I scared myself by being angry with my baby. What should I do?

By Kaz Cooke
From the latest edition
of Babies & Toddlers

I scared myself by being angry with my baby. What should I do?

It’s common to feel angry, in general or with a baby, particularly a baby who won’t stop crying, even when you know how irrational that is – babies can’t be ‘naughty’, because they have no idea what they’re doing. What’s important is that when you feel angry you do something about it that doesn’t involve blaming – or harming – the baby.

If your frustration with your baby rises to boiling point and you think you might shake, hit or otherwise harm them:

  • put the baby in a safe place – a cot is best – and walk out of the house (into the garden, if you have one) to calm down, and
  • call one of the parent services or, if it’s late, a 24-hour parenting speciality helpline (there’s a list in the book, or if you’re reading this online, call Lifeline on 13 11 14, or in New Zealand 1800 543 354)
  • take the baby, crying or not, and go straight to your child & family health nurse or doctor, or
  • go and sit in the park with the pram. The baby might still cry, but you’ll be outside and in public and less likely to do something awful. Ring somebody – a relative or friend – who can come and be with you.

In general, fresh air, sunshine and personal connections with neighbourhood folk, family, friends or a mums’ group can really help. A very experienced person in the field of distraught mums tells me a good quickie soother is to stand with your hands palm down in a basin of warm water and breathe slowly. Of course, sleep is what you really need. What you’re feeling is probably at least partly related to sleep deprivation: don’t be hard on yourself. If anger is your usual default position when you’re tired or frustrated, though, this needs to change for your child’s sake. Talk to your doctor or a parent advice line about getting help to change it.

If you have got to the stage of feeling at the end of your tether you will probably feel that way again, and it may get worse, so it’s a good idea to get help at this point. I think many, many parents have shouted rather uncontrollably at a baby who has ‘refused’ to go to sleep or to stop crying. This can frighten both of you and make everyone cry even more.

A good resource is PANDA, Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia, which has a helpline on 1300 726 306.

There’s much more in the book on help for feeling bad, depressed, angry or anxious with a baby, including info for partners and many support services in the book Babies & Toddlers: The Sequel to Up the Duff.