Giving you Permission to Be the Parent!
Need a few parenting tips to make your life easier? Meeting the needs of both yourself and your child can be tricky. Baby sleep consultant Natalie Ebrill shares her advice on how to be a smart, effective parent.
Starting to feel overwhelmed by your child? Babies quickly become stronger and smarter, and learn how to get what they want from doting parents. Read on to gain greater control over your young one, and be the parent that your child needs!
In the first twelve months, I appreciate and encourage parents to get to know and understand their child’s personality so as to effectively predict and meet their child’s needs. In the first six months, their routines can change everyday and if we don’t ensure the baby eats, feeds and plays well, then we are left with an unhappy, overtired baby. So we learn very quickly to make them happy and act quickly. From the age of 6 months their routine becomes a little more predictable (except for power naps), and we can plan to ensure a good day but still jump to attention when they are upset to fix whatever’s wrong. The baby with responsive parents learns very quickly “I cry/scream, they come and fix the problem,” which is how it needs to be. We want and need to respond to our children’s cries for help.
It is usually from the 12th month and over that I aim to “give parents permission to be the parent”, and start to set some guidelines for behaviour and routines. I am not talking about discipline here, just guidelines for acceptable and safe behaviour which are different for each family. The problem occurs when babies who knew that if they called, you came and gave them what they wanted, start to develop a stronger will and know exactly what they want. Hence parents who were jumping to the baby’s needs begin to have a hard time pulling back and setting limits when the toddler’s needs and battles begin.
Exploring the previous examples
• Babies can now stand independently and don’t want to sit in the bath anymore; they want to stand because they can. When you start insisting they sit in the bath for safety reasons, they start screaming, so you let them go against your better judgment because you don’t like the screaming.
• Your baby has greater mobility and doesn’t like the idea of sitting still and eating in the high chair so a battle begins and ...Mum and Dad can’t stand the screaming. This often leads to eating in the bouncer, in the walker, on someone’s lap, or heaven forbid...chasing the toddler around the house begging him or her to eat!
• When babies start crawling and cruising on the furniture, they can stimulate themselves easily and delay or prevent sleeping in the cot or the big bed. The babies’ increased mobility and ability to stand up in the cot or get out of the big bed can lead to increased crying and parents thinking that babies don’t like the cot or big bed. It only takes two sleeps to create a habit, plus short term survival strategies such as allowing your baby to sleep in other places to avoid the screaming that often lead to more noise and other problems.
• When babies or toddlers start walking and getting stronger, they enjoy their freedom and really put up a whinging/screaming fight against sitting in the stroller. However it is still sometimes necessary for safety and convenience in daily activities to make babies sit in a stroller, even if they don’t want to. It’s ok for the occasional escape and walk around when it suits you and the toddler is cooperating, but chasing a toddler through a shopping centre, away from the road when walking or around showgrounds is not enjoyable!
• Parents often report that their child ‘doesn’t like’ wearing a sleeping bag. It is natural for the sleeping bag to be a new experience, especially since the baby or toddler was usually wrapped before. Some toddlers may protest at the feeling of having their legs contained and being unable to stand up quickly, but that is the whole point! The role of a sleeping bag (summer and winter) is to replace blankets for the mobile baby and make sure the baby is warm wherever they end up sleeping in the cot (since your young one won’t stay tucked in anymore), to prevent the legs getting stuck through the cot’s bars, and as a bonus, it makes it a little harder for the baby to stand up in the cot and stimulate him or herself. When your toddler realizes that it’s a cue for sleep, we expect them to protest sometimes if the toddler doesn’t believe he or she is ready for bed, however that doesn’t mean the baby doesn’t need a sleeping bag or ‘dislikes it’.
• Getting changed on the change table. Sometimes I wonder why some parents even buy these! In so many homes I hear that they are great for storing things until the toddler empties the shelves but they are very rarely used for changing the baby. Babies want to roll and crawl whenever they can. Many parents report how surprised they are at how strong their baby is, and don’t want to risk fighting them to get changed on the change table. However parents then end up chasing the baby all over the floor and lounge room just to get dressed. I suggest dressing and undressing the baby as quickly as possible, placing a hand on the baby/toddler’s tummy and saying “be still, nearly finished” and persisting with the activity. The child is only fighting because he or she hopes for a chance of escape onto the floor! Any whinging/tantrums that are rewarded with moving to the floor encourage the same behaviour next time.
The importance of being in charge now
From these examples, I wanted to demonstrate situations where you needed cooperation from your baby/toddler but they fought you so that you had to decide whether to have peace at any price and give in to the screaming/whinging, or whether to stand firm on your guidelines. I appreciate that this process of putting your guidelines in place can be very challenging and a little heartbreaking, but you can choose how you wish to parent your child now and also consider the future ramifications of your parenting. As the child gets older, it is harder to get tougher and change established household rules and guidelines.
A great example I use is this: mum and dad are struggling to gain cooperation on lots of daily activities with their 15 month old daughter. They are choosing at the moment to have ‘peace at any price’ and give in to her tantrums because they “don’t want to upset her”. However they are getting increasingly frustrated and feel powerless, their daughter is the boss and they wonder how they got into this situation. So I presented them with this scenario:
When your daughter is 15 years old and ready to go out dressed in nearly nothing with high heels and lots of makeup, the newly qualified ''P'' plate boyfriend is beeping his horn out the front and hasn’t even bothered to come in and introduce himself.....will you let her go out? Or will you insist that she dress more appropriately and that you at least meet the boyfriend or maybe she cannot go at all? If you insist on your rules then she won’t like it at all and may ''hate'' you, but you would probably put your foot down and remain firm with her.
If you don’t start now to set acceptable rules for behaviour and stop rewarding tantrums you will not have any control 5, 10 or 15 years later.
• Remember to positively encourage acceptable behaviour. Catch them being good and thank them - they will love it!
• Don’t give in, stand firm and enjoy the benefits of cooperation. Your children will thank you. Children who receive limits and boundaries feel more loved and secure than those without them.
© 2011 Natalie Ebrill -Sleep and Settle-Baby Sleep Consultant 0-5 yrs
RN, Child and Family Health Nurse. Mother of three daughters.