Before They Have Words: Supporting the Development of a Frustrated Baby or Toddler – by MC Fletcher


Before they have ‘words’: Supporting the development of a frustrated baby or toddler

The first 6 months of my eldest daughter’s life are a bit of a blur. Crying, feeding, cuddling, sleeping, not sleeping, nappy changes, giggles, exhaustion.

One of the things I do remember clearly is how alert she was. She was never a placid baby. Always wanting something – usually a breastfeed, never sleep, lots of talking and interaction. As she grew I noticed that she often seemed frustrated.

I felt that she was quite demanding but put this down to being a first time mum not knowing what I was doing and that this was what all babies were like. Until… I joined a mother’s group and observed how (some) other babies were. Others seemed content to sit quietly in their mother’s laps, car seats, prams, cots etc whilst my little girl was often fidgety and always cried in her car seat and pram. She would wake in her cot and cry for me as soon as she woke, wanted to roll, crawl and feed herself before her motor skills were ready at each of these stages and her frustration displayed itself in the form of lots of crying (from both her and me).

I am still not sure whether there was an underlying reason for the behaviours or whether it was just temperament, but regardless it was our normal and at the same time it was stressful. I kept trying different ways to be responsive and would like to share them here, as well as the number one thing I tried which changed our lives by relieving my daughter’s frustrations immensely.

1. I always breastfed on demand (this never failed to settle her)

2. I started co-sleeping with her whenever she needed it- mostly when she was teething

3. I started baby wearing more often – she much preferred to be doing what I was doing

4. I sang to her – alot. I sang nursery rhymes, I sang about what I was doing, what she was doing, what we were going to do as we were doing it. And somewhow, it helped! She became familiar with different songs and expressed her delight (and disgust) with them. Singing seemed to put both of us in a better state of mind.

5. I used a Jolly Jumper (she could move and dance around and was still supported – and I could sing and dance with her as I got things done with my hands free)

6. I gave her things she liked to help her learn to wait without distress (e.g., music toys or books as she was older)

7. I was consciously observant and picked up on her subtle behavioural cues for how she felt and what she needed (there was A LOT of trial and error with this one and it was always changing as she grew and developed)

And the number one thing was…

Using signs! I knew basic hand signs from my work as a special education teacher. When my daughter was approximately 5-6 months old I tried some basic signs with her (my previous experience was with The Makaton Language Program so this is what I used).

Eat, more, finish, dog, book, play. I would make up songs asking her questions like “Do you want something to eat, eat, eat? Yum, yum, yum” and after a couple of weeks she started doing the signs too. They may not have been exactly as how I did them but I could see that she was making a consistent motion each time we sang the same words and eventual my husband could tell what she was ‘saying’ (after we taught him the signs of course!).

Her favourite by far was ‘bird’ as we had many birds visiting the trees in our leafy back yard and she would hear them and turn to me and make a sound which I presumed was her way of saying “Hey mama, do you hear that bird?” and make the sign with her hand.

Learning to communicate with my child who didn’t have any formal words yet was magical, and she loved being understood. If you have a baby who can be described as ‘demanding’, ’frustrated’ and/or ‘feisty’, I highly recommend giving baby signs a go! There is absolutely nothing to lose and peace, smiles and deeper bonding to gain.


MC Fletcher is a Special Education teacher with a post grad in Early Intervention, Play School songs and chocolate tasting. She loves her amazing husband, gorgeous children, and puzzles without missing pieces.