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Coping Development in Infants

by Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell, studioD

Infants may not be able to talk but they have a surefire way of coping and getting their message across. Crying, wailing, whining, whimpering and screaming tactics are the name of the coping game in early infancy. An infant will cry until you figure out why. Fortunately you'll learn what different types of crying mean as you get to know your baby. As your baby gets older, she'll greatly expand her repertoire of coping mechanisms.


A newborn has a handful of coping skills that serve her well to ensure that her basic needs are met. Crying is a baby's first coping skill; it lets others know that she needs to be fed, changed and cuddled. Crying can also let a parent or caregiver know that a newborn doesn't feel well. Facial expressions can help others understand if a baby is content, out-of-sorts or uncomfortable. After a few months, coping through communication expands to include sounds and gestures, explains ZerotoThree.com, a website published by the National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families. A cooing sound may indicate contentment while a fussy, whiny noise may indicate she is unhappy about something and it's your job to figure out what. She may stretch her little arms toward you when she wants to be picked up; perhaps she needs a change of scenery or simply wants to be held.

Physical Coping Development

It doesn't take long for a physically helpless newborn to learn to maneuver her trunk and limbs. By 3 months old, a baby is typically able to lift her head and chest while on her stomach, kick and stretch while lying on her back, and open and close her hands, explains HealthyChildren.org, a website published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. During the middle of the first year, a baby can reach with one hand, roll back and forth, move an object from one hand to the other and uses a primitive "raking" grasp to take hold of a rattle or other item of interest. Most babies over age 6 months are proficient crawlers; by 12 months, they can walk with the help of a coffee table or your hand. Early motor skills pave the way for greater physical advances that lead to self-reliance and more coping options. For example, a baby won't have to cry for a toy when he's physically able to retrieve it himself.

Handling Stress

Babies -- like anyone else -- become stressed out when a need goes unfulfilled. Infants do their best to cope with stress by crying, spitting up food or simply falling asleep. A baby doesn't come into the world with an innate ability to cope with stress, points out PBS.org. She needs your guidance to learn how to relax. Soothing your baby by holding and offering reassurance in a soft tone of voice will eventually teach her to soothe herself. A warm bath can also work wonders to help a worked-up baby unwind.


Adjusting to regular sleep and wake patterns is a major part of a self-regulation or self-management in infants, explains Education.com. Parents play a central role in assisting with the development of self regulation. A baby offers many clues that she needs some down time. Yawning, fussing, eye rubbing, pulling his ears or a tailored "I'm tired" cry are obvious clues that your infant needs to go to sleep.

About the Author

Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell is a broadcast journalist who began writing professionally in 1980. Her writing focuses on parenting and health, and has appeared in “Spirituality & Health Magazine" and “Essential Wellness.” Hellesvig-Gaskell has worked with autistic children at the Fraser School in Minneapolis and as a child care assistant for toddlers and preschoolers at the International School of Minnesota, Eden Prairie.

Photo Credits

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