On interpreting behavior


I’m finding it interesting how Emily and I can both look at the same behavior from Stellan and often draw nearly opposite conclusions about what he wants.

I think he’s screaming because he doesn’t like being swaddled; she thinks it means we should swaddle him more tightly to calm him down. [Update: see below.] There’s a lot of that sort of thing going on; almost daily we hit something like this.

Where it comes from, I’m starting to think, is that his gestures aren’t carrying any information at all — except within very broad parameters (e.g. is crying, or is not crying) he’s pretty much a random gesture generator at this point. So it’s not that one of us is misinterpreting him and the other is getting it right; it’s that there’s literally nothing to interpret yet.

I keep trying to operate on the false assumption that if I just pay close enough attention to him I’ll be able to figure out his language, when what’s really going on is that by responding to him we’re giving him hints on how to speak ours. (The fact that Emily and I each respond differently probably makes it more of a puzzle for him. Though I guess the positive spin on that is that it’ll expand his vocabulary.)

All that assumes, of course, that he even has desires on the level of “do I enjoy being swaddled or not” at this point. Which isn’t clear.


So I did some more reading after writing this, which suggests that the swaddling thing may be a bad example because in this case I’m just plain wrong. Or at least, this book describes exactly the same struggling-to-get-out-of-the-swaddle I’ve been observing as a sign that the baby actually likes it, or will as soon as he stops struggling. I dunno. There’s a certain amount of circular logic in baby literature. Then again, why do I expect babies to be logical?