3 Ways to support true independence in your child

3 Ways to support true independence in your child

 

1.     Encourage their dependence early on. While this may seem counter intuitive, it is the paradox of parenting. We are born extremely dependent on our caregivers to take care of us and fill our needs. The fact is that caregivers who habitually respond to the needs of the baby before the baby gets distressed, preventing crying, are more likely to have children who are independent than the opposite (e.g., Stein & Newcomb, 1994).

Once we have allowed them to depend on us in every way, and filled their cup over and over and over, they will very naturally start to want to do things on their own. “Me do it myself!” is inevitable and it is nature’s way. It’s built into our biology. But first they must be able to rest in our love, rest in being taken fully taken care of.

2.     Trust them: We need to trust our children in their entirety. Trust that they will find their way given the right conditions. When we grow lettuce in our garden from seed, we trust that if we give it the proper soil conditions, the right placement of sun, enough water and love, it will grow into its fullness. We need to learn to trust their failures and successes, their weaknesses and their strengths, their “ugly” emotions and their beautiful ones. We trust they will find their way through it all with support and guidance from us. We can’t “teach” independence, only provide the proper conditions for it to unfold at the right time developmentally.

3.     Know when to back off: It is our job to keep our children safe and protected, but as your child gets older we can invite healthy risk taking. Maybe you refrain from swooping in every time they hurt themselves. Hang back a bit and wait. They might get up on their own and brush themselves off. When we rescue too quickly we deny them the opportunity to see if they can navigate a situation that has some challenge. Let them take risks, how else do they learn what they are capable of, and what the edges are for them? When they do something risky like climb a tree for the first time without us hovering; "I just did that all by myself!",  it builds a sense of confidence and healthy esteem.

When we can do our best to meet their needs, we create an environment of dependence. This creates a feeling of safety, trust and security. This is the secure base from which dependence is outgrown. We need to trust our children and nature's plan. They are developmentally hardwired to naturally move into independence in their own time, in their own way.

 

 

 

 

 

The Myth of Self Soothing

The Myth of Self Soothing

I'm sure you have heard these words, "you need to teach your baby how to self soothe, you can't go to them every time they cry, they need to learn this skill early..."
Lets start with what we mean by self soothing. I define it as ‘the ability to calm one's self when faced with a stressful situation, or when in a state of high arousal”.
The capacity to calm ourselves down when we get upset is a pretty sophisticated autonomic nervous system response that requires us to be developmentally ready for. We are designed to regulate through others (co-regulation), this is something we learn from the adults around us. Babies are literally incapable of calming themselves, and to expect them to is unfair and developmentally inappropriate. Can they suck on their hand or thumb and hold off on crying while we do our best to get to them? YES! This is rudimentary self soothing, but once they have started crying and have reached a place of distress, can we expect them to calm themselves down? NO.
Well okay, but can we teach them to self soothe? NO. Why not? because their brains are not ready, they are incapable of this in the early years. They need their neocortex (which develops very slowly over a period of many years), to be able to rationalize, think about something logically and calm ourselves down. Babies and toddlers are operating largely from the subcortical centers of their brain, the brainstem and the limbic system. When in a stressful situation, these lower centers of the baby's/toddlers brain go into a primal survival response commonly known as fight/flight/freeze. For a baby, this looks like crying, screaming, getting mad, then getting hysterical. In nervous system terms, they are in a sympathetic response of high arousal, and once they have gone there, they cannot calm themselves down. It is critical that we step in and support them in this place. Why? because if we don't, they will eventually go into parasympathetic freeze state, otherwise known as withdrawal sleep. For many parents who hire sleep trainers, that involve CIO methods, this is what happens to the babies and by all intents and purposes, the parent may feel the sleep training is a success! "My baby stopped crying on her own! I've taught her how to self soothe". This could not be further from the truth. Your baby's nervous system has gone into a shut down mode, which is a dissociative state for their very survival.
Can this be harmful to them? YES. Why? because the stress hormones that are released from distressed crying, destroy nerve connections in critical portions of an infant’s developing brain and if repeated, can alter their brain structure and responses to stress into adulthood.
What have you taught your baby if you leave them to cry?
That when they really need you, you will not be there for them. Given that building trust (reliability) and establishing communication, which are intertwined, are the hallmarks of healthy infant mental development, it seems unwise to use a method that compromises both.
Self soothing is a behavior that develops once the child’s brain is ready for this. It can’t be rushed.
What can you do to help? Nurture your baby, respond to their needs, let them know you are there. The irony is that when you do this, you are supporting them to be able to eventually develop this skill later in life.

If this article interested you, and you'd like to learn more, come to my sleep seminar and learn how to cultivate healthy sleep habits without damaging your child.

Redefining Discipline

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We are on the cusp of a paradigm shift in parenting, to switch from power over to power with.

Much of how we were parented and certainly how our parents were raised to be "seen and not heard" is now starting to change. The traditional approach to discipline has been trying to control our child's 'bad' behaviour and simply make it stop at whatever cost. This is where time-outs, rewards, punishments, and consequences come in. Unfortunately these outdated methods often cause more upset and disconnection. There are 2 reasons why children act out: one is normal child development, and the other is disconnect. Knowing this can be helpful in times of distress. For example, your 2 year old may not be deliberately disobeying you, he may just be doing what a 2 year old is wired to do, explore his environment even though you have told him specifically not to touch something.
Time-outs and punishments may temporarily stop the 'bad behaviour', but have we done anything to help them learn, regulate or do better next time? The answer is no.

What we have done is used fear, emotional and social isolation, and created more disconnection with our children. This will undoubtedly ramp up the undesirable behaviour.

So, if discipline isn't about stopping the behaviour, what is it about? It is about connecting with your child in their time of need.  It's about supporting them by helping them regulate and calm, and then perhaps later seeking a 'teachable moment'  where we can talk about suitable behaviour when their brain is actually able to hear us and take it in.

What we now know through the latest in developmental science is that children aren't capable of much self control (especially in the early years up to 5) because their prefrontal cortex is very immature. They may intend to do better, but the reality is that they are still impulsive and can't self regulate.

Discipline with Connection
As you know, your baby, toddler, child is completely dependent on you for their health and well being. They are also dependent on you for their emotional well being. As their brain grows from the bottom up, their emotional safety is paramount to their development. Your child's greatest fear is loss of connectedness with you.

All challenging behaviors arise from a state of stress, so helping them to cycle into a calm when they are acting out, emotionally upset or physically hurt is key. This helps their brain and nervous system mature, and their stress response centers in their brains become increasingly capable of "self regulation". Over time, with lots of repetition and modelling, these behaviors will lessen as they develop.

3 ways you can support your child when they are presenting a challenging behaviour:
1
. Acknowledge the feelings: "I see you are having a really hard time with this, you seem angry with mommy because I took your toy away".
2. Be present with them: and stay connected to yourself, your breath, feel your own feet on the ground
3. Be kind but firm: state the limit, but stay connected. " I can't let you hit the cat sweetheart", and inside yourself you are saying and I'm still here with you.

If you are looking for extra parenting support, don't hesitate to email me for a private consult
Email: bonnie@familycontinuum.com




 

What happens when we say “you’re okay”?

This is a normal response from parents to want their child to feel better when they fall down or something difficult happens and they are having big feelings.  We want them to feel okay again, so we say “you’re okay.” 

What does the child feel on the inside when we say that? What can often happen is that they feel confused. If they are crying, they are clearly ‘not okay’, and their distress is showing us that. When we tell them they are okay, it sends a message that is out of attunement with where they are at in that moment. Just like if you had just fallen off your bike and your partner came up alongside you and the first words out of their mouth were, ‘You’re okay.’ How would you feel? It also sends them the message that we want them to ‘be okay’ as soon as possible, that we are dismissing them, and that perhaps we can’t handle their big expression of feelings. 

So, what is your child’s need in that moment? To be heard and seen for what is actually going on. To be sat with, to be held, to be told something like…” I’m right here”, or “I’ve got you.” And then just sit with them. No more words necessary because in that place they are in a non-verbal part of their brain, so asking them where it hurts etc. can come later. When we do this we give them the message- ‘I see you are upset, I want you to know I’m here for you and I’m listening.’ Essentially we are giving them empathy first. When we give them empathy in those moments we are meeting a deep hunger in them to be seen. it also calms the part of the brain and nervous system that are activated and teaches them how to be with themselves in times of struggle. This slowly helps build self regulation. This is a very important life skill to have. Rather than encouraging them to detach from their feelings, and override what is going on, to be okay for us. Aletha Solter Ph.D. says, "this forms healthy neural pathways and hormone responses within the body that allows the child’s state of equilibrium to come back into balance."

So, I invite you to try this, if you aren’t’ already doing it and see how this changes your child’s experience and your connection with them when difficult things happen.

Dangers of Bumbo

The Bumbo is to help babies sit upright. The company claims the seat stabilizes the child into slight hip flexion which facilitates lumbar extension and many other claims.

If you take a closer look at a baby in the bumbo you will see it does the opposite. It puts the baby's pelvis in a posterior tilt which facilitates lumbar flexion that ends up putting the baby's chest behind their pelvis and then the head has to come too far forward to compensate. Mary Weck, clinical coordinator physical therapy at Children's Hospital in Chicago addresses these claims.

Babies rely on different positions to promote activation of their muscle groups and joint movement to achieve trunk control or pelvic stability. The bumbo locks the child in one position so this cannot occur as well as places the legs at a higher angle than the pelvis so no natural weightbearing can occur.

Babies rely on different developmental positions to learn about shift of weight, develop strength, and organization so they can go through all the developmental movements from lifting the head, to rolling, to crawling, sitting then standing. We are doing babies a disservice when we interfere with their natural progression of development.

To Sit or Not to Sit

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To sit or not to sit, that is the question.

Babies spines are C-curved when they are born. As they start to develop muscle control, strength and organization in their bodies (and spend lots of time on the floor), they develop a cervical curve and eventually when they creep and crawl a lumbar curve.

How can we support this? Floor time Floor time Floor time!

By giving babies lots of time on the floor to explore their bodies particularly on their bellies, they start to gain muscle control, learn how to right themselves, learn balance and coordination. and this is what facilitates normal motor development in the first year of life.

Why not sit your babies?

When we sit babies before they are ready, we put unnecessary strain on the spine, we cause stiffness in babies joints, and put babies in a position they can't get out of unless they fall over. It renders them helpless, and unable to actively engage in their environment, and does not support them to have physical confidence or a sense of security. We put them at risk also of delaying or skipping major developmental milestones such as crawling.

What can I do instead?

  • Give baby lots of floor time
  • Wear your baby
  • Practice supported sitting with your baby in your lap leaning up against your belly, so they don't have to hold themselves upright.
  • Do nothing! trust their innate desire to move.
I believe in giving your baby a safe space in which to play and letting her move freely and develop on her own without assisting her. Refrain from propping her up to sit or helping her roll over. She has an innate desire to move through these developmental sequences and has inborn knowledge of how to do it in a way that is ‘right’ for her. She does this at her own pace and she gets pleasure from doing it.
— Magda Gerber

Here is a video showing a baby's wonderful movement discoveries if left to figure it out on their own!

Is Your Baby Sleeping Through the Night?

Did you know? 

  • Babies sleep patterns are different from your own?
  • It can take many months before babies become fully adapted to the 24 hour day
  • Newborns can’t distinguish day from night
  • There is no research to support the idea that falling asleep alone makes children more independent
  • Babies sleep patterns differ from individual to individual
  • Babies sleep patterns are affected by several important developmental milestones
  • Falling asleep is a learned behaviour that takes time

Is Your Baby Sleeping Through the Night?

Come learn about the biology of sleep in babies, and how much brain development is happening while they sleep.  Understand what’s fair to expect a baby to sleep and why night waking is normal. Gather ideas on different sleeping arrangements and how you can create healthy sleep habits that will last a lifetime. Babies are welcome. Presentation is 2 - 2.5 hours long.

You will learn:

  • What is normal for a baby to sleep
  • What is going on inside the babies brain when they sleep
  • What babies are needing from us and how that affects their brain development
  • What are their sleep cycles and why
  • What is fair to expect from your baby at different ages
  • The effects of stress on a babies brain
  • How you respond to the baby affects them long term
  • Different ideas on sleeping arrangements
  • Healthy solution based ideas on how to create healthy sleep habits

8 Alternatives to Using Punishing Discipline with Your Child

We all lose our cool and have our limits. Our children will inevitably push us to those edges, where we are tempted to react, say or do something that we later regret, try one of these instead...

  1. Take a pause yourself: disengage yourself, sit down, feel your feet on the floor, take 5 deep breaths and try again. No good will come from us in 'react mode' with our nervous system in fight, flight.

  2. Use Humour: sometimes you can completely shift the energy by using humour. Stamp your feet and yell 'I'm so mad'....your child will probably laugh, and so will you!

  3. Connect before you redirect: instead of saying, 'put on your shoes were going right now', come join them in their space, see what it is they are doing, take a moment with that, make a comment about it and then redirect their attention to the next task. You'll be much more likely to get cooperation.

  4. Find a way to say yes: 'you can't play with the bath toys in the toilet, but we can use a bucket in the sink and take those dinosaurs for a swim'.

  5. Don't sweat the small stuff: Is it really a big deal if they don't wear their socks in their boots for that errand to the store? the natural consequence of that is possibly a blister, which will naturally teach them to perhaps not do that in the future!

  6. Be specific about our requests: if we say clean your room, sometimes that's overwhelming to a child, but saying 'I want you to pick up all your blocks and put them back in that bucket', that can help them to wrap their head around clean-up.

  7. Acknowledge feelings: if your child is frustrated and not cooperating, rather than bypassing their feeling and trying to barrel ahead with the task, name and acknowledge the feeling. 'It looks like you're really frustrated right now Sam, can mommy help you tie your shoe?'

  8. Make whatever you are doing a game: kids respond to fun and games. Made up songs can make clean-up or leaving the house fun, using a stopwatch for older kids for clean-up can make it a game and fun, 'who can put the lego back the fastest'.

Feel free to leave a comment below if you tried something new and it worked!

Making Music Together

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The benefits of early sharedbook reading have long been established, but what about shared music making with your toddler?

New findings are showing that shared music making with your 2-3 year old, as well as being lots of fun can really boost their social/emotional, and cognitive learning.

What does shared music making look like? Just getting down and jamming with your toddler with different musical instruments, making up songs, singing in the bathtub, car, in bed, at the park!

Keeping it simple and most importantly fun is the key here. The combination of creativity, face to face interaction,  and sound all go a long way to boosting developing literacy and numeracy.

How Can I Be Aware of Overstimulating My Baby?

Humans babies are born premature compared to all other mammalian species. If we gestated for the same amount that most other primates do, we would be in the womb for 18 months, ouch!

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What is important about this, is that babies are born with primitive nervous systems. They are born essentially still needing womb time. Which is why it's so important to have your baby skin to skin, and being held as much as possible for the first few months.

What does this have to do with babies being overstimulated? babies nervous systems are extremely primitive when they first come to the outside, and they need us to slow down to their pace, which is much slower than our adult pace. When things go too fast for a baby, and they can't integrate what is coming into their field, they get overwhelmed and often this follows with them falling asleep. Its one of their defenses to overstimulation.

How can we tell our baby is over stimulated? 

Generally baby will respond behaviourally in the ways, I call it the 3 S's. Spacing out, switching off and shutting down. A baby who is overstimulated might look away from you (spacing out). If you continue to engage they might turn away again and again and also turn their body away( switching off), and then eventually if the overstimulation persists they will start to yawn, look sleepy and often fall asleep (shutting down).

Signs of overstimulation in your baby:

  • averting their gaze (looking away)
  • general tired, cranky, fussiness
  • spreading fingers and toes, or making fists
  • bringing her hands in front of her face
  • crying
  • skin colour changes from normal to pale or blotchy or red
  • changes in body movement from smooth movements to jerks and tremors
  • breathing quickens
  • yawning, sneezing
  • start sucking their fingers or thumb
  • fall asleep (late stage of overstimulation)

What to do about it?

  • reduce the stimulation
  • take them to a quiet dimly lit room
  • stop talking
  • put them in a carrier if you are out
  • go outside
  • swaddle, rock your baby
  • encourage sucking of some kind as this is comforting to your baby (breastfeed, use your finger, pacifier)

Only you know your baby, as you watch the signs you will get to know the signatures of how your baby lets you know they have had enough.