressed right from birth, but they don’t know how to calm themselves down yet. That’s why lots of stress might be even harder on babies. In the first year, the parts of the brain that react to stress and help us calm down are still developing. Babies who get lots of loving care learn healthy ways of reacting to stress and are better at calming down. When babies feel safe with you and their needs are met, they learn to handle the stress that life can bring. Parents and caregivers can help their babies feel safe by holding them, comforting them when they cry, and talking and playing with them.

But babies who get stressed over and over don’t learn healthy ways of handling stress, and they may struggle to deal with stress as they get older. Babies can be stressed when they’re hurt, uncomfortable, or when they get too much stimulation. They can also get stressed when they are left alone too much and when the people around them are very stressed or upset.

Helpful parenting tips

You can’t protect your baby from everything that might cause stress. But you can help him deal with hard times. Showing your child healthy ways of handling the stress that comes our way is a very important skill to teach.

  • Get to know your baby and try different ways to comfort him. One baby may like baths. Another may like to be held. Other babies love to be rocked.
  • Try to figure out what causes stress for your baby.
  • Do not leave a baby to “cry it out” when he is upset. Letting a baby deal with stress alone will NOT make him a “tougher” adult.
  • Your baby needs a lot from you, and that can cause stress for you.
  • Get help if you find it hard to handle the stress you feel when your baby cries.
  • Take care of your baby’s needs by being there when she needs you.
  • There is no such thing as spoiling babies with love and attention.
  • Sometimes bad things happen, and it’s important that you don’t ignore them. You can help your baby by being calm and by caring for them right after a stressful event happens.

Babies are amazing. They can recover from lots of different experiences that might cause stress. You can help most by being a good model when coping with stress and showing them plenty of love and support.