Baby doll teaches dangers of shaken baby syndrome

Local fathers learning to become better dads in daddy boot camp

A new baby can be a big challenge for even the best parents, especially when that infant begins to cry and nothing you do seems to calm him.
A new baby can be a big challenge for even the best parents, especially when that infant begins to cry and nothing you do seems to calm him.

A new baby can be a big challenge for even the best parents, especially when that infant begins to cry and nothing you do seems to calm him.

Inconsolable or excessive crying is the most common trigger for shaken baby syndrome, a form of child abuse that claims countless lives each year.

According to the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, it's estimated between 1,400 and 10,000 cases of shaken baby syndrome occur every year in the U.S.

Roughly 30 percent of all shaken babies die. The rest of the victims are left with severe brain damage, altering their lives forever.

Babies under the age of 1 are most likely to become victims, but a local program is helping fathers learn better coping skills by showing them the consequences of shaking a baby.

Jose Munoz is director of fatherhood services for the Children's Shelter of San Antonio. Five years ago the shelter started a boot camp for dads using an interactive baby doll as a teaching tool.

"When you shake the baby you can see that you affected the brain by affecting their eyesight," Munoz said.

The baby doll takes a lot of abuse with the hope it will save real babies from the same fate.

With its clear head and flashing lights, the baby shows exactly what happens when it's shaken.

Just a little bit of shaking and the lights flash, indicating brain damage. Another hard shake and the baby stops crying, indicating death. It's an real eye-opening experience for the men in the class.

"This is what we don't want to happen. We don't want to kill our babies, we want to be nurturing to our babies and that's why we use these babies," Munoz said.

In addition to using the doll as a graphic teaching tool, the course provides fathers with some new life skills and coping tools.

"We give them different skills, different attitudes on how to parent and how to be better fathers," Munoz said. "The benefit is that they become a better dad. They get closer with their children, they're more nurturing with their children and you see the difference from day one when they walk into our program to the 15th week when they leave our program."

The 15-week course has taught Robert Hernandez to respond rather than react.

"Seeing the toy baby, it helps you to learn to handle it and to soothe, and be more understanding of the crying and stuff," Hernandez said. "When you react you do something, like he showed the shaking of the baby, and being a father already I know that's not the thing to do. It's important to remind you, 'Hey man, they're delicate, they're not toys.' Luckily this baby is a toy, and he's able to shake it and explain what's going on, but if it was a real child you would cause a lot of damage."

The course also teaches the fathers de-escalation techniques they can use when things start to get out of hand.

"If you know that you're getting frustrated, you know you're getting upset, it's OK to take a breather," Munoz said. "You're keeping an eye on your baby but you're not harming your baby. You want to move away, you want to take a deep breath but always keep an eyesight on the baby or change with your partner and say I really need to take a break."

Hernandez said he has learned a lot of valuable lessons through the course.

"It's an awesome class, I really enjoy it," Hernandez said. "I see that not only myself but most of the guys in here are going to learn something from this class and it's going to help them be better dads."

So far the Compadre y Compadre course has reached 600 local dads since 2009. To learn more about the course and how to sign up, call Jose Munoz at (210) 212-2551 or email him at jdmunoz@chshel.org.

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