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Understanding baby behaviour

Have you got lots of questions about your baby's behaviour?

You are not alone, and the good news is there is lots of fantastic information and support to help you through this exciting but sometimes scary time.

Baby behaviour

Read time: 3 minutes

Your baby's behaviour is their response to everything they experience. Things they like and don't like, things that scare or excite them, things that upset or soothe them.

As babies develop and their understanding of the world grows, their behaviour changes. And as they become better at communicating, their behaviour becomes easier to understand.

As your baby gets to know you, they'll begin to show their pleasure at being with you and others who care for them. But your baby may also show a dislike or fear of new things – a car horn beeping, a stranger's face, or a new toy.

Your baby will show this in their behaviour – they might cry, or wriggle and kick their legs and wave their arms. This can be frustrating! Particularly if you're in the middle of changing a nappy or trying to hold on to a wriggling baby in the bath.

It's important to remember that your baby isn't trying to make things hard for you. Even when things seem difficult! Your baby is telling you how they feel in the only way they can. When you are calm and caring your baby learns to feel safe as they experience new things. And over time, you'll learn from your baby's behaviour what things make them calm and make them happy.

Distraction vs reaction

As they grow, babies start to learn by doing. They try new things to find out how it feels and what happens next. Your baby may tug on a necklace while you are trying to feed them. If they get a reaction, they are likely to try it again! They've learnt that they can make something happen. But they don't yet understand that necklaces can break.

Babies don't understand right from wrong. You have to distract them from the behaviour you don't want. You'll need to do this a lot! Babies don't remember things in the same way that adults and even older children do.

Staying calm and caring when you distract your baby helps them to feel safe. And feeling safe allows them to explore new things and learn all about their world.

'No, you can't eat the dog biscuits'

Some babies love to put everything they find in their mouth! It might be their own toes or it might be the dog's biscuits. But this is how your baby is trying to explore and understand the objects it encounters.

Unfortunately, babies don't understand danger. They won't know they can choke on an object, or that it might be dirty or poisonous. As babies become more mobile, it's important to keep your home as baby-safe as possible. You'll need to help your baby understand what they can explore and what's off-limits.

You can do this by giving your baby lots of praise and positive attention when they are exploring safely. If they want to explore things that could hurt them or someone else, you can gently remove them. And distract them by giving them something safe to explore. For example, take away the dog biscuit and give them a teething ring. You might say ' we don't eat dog biscuits as they're dirty, but you can chew on your teething ring!'

Top tips for responding to your baby's behaviour

Read time: 1 minute

  • Remember, your baby needs you to be calm and caring, even when you are finding their behaviour tricky.
  • Babies can't remember things like we do. So try to accept that you'll have to move or distract your baby a lot!
  • Your baby is not behaving this way to wind you up. Babies cannot think like that! Your baby is trying to learn about the world in the only way they can.
  • You are not alone! If your baby's behaviour is frustrating you, worrying you or getting you down, reach out and ask for help.

Look after yourself!

Having a new baby can feel wonderful, but it can also feel overwhelming, exhausting and scary. Remember, parenting is a tough job, so don't forget to be kind to yourself!

If you are feeling helpless and unsure of the best approach to take, don't worry. There are many helpful websites and support services out there for you. Try to stay positive, and if you feel you need a helping hand, reach out.

Information from external websites

Barnardo's Family Space has a helpful article on baby's first year

The NCT has a useful article on understanding why all babies are different. They also have 100's of articles to help you care for your baby. And they have 100's of articles on life as a parent - perfect for making sure you look after yourself!

Struggling and need to talk?

Action for Children offer 1:1 chat with a parenting coach (Mon - Fri). If they are closed you can leave a message and a parenting coach will get back to you within 3 working days.

Family Lives has a free, confidential helpline, offering emotional support, information, advice and guidance on any aspect of parenting and family life. Call the Family Lives helpline on 0808 800 2222 (Monday to Friday from 9am to 9pm and on weekends from 10am to 3pm).

NSPCC has a free, confidential helpline for parents looking for advice. Call 0808 800 5000 (Monday to Friday 8am – 10pm or 9am – 6pm at the weekends).

The Surrey Children and Family Health Advice Line is available from 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday (excluding Bank Holidays). They can provide support on all aspects of child health, development and parenting for families with children from birth to 19 years old. Call the Surrey-wide 0-19 Advice Line on 01883 340 922

Face-to-face support

You could also talk to your health visitor or your GP.

Useful videos about baby behaviour

Have a watch of this NSPCC video of parents giving top tips on looking after yourself when you have a new baby.

View on YouTube

The Baby Buddy App has some great videos, like this introduction to understanding your baby's behaviour and this traffic light system for understanding your baby's behaviour.

The NCT has this video of top tips on how to cope with a newborn

If you need tips on looking after yourself, try tip 1 from the help with difficult behaviour section of the Families Under Pressure video collection.

Helpful tools and apps

Baby Buddy is an award-winning mobile app, created by mums, doctors and midwives and recommended by Children and Family Health Surrey and the NHS.

The app has lots of helpful information and videos about all aspects of being a new parent.

A web-based version is also available.

The Paediatric HANDi App is approved by Surrey Heartlands Health and Care Partnership. It offers straight forward advice and support on symptoms of common childhood illnesses.

DadPad is a practical guide for new dads, developed with the NHS.

New dads often feel excited, but may also feel left out, unsure or overwhelmed. The DadPad can help by giving you the knowledge and practical skills that you need to give your new baby the best start in life.

The NSPCC recognise that all parents can come under pressure or stress from time to time. The Positive Parenting guide shares practical advice and tips for parenting techniques that work well for children of all ages – from babies to teenagers.

Surrey's Family Learning and Adult Learning teams have developed a family wellbeing resource, with lots of tips on looking after yourself and your family during these challenging times.

Online parenting guides

Surrey residents get free access to an online guide that include top tips from childcare, education and NHS health experts

How to register

Registration is quick and easy. Go to the OurPlace website and use the access code 'ACORN' to get your free guide.

Access to the guide is unlimited with no expiry date, so you can return as and when you need and want to. Why not watch the Child and Family Health video to find out more.

Community support, courses and local help

Choose the area you live in for local services. Please note that due to coronavirus (Covid-19) very few community services are currently running.

BETA: We would really appreciate your feedback to help us improve and grow the service. We're listening!

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Date published: 22 Apr 2021