FAQ: Controlled Crying

In discussing the pros and cons of letting babies cry, there is one very important point that must be made first:

If your baby is crying and you feel that you are about to lose control and become upset with your child, leave the room. Leaving baby to cry for a few minutes while you calm yourself will not harm him.

What is controlled crying?
“Controlled crying” is currently used as an umbrella catch-phrase for all sorts of settling techniques, including what can only be called “uncontrolled crying” (the practice of repeatedly leaving a baby to cry himself to sleep).
Actual “controlled crying” or “controlled comforting” requires the parent/carer to wait a prescribed amount of time before entering the room to provide comfort to a crying baby / child.

Does it work?
It can be a useful tool, in some instances, with older children. I find it counter productive with children under two.

Does it harm my baby?
This recent study shows quite clearly the harm that uncontrolled crying can do; an abstract of the research is here:
http://www.earlyhumandevelopment.com/article/S0378-3782%2811%2900270-2/abstract
What this means, in a nutshell, is that babies who are left to cry do stop crying, but they do not stop being stressed.

Do you practice controlled crying?
I neither condone, support, teach nor practice controlled-crying-type methods with small babies.

Mentoring New Mums

Something I’ve been doing a lot more of again lately – and meaning to blog about – is mentoring new mums. After meeting for an initial consultation, we meet again either weekly, or every couple of weeks, to build on Mum’s brand new skills, to discuss Baby’s development, perhaps to keep an eye on Baby’s feeding / weight gain, or to deal with an ongoing issue such as sibling rivalry, or postnatal depression. I am also available by phone and email to touch base with these families between visits.
Having a new baby is a really steep learning curve for many Mums, especially if there is no family support available. One of the Mums taking part in this program said that having me around is like knowing that the “safety net” is there.
For more information, please call me or email me.

Choosing Our Words Carefully…

I speak a lot with parents about discipline, about behaviour, and about how to approach handling their children’s behaviour. What we say and what we do has an enormous effect on our kids, not only in the here and now, but in the broader, long term sense. I sometimes see things that are good examples of what not to do.

A couple were eating out with their 12 month old. The little chap was handed a china cup, which he promptly threw on the tiled floor. I imagine you’re thinking, well, who gives a twelve month old a china cup? Yes… but it was Dad’s reaction that prompted me to blog about it. “Naughty boy!” he shouted, in a stern voice. Now, in the first place, we don’t give smashable objects to babies. Secondly, babies that age throw everything on the floor, it’s a perfectly normal phase of development: I chuck it, you pick it up, I therefore have your attention. All babies do it, and it’s not naughty. His wife quietly objected, to which he loudly replied “he’s got to learn!”. I lost count of the number of times I heard “naughty boy” after that.

That father needs to learn what is developmentally appropriate behaviour for his child. There are plenty of good books about it: Penelope Leach’s Baby and Child being one of the best. Expecting a 12 month old to sit still for over an hour, to eat food he has never tasted before, and to not chuck things off his high chair? All a bit much, don’t you think?

On the same trip, I was so sad to witness a little boy of about six being berated by his carer for being naughty, bad, trouble, etc. I don’t even care what he had done to deserve the vitriolic lecture he was getting: all he was hearing is “you are a bad person”.

The important issue here is to separate the behaviour from the child. If you constantly tell a child that he is a naughty boy, he is going to believe it. He will believe that he does not deserve your love, that he is a bad person. Kids are grimly literal: it is well worth learning to phrase things more carefully right from the start. Some of the alternatives that I teach parents to use include:

-Look for a positive way to phrase things (eg: “when you have finished your sandwich, you can play with your toys” rather than “you can’t play with your toys if you don’t eat your sandwich”)

-Find alternatives to “no”, such as “stop” (eg: “stop that”, vs “no don’t do that”)

-Separate the child from the behaviour (eg: “that was a naughty thing to do”‘ vs “naughty boy”)

It’s so easy to fall into the habit of saying things like “naughty girl” – try to cultivate the habit of phrasing things in a different way.