Babies and the Scare Factor

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Some babies are jumpier than others. Be aware of this as you trick or treat on Halloween night.

In his adorable tiger Halloween costume, you and your little one are ready for an evening of fun with friends and family. Lots of babies will experience their first trick-or-treating this year, and parents want the outing to be enjoyable. At home, your baby’s as happy as can be and ready to go. However, walking around through your neighborhood, know that his emotions may take a turn for the worst, depending on what he sees.

BABIES DO GET SCARED
Your happy little pumpkin may go stiff with fright depending on what he sees. You may wonder, “Do babies actually get scared?” And it may be surprising to learn that in fact … they do. There are  different levels of what babies can handle and it varies from one to the other. Some can handle the loud laughter of a family member, or the bark of a dog, or the scary monster mask popping up in his face trying to scare him, but others cannot. His reaction to all he sees on Halloween will cue you in to his “scare factor.”

“Too much of any kind of stimulation will cause crying,” says Penelope Leach in her bestselling book Your Baby and Child: From Birth to Age Five (Knopf). “Loud, sudden noises, unexpectedly bright lights, sharp or bitter tastes, cold hands, hot face cloths, too much laughter, tickling, bouncing or hugging can all overcome a new baby,” she adds.

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“The baby is not going to learn not to be frightened by being frightened,” says Leach. “His nervous system is not going to become better able to accept minor shocks by being shocked. He is only going to become calmer by a combination of maturing and gentle handling that lets him find less and less in daily life to upset him.” — Penelope Leach

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Now that you’re at your trick-or-treating destination, take a look around. Did you just introduce him to a full array of stimuli? The Halloween environment is filled with all sorts of things that, as simple as they may be, and can be very frightening to babies. The loud cackle of the witch statue over there, a crowd of little kids screaming as they run by, etc. If your baby looks like he pales at the sight or sound of the scenes around you, he may be frightened of them and you should tread carefully.

For particularly jumpy babies, consider the environment you’ll be encountering before taking him out. “All newborns can be startled by loud noises, turn away from bright lights and throw up their arms and cry,” says Leach on jittery babies. If you learn that your little one is a particular nervous one, take note. Babies can take this kind of behavior to extremes,” cautions Leach. “They may startle and cry, tremble and pale at quite low-grade stimuli. They seem to be frightened of almost everything, and perhaps they are,” she adds.

TRICK OR TREAT WITH CARE
That being the case, trick or treat with caution. If you see a scary, masked creature coming your way who could potentially scare your baby, try distracting him as you pass by. Engage in a little lovey-dovey moment, cuddling and kissing him as you walk past. Do the same with strobe lights, creepy decorations and anything else that triggers your instincts. Whatever you do, don’t charge toward scary situations thinking that’s the way to get your baby used to them.

“The baby is not going to learn not to be frightened by being frightened,” says Leach. “His nervous system is not going to become better able to accept minor shocks by being shocked. He is only going to become calmer by a combination of maturing and gentle handling that lets him find less and less in daily life to upset him.”

Keeping this in mind will help the both of you handle these sort of situations as he grows. Each day, try limiting the amount of stimuli in his daily life. Over time, he’ll learn that the world outside the womb is not as scary as it seems. It may take some time, but it’s a learning process. Halloween can be a fun and enjoyable time for everyone with the right amount of awareness!

Kiera Ashford is associate editor of Nashville Parent and mother of three.

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