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Archive for February, 2010

Sleepy Sheepy drying off after a wash

Lots of children have a favourite cuddly toy that they use to help them go to sleep. Donald Winnicot, who I have mentioned before in this blog, coined the term ‘transitional object’ for such items, which are usually soft toys or ‘security blankets’ and parents will know how important these are for their children. As young infants, babies do not know that they are separate from their mother: they believe that they are one unit. The baby’s every need is met.

As she grows older, the baby realises that her mother is actually a separate person, and that she depends on others to get what she wants. Baby realises that her mother cannot be there all the time, and this can be a difficult time. Separation anxiety is common (and normal) with the baby looking and crying for mum when she is not there. The transitional object provides the baby with something that bridges the gap, something that reminds her of  her mum and of maternal care. It is an important part of the baby’s growing independance from mum.

The transitional object is a way for a child to settle herself, relieve anxiety and provide comfort. It is the first ‘not me’ object, an object which the baby knows is not herself – this helps her to develop a sense of self and separateness.

 

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I think that all parents have times when they want – or do – leave their babies to cry in the hope that they’ll fall asleep. I think for anyone considering ‘controlled crying’, this is required reading:  Australian Association for Infant Mental Health’s position statement.

Infants whose parents respond and attend to their crying promptly learn to settle more quickly in the long run as they become secure in the knowledge that their needs for emotional comfort will be met.

Infants from about six months of age suffer from differing degrees of anxiety when separated from their parents. This anxiety continues until they can learn that their parents will return when they leave, and that they are safe. This learning may take upto three years…If controlled crying is used it would be most appropriate after the child has an understanding of the meaning of the parents’ words, to know that the parent will be coming back and to be able to feel safe without the parents’ presence. Developmentally this takes about three years.

Night waking won’t last forever, and we all need to remind ourselves in the wee hours that this is what we signed up for, and it will end…

 

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When I was browsing in the book shop yesterday, I looked at all of the parenting books, especially those for babies. I was amazed at how many there are which seem to be focussed on enforcing routines on babies. There are a few great parenting books, and my favourite is definitely Robin Barker’s ‘Baby Love’. Robin Barker has  lovely, sensible approach and manner to parenting.

Virtually all the other books in the bookshop essentially promoted various were ways to let your baby ‘cry it out’. They tell you what babies ‘should’ be doing and what they are ‘capable’ of doing. One in particular, which I won’t name, has rigid routines to follow from birth, and reading it horrifies me.

It seems that there is an emphasis on getting babies to fit into our lifestyles, rather than mother and baby working out a way of managing together. The books which emphasise routines are purely ‘parent-led’ routines: getting the baby to fit in to our lives as soon as possible. They tell you when they should nap, and eat, and how much milk you should express and from which breast so that the baby can have a bottle at night. They tell you that you shouldn’t give your baby much affection at night when they wake, and they will learn to sleep through. All of these things go against both my instincts, and my professional philosophy.

It’s probably true that these babies will sleep all night, but what are we teaching them by doing this? We teach them that there is no point in crying, as you won’t get what you need. Sadly, our society values children who seem to be self sufficient, and who don’t cry or complain. The opposite should be true: children should feel secure enough to cry if they need help, and know that someone will come and help them.

Babies will get into their own routines: our job is to support them in that. We need to recognise when they are tired and put them somewhere quiet to sleep, and we need to recognise when they are hungry and feed them. We shouldn’t be telling them when they should eat, sleep or play. I believe that babies will lead us into the routine that they need and want.

When we make the decision to have children, we are making a decision to change our lives forever. We can’t expect to still have dinner and watch TV in peace, and sleep all night, and have lots of rest. Deciding to have a baby means that you are inviting them to be part of your family: everyone has to fit around each other, and we should not try to mould a little person into what we think they should be.

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