Q: My son is 7 1/2 months now and has started making whining sounds when he wants something. Some days it seems he whines all day. Should we be doing something different to make him happier on days when he's fussy?
A: It's not easy being a baby. They have lots of thoughts and feelings but so few ways to communicate them. As newborns, babies simply cry to let their needs be known. Then they move on to what you call "whining," which is actually a step forward in their communication skills: The tears have turned into sounds. That's not to say that whining can't be incredibly irritating. But it's normal. And, like most aspects of children's development, this too shall pass as your baby learns to use more sounds and gestures, and later words, to communicate.
A good deal of your son's whining may be due to frustration. Seven-month-olds are on the verge of developing many new skills, such as getting into a sitting position by themselves and crawling. Until they master these milestones, they can get cranky and discouraged. Try to put what you think your son wants to say into words: You can't reach the toy. That's so frustrating! Let's see how we can help you get it. Even though he may not understand what you're saying, your soothing voice and actions will let him know he's being heard, which may reduce the whining.
Another possible cause of the whining is boredom. Your baby may need more stimulation or interaction. Try introducing the next level of toys to him—such as pop-up boxes and activity centers that teach cause and effect. And play games where he can take turns with you, such as rolling a ball back and forth. When all else fails, go for a walk or take a ride in the car for a change of scenery.
As for how to handle particularly fussy days, look for patterns in your child's behavior. Does he usually get fussy after a night of little sleep or on days when there's too much or too little activity for him? If you think fatigue is the cause, try to reduce his activity that day and make sure he takes his naps. Whether or not you can figure out why he seems cranky, what's most important is to try to stay calm and be patient since this will likely have a calming effect on him, too. And remember, all babies have their fussy days.
You may also want to consider teaching your baby sign language—a system of gestures for important needs, such as “bottle” or “sleep.” Some parents find this helpful in the stage before their baby can use words. They report that because their children can use gestures to communicate, they're less fussy. You can buy a book or video, or take a class on the subject.