Avoid Overstimulating Babies: How To Keep Your Little One Calm & Happy

Every baby has moments of fussiness – when they need feeding, or changing, or they’re just plain tired. Babies are very good at signaling distress, usually by crying. But what if you’ve addressed their fundamental needs (food, a clean diaper) and they’re still cranky? What might they be trying to tell you?

It’s quite possible that your baby is signaling that they are overstimulated, and that often leads to unhappiness, frustration, and tears.

In this post, we offer some of the most common causes of overstimulation in babies, and suggest ways you can deal with them, so that your baby is once again the smiling and cheerful little one you know them to be!

1. Keep your own voice calm.

Babies are like little sponges. They absorb everything around them, and they react to it all. Consequently, if your voice is raised (perhaps you’re calling out to another child down the hall?) your baby may respond unhappily. Babies can’t distinguish between a voice that’s loud in anger and a voice that’s raised because you’re speaking to someone downstairs or in the backyard. They just receive your voice as either a calming and soothing sound, or as a harsh and even frightening sound. If your voice is low and steady, your baby will focus on it and feel reassured by it.

2. Be sure their nursery is warm, inviting and quiet.

Decorating the baby’s room in loud colors or having too many items in their visual path overstimulates a baby. Perhaps make one wall the focal point with pictures of family or animals so they can focus on that, and leave the rest of the walls bare. Avoid using the overhead ceiling light if at all possible; put a lamp on the nightstand, or a standing lamp behind the chair where you sit together when the baby is feeding. Bright light is overstimulating, particularly at bedtime, so keep the lights low and indirect.

3. Avoid distractions when your baby is going to sleep for the night.

Experts are divided on this – should babies get used to noise and even music during the day, so they learn to fall asleep in almost every surrounding? Some parents want to keep the house as quiet as a tomb so the baby is never disturbed; others insist that a little noise helps make the baby adaptable. Because child psychologists and baby experts do offer varying opinions, parents have to make the final decision for themselves, based on how their baby responds in a noisy environment. However, on one point all the professionals agree: at bedtime, keep the noise to a minimum.

4. Avoid passing your baby around too much among family members.

It’s tempting, particularly when a baby just comes home from the hospital, to let everyone in the family, as well as friends and neighbors, hold and cuddle the baby, one right after the next. Who doesn’t want the chance to snuggle with and coo over a beautiful baby? Unfortunately, it can be far too stimulating for the baby, as the faces are unfamiliar, the voices are new and the hugs feel different than their parent’s hugs. Limit this kind of contact to two or perhaps three individuals at most. As soon as your baby begins to jerk away or cry, you’ll know they’ve had enough and need either their parent’s arms or their crib.

5. Find the balance between too much and not enough stimulation.

Naturally you want your baby to engage with the world around them, and watch as they explore all the sights, sounds and smells of their environment. You mustn’t hover over them and keep away all visual and aural stimulation – getting these messages is how their brain develops. But there is a balance to be struck between too much and not enough, and only time will reveal how much is enough for your baby – each one is different, and has unique tolerance levels. Paying attention to your baby’s cues is how you’ll learn when enough is enough.

6. If you’re not at home, take your baby somewhere quiet.

You can’t keep your baby home 24/7 until they’re old enough to say, “I need a nap!” But you can help them get what they need by being attuned to their behavior and signals, and when they’re overstimulated, take them somewhere quiet. For example: let’s say you’re in a busy shopping center and the baby begins fussing because they can no longer cope with all the sensory input. Instead of racing home, take the baby into a quiet area or the infant changing room. Speak soothingly, and rock them until they are no longer feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Put them in their stroller, pull down the stroller visor to diffuse lights, and usually they fall right asleep.

The world is a hectic, busy place and you have to be sure your baby finds a healthy and consistent way of coping with it. Don’t ask your little one to deal with too much all at once, even well-meaning family members and friends. Introduce sounds and sights gradually, and when they’ve had too much and need to be somewhere quiet, they’ll let you know. Rather than letting the situation build until the baby is in tears and completely overwhelmed, remove them from the overstimulating environment and calm them down at the first signs of stress. Strategies like these ensure that both baby and parent cope with our stimulating world with smiles, laughter and even glee!