Parenting Tips: What Should I Do If My Baby Is Difficult To Console?

Is my baby just "difficult", or is there something wrong? And if I do have a "difficult" baby, is there anything I can do about it? BabyShrink reader Tina is struggling with this issue. She writes: Dear Dr. Heather,

I need some good advice on how to stop my 2-year-old from screaming for everything she wants. She doesn't yell just for fun; it is always out of anger. I hate to sound negative, but she really has seemed like a miserable soul from day one. She was a very hard baby to console as an infant, she is strong willed, and throws huge tantrums. I have tried telling her to ask mommy quietly, and that works a little, but she keeps doing it. The tantrums we pretty much ignore as much as possible until she calms down and then we talk to her, but is that doing much good? She also screams out in the middle of the night.

Another problem is that she won't go to anyone but me, not even her daddy! This really bothers me and I don't know how to handle it because it makes me feel very trapped. She is OK after a bit of crying if I leave her with someone, but if I'm there, she wants nothing to do with anyone else. Is that normal?

Thank you for whatever advice you can offer, because I don't know where else to turn.


Dear Tina,

Like many parents out there, you are having a tough time with your little one's behavior. You wonder whether there is something "wrong", per se, or if this is simply her personality and temperament? And if so...what then?

You ask about your daughter preferring you to all other adults. It is common for a toddler to show a strong parental preference for one parent over the other. And this changes over time; when she's three or so, she'll likely start becoming more interested in her Daddy.

I'm worried that you feel she has been "miserable" since she was born. First, find out if there's a medical or developmental problem. Start with her pediatrician, and share your concerns. Are there digestive problems? Some other medical concern? Get treatment for that first. Some pediatricians have a good "take" on infant temperament, and might have something helpful to suggest in that regard as well. You can also ask for a referral to a pediatrician who specializes in Developmental/Behavioral pediatrics. These are specialists who are trained to evaluate child behavior and temperament more fully. They may also be "plugged in" to a larger group of Early Intervention specialists who can help too.

In the process, it would be worthwhile for you to look into the Early Childhood Intervention programs in your area to see if there is someone who can help you with this. All communities in the United States have a free program that will evaluate the development of any referred child, from ages 0-3. They will look at all domains of your baby's development (including social and emotional development), and offer intervention services, if needed. Ask your pediatrician's office for the name of your local agency. It's important to know that your baby's development doesn't just refer to rolling over, walking, and talking. Her emotional and social skills are a crucial part of her development as well.

If this is not a medical or developmental problem, it could be a problem in the parent/infant relationship itself. All babies are different, and some have truly challenging personalities. Some parents are lucky enough to have a complementary temperament; they can "roll with" their challenging baby's antics. But most of us struggle with frustration as our challenging babies "push our buttons".

What strikes me about your question is the fact that you feel "trapped" and helpless. This isn't so unusual, and I don't want you to feel guilty about it. But it does show that you need help and support in dealing with your daughter.

There are a few well-trained therapists out there who specialize in Parent/Infant Therapy; they work with the parent(s) and baby together. They seek to understand the unique personalities of the parents and the baby involved, and help everyone cope and adjust better. One of my Child Development Heroes, Dr. Donald Winnicott, wrote that "there is no such thing as a baby". A baby cannot exist alone. There is only a parent AND a baby, together. Therefore therapy can't be focused on only the infant; the main caregivers need to be involved as well.

This kind of therapy is extremely effective. Please don't hesitate to try it if you need it. I also suggest that you reach out to other friends, family and community resources to help you feel more supported in what sounds like a lonely struggle for you.

You can also read Stanley Greenspan's The Challenging Child. Dr. Greenspan is an excellent resource on child development, and the book is in paperback.

I'd also like to hear from other readers out there who have struggled with the temperaments of their babies. What tips can you share with Trina?


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink