CAVEAT EMPTOR: “Let The Buyer Beware”

Some of you will have heard me speak of other people in my field of work: many capable, competent, qualified and caring people who do a great job. You may also have heard me speak of those I call Somewhat Less Qualified: people with five-minute internet “diplomas”, and those with no relevant qualifications at all: just the gift of the gab, plus or minus a well-timed publishing deal.

It is hard to find somebody who does what I do: actual Mothercraft Nurses are uncommon nowadays. The need for the care we provide has not. The gap has been partially filled by people whose websites give equal emphasis to generic mentions of what their philosophy might be and how much they charge for their services. It’s a business. Sure, many of these people are well meaning. Their websites tell me they succeeded in settling their own kids, their neighbours’ kids, so they thought hey, why don’t I do this while the kids are at school. That would be great, if the courses they paid a lot of money for placed more emphasis on science based, peer reviewed knowledge and less on how much to charge for a Phone Consultation (I do not charge a cent for a Phone Conversation. Never have, never will.)

Despite my tone, I am generally loath to poo-poo on the advice my clients have been given prior to us meeting: with three exceptions. Firstly, safety. Never compromise on safety. Secondly, I will always respectfully disagree with advice which is at odds with the baby’s developmental state. You cannot force a baby to do what he is not yet capable of doing. Thirdly: I will never, ever support “sleep training” that tries to force a baby into category two. I only condone methods that combine an awareness of what is developmentally appropriate with a gentle approach.

It is so important to be really aware of a few simple facts regarding babies:
1. They are not scaled down adults; their bodies and brains are immature and constantly growing.
2. This growth means change. What he did last week is not always an indication of what he will do this week.
3. All growth spurts, developmental leaps, etc come in “two-steps-forward, one-step-back” format. They rarely happen in one giant, simple “click”.
4. No matter how hard you try, you cannot “train” a baby who is not physically ready to do what you want him to do.

Babies are not puppies. They cannot be “trained”. Semantics, I hear you say. Perhaps. But when dealing with sleep deprived and anxious parents, I find that the language used is very important. So what do I do then, if it’s not sleep training? I teach my parent clients what I call responsive settling. In a nutshell:
1. Learn to know your baby. Get an understanding of where he is at developmentally.
2. Learn what is average, and what is normal for his stage, and remember the difference between the two:

3. All babies are individuals. Babies without a health issue or disability follow a fairly predictable path, but allow for your baby’s individuality along that path.
4. Don’t rush it! Your baby may not yet be capable of what you want him to do.
5. Find a qualified and experienced professional person to help you on your way: if they can’t expand on the points above without resorting to terms like “sleep training”, keep looking.

“Sleep training” is a big business now. Be careful to take a good look at the actual qualifications and experience of anyone you consider asking for help. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions, and if they can’t explain their methodology to you in a way that makes both you and your baby feel at ease, then they are not the right fit for you and your family.

Two Year Olds Who Rule The World…

This topic has come up a couple of times this week, so I thought it’d make a good first post for this intermittent blog of mine.

I’m often asked how to deal with a toddler who “rules the roost”. I hear stories about two year olds who absolutely “won’t” this, or simply “have to” that. It sounds, to the casual observer, like the two year old is the one making all the decisions. There are a couple of points one should always remember when dealing with a child who is two years of age. First and foremost, and most importantly: he’s only two. Little people are not capable of making rational decisions based on factors like safety, or time, or what the weather is going to be like today. Secondly, two year olds love to – and need to – have some sense of control over their world. So: the trick is, temper his need for control with some parental common sense: limit his choices.

A few years ago I knew a mother who, when out in the real world, was a highly qualified professional. But here she was, on a chilly and very wet Melbourne winter day, accompanied by her toddler: who was wearing hot pink thongs on her very cold, very wet feet. “She -won’t- wear anything else!” lamented her mother. “I don’t know what to do!” She felt completely defeated by this loud and determined small person whose insistence on wearing thongs in winter had Mum at the end of her tether. She handled corporate decisions every day, but here she was with her daughter in thongs. Mum had given in to Little One’s demands, knowing it was not a great idea, but at a loss to know what else to do. The tantrum had worked.

My suggestion was that she go home and put all of Little One’s shoes in a box – except for her runners and her gumboots – and hide them where Little One could not find them. This way Little One could choose for herself between appropriate shoes for the weather. The next day Little One arrived in her gumboots, looking very pleased with herself: as did Mum.

Offer several appropriate choices for your child to choose from. If you offer (A) the red top and (B) the pink top but they insist on wanting (C) the blue top, calmly tell them (C) is not available and that if they don’t choose, you will have to choose for them. Most children will quickly choose for themselves at this point. If not, make the choice and follow through. Next time you offer them the choice and remind them of this incident, they will choose for themselves.

The third point to keep in mind when dealing with two year olds is the impressive arsenal of weapons they have, and are not afraid to use: the tears, the screaming, the whining, the kicking and scratching, the full on tantrum, the make-myself-throw-up, etc etc etc. Two year olds don’t have the moral compass that older children and adults have: they’re not ashamed to scream in your face and belt you hard to get their way. They’re not averse to a bit of hair pulling or food throwing, either. Keeping in mind the fact that “this wee beastie screaming and kicking on your kitchen floor is behaving quite normally” does help. Keeping in mind that (most of the time) they’re not going to do themselves any harm by chucking a tantrum also helps. (It goes without saying that you remove a writhing, screeching toddler from rolling near the fireplace, for instance…)

By standing your ground and calmly following through on the red-or-pink-top, you are setting a boundary. Little ones love knowing where the boundaries are: because kids who know where the boundaries are are more secure. Children build security by being able to predict their circumstances. This is where consistency and persistence come in. If you are consistent in your habit of making a cup of tea every morning when you first get up, your child will expect that circumstance, and derive security from the familiarity of it. Likewise, if you are consistent in your habit of offering three choices of weather-appropriate shirts to wear and not allowing others, your child will happily choose from those offered: because he knows what to expect from you, and what is expected of him.

To be continued…