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June 11, 2022

When Your Baby is Frustrated

Babies are just like all people - they come in all temperaments. Some are happier, some are fussier, some are more on the go, while others still are more chill. But, no matter what adjectives describe your baby, one thing is certain, they will experience a wide variety of emotions. Babies, again like everyone, get happy, tired, frustrated, or sad. Our job as Montessori parents, is not to prevent emotions but help guide our children through them. 

Penelope can largely be described as a significantly chill and content baby. Out of all of my five babies, she has been the happiest and most easy going. If she isn't smiling and chatting with you, then she is probably sleeping! But, even with her very happy nature, she still experiences frustration. This past week, in particular, has been some of her first experience with frustration because of her direct desires. 

See, this week, Penelope has decided she really wants to roll over, especially to grab something she really wants. But, she's not quite figured it out. So while she has gotten really close, she hasn't yet done it. This has led to some feels - crabbing, grunting, and sometimes crying. 

How do We Support Frustrated Babies?

First, I think we need to recognize that it's alright for babies to feel feelings other than happiness. While we, as the prepared adult, want to step in when appropriate, not every expression of a feeling needs us to rush immediately to solve the baby's problem. Often, babies just need a tiny bit of time. Maybe it's a few seconds to grab that ball just out of reach, or to get their arm unstuck as they roll, or bring something to their mouth - the exact scenario will change as they get older - but giving them that time is so important. 

In the meantime, we can stay close and present. We can acknowledge them with comforting words. "I see you're really trying to roll over Penelope." They will feel our calm and know our comforting tone. Just being there, observing, and offering some co-regulation is a great way to support in that moment. 

Observation is critical here, because there are sometimes this will be enough. Your baby will get what they want/need from just a little support and some time. But in other situations, your baby might get more and more upset. And, in that case, you might need to step in more directly to help. Here are the options I run through when I notice the scales are tipping to a baby that is too upset:

  • Offer physical support but only as much as they need. I don't always directly do the task for them but help in some way. Maybe a ball has rolled too far and I move it close enough to be grasped. Maybe an arm is stuck and I help to guide it out from their body. These are smaller steps without completely taking over. The amount that I do depends on what I've observed is happening. I use this option if Penelope is otherwise pretty happy and ready to play. 
  • Stop the activity. If things are getting too overwhelming, I will just stop the activity by offering an alternative or picking up my baby to comfort. This is generally my go-to option when I know that floor time is coming to an end or she needs to eat or sleep. 
  • Change the environment. This is something that can't always be done in the moment, but if I am seeing frustration over and over with something, that's a signal to me that something might need a change. A material might be too advanced, too overwhelming, or otherwise not serving her. We always have to remember the importance of the prepared environment for a Montessori home. 

Even with these changes, frustration is inevitable and in some cases not that big of a deal for babies. It is through these moments of challenge that they are pushing themselves to learn and grow in new ways. Being present and connected, through observation, will help us know how best to respond. 

Montessori parenting advice on how to respond to baby frustration during playtime and everyday situations.

This post is week 18 of my Montessori baby series focusing on Penelope. 


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