Can Babies Sense Stress?
Babies are like sponges because they soak up all the information around them. They pick up emotional cues from others and use the response of their caregivers to determine how to react in certain situations. Needless to say, babies are really in tune with their caregiver’s emotions, whether they are positive or negative.
Because babies are so highly tuned into their caregiver’s emotions, they can absolutely sense stress. In fact, stress can be spread from parent to child. In one study, babies were kept from their mothers for a short period while they completed a stressful task. When the babies were reunited with their mothers, the babies showed signs of stress, too.
Even though your baby can sense stress, not all stress is harmful. There are three types of stress. There is positive stress, tolerable stress, and toxic stress. Positive stress is the low anxiety you may have when meeting new people or going to a new location. Tolerable stress is more intense but manageable, such as losing a family member or moving to a new city. Toxic stress is anxiety that goes on for a long time, such as abuse or neglect. The stress you have to be worried about is toxic stress.
It is unrealistic to remove all stress from your life because stress gives us motivation, drive, and purpose. As long as you have a healthy response to your stress, your baby will mirror your response, and it will help your baby’s emotional growth. On the other hand, parents dealing with toxic stress can be less responsive to their baby’s cues, and this type of parenting is stressful for babies.