Understanding children: Babies being heard
Understanding children: Babies being heard

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Understanding children: Babies being heard

7 Different babies, different families

In the first part of the course we learned that babies can do more than adults think, despite having not been in the world for long. We then looked at how adults and older children can help babies learn and develop. What the extracts have shown is that:

  • babies’ temperament

  • how they experience the world

  • how they behave towards other humans and

  • how humans behave towards them

all matter, and that babies are a product of them all.

The next activity gives you a chance to think about different babies and their different and similar needs. We also look at the different expectations carers have of babies, and what this might mean for the babies while they grow up.

Activity 7: Babies are different

Timing: 0 hours 40 minutes

On the same day that Mia was born, ten other babies were born in the hospital. Two of them were in the room with Mia and Jodie, and Jodie got to know the families while they were there. She collected accounts from them.

Read through the accounts of each baby, and think about the following questions. We have also included the accounts of Mia from earlier.

  • What individual characteristics do you think each baby has?

  • What hopes, expectations and concerns do the parents express about their baby?

  • What do you think each baby needs from its carers? Are there any differences between Mia, Tembi and Harish?

  • Are there differences in the way Mia, as a girl, and the boys are talked about in the accounts?

Record your thoughts on the chart in Table 3 (which has also been produced as a PDF for you to download and print). We have filled in some points for Mia to get you started, but you may want to add more.

Table 3: How the babies are different

BabyWhat baby is likeWhat family expectWhat baby needs
MiaTiny, delicate, good at communicating, happy, alert, contented, musicalShe will be musical. She will be sociable and enjoy companyLove, attention, time to play, feeding and keeping clean

View table 3 [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

What the parents thought


Mia's birth was very straightforward and we were home the day after she was born. One of the first things I noticed was how much she looked at everything. She stared at toys hanging on her basket, at the faces of adults near her. I think she even saw leaves moving with the wind. I was able to breastfeed her and she would get quite excited when I was getting ready – I swear she could smell what was coming. With so much attention, she seems to already love being with other people and Eamon and Daisy can both quieten her unless she is hungry. Our house is so busy and full of people, I think she is going to be the sort of child who enjoys company.
At first I was afraid to hold her in case I was too rough. She seemed so delicate. But it felt so natural once I did. I'll never forget the smell and feel of her skin and hair – really soft. I remember all the different sounds she made – grunts when well fed; snuffles just when dropping off to sleep; the intake of breath before a big cry. She seems to recognize me now and lets me soothe her to sleep after changing her nappy. I was amazed how much of the world she was aware of. She really listens when Daisy is singing – she keeps really still and turns her head to the music. She seems to respond even when Ryan plays his fiddle! It would be lovely if all three of them turn out to be musical.


Harish is the first-born child of Meera and Jonathan. Meera is a general practitioner in a village practice and Jonathan is self-employed as an architect. Meera is an only child but her parents are from large families and all live quite close by. Harish will have many relatives to get to know. Jonathan's family live in Scotland, where he has five sisters and brothers all living reasonably close to each other. Harish is the youngest of ten grandchildren to his family in Scotland, but the first to his family in England.

Harish was born by Caesarian in the end. I was determined to have him with me and breastfeed him from the start rather than let the nurses bottle-feed him to allow me to rest. It was tiring but not hard. He drank milk frequently and cried loudly when he was hungry, being changed and being washed. In between he slept and was very alert when awake, though we know now that he has only limited hearing, which we are still trying to get used to. We have busy lives and travel a lot and want him to come with us and to do all the things we do and get a good experience of the world. We are not planning to have more children so he will need to rely on his own company and just ours when at home. But he will have a big social life with his grandparents and other relatives. My parents have waited so long for a grandchild!
I want to play an equal part to Meera in Harish's life, and my work will allow this. He seems to be at ease with both of us, though Meera has the advantage of the food supply! Meera has to take it easy for a few weeks which means I can take Harish out in the baby sling and already he seems to notice so much around him. I would love it if he took an interest in the countryside, buildings and the world around. I know it's silly but I look at his fingers and think he will make a good craftsperson or artist. As the youngest grandchild on my side of the family, he will have to compete. But he will also get wonderfully spoiled!
Figure 3: Harish, Meera and Jonathan


Tembi is the first-born child of Safiya and Abena. Safiya is a community worker and Abena is studying to be a veterinary surgeon. Tembi will have grandparents and other relatives in London from Safiya's family, and Abena's father is in Liverpool. The couple are active in the local lesbian community and also jointly co-ordinate a group for African women. Tembi has a sperm-donor father.

It took us years to find the right donor for me, and for it to finally work. So we have invested a lot in having Tembi in more ways than one. And he certainly came out angry! He hasn't settled well at all and it takes the two of us to calm him down if he's upset. We are thinking of buying him a dummy, would you believe! We want him to be proud of having two mums but we know he will have to put up with other people's prejudices. He will know quite a few children of lesbians though, which will help. We also plan to share his care with a childminder so we can both have time for work and study.
We want Tembi to know he has a right to be here – and he definitely lets us know that he's here! He has a huge appetite, little need for sleep and seems to want constant attention. When he gets it he's very rewarding – looks at us, grabs our hair and is quiet for a while. I think he is going to be very clever – he already looks and tries to grab things and we have put lots of moving toys above his basket so he can watch them.
Figure 4: Tembi and Safiya


How did you get on? Did you find many differences between the babies?

We noted that all the babies needed attention, comfort, food, shelter, to be touched, and somewhere to sleep peacefully.

We also noticed some differences. Mia is perceived as ‘delicate’ and Harish is described as protesting loudly when he is hungry or uncomfortable.

Tembi comes over as quite demanding and robust. There are often differences in the way babies are described because of their gender. For example, ‘tiny’ and ‘peaceful’ are often used to describe girls whereas a boy might be described more neutrally as ‘small’ or ‘quiet’. Girls are less likely to be described as ‘robust’ or ‘protesting loudly’ as angry or noisy behaviour is generally not encouraged in girls.

One reader commented how she really identified with the mothers of Tembi: ‘My son had so much energy he wore me out. The only way I managed was to have as many people as possible to share his care with me. Luckily, he didn't mind and has grown up to be a really sociable four-year-old.’

All of the families have expectations that their babies will be able to ‘fit in’ with established lifestyles, and this may be more or less difficult depending upon each baby's personality and the particular expectations. Harish, as a baby who quickly expresses discomfort, may find travelling and changes in routine difficult. He may also experience negative reactions to his hearing impairment. Tembi's robust character may help him to forge a strong identity if, as his family fear, he does face prejudice due to being the son of a black lesbian couple. For all of these babies, the development of their personalities will be as a result of a combination of the characteristics that they are born with and the way in which people around respond to them.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371