The Three C’s: Clingy, Cranky and Crying…The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
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The Three C’s: Clingy, Cranky and Crying…The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Have you ever looked at your baby and wondered “What’s going on inside that head of yours?” Or, why is a normally well-tempered baby all of the sudden difficult and demanding? And then, suddenly, he is doing things he could not do the day before?

Recent research has shown that there are predictable times during the first few years of a child’s life when he may be more demanding (fussier) than usual. These fussy times have been called “Wonder Weeks” because it is during these times that babies are making big steps forward in their development.

For 35 years, we have been studying interactions between mothers and babies. We have documented – in objective observations, from personal records, and on videotape – the times at which mothers report their babies to be “difficult.” The periods are usually accompanied by the three C’s: clinginess, crankiness and crying.

We now know that they are the tell-tale signs of a period in which the child makes a major leap forward in his mental development. Babies undergo these fussy phases at around the same ages. During the first 20 months of your baby’s life, there are 10 developmental leaps – each with their corresponding clingy periods at the onset. These clingy periods come at 5, 8, 12, 19, 26, 37, 46, 64, 55 and 75 weeks. The actual start may vary by a week or two, but you can be sure of their occurrence.

All babies experience clingy periods when big changes in their development occur. Usually calm, easygoing will react to these changes just as much as difficult, temperamental babies do. But not surprisingly, temperamental babies will have more difficulty will also have a harder time as their babies already require more attention and will demand even more when they have to cope with these big changes. These babies will have the greatest need for mommy, the most conflict with their mothers, and the largest appetite for learning.

Here’s the good news: The three C’s are temporary. They are, in fact, something wonderful – once you get past the fussy behavior! It means they’ve reached a radical new step in their mental development. That is good: it gives them the opportunity to learn new things. The “difficult” behavior is actually a signal that great progress is underway!

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