Lets establish one thing right from the start. Babies do not manipulate! A baby has one agenda – need! They are born into the world naked and vulnerable and from the first moment just want to be loved and cared for. All babies have different levels of needs. Some will be fairly contented to sleep alone, some will be happy enough to lay down and gaze at a mobile; others will want to be in constant physical contact with their mum and/or dad and scream if left alone for even a moment. This is just their innate personality. The sooner you learn to understand and accept this, the easier your life will become!
When my daughter was newborn and I tried to put her to sleep in a cot I was met with protest. She would scream if left there, and if I tried to lay her down once she was asleep on me she would promptly wake up and start to cry. I read lots of information online about routines, teaching your baby to self-soothe, and not starting ‘bad habits’ such as nursing to sleep and bed-sharing. I spoke to people I knew who warned me about making a rod for my own back. Eventually I was advised to put my baby into her cot and let her cry, with the reassurance that eventually she would learn to self-soothe, and that this was the only way she would ever sleep well.
I couldn’t do it. My heart broke when my daughter was upset, and the thought of leaving her alone in the dark to cry herself to sleep made me feel ill. I didn’t care if she shared our bed for her whole childhood and never learned to self-soothe if it meant she was happy. I learned to accept that my baby needed to be close to me, and myself and her dad adapted our routines to accommodate this.
But the thing that stuck with me was the attitude I came across that somehow babies had an agenda and needed to learn that the parent is in charge! The information I read always seemed to carry the underlying attitude that, if allowed, a baby would manipulate the relationship with their parents to get what they want, be that to share the family bed, be carried everywhere, or nurse on demand. There was also the suggestion that by ‘giving in’ to the demands of the baby, the parents would create a clingy, spoiled child who was reliant on mum and dad for everything.
To me this sounds ridiculous! Surely the opposite is true?! By accommodating the needs of your baby they will learn they are understood and accepted, and that they can rely on their parents. Only in this atmosphere of trust and acceptance can their personality truly flourish. Well, as more research is being carried out the true picture is beginning to emerge, and the evidence against such methods as cry-it-out is building. Child-rearing practices such as Kangaroo Care and attachment parenting are becoming more mainstream and accepted by professionals. Finally the picture is starting to change.
Where to start
The first step to fostering a healthy relationship with your baby is to listen. Listen to your instincts, but more importantly listen to your child! Ignore what others say if it goes against either of these. Your baby will communicate what they need in the only way they can: crying. Take their cries as an opportunity to understand, not as a demand or inconvenience! The moment you start to ignore what your baby is trying to communicate, is the moment they will realise you are not listening and stop trying to express themselves. This is the true damage of leaving your baby to cry-it-out. They stop crying because it becomes obvious they are wasting their time! They become apathetic and helpless.
I always think of my baby’s cries as a type of charades: twenty-questions to guess what the problem is. First I try breast, then nappy, then cuddles. Sometimes it’s none and she’s just grumpy. In that case I’ll do something completely different like take her outside. Sometimes she might be ill, and I always consider taking her to the doctor if the cries persist regularly despite all my efforts. My baby cries and I try everything I can think of until she is happy again. I’ve been doing this for many months, and now, usually, I can tell just from the type of noise she makes what the issue is. As she’s got older she’s introduced little signals, rather than cries, such as hand movements and facial expressions. I can read her like a book. On the occasions when I can’t tell what the issue is we both find it very frustrating and I have to go back to charades. There are other things you can do to help this process along such as teaching your baby to sign. But ultimately the key is to listen.
The second step is acceptance. I’ve had my fair share of trouble with this. It took me a while to accept my daughter’s ‘high-needs’ personality and accommodate her needs without resentment. I spent a lot of time looking at other babies and wondering if there was something wrong with mine, or that I was doing something wrong. And of course there are still times when her demands exhaust me and I just wish she could be easily pleased. But this doesn’t help anyone. It leads to frustration on both sides. So every day is a challenge for me to accept and accommodate, and appreciate the positives. As my daughter gets older I’m starting to see the pay-offs that a few months ago it seemed would never happen! She’s turning into a confident, self-assured little girl with guts of steel! Far from the clingy, shy child I was advised she would become by ‘molly-coddling’ her!
Finally I would advise developing a thick-skin to criticism! You will come across many people who think you are spoiling your child. And you will come across an awful lot of resentment from parents who do things differently and don’t like to see their way of doing things challenged. Be assured that you are doing your best and try to ignore the feelings of others. As long as you and your baby are happy and have a good relationship, nothing else matters.
Article by Lindsey Wilson
Lindsey is an attachment parenting, unschooling mummy to a beautiful baby girl. She lives in the north of England, and works part-time as a psychiatric nurse. Her hobbies are reading, cooking and baking, knitting and seeing bands.
Lindsey has written 25 awesome articles for Natural Family Today.
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