Monday, October 24, 2011

I Respect My Baby

I read a lot. I'm a researcher (probably one of the reasons I was a history major) and I enjoy learning new perspectives and gaining information. When it comes to parenting, I can't get enough advice. Obviously there is room for just plain common sense, but I also like to have my own inclinations backed up with facts and research.

My most recent book: Superbaby: 12 Ways to Give Your Child a Head Start in the First 3 Years, by Dr. Jenn Berman. I saw it at the library and it looked promising.

I don't intend to give a full book review, but there were some great things in this book that I would love to share with other new parents. Some of her suggestions may seem extreme depending on your current lifestyle, and I'm not saying that I agree 100% with everything she says, but I do think she gives a lot of great information with solid research and that parents would do well to at least consider her advice, and pick and choose what works for you.

Her book covers topics that include respectful communication with your child, language development, establishing schedules and sleep time, play time, tv use and screen time, eating and nutrition, and exposure to toxic chemicals (plus more, but those are my favorites). I'm going to highlight the most significant points for me, and in a number of posts instead of one long one.

Note: I will be the first to acknowledge I'm a first-time mom and an idealist, though I have an extremely happy, healthy baby, so I have a right to be. I only have one child and there is much that I don't have to worry about with only one child. I don't claim to have all the answers, but I do think the words and wisdom I've gleamed from this book are worth sharing. I also recommend the book if you are at all interested in this topic because I'm not going to do the whole book justice with just a few bullet points of what I myself found helpful/interesting.

Respectful Communication

-Narrate everything. Tell your child what is going to happen. My own current example, "Ellie, I'm going to wipe your nose now." Instead of just bending down and wiping her nose with no warning and the inevitable fussiness that would follow, she has quickly learned to lean into the tissue and patiently accept it. This from a child who would start whining when she would see me approach with a cloth to wipe her face. I also talk to Ellie about everything we're doing. Everything. It might be why she is extremely verbal now too. "We're getting dressed now. Here's your left foot. Let's put your sock on. Let's read a few books before your nap."

-Reflect back what you see your child doing. This helps them feel seen/heard/understood.

-Another tip I have been using is the idea that I shouldn't just shush my baby or just say "you're fine," when clearly, she's not. Even something as simple as changing a diaper sometimes can be upsetting, usually because she was in the middle of playing. (Another great example of a time when I narrate by letting her know we are going to go eat, or change a diaper, instead of just scooping her up in the middle of play with no warning). So, when Ellie starts crying or fussing, instead of just saying, "oh come on, you're ok," or "don't cry," I try to say things like, "I know you're not excited about this right now. I'm just changing your diaper and then we can go back to play."

I love the process of feeling like I'm really respecting her as a person, and making her feel secure and safe by validating her feelings instead of trying to brush past them. I know that I don't like to be told that I shouldn't cry. If I'm crying, it's how I'm feeling, even if it's because of something silly, and I appreciate being allowed to cry if I want. It validates my feelings instead of making me feel foolish. This doesn't mean my child rules the roost or that I don't have boundaries, because that's a different topic, but I do attempt to let her feel what she's feeling without telling her she "shouldn't" feel that way.

-Give your child effective praise. Not just "good job" (which I still find myself saying a lot-old habits die hard) but being specific and intentional. Give encouragement or focus on the process and not the outcome. "You are working really hard on that puzzle." Or, saying thank you, "Thank you for being patient while I make lunch. I know you're hungry." Dr. Berman cites some studies in which basically it was found that kids who receive praise for effort tend to do better and accept more difficult challenges, whereas kids who are praised for intelligence or simply the final outcome are afraid of being wrong or not being smart enough, and end up taking less risks for fear of disappointing or failing.

-Let her know how her actions affect others. "When your sister was crying and you brought her a teddy bear, that really helped her feel better." I love this because it teaches the child to think for herself and to see how her empathy helped another person. I want to encourage that sense of sharing and selflessness as my daughter grows.

-I won't sway you with my opinion on this topic, but there is a section called "10 Reasons Why You Should Not Spank Your Child," that is worth reading, regardless of what your personal opinion may be on the topic. I think it's important to be well-informed before making any parenting decision.

I can hear the cynics now. I know some of you may think it seems cheesy or redundant to talk to a baby in this way, especially one who is 12 months and may not understand everything (although I would argue that she understands A LOT). I have been using these methods since I first read them and not only do they seem to work for even a baby as young as less than a year old, but I have a sense of fulfillment in knowing that I'm treating my own child with dignity and respect, something I hope to do throughout her entire life.

Stay tuned for the next installment: Language Development. I'm opting to skip the sections on Security/Bonding and Establishing Schedules because that is intended for newborns, and most of what she says is very similar to how we parented Ellie during her first several months. It's worth reading for you new parents because many of her tips are literally reasons I believe we have such a happy, healthy baby who eats anything we put in front of her AND has been sleeping through the night since she was 5 weeks old. I can also recommend the other books we used in her early days, if you're interested.


Paula Jean said...

Good post, Melissa. I agree that we can do better with showing respect for young children and just talking to them. They CAN and DO understand a lot ... and this respectful talk paves the way for those more difficult discussions when they get to be teenagers. :-) And I appreciate the part about validating feelings. We could have done better with that with one of our children in particular.

However... (and I smile here) ... keep in mind that some kids are just "easier" than others. Their personalities are such that they just roll with the ups and downs of life, they're more verbal, they don't push boundaries. I'm pretty sure Ellie is -- by nature -- one of those!

I always say that you have to have at least 2 kids - the first one so you know that it wasn't anything you did, and the second so you know it wasn't your fault. Haha.

Love you guys!

Sherry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sherry said...

My firstborn is now 42 years old, but I remember the sting of my father-in-law's rebuff when he heard me say to 10-month-old Ben, "May I assist you?" I knew I was teaching Ben good English, manners, kindness, when all Dad heard was me talking over his head. I applaud your good parenting.

Mrs. Chappy said...

@Paula, Thanks for the thoughts! I am trying to be humble about Ellie because I agree...we constantly wonder if our next one will be crazy, we feel like we're due for something rough because she's been so mellow in every area! In the meantime, we will enjoy her as much as we can in case we call you for advice with one who maybe is a bit more work! :)

@Sherry, I know some probably read my post and thought I was being extreme or overly particular. Thanks for the encouragement!

Mark & Joellen said...

Love this post. I am totally in agreement with talking respectfully to children - after all, that's how they learn to speak to us! Easy or not, all children need to learn how to treat other people, and yes, you cater to certain temperaments a little, but you have to have some general underlying rules on how you treat those around you. And just because a child is more mild than others doesn't mean you don't know what you're doing as a parent!

Prefacing what you're doing with a child is SUCH a great thing! Especially as they get older and you make trips to the grocery store and you expect them not to throw fits or beg for toys :) It helps my boys a ton to let them know ahead of time what we're doing, how they might feel about it and understand the proper way to act.

Again, love this post, thanks for sharing!