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Why Babies Cry


Extract from Child Psychology Course developed by staff of ACS Distance Education


Crying is of special interest to child psychologists, mainly because it is a baby’s first and only way of communicating its needs to others. Considering the important communicative role of crying, it is not surprising that investigators have noticed different types of crying. These are:

· The Hunger Cry - At first a rhythmical and low intensity, then becomes louder and more rhythmical.

· The Angry Cry - Similar to the hunger cry, but the different phases are longer and of higher intensity.

· The Pain Cry - Begins suddenly and is loud from the start; usually consists of one long cry, followed by long silence, then short gasps.

The function of the cry as a social signal in the communication between mother and child has also been proven in terms of maternal patterns of response. Research evidence shows that mothers can distinguish between those different types of cries. Example: When mothers were alone in a room and heard tape recordings of different infant cries coming from a nearby room, they showed distress when the cry was loud followed by a long pause (pain cry), but were less distressed when hearing cries where the pause was shorter.

It has also become clear that when at some point baby crying ceases, this is a mere signal of biological discomfort. Soon it begins to be used more as a social instrument - as the child begins to associate crying with the appearance of a care giver (eg. mother). Many mothers will vouch for the fact that babies can manipulate them through their crying. It has been found that crying is most common before the appearance of the mother -rather than after her appearance. As the child develops motor and language skills, its reliance on crying as a social signal will decrease rapidly.

Soothing a Distressed Baby

Psychologists have found that the best way to soothe a baby is to help it to change from a state of crying into a state of alert inactivity. This is effective for two reasons:

· It is possible that exposure to a variety of stimuli may distract the infant from its own distress.

· It is undoubtedly far better for a baby to spend more time in a state of alert inactivity than in a state of crying, since most learning occurs during the former state.

Researchers have found that picking up the baby and carrying it over the shoulder is one of the most effective soothing techniques, because it elicits the greatest amount of visual awareness.

Infants are born with the ability to soothe themselves. This is achieved through sucking. Infants show spontaneous sucking movements shortly after birth. At first it was assumed that the pacifying effect of sucking was due to an infant associating sucking with feeding. Sucking however works with neonates before they have had their first breast feed.

Crying can Change

As a child develops, their crying patterns can change. By understanding the way a person develops, from baby, to child to adolescent and adult; a parent can have greater empathy toward their offspring, and approach the parenting role with greater confidence.

Take a correspondence course to learn more about Developmental Psychology (see http://www.acs.edu.au/courses/product.aspx?id=514 )

Further Information

Want to Learn More? See http://www.acsedu.co.uk/FreeInfo/Psychology-and-Counselling.aspx

Working With Children See http://www.thecareersguide.com/viewpage.aspx?page=childpsychol

Recommended Child Psychology Books http://www.acsbookshop.com/Books_ProductCategory.aspx?ID=14&SubCatID=26

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