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Don’t underestimate your baby’s ability to read – and mirror – your negative emotions

Don’t underestimate your baby’s ability to read – and mirror – your negative emotions.
When you’re distracted, upset, or depressed, you might think your baby doesn’t notice. But research suggests otherwise.

Studies show that babies – even newborns -- get distressed when their caregivers become emotionally unresponsive (Yoo and Reeb-Sutherland 2013). By 6 months, many babies can distinguish between happy and angry body language (Zeiber et al 2013), and they seem to be very  sensitive to “background" hostility:
Babies exposed to the sights or sounds of angry, bickering adults are more likely to develop abnormal stress response systems (Towe-Goodman et al 2012; Graham et al 2013).
Moreover, a compelling experiment hints that babies can tell when we feel stressed, even when it’s about something that doesn’t concern them. Researchers temporarily separated mothers from their infants and then asked the mothers to perform a public speaking task. Some mothers completed a version of the task that was particularly stressful; others were assigned an easier job.
When the mothers were reunited with the babies, the researchers measured everyone’s stress responses. The results? Infants in the high-stress condition mirrored their mothers’ stress reactivity, paralleling changes in heart rate and showing more anxiety towards other people (Waters et al 2014). The takeaway lesson may be this: Managing your own stress – by seeking social support or other remedies – could make an important difference to your baby’s behavior and well-being.
- See more at: http://www.parentingscience.com/stress-in-babies.html#sthash.N2Ihs82Y.dpuf
© 2015 Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., all rights reserved