ap·pre·ci·ate
1. recognize the full worth of.
2. understand (a situation) fully; recognize the full implications of.

moth·er·hood
noun
1. the state of being a mother; maternity.
2. the qualities or spirit of a mother.
3. mothers collectively.
adjective
4. having or relating to an inherent worthiness, justness, or goodness
that is obvious or unarguable.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Life with our two-year-old

It’s hard to believe my baby is already two! And that two years ago I was giving birth - time really flies. We thought his brother would be here by now, but it looks like he’s waiting a little longer to come. In the mean time, here’s an update!

Letters: He started showing interest in letters really randomly and without prompting, just by asking about lettering on shirts and so forth. From there it led to him first identifying “O” and then “S” and then it just went crazy from there. Now he can identify the whole alphabet (all upper-case and some lower-case) and loves pointing at and naming letters. 

Colors: Similar to letters, he just started pointing at things and naming its color. I want to say he started with red, but he was also really good at blue and orange to start out. Now he can do the whole rainbow, as well as brown, black, white, gray, and pink. Sometimes my husband and I will get really technical and tell him something is “tan” or “teal” and sometimes he remembers! So it’s really funny when he’ll surprise us with “silver” or something like that. 

Numbers: I hate to sound repetitive (or boring to anyone who could care less about our son’s development) but he also randomly started saying, “one, two,” only he would repeat that over and over. Eventually he started adding more numbers, and currently he loves counting to ten, only lately he’s been skipping six. Sometimes he likes to tack on a “yeven” (11) at the end. 

Talking: On top of everything described above, his vocabulary has also exploded. I can’t even list everything he says because he learns new words every day! He’s now to the point where (when he’s in the mood) he’ll just repeat anything we say. It’s really cute when it’s something like “Wow!” or “Crazy!” (the other day it was “that’s insane!”), but it gets me in trouble when it’s “Shoot!” so I have to be careful. He has started to have more complete sentences, and just today he said, “I got it!” after retrieving something, it was so cute. That was particularly awesome because more often he’ll refer to himself as “you” and say things like “hold you” when he wants us to hold him, and call us “me--” when he wants to help us he’ll say, “help me?” Pronouns are tricky to say the least. He also likes to identify when people or things are “funny” or he’ll describe people like “Mommy sad” or “Daddy cute” and so forth. It is so fun being able to communicate with him more.

In general he can repeat after us anything we say, and so we have started to have him say prayers and read scriptures. So that’s been really fun, and he gets really excited about “Jesus!” He can identify Jesus in pictures, although sometimes he’s a little off. For example, once he saw a picture of Dumbledore and called him Jesus. To make matters worse, once when Jeffrey was speaking gibberish and said something like, “Duh-ba-do,” my husband started having him say, “Dumbledore.” Though he’ll still call pictures of Dumbledore both Dumbledore and Jesus. Then, in church yesterday my son decided that was a good time to practice saying Dumbledore, both to my amusement and horror. It was pretty funny.

Nursery: Also at church, he has gotten much more excited about going to Nursery lately. Sometimes he even asks to go during the week! He always talks about playing with cars and balls there, and can name the other children. I don’t know if he sings when they have song time, but with us he has started to try to sing and it is so cute. Once at nursery he even offered a prayer when they said it was prayer time without being asked - that was unexpected!

Around the house: He loves to be a big helper and “kween up!” (clean up, sung as in the clean up song) “errbody!” He tried to use the vacuum and broom, and can help put dishes in the sink. He hasn’t quite got putting books back on the shelf though (a true misfortune, since he still loves to tear them off). He also likes to help in the kitchen and use the “whee,” (any mixer is a whee, and he gets sad if I hand-mix instead). 

Books: He LOVES reading. We get new books from the library all the time and he gets favorites while we have them. Sometimes he’ll still ask for certain books after we’ve returned them! He’s really good at just sitting and turning pages on his own (he’s only torn a few, on accident, he really is gentle) and loves to read the same book over and over “ghen?” (again). 

Baby brother: My son has been really cute with the baby in my belly, hugging and kissing it. Granted, for a while he also would point to his own or daddy’s belly and say “baby brudder,” but if we ask him to point to where baby brother is he points to mine. He loves getting to lift my shirt so he can cuddle my belly. Then about a month ago, he started also trying to take my belly “off” and wanting the baby to come “out.” I guess we’ll see how ready he is when the baby gets here!

Monday, May 18, 2015

When will my child start to listen?

This is a question parents often ask, and I completely understand where they are coming from. It is also phrased as, “When will they understand the word, ‘no?’” or “At what age will they do what I say?” However you ask the question, basically what parents are wanting is cooperative children. And who wouldn’t? It’s easy to see why we want our children to listen and act according to our instructions. But have you ever asked yourself what exactly would help your child to listen? 

Allow me to explain. I once observed a mother during a play group where we moms were chatting and the toddlers were playing nearby. As is the often the case in this scenario, one mother (or more) would have to stop to correct or redirect a child amidst their play. For this one mother, this happened several times between her and her child during this time. Feeling frustrated that her child wasn’t listening, she directed a rhetorical question at us, basically the question laid out above. 

To me, the answer was obvious. Her child was not being belligerently disobedient (though it may have appeared that way), but was just engaging in normal toddler limit testing. But that’s not why they weren’t listening. The whole time during this particular play group (I have no idea what interactions were like outside of this setting) the only time the mother spoke to this child was to correct them. Not once was there an encouraging statement, a compliment, or anything that would help the child feel connected to their mother. 

I do not say this to say the mother was in the wrong, but only to point out that she hadn’t helped give that toddler any reason to want to listen to her! Would you want to listen to someone that was constantly telling you what you were doing was wrong or taking things away from you that you were enjoying? I don’t think so!

Just think of them as constantly conducting
experiments: What happens if I do this?
Again, I’m not trying to make this mother out to sound like a bad person. I merely want my audience to understand that if the only communication you and your toddler have is you telling them, “no,” or otherwise disciplining them, that you are not very likely to see much cooperation from them. 

So what does help toddlers to cooperate? In a word: connection! The more connected you feel to a person, the more likely you are to want to follow their directions or heed their counsel. Granted, toddlers are known for constantly testing limits, and will do so even when they feel connected to their caregiver - it’s basically their job description (and developmentally what their brain is asking of them). But the more connected they feel to a caregiver results in more cooperation from the toddler. 

It may or may not be obvious how to connect to your toddler; I will give some examples. You can notice when they are exploring and learning something new, making statements or asking questions about it. Show interest in what they are doing. (Author’s note: self-directed play/learning is a great thing and we shouldn’t always interrupt it with our queries or suggestions, but in the context of connection, if your child is acting out, this is one of those things you can do to reconnect.) 

What does this look like? In the context of a playgroup, my son will occasionally indicate to me something he’s doing, and wants me to acknowledge (“Are you driving that car around?” “That toy looks fun!” “Are you going to go down the slide?”). As quick as that he’s back to playing, and knows I’m still interested in what he’s doing. Granted, that can be difficult to do if you are busy talking to other moms or caring for a baby and are distracted, but try to acknowledge when your child wants your attention, because it may just take a brief moment of time.

Since I mentioned caring for a baby, I will give an example related to that. My second little one isn’t here yet, but I have watched babies while caring for my son. Sometimes I notice him having a hard time (others might refer to this as acting out) because I am holding the baby (and therefore not holding or otherwise attending to him). To acknowledge this, I will occasionally ask him if he needs a hug. Often he’ll say yes and we take a moment to have a little cuddle. Other times he says no, and then I ask about what he’s feeling, if he’s having a hard time because of the baby or if something else is bothering him. Once we get to the bottom of things (and you may not always find a reason, because children don’t always know why they are upset) we try to fix or otherwise validate what he’s going through. There is almost always an immediate improvement in behavior afterward.

As far as other ways to connect, it may require more time on your part: reading a book, playing with blocks or dolls, going outside: basically spending time with your child however they like to do that with you. Granted, where you are at a given moment may not immediately facilitate this kind of connection. But acknowledge that you are willing to do that with them when you get the chance. Make them a promise! And then keep it, and your child will learn that you value connecting with them and prioritizing them. They may still be upset in the moment, but you can always acknowledge their feelings so they know that you care.

The ultimate take home message I want everyone to get is that we need to not look at our child as “bad” for not listening. Doing that only creates more misbehavior, and usually only makes you look like the “bad guy” to your kids (due to constant correction and discipline). Rather, if your child is having a hard time listening, think of needs they may have that are not getting met and try to help them however you can. (You can think of the acronym H.A.L.T. - hungry, angry, lonely, tired - the same acronym to use to know when NOT to go shopping, at least if you want to avoid unnecessary purchases.) Think of you and your child as on the same team - how can you best assist them in having the best behavior possible? Then there will be less of you making unheeded demands and more of working together to make everyone happy. It is totally possible! As we prioritize connection over cooperation, ultimately we will have more of both. Or as Thomas S. Monson would say, “Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.” 

I do not wish to say that we should never correct our children. Proper limit setting and keeping is absolutely in our job description. However, I do wish to emphasize that our positive interactions with and statements toward our children should greatly outnumber the number of times we have to correct if we really hope to see cooperation. Expecting unquestioning obedience from our children without first working on our relationship with them will either result in rebellious children, or children that obey only out of fear. Parenting and disciplining with love and empathy, on the other hand, will result in children that obey because they know that we care for them and their feelings and are coming from a position of connection. The more we connect and love, the more our children can trust us. The more our children can trust us, the more likely they will be cooperative.

A note about toddlers: again, this is a stage where they are constantly testing limits, and even when they feel connected they will “disobey” because they want to see what will happen. They repeat this behavior because the want to see if we will have the same response every time. So while connecting with them is of utmost importance, it is also important to, when necessary, set a limit calmly, confidently, and consistently. If we react with frustration or in any other emotionally charged manner, this will make engaging in the behavior more interesting to the toddler. Instead, when a toddler does something you don’t want them to, you calmly remind them what the limit is, what the consequence is (natural consequences are best, like taking a toy away they aren’t playing with properly, unnatural consequences are more likely to result in resentment rather than “learning a lesson.”) and follow through. If they are upset, EMPATHIZE. Don’t be sorry about setting the limit, but do be sorry that it makes them sad and help them feel that. That can immediately start to help a toddler feel reconnected and not like you are the “bad guy.” 


So there you go! When will children start to listen? As soon as you start to connect. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Tale of the “Boomie”



So one day my son got a balloon; and he loved his balloon. Only he didn’t call it balloon, he called it, “boomie,” because that’s what he could say.

When he played with it, he would let it go and let it float up and hit the ceiling. Of course, we could always get it down for him and he got lots of enjoyment out of this activity.

Later that day we were going to go bye-bye, and my son and I headed to the car. Normally I help him (a.k.a. carry him), but I was carrying lots of stuff to the car so I went ahead of him. He stayed behind with his “boomie.” I unloaded my arms, and then went back to get him where he was standing on the sidewalk. 

Before I reached him he suddenly let his “boomie” go into the air, not realizing what would happen. I watched as the balloon flew away and my son just called after it, “Boomie, boomie.” He was not upset, because he could still see it, and in his mind, I think he thought he could still get it. After some time, the balloon flew so far that we could no longer see it, and THEN my son realized what letting his balloon go had meant. 

Sky, Blue, Aircraft, Flyer, Balloon
This is basically what it looked like, only
without the airplane
At first his cries just became sadder, “Boomie? Boomie?” And then he dissolved into tears. Having witnessed the whole thing, including his delayed comprehension of what had happened, it was all I could do to take him in my arms and feel for this boy and his lost “boomie.” It wouldn’t do any good at this point to lecture him or blame him, and so I was just sad with him, “You lost your boomie, huh? It went bye-bye.” 

Soon we left, and he was still sad about it. We continued to validate and eventually his mind was on other things. The funny part was, he continued to bring it up! That night when we’re putting him to bed, “Boomie, boomie?” The next day in the car again, “Boomie?” Whenever we would stand at the spot where he lost it, “Boomie!” 

And so it went for a couple of weeks. He now is no longer sad about having lost it, but he is excited about getting a new one. Back when he lost that one we promised we would get a new one, but haven’t made good on that promise yet. But he continues to remind us, and he even decided that he wants a “wed” (red) one. The old one was blue, in case you were wondering. 


Moral of the story? Don’t let go of your balloon, but if someone does, don’t make them feel worse than they already do about it.

Friday, March 27, 2015

How to let your babies cry (without feeling like you’re letting them cry)

This may sound like the exact opposite advice that I gave in my last post. But really it is a balanced way to approach crying that you can’t attend to right away. Because after all, as great as the baby feels their needs are when they are crying, the mother has needs too, and I’m going to strike a balance in helping her attend both her and the baby’s needs.
Quick, now! While they're not looking!

Do you ever find yourself in any of the following situations:

1.) Putting off a need of your own (getting yourself food, going to the bathroom, etc.) because you are trying to avoid making your baby cry as you leave to attend to it.

2.) Going ahead and leaving your baby momentarily to attend to some such need, having caused them to be upset, getting angry at them and saying hurtful things such as, “Geez, kid! You’re fine! Can’t you just calm down?”

3.) Feeling guilt for attending to other needs or chores or feeling as though you are otherwise neglecting your baby.

Now if you are anything like me, you have found yourself in all of these, depending on your stress level or emotional state at the time. And it makes sense that this would stress us out, because we have legitimate needs to fill too, and putting them off too long can actually make us worse parents if it impacts our emotional state. Because I want you to be the best parent possible, I am going to attempt to rid you of these concerns and give you some tools to help you handle these situations so that you can meet both your needs and the baby’s.

First, we need to change our attitude about the crying. I know, I know, I just spent a huge post and a half about not letting our babies cry because it causes them stress and so of course it stresses us when we hear them cry. Let’s pause. While it is important to respond to our baby’s cries, it is also important to note that our immediate response can happen about 80% of the time and the other 20% the baby will be okay if left for a few minutes. Remember our conversation about the brain? That highway we’re trying to build where the baby knows that we will respond immediately can still be there so long as our responsiveness greatly outnumbers the few times it takes us a little longer to get to them. 

So perfect! You don’t need to feel guilt about taking a little longer to get to your baby now and then (ideally, when you’re taking care of important needs like bowel movements or water bottle filling) because as long as you are responding as soon as you can the baby can still trust that you’ll be there.

Okay, lady, that’s great and all. But really why can’t my kid just be happy and then I wouldn’t have to worry about this? He is fine, why does he freak out when I leave?

Great questions. Again, assuming you have formed a strong attachment with your baby, it will be perfectly natural for them to be sad when you leave. That’s true for both a quick trip to the bathroom or a longer excursion like going out with your spouse. What you need to do is be okay with this. Allow their emotions. Trying to force the baby to bottle their emotions is even worse than them crying for a bit. We don’t enjoy our child being sad, but we’d rather them express it than keep it to themselves, never to trust anyone. 

The question we should be asking is, how do we handle it? I’ll tell you. First, prepare them for your departure. This shows respect. Tell your baby, “I’m going to be leaving for a couple minutes to use the bathroom. I’ll be back as soon as I’m done.” And then leave. They may still be sad, but again, that’s allowed - they don’t want you to leave and it upsets them. Rather than be angry about this upon your return, be empathetic. Sure you know they were “fine,” but really try to get on your baby’s level and understand that it made them really sad when you left, and express that. “You got sad when I left. I’m sorry that upset you! I’m back now, I’m here for you.” And you may find that validating your baby’s feelings like this may help them cry less (just like when you respond quickly to their cries). But no matter how much they cry, support them in their feelings. Allow full expression. While crying when alone is stressful for babies, crying with your support can be cathartic, and they feel better afterward. 

This is why taking care of your needs as a parent is so important. It is much harder to have an empathetic response like this on an empty stomach or no sleep. So tell yourself these affirmations right now:

I will be a better parent as I take care of myself.

It is okay for my baby to be sad so long as I support them in their emotions.

My baby can handle hard things the more I empathize with them.

In fact, you may find as you make this a pattern - prepare your baby that you’re going to leave and empathize upon return, that they eventually stop getting upset when you leave because they have learned to trust that you will be back soon! They will be happy just like you wanted! But again, no matter the response your child has, be sure to empathize with and support it. The goal here is not to have babies that never cry, but babies who are responded to and who feel validated in their emotions. That (and not never crying) is what will make emotionally stable children and adults who feel comfortable confiding in you.

Now, since I do like Attachment Parenting, I will say that some folks in that arena will encourage you to wear/carry your baby so that way you don’t have to leave them. If this works for you, great. But for some due to back problems or even the baby not liking the carrier this does not work for everyone. Or, if you’re like me, I preferred to use this method only when we were out and about and not for a solution around the house. Or you may find this works better when they are a tiny baby and not so much when they’re mobile. Or it may depend on the child’s temperament! Every child is different. So you can find a solution that works for you. Whatever you do, if you’re trying to empathize and connect with your baby, you’re doing a great job.

The Carseat Dilemma

I want to give another scenario where this made a huge difference to our family. Our son hated his carseat. Whenever we would need to get in the car, he would instantly get upset and getting him in his carseat was a battle. When he was smaller and still breastfeeding a lot, I would often keep him out and nurse him while my husband would drive, but this was not as effective once he got more mobile. Now he wanted to jump and play all around the car and it was simply unsafe. We knew we had to do something. 

At first we did what most of us do: force him in kicking and screaming. None of us liked this, it made us all miserable, and I knew there had to be another way. That’s when I had this epiphany about empathy. I realized that I didn’t need to feel bad about making my child sad to get him in his carseat, because I knew that’s where he’d be safe. But what I could feel bad about - and empathize with him about - was that this made him sad. I could say, “I’m sorry it makes you sad that we put you in here. I know it’s not your favorite.” as well as otherwise prepare him for how long we would be in the car and what he could expect. 

It took a few tries, he didn’t settle right away, but eventually he got into his carseat without any struggle at all. We also praised him when he would do that, but never made him feel bad about not wanting to be in there. Again, we allowed full expression of his feelings, and once he felt validated, he was better able to handle the situation. We avoided telling him things like, “You’re fine, calm down - you won’t be in there long anyway,” because these statements do not validate his emotions. And I am proud to say that we are now at a point where he willingly gets in his carseat and now just waves his arm, which means he wants music, and we crank the classical station.

Don’t Distract

When my son would get upset in the car, we would offer several distractions to try to make him happy: food, songs, toys - sometimes they worked, but most of the time he would remain upset. That is why I feel that we are doing our children a disservice when we distract them - we essentially tell them, “I’m uncomfortable hearing you express your emotions, and so I’m going to try to shut you up with these other things.” We’ve all been there, done that, I’m not judging anyone, I’m merely saying that I believe there is a better way. Now that my sons feelings have been acknowledged, he does enjoy food, songs, and toys in the car, but they work because we validated him first. We acknowledged that this experience made him miserable and we apologized for that. And then once he was calm, he was ready to enjoy his car ride with those things. 

We offer distractions all the time: in church, while at friends’ houses, while on the phone, you name it. Once our child makes an unsettling peep we instantly try to make it stop. While sometimes what we offer is appropriate - a teether for a teething baby, for instance - other times this just stifles what our child is trying to tell us - that they need our empathy and connection. This of course is not true all the time, sometimes they are hungry, tired, bored, need to be changed, etc. but if it’s been some time since you looked in your child’s eyes and felt what they’re feeling, then it may be time to do that. I know it has made a huge difference for us and helps us all handle the tears better.


So there you have it: how to let your baby cry without feeling like you’re letting them cry - you don’t ignore it, but acknowledge it fully, and when possible, prepare them for handling stressful situations. Here’s to happier and validated babies and parents!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Life with our 18-month-old

It’s time for an update on our cute toddler and all the cute things he’s doing. Combined with the fact that we have a little one on the way, things have been pretty exciting around here.

Talking: He has SO many new words. It’s so fun when he learns a new one because then it becomes his favorite for a little bit. In no particular order, he says hi, bye-bye, yeah, no-no, daddy, mommy (!), uh-oh, what?, “choo-choo” (which his word for train, car, truck, and anything that produces loud noises like garbage trucks), shoes and “dok” (socks), hat, dog, bear, baby (my favorite), eyes, ear, “bun” (for belly button), he attempts mouth (all other body parts he just points at), water, juice, mum is still most food, cheese, bean, hot dog, bread, apple, “bleh” (for garbage), ball, “whee,” hot, “all done,” up, down, “yay!” keys, “but” (bike), “glawk” (clock), dice, and Jesus. He also has many animal noises, for sheep, elephant, monkey, cat, fish, cow, duck, owl, and anything that goes “Rawr,” (lion, dinosaur, etc.). This list does not do justice to how cute he sounds when he says all these things.

Music: He still conducts music and dances, but now he has some favorite songs he requests. They are “Popcorn Popping,” “Wheels on the Bus,” and “Do as I’m Doing.” He puts his hands to his eyes to ask for the first, and rolls his arms to ask for the other two (and then we have to figure out which one he wants). He is getting better at doing the actions with me, which is also the cutest thing ever to witness. For going to bed his favorite songs are “I Am a Child of God,” “I Love to See the Temple,” and “Love at Home,” though it usually takes many more than that to get him to fall asleep. He also enjoys the classical station while riding in the car. Combined with the fact that he tries to run to play the organ at church, I think we may have our own little Bach.

Physical Abilities: Of course running, climbing, throwing or kicking balls, and going down slides are some of his favorite things but right now my husband is trying to teach him how to jump. It is SO funny to watch the little guy try to jump. He also likes to take all the books off the shelf, though sometimes he places them into nice stacks. He likes making towers with his Lego blocks, playing inside cardboard boxes, and turning pages in books while pointing at and saying the things he can.

Affection: He still gives hugs and cuddles, but now he gives us kisses too! It is the sweetest. Not only does he give them to us, but without prompting he will give them to his stuffed animals too. Which is cute in and of itself, but the funny thing is with his little stuffed dog, he licks its face instead of kissing it! I don’t know if he got that off a YouTube video or what, but it is hilarious. On top of all that, he have a little stuffed doll that he will cuddle, but we also have been telling him about the baby in mommy’s tummy, and so now he hugs and kisses my tummy to love on that baby. It is precious.

We love our sweet little boy and we are excited for him to have a brother!



Friday, January 30, 2015

Follow up on babies crying

I thought I was going to be done with crying after my last post (ahem, talking about crying, haha), but then I read this amazing article: http://www.janetlansbury.com/2011/09/7-reasons-to-calm-down-about-babies-crying/ about why we shouldn’t get upset when our babies cry or do whatever it takes to stop the crying immediately. So instead of talking about this myself, I want you all to go and read that article and learn about exactly how to respond when your baby cries (hint: you still don’t ignore them!) and tell me what you think.

I really love how they emphasized that we need to love and support our babies through their emotions, even if that means that they keep crying for a bit. I have to be honest, I did not always do that with my crying baby. Often I would just offer to nurse even if he didn’t need it because it would get him to stop crying. So now I try to help him work through his feelings: asking him questions, validating his sadness, holding and hugging him if he wants, and trying to meet whatever his real need is at the time.

One of the articles cited in that post is this one: http://www.awareparenting.com/comfort.htm. It talks about why crying-it-out is undesirable, but also why sometimes babies can use a good cry in your arms (what she calls “crying-in-arms”). It is a little long, so the author has a shorter version here: http://www.awareparenting.com/article1.htm, but I definitely recommend the long one if you can (though the short one is good too, and good for passing along!) So if you want a little more information about helping babies have a good cry if that is in fact what they need then that is a great source. I hope you find these as useful as I did!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Listen to your babies

This is the promised follow-up! I am going to share my philosophy on how to help your children to trust you, and it’s basically going to involve a lot of information about Attachment Parenting (learn more at http://www.attachmentparenting.org/principles). Some people criticize this method and its effectiveness, but I love it and so did my professors in college. The classes I took were based off of expert opinions and solid research and are the best time-tested, proven methods out there. (And we're talking about more than “effective” in the short-term, but with the best short- and long-term benefits.) It honestly is one of the main ways I feel I am able to appreciate being a mother so much.  I truly feel that more people would be better off from knowing this information and that too few people know about it, and so I hope you will give this a chance so that you might benefit from this as much as I have.

Before I get started, I just want to say that I am not writing all this to say, "I'm right, you're wrong." Rather I say it out of anxious concern and love for all of God's children - both your kids and you parents. I want to give you information that I feel will help you and be beneficial for all involved.

In my child development class, I distinctly remember our professor teaching about infants. He taught (as is explained in the attachment theory) that infants are wired to attach, particularly to their caregivers. One of the ways this happens is when babies cry. Not the crying itself, but what happens in response to the crying. When babies are responded to promptly, the baby learns that their crying elicits a response. Now lest you think that babies manipulate you with their crying, you should know that babies only cry when they have a real need or concern. They often even show signs of that need in other ways before getting to a full-blown cry. “Rooting” is seen in infants looking for food, yawning can be a sign of sleepiness, and making little noises could be there way of wanting to interact. For the purposes of this post today though, we will just jump to the point of crying and focus on that.

It is very important to respond quickly to baby’s cries for many reasons. One is that whatever their need is will likely be able to be identified and responded to quicker. They could be hungry, messy, tired or startled themselves awake and still tired, or even just want to be held by you. Respond to that need. That may seem obvious, but depending on the parenting method you subscribe to, some may convince you to ignore the crying or the need if it is seen as frivolous (e.g. being held). I am going to do my best to explain why I think it is a bad idea to ignore your child (which will lead us to the other reason’s you want to respond to baby’s cries quickly).

Like I said before, when baby’s cries are answered, babies learn that they elicit a response from their caregivers from their cries. This does not mean the child will learn to cry for everything. Some “experts” will try to convince you that always responding to your baby’s cries will “spoil” them and that they will never learn to not cry to get things. This is wrong for many reasons. The first of which is that crying is one of the only mechanisms babies have to get your attention. Again, they do not do this to annoy or manipulate you. They do this to let you know that they have a need that requires someone else to meet it. Babies cannot meet their own needs. People recognize that when it comes to feeding and changing, but somehow they convince themselves that babies can self-soothe or put themselves to sleep. Babies are developmentally incapable of these tasks.

Let me tell you what does happen as you respond faithfully to your baby’s cries. Instead of being spoiled, your baby will learn that they can trust you! I cannot emphasize that enough: as you respond promptly to your baby’s cries, they will trust that their needs will be taken care of by you. And instead of crying more, they actually start to cry less. This is because as the relationship of trust builds, they start to give you earlier signs of their needs and as you learn to recognize those (and continue to respond promptly) the baby will cry less and less. This article (http://www.parentingscience.com/infant-crying.html) is a great description of what responding to crying does and does not do, and cites studies to back it up (in case you are doubting what I am saying). It also talks about persistent crying (commonly known as colic) and its role in this responsiveness debate.

For those wondering what happens when you don’t cry-it-out to get babies to sleep, ultimately these babies will learn (more likely as older children) to fall asleep without help and to self-soothe. Even toddlers often need the responsive care we are talking about today. This does not make them “needy” or “clingy,” but rather if this relationship of trust has been established from the beginning, they will slowly start to meet their own needs as they are able and when they are ready, just as they achieve any other developmental milestone. This method truly fosters greater independence while maintaining trust.

Now let me explain what will happen if you do not respond promptly to your baby’s cries. And as we describe this, know that generally I am referring to a pattern of unresponsiveness, not being late to respond to your baby once or twice. That is important to keep in mind so parents don’t drive themselves crazy - if you mess up once or twice it’s definitely going to be okay. When baby’s cries are ignored and there is no caregiver present (that is critical, because even your presence makes a huge difference) your baby feels abandoned. When they can’t see you, they can only assume you are gone, and they do not have any concept that you are in the next room, or will be back soon (assuming you plan to do that, and are not intentionally ignoring your child). They feel abandoned. Stress levels rise, crying gets progressively frantic, and if left to continue (some children go hoarse) they will eventually give up (convinced that no one is there to help them), stop crying, and may fall asleep fitfully. (This is discussed more in depth here: http://evolutionaryparenting.com/what-you-need-to-know-about-crying-it-out/ it cites research that babies stop crying when not responded to and even fall asleep, but their levels of stress do not decrease and their attachment with their caregiver decreases. It also offers alternatives to those that are desperate in their attempts to get their child and themselves to sleep.)

If you wanted to develop a relationship of trust with your baby, is that how you would do it?

[Remember that this is in the context that the baby is completely left alone, not crying while you are trying to attend to them - again, your presence makes a huge difference. The mal-effects could still apply if you are present (in sight) but unresponsive.]

I’d like to address some of the objections of those that support “cry-it-out” techniques raise. These techniques are usually implemented to “teach” babies to self-soothe and fall asleep on their own. (This article cites more findings of the actual effects of sleep training: http://evolutionaryparenting.com/proving-the-harm-in-early-sleep-training/.) Well, the study I cited earlier proves that babies are not soothed, and their stress levels remain high if the caregiver continues to leave the child alone. Those high stress levels return for the consecutive days, as found in the study. Those that have used cry-it-out believe that the babies are okay because they stop crying and eventually fall asleep, and even cry less for nights following. I would like to remind my audience though, that babies are incapable of self-soothing (and as the study found, are still experiencing high levels of stress even if not crying) - but they are resilient (and tired from crying so much) and do eventually fall asleep.

That is why they like to see their technique as effective because it does (eventually) reach that goal - the infant does indeed fall asleep “on their own.” But at what cost? While babies do fall asleep, they also experience that high level of stress and abandonment. So while they might think that they just taught your child how to fall asleep on their own, they often fail to realize that they also taught their child that they cannot trust their caregivers. Though this doesn’t mean children stop trying to attach to their caregiver. The parents that ignore or give minimal assistance at night but meet needs during the day (though it seems that sometimes these parents tend to delay daytime responses as well) leaves a child anxious and confused, making them more upset and often crying more than children that are repeatedly responded to promptly. This also can affect the baby’s development and growth, as stress inhibits healthy progression. For more details about how the child is affected, check this out: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/moral-landscapes/201112/dangers-crying-it-out. It also gives lots of resources on how to soothe crying babies, and even how to prevent crying where possible.

Why is it that leaving children to cry would make them anxious and confused? It all comes down to what happens in the brain. As you've surely heard before, our brains are a series of connections, and new pathways are created as we learn or experience new things. When we experience something repeatedly or frequently (or study it more often, in the context of learning) then that pathway strengthens and can become a neural "highway." In the context of this discussion, when a baby is responded to repeatedly, it learns that they are a causal creature and that their caregivers can be trusted. When they are repeatedly ignored, they eventually become withdrawn and often quit seeking to get help, even when they still need it. If it's somewhere in the middle, that's where the confusion and anxiety would come in. Let's hear the experts say how this affects us for the rest of our life:
Here’s the zinger about all this. Any emotional-relational-social experiences that are processed before the brain structures that can process experience consciously are fully mature, before 2 ½ -3 years of age, those experiences are stored only in implicit memory, only outside of awareness. This includes ALL early patterns of attachment. The research has proven “beyond irrefutability” that attachment patterns stabilize in our neural circuitry by 12-18 months of age. They are stable and unconscious before we have any conscious choice in the matter and unless new experiences change them, will remain stable “rules” of relating well into adulthood. (Linda Graham, MFT: http://lindagraham-mft.net/resources/published-articles/the-neuroscience-of-attachment/)
Basically the way we become attached (or detached) to our parents as children will dictate how we interact with people for the rest of our lives unless the rules change. Mercifully, our brains are plastic and can change and so people can learn new ways, but our early experiences are very formative. Her article is a long one, but goes into even greater depth of how attachment affects our brains and more of what that means.

Another objection I typically hear from cry-it-out proponents is they say, “I let my kids cry-it-out and they are all fine. They are straight-A students and have self confidence.” As I said before, kids are resilient (and can learn new patterns, as just discussed). Many of them do make it out “okay,” and many of you reading today are likely examples of that, having cried-it-out as a baby but are “fine” now. (Though some do not, as seen in more research here: http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/health-concerns/fussy-baby/science-says-excessive-crying-could-be-harmful) But what I do wish to say is that even if we turned out alright, is there not a better way to parent? Should we not give the most vulnerable people in our lives the greatest amount of love and nurturing? I heard one parent claim (paraphrased), “You have to let your babies cry-it-out from day one to teach them how to deal with hard things. Life is hard, and you will only make it harder for them by babying them.” Uh, really? I agree that we need to teach our children how to deal with the difficulties of life, but I am going to have to disagree on the method there. Are we really supposed to let our innocent little infants handle the hardship of life on their own? I should think not.

In fact, I believe God gave us each other, parents, siblings, friends, to help each other through life. If you really do that to your child, you are right, they will learn to handle life on their own. But if, like me, you want your children to go to you with their struggles and confide in you their deepest desires and wishes, then try listening to them as babies. They may not be speaking English, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t speaking.

So not only when my baby cries do I feed, hold, or otherwise attend to him; but when he coos I talk back, when he reaches out for me I hold him, and when he holds me tight I hold even tighter. That is what I did from day one. And personally, I find all of that rather instinctual. Our bodies as mothers are made to respond to our babies (See more on that here: http://www.pregnancyandbaby.com/baby/articles/940433/crying-its-good-for-their-lungs). Their cries are uniquely manufactured so that we will respond quickly. That is why I could never cry-it-out with my baby. It is too important to me that my baby knows that I will always be there for him when he reaches for me -- because I am supposed to be.

What is an alternative to crying-it-out? For me it meant nursing my baby to sleep each night, and often that even meant that he ended up sleeping in the bed with us when he woke for night feedings. In another post I plan on talking about how co-sleeping can be done safely (and be very beneficial!), but for now, know that that worked for us. This article (http://kellymom.com/bf/normal/comfortnursing/) does a great job of explaining how nursing to sleep is perfectly normal and how to deal with common problems you may experience doing that. For me it was the best way to respond to my baby both day and night. He did this through 17 months, and since then he's still been sleeping with us as weaning was pretty rough on him. Next time around we plan to alternate this with other methods (rocking, singing). One of the articles I cited earlier gives other alternatives.

I get that it’s hard - I never claimed what I did was easy. But what I do find “easy” is the child I am raising now - he is trusting of me and is very bonded to me (many people comment to me that they can tell he loves me) and that to me is worth more than the sleep that I lost (and still lose) getting up with him, the tired arms I get for holding him endlessly at times, or the tasks left undone because he needed my undivided attention on a given day (most often when he’s teething).

Is this the perfect formula? Maybe not, maybe you feel you did these things and it didn’t work for you or wore you out too much (though attachment parenting does include reaching out and getting help from others when needed, which is also VERY important so that you don’t experience burn-out and ignore your children due to mere exhaustion). Maybe learning about and applying more of the other principles in attachment parenting will help you more than this one. But it has worked for me and I would encourage any parents out there not already practicing these things to give them a try. Literally nothing would make me happier than to know that more parents were responding to their children and helping them bond and grow and be emotionally secure.

I get that it’s hard, parents. I really do. If you are struggling to take care of your baby/children then by all means call on others for some help. You will be a better parent the more emotionally stable you are. If I am in your area I will gladly help you out. (Or here is a quick article on why your baby may be crying: http://www.babycenter.com/0_12-reasons-babies-cry-and-how-to-soothe-them_9790.bc?showAll=true)

So please, listen to your babies - you won’t regret it.