All posts tagged infant discipline

The Importance of Touch

New Research Focuses on the Power of Physical Contact, via NY Times: “In recent years some researchers have begun to focus on a different, often more subtle kind of wordless communication: physical contact. Momentary touches, they say — whether an exuberant high five, a warm hand on the shoulder, or a creepy touch to the arm — can communicate an even wider range of emotion than gestures or expressions, and sometimes do so more quickly and accurately than words.

The evidence that such messages can lead to clear, almost immediate changes in how people think and behave is accumulating fast. Students who received a supportive touch on the back or arm from a teacher were nearly twice as likely to volunteer in class as those who did not, studies have found. A sympathetic touch from a doctor leaves people with the impression that the visit lasted twice as long, compared with estimates from people who were untouched. Research by Tiffany Field of the Touch Research Institute in Miami has found that a massage from a loved one can not only ease pain but also soothe depression and strengthen a relationship.”

 

A common parenting tendency to attempt to modify children’s behavior primarily with our voices, followed up by physical intervention when this fails. Touch is rarely proactive, and is often negative.
Earlier today, my 14 month-old Cezar had climbed onto the table and was putting my necklace into a cup of cold tea. Preoccupied myself, I called out to him to please stop, worried he would spill on the plethora of electronics in the vicinity. He paused and looked at me, undoubtedly made curious by my stern and animated reaction. I called out to him again. Not breaking eye contact, he slowly lowered the necklace back into the tea.  Sheepish about my own lazy and incredibly futile method, I went and retrieved the cup. He of course protested and became even more upset when I took him off the table.

I know I am not alone in practicing this sort of ineffective pattern of communication; in fact, I received a question last week from a woman who was at her wits end with her toddler, whom she said “doesn’t listen to anything I say! In fact, she seems to deliberately do the opposite just to get a reaction!”

I find it interesting that we treat verbal cues as though they are imbued with magical properties that should change the behavior of children as though the utterances were literally spells or incantations. Why do we assume that spoken language is or should be the most effective way of prompting kids?  One thing I’ve noticed is that many of us seem wary of using physical guidance or instruction until all attempts at verbal persuasion have been exhausted and frustration has set in. This sets up the subsequent physical interaction to be negative since it comes in the form of intervention, rather than proactivity.

Back to my Cezar. In that typical situation, it would have been more effective for me to have gone over to him the instant I took notice, and provided assistance on what he was trying to do. If he was curious about the liquid in the cup,  I might have brough over a spoon and guiding his hand with it to show him how to stir slowly without spilling. If it was too hot, I could have showed him how to put his hand near the surface to test for heat. I could have also done a separate demonstration on how to put the necklace on himself carefully, and away from the tea. The rule of thumb here is that they are curious, and there is almost always a way to address that curiosity safely; it just requires some hands-on assistance, rather than shouting crude commands.  Physical interaction should be supportive and proactive, and the verbal cues should be supplementary and explanatory. This method is also most likely to be safe long-term since the lessons learned from exploration are more effective than ones learned from directives or intimidation.

Here are some tips I’m using to help me become better at non-verbal communication:

  • Move closer. Don’t let your voice be the first thing on the scene.
  • Instead of “shhh-ing” a crying child or asking “are you okay?” Simply use touch and your physical presence to send a message of security and comfort. Often there is no need to say anything anyways.
  • In any situation where you might say “Stop that!” or “Put that down!” consider how you can use a positive non-verbal approach to solve the problem. It might be initiating an activity together, or giving a hand with something, or simply exploring the breakable object with them until their curiosity is satisfied.

Language is wonderful, and I strive to provide full commentary and explanations along side hands-on learning. However, the need for touch and positive physical interaction is primary to human wellbeing, and is an oft-neglected component of childhood socialization. Rather than outsource comfort and stimulation to external objects, we need to rediscover the real source of those physical needs.

Do you have any tips on how to use more non-verbal communication? Share them in a comment!

Instinctual doesn’t mean easy

photo by Raeleigh Good

The word ‘instinctual’ is often heard within the context of attachment parenting. Instinct is not meant to imply reacting without thinking; but that one should forgo arbitrary parenting methods like sleep training and punishment in favor of an introspective, fluid approach to raising new people. This kind of interaction communicates integrity, and respects the emerging sense of self within each child.

Instinct may connect with our own innermost longings for an optimal experience, but that doesn’t mean the implementation will be easy. Doing what we know is right is the most challenging path to take. Families are distant, beds are cramped, there is not enough time, and not enough help. The deep desire to be with our tiny, warm, bundle of life, 24/7, to be connected to them, won’t always be convenient. This doesn’t make the desire wrong, nor does it make the relationship not worth cultivating to the fullest potential. When the vision is there, our mandate is to create a structure to support those values.

Many of us who strive to realize a more empathic civilization may not have experienced all of the prerequisites ourselves. Most of us slept away from our parents, in cribs. Only some of us were breastfed for more than a few months. Some endure physical punishment and alienation from a young age; experiences that form a foundational part of existence and self-doubt. And yet, many of our parents did so much more for us than theirs could for them. “Wait son, you think you have it bad? My parents used to…”

The lack of accessible example for what we want to create is both heart-wrenchingly devastating and profoundly invigorating. Cultivating something we may have lacked ourselves is therepeutic. What I have realized through the process of pro-creation is that our beds, cribs, and baby “essentials” like pacifiers, food, diapers, and expectations need to be rethought. For many traditions there seem to be better ways to meet the biological expectations and needs of babies without deviation from principles of connectedness and integrity in our relationships. Maybe we want to sleep together as a family. Maybe a lot of traditional home and furniture designs are actually ridiculously impractical. Maybe kids can handle the truth. Exactly why am I supposed force them to sleep alone? Why wean them so young? And why do so many parents continue to rationalize their violence (verbal or physical,) towards children? After all, war narratives won’t end until we no longer model aggression and isolation as a default coping mechanism ourselves.

We have been born into an era of rapid industrial growth and scientific experimentation that has us removed from our evolutionary experience. Our instincts are often at odds with our ideals, and the systems in place around us, if they are distinguishable at all.  The norms constructed around us are entirely arbitrary, and every single one should be checked and re-checked both from an evolutionary perspective and philosophically to ensure they fit with the kind of world we want to create. I want all kids to have this culture-hacking skill as a second-nature. Do adults want you to call them Sir or Ma’am because you are a child? I will tell you the truth. It’s self-important behaviour on their part, but you can decide for yourself if what will happen if you refuse to call them by a title is worth your rebellion. Neither good nor bad, norms form the foundation of what we call culture; which, at best, is a romantic flourish on our lives. At worst, culture stagnates and becomes a totalitarian fist on our expression and exploration. That which stands blatantly in the way of us achieving our highest values doesn’t need adherence.

The best part of human progress is that we are learning more about our experience on this planet, who we are, where we came from, and where we might be headed. We are growing into the universe, and may just have some say in our destiny. Where we fall short is our sense of intimacy and trust with other living beings, starting with our earliest relationships with those closest to us. Our families.  Practicing attachment parenting, and positive parenting, can help ensure our children have the emotional security to cope, trust, and develop healthy, empathic minds that can engage in a full and interconnected world.

Becoming a Co-sleeper

More and more research is emerging to confirm what most mammals already know; that sleeping together with our young offspring is a beneficial practice. The latest headline that caught my eye:

Sleeping With Parents May Help Sleep Quality Which Reduces Obesity Risk

“Dr Nanna Olsen from the Research Unit for Dietary Studies at the Institute of Preventive Medicine at Copenhagen University Hospitals in Denmark presented new research at the 19th European Congress on Obesity in Lyon, France, which reveals that children who come into their parent’s bed during the night are less likely to be overweight than children who do not. “

I have always shared a bed with my babies, though I had not always planned to. I had never given it any thought until becoming pregnant and going over a list of “necessary” baby items like cribs and baby-monitors. Suddenly, the prospect of having to physically get out of bed in the night to nurse an infant fussing on the other side of the room (or worse, in ANOTHER room,) felt profoundly unnatural and inconvenient. I thought, “Can’t I just sleep beside my baby with my shirt off and not get up at all? Why does everyone seem to need a crib?” This question spurred me to do some research into sleeping arrangements while I was pregnant with my first child. After months of reading literature and countless anecdotes, co-sleeping (and bed-sharing) had the most compelling arguments and logic behind it; and, to my parenting “instinct,” it felt right. After all, my baby had just spent the last 9 months incubating inside me, feeling my heartbeat, my movements, and my voice. Why should the post-birth experience mean immediate isolation and sleep training? I could not find a persuasive argument to answer that.

We bought a big bed, and I became a happy co-sleeper.

Stress reactivity linked to early puberty

The New York Times had an interesting story the other day, chronicling the increasingly early age at which kids are entering puberty. There are the usual contributors cited for the lower age, including higher BMIs and exposure to environmental chemicals (xeno-estrogens such as BPA,) but the child’s stress reactivity is also listed as a factor.

In a study published in 2011, Bruce Ellis, a professor of Family Studies and Human Development at the University of Arizona, and his colleagues showed that children who are most reactive to stress — kids whose pulse, respiratory rate and cortisol levels fluctuate most in response to environmental challenges — entered puberty earliest.

“Evolutionary psychology offers a theory: A stressful childhood inclines a body toward early reproduction; if life is hard, best to mature young.”

Last week we posted a story about how the infant experience of repeat cortisol-inducing tools parents use, such as “cry it out” and spanking, can lay the foundations for a stress-reactive child.

This new evidence of the role stress reactivity plays in future health lends further reason to refuse these arbitrary cortisol-inducing parenting practices, in favor of gentle parenting.

Source: New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/01/magazine/puberty-before-age-10-a-new-normal.html?pagewanted=4&_r=1&ref=science)

Weekly round up

Here’s what else we’ve been reading this week:

(c)j.phipps/shutterstockEarly exposure to germs has lasting benefits: 
Findings help to explain how microbes programme a developing immune system. (via Nature.com)

 

No More Timeouts, No More Tiger Moms: How to Discipline Your Kids by Disciplining Yourself:  
Article by Mayim Bialik, Ph.D. Author of Beyond the Sling (via TipsonLifeandLove.com)

The hormonal costs of subtle forms of infant maltreatment

Stress isn’t just an adult issue; a 2003 study confirmed that even subtle forms of maltreatment have a impact on how children respond to stress.

Mothers who are emotionally unavailable (either due to depression or their use of withdrawal as a control tactic) are more likely to have children who demonstrate higher baseline levels of cortisol:

Infants’ hormonal responses were shown here to be re- active to subtle forms of parental maltreatment. Mothers who were emotionally unavailable (either due to depression or their use of withdrawal as a control tactic) were more likely to have children who demonstrated higher baseline levels of cortisol.

Mothers who report using physically harsh discipline are more likely to have children who are hyperreactive to stress:

These findings suggest that very early use of corporal punishment fosters heightened stress when the child is con- fronted with a novel and potentially frightening event—in this case, the presence of a stranger following the departure of the parent. Children’s hormonal reactivity in this setting may be seen as reflecting their vulnerability to unexpected, challenging, or novel life events.

Regardless of how an infant encounters a stressful situation, it’s the role of a supportive parent or caregiver to anticipate and respond to the child’s anxiety in a way that gives them a sense of security and models empathy; the parent as both mirror and soother, as opposed to a withdrawn or punitive parent.

In the best circumstances, parents allow children to confront such events in ways that facilitate recovery and “growth”; that is, young children become increasingly able to cope with an expanding world when they are socially supported by their parents in their response and recovery from stress-inducing events within that world.

source: http://www.psych.ucsb.edu/~bugental/hormones&behavior.2003.pdf