Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Explanations for Your Cranky Baby

Your baby is cranky.  Their sleep is all over the place.  You've ruled out ill health, hunger, thirst, dirty nappy, too hot, too cold...  You think it's overtiredness, but even after a good nap or first thing in the morning they're still clingy and easily upset.  What can explain it?

It seems that some crankiness seems to be part of normal, healthy baby development.  Think of it like morning sickness.  It's not much fun, but on the upside it's usually a sign that everything's on track and the baby's developing normally.  There's nothing you have to do about it, except to do your best to comfort your baby and show you care.

Here are some of the most popular explanations I've found for baby crankiness.

The Period of Purple Crying (0-12 weeks)

It is normal for babies to be placid in the first 2 weeks after birth, then round week 3 they start to cry more and more.  The crying just happens for no reason and can be impossible to soothe.  One way of thinking about this is as 'The Period of Purple Crying'.  'Purple' is an acronym that stands for Peaks at 6-8 weeks, Unexpected, Resists soothing (no matter what you try), Pain-like face, Long-lasting (up to 5 hours a day in some cases), and Evening (because it seems to occur more in the late afternoon / evening).  Here is a video:

It is so common for 0-12 week old babies to have an inconsolable period in the evening, that it can be known as the 'witching hour' or 'arsenic hour'.  There are some great tips on how to realistically approach soothing a baby at this age here on the Period of Purple Crying website.


Colic is not a condition so much as a name that is applied to babies who cry a lot.  As in, colic literally means that the baby cries a lot and we don't know why.  A colicky baby cries a lot.  We're talking hours of endless crying, and no amount of soothing seems to help.  Colic is defined as 3 hours a day, at least 3 days a week, for more than 3 weeks.  This is a bit of an arbitrary division that researchers use when classifying babies as colicky or non-colicky.  No one has found a definitive cure or explanation for really persistent criers or colicky babies.  Some claim to have some success with baby-wearing, probiotics, switching formula or certain types of bottles for bottle-fed bubs etc., so you can always try these things and see if they help.

Growth Spurts

It is not so much that growth spurts are associated with crankiness, but that they are associated with a trying time for parents, particularly in the early days, because at least the 3 week and 6 week growth spurts seem to throw a baby's sleep out of whack, and breastfed bubs feed round the clock during a growth spurt to get enough milk and bring up the milk supply, making it a demanding time for mum in particular.  There are typically growth spurts at 7-10 days, 2-3 weeks, 4-6 weeks, 3 months, 4 months, 6 months, and 9 months.

Wonder Weeks

I just noticed in the last day or so Bethany seems to have suddenly got... well... smarter.  It's hard to explain.  It's as though when I look at her I see that the cogs in her brain are turning that little bit faster.  Turns out there is a '55 week' wonder week, after which babies have a much more refined sense of cause and effect.

Wonder weeks are mental growth spurts that all babies allegedly go through over the course of the first year.  This idea comes from some Dutch researchers, Frans Plooij and Hetty van de Rijt who set out their theory in the book The Wonder Weeks.

What is so useful for parents about the wonder weeks concept is the idea that when the mental growth spurt happens, most babies go through a period of being inexplicably cranky.  They are easily upset.  They sleep poorly.  And some of the 'weeks' go on much longer than a week.  Knowing this clingy, cranky behaviour can be normal and will soon pass can really help you be patient with your baby during these trying periods.

You can look up more detail about when the wonder weeks are supposed to occur and what is developing on the Wonder Weeks website.  If you want a quick, useful reference for where your baby is at, there is an iPhone app about wonder weeks.


Some people speculate there is no such thing as teething, although most parents will swear there is.  Once the period of colic ends, unexplained fussiness and whinging gets labelled 'teething' whether there's any teeth in sight or not.  All babies seem to go through a very 'mouthy', dribbly period regardless of whether teeth appear then or much later.  My baby was particularly clingy and whingy as her first teeth were coming through (6-9 months), but whether that was due to the teeth, to separation anxiety, or something else, I have no idea.  Perhaps some teeth hurt and others don't.  Perhaps it varies between babies.  My baby has been getting her first molar this last week, and apart from being a bit more distressed when she woke at night, there were no behavioural changes that I noticed at all - and as mentioned above it was apparently also the right timing for a wonder week, so who knows?  I've tried a few things for teething, such as toys for mouthing and Bonjela, but didn't notice her take to them.  I didn't try an amber necklace and the pain hasn't been noticeably bad enough that I would give her Panadol.

That said, some babies seem to get quite marked symptoms like a rash or diarrhoea when a tooth is coming through.  Sometimes teething seems to really cause a lot of pain - other times it is just a bit annoying, so that your baby can be distracted, but when he gets tired and things go quiet he gets really upset.

Sleep Regressions

Babies often sleep better, then worse again, then better, then worse.  Sometimes this is explained as having a 'sleep regression'.  There is talk particularly of sleep regressions at 4 months and 9 months.  This may, however, just be caused by wonder weeks.  See this discussion.

Breastfed babies often start all-night feeding binges round 4-6 months because they are so much more alert that they are too distracted to feed enough during the day.


It is not a novel idea that some babies react poorly to some foods.  We are all on the lookout for major reactions the first time we offer foods like nuts, eggs, shellfish, dairy, gluten etc.  Babies with reflux can become worse with foods that are too runny, or if they don't get enough of a chance to burp upright.

But an intolerance to foods or food additives can also be more subtle and ongoing.  I only really looked into this when I thought Bethany had a mild rash in response to grapes sprayed with sulfur dioxide.  I found this website on the FAILSAFE method really useful for understanding what food additives there are, how to watch out for them / avoid them, and how to do an elimination diet to try and identify whether any of the additives are having an effect.

There are also culprits like caffeine to watch out for.  You probably aren't giving your baby coffee or chocolate, but if you are breastfeeding, it can go through your breastmilk.

Contrary to popular belief, there seems to be increasing evidence that sugar is not responsible for making kids hyper.  Our perception that it does may be in part a placebo effect, both on the parents (who perceive their child's normal exuberance as sugar related) and kids (who learn that hyperactivity is expected of them after sugar).  But it also may be to do with all the other things that normally come along with sugar - such as excessive amount of articificial colourings and flavourings, and caffeine.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Quote A Day #7 - Discipline Without Distress

The Book:  Discipline Without Distress: 135 tools for raising caring, responsible children without time-out, spanking, punishment, or bribery by Judy Arnall

The Quote:

Perhaps it's time to rethink the way a time-out is used.  A time-out should be away from the aggravating situation, not the parent.  Adults often take time-outs for themselves when they are angry and frustrated.  They go for a walk, blow off steam at the racquetball court, or just stay in their rooms and listen to a soothing piece of music.  The time-out is a useful skill to teach your children, but the way it is used is a big factor in achieving the results that you desire.  If you want a great way to calm down children, focus them on their actions and restitution, and connect the parent-child relationship, try the 'child directed time-in.'  Here are five differences between the two types:

Parent-Directed Time Out

  • Used as a punishment.
  • Send the child away for a certain number of minutes per year of age.
  • Gives the child nothing to do and instructs the child to 'think' about his actions.  Often, the child is really thinking about his anger, the unfairness of the situation, and/or how to retaliate.
  • Parent requires the child to be alone.
  • Parent decides the location, such as chair, bedroom, corner, or 'naughty step'.
Child-Directed Time In
  • Used as a calm-down strategy
  • Suggest the child take a time-in.  Let the child decide when he's calm enough to start problem-solving the issue.  Talk softly, rub shoulders, show how to breathe.
  • Gives the child calm-down tools to suit his learning style, while he sorts out his feelings: (auditory learner: soothing music; visual learner: paper and markers; kinesthetic learner: lego, ball)
  • Ask the child if he wishes you or another adult to stay and talk with him or be with him.  An extraverted child may need a sounding board, whereas an introverted child may need solitude.
  • Child chooses location such as bedroom, special fort, going for a walk, or even the basketball hoop.
I used to use parent directed time-outs.  My son was constantly put in time-out and learned nothing.  He threw blocks at the door and trashed his room while I was trying to keep the door closed and the other two children out.  Neither of us were calming down.  Neither of us were learning anything.  Emotions were escalating.  I was getting angrier; and he was too.  Clearly, time-outs were not working.  THe books said to keep at it and show him who was boss, but he was not relenting!  After weeks of that behaviour, I gave it up.  We never did time-outs again.

I would ask my daughter, when she was eight, what she wanted us to do when she was throwing tantrums and screaming in anger.  I chose a time where we were both in a good space.  We had been using time-out as a cool down strategy, whereby we would carry her to her room and shut the door.  Her flailing resistance made it hard for me to keep calm.  In anger, I probably carried her to her room rougher than I meant to.  She would keep screaming and shouting.  She told me that she wanted us to give her a hug, reassuring words, and not force her anywhere.  The next time she was in a mood, I did as we had discussed.  She calmed down much faster, and we were much more connected.  Now, I notice that when I'm upset or one of the children are upset, she is the first person to get up and hug us!

Time in: stay cool - help calm - teach later.


Time outs are very much in vogue, promoted as a discipline tool to replace spanking.  They are at the heart of programs like 1-2-3-Magic! (which is little more than a time out guide) and a staple on programs like Supernanny.  However, there are many reasons why you might look for an alternative to time outs.  Perhaps your child does not respond to them, perhaps they send your blood pressure sky-rocketing, perhaps you want your child to focus on what their behaviour does to others rather than on whether they are going to get punished.  But even if you don't want to use punishments like time outs, it can be hard to work out what to do instead.

I thought it would be a good example (not to mention useful) to quote her explanation of how to do a time-in.

Arnall's book is unusual in that it is a hands-on practical book for parents that offers not only alternatives  to punishments like time-outs, but also alternatives to approaches that involve manipulative rewards and praise.  It took me a long time and a lot of internet research to discover this book because it doesn't retail in Australia.  I ended up ordering it through Amazon.  It is a decent size - over 400 pages long - because it does not just discuss the techniques, but also includes quite a lot of evidence-based discussion of the merits of various techniques.  But even though the book is long, it is broken up into chapters and sub-chapters, and well indexed, so you can just jump in and get what you want.  That said, I read it from start to finish and found it a fascinating read in its own right.

Of all the books I have, this one was a real stand-out for me.  If you are going to get one book on discipline, get this one.  You may not decide to use all these ideas, but it does really open your eyes to how a non-punitive, non-manipulative approach can work.  It is not as simple as Elizabeth Pantley's No Cry Discipline Solution (reviewed here), but it is much more thorough, so it offers a lot more options and a lot more thorough understanding of how to problem-solve parenting challenges.  It has loads of evidence-based theory, practical toolkits arranged in handy charts, age by age chapters: eg. a chapter for 0-1 years (mostly about baby proofing and fostering attachment), 1-2 years ('this is the time for damage control, not moral teaching'), 3-5 years (natural consequences, modelling, problem solving), 6-12 years, and 13-19 years.  For each age group it summarises physical, psychosocial, and cognitive milestones.  It provides a list not only of helpful parenting behaviours, but unhelpful behaviours that can unwittingly trigger the behaviours you are trying to discipline your child out of, discussions of typical issues and practical approaches for dealing with them.

There are also chapters on different temperaments and learning styles, a chapter specifically on dealing with new technologies like the internet and mobile phones (with the philosophy 'educate: not ban'), a chapter entitled 'good parents feel angry: separate your anger from your discipline' and a really good discussion on approaching discipline when you and your partner may have different ideas.

Arnall raised five children to adulthood using these methods, so she has had a lot of practical experience ironing out the crinkles and looking at the long-term effect of the methods on her children, their behaviour, and her relationship with them.  She has worked extensively as a parent-educator teaching these techniques.

The greatest strength of Arnall's approach is that it really focuses on building self-discipline rather than externally imposed discipline.

Bear with me here on a tangent that will become relevant...

Once upon a time I used to write and direct plays - for fun, nothing professional - and at that time I took some short courses in directing.  Before I took those courses I thought you directed people by saying: stand here, do this, speak up, count to five before you respond etc.  That's obviously how you direct, right?

But when I took those courses, I realised that what seemed so obvious missed the fundamental point that a great actor does so much more than remember a list of commands.  A great actor feels the character, expresses the character in their body, expresses shades of meaning in their voice and the slightest gesture.   It only happens by actors being given the opportunity to explore and experiment with their role.  Being told what to do shuts down that creative opportunity, and the performances that result tend to be wooden, stereotypical, and unsubtle.  The actors find something more meaningful in theatre than just worrying about the applause if they are focused on the creative journey rather than whether their performance is 'right'.

The basic point is this: it is not you as the director who has to get up on stage and perform.  Once they step out there in front of the audience, you cannot keep yelling out commands.  You cannot tell them to stop and do the scene again.  The actor themselves has to have the skills to improvise when someone forgets a line, to respond to the nuances of the performances of the other actors, and to make subtle adjustments for the audience's reaction.  You cannot do it for them.

And this is something I always have in the back of my mind as a parent.  You cannot live your child's life for them.  You cannot follow them every second of the day.  You cannot be watching over her shoulder when your teenager sneaks off to a party.  You cannot make her be self-confident by demanding it.  You cannot force your twenty-five year old to take any notice of anything you say whatsoever.

Working with actors to find the character in themselves is much more time intensive.  It took about twice as many rehearsals to use the 'exploration' method than the 'point and command' method.  But 'point and command' relies on your actor already having the necessary skills to give a good performance, whereas the 'exploration' method can take result in a brilliant performance from an actor who was uncertain or unskilled to start with.  The 'exploration' method can completely transform the kind of performance or mannerisms of an actor into a new approach, whereas the 'point and command' method will only make small refinements to what the actor is already offering.

The sad thing is that when you direct with a 'point and command' method, you never see and so never realise what performances were actually possible from the actors.  You don't realise that the actor could often come up with something better than your own suggestion.  When an actor cannot manage to give you the performance you imagine they ought to give, you are at a loss to do anything except yell or throw your hands up in despair.

The 'point and command' style of directing has much in common with the 'punish and reward' style of discipline.  It can produce more swift results, particularly if the child is talented and the expectations are realistic, but it also teaches the child to rely on their parents rather than their own conscience, and to do what they can get away with rather than to problem-solve and be empathetic.

Arnall's approach is about using every opportunity for internal skill-building that will serve your child well when you are not around to tell them what to do.  As illustrated in the time-in example, it is not about allowing your child to run riot - it is about using boundary-setting as an opportunity to build a connection, not drive a wedge.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Quote a Day #6 - The No-Cry Discipline Solution

The Book:  The No-Cry Discipline Solution: Gentle Ways to Encourage Good Behavior without Whining Tantrums & Tears by Elizabeth Pantley.

The Quote:

Tantrums, Fussing and Whining
If you ask parents to list the most frustrating discipline problems during early childhood, you would find that these three items appear on every list.  All children master their own version of these behaviors - every parent has to deal with them!

Controlling their emotions
Most often these behaviours are cause by a child's inability to express or control his emotions.  Tiredness, hunger, boredom, frustration and other causes that ignite The Big Three can frequently be avoided or modified.  When your child begins a meltdown, try to determine if you can tell what the underlying issue is causing the problem.  Solve that problem and you'll likely have your sweet child back again.

Handling tantrums, fussing and whining
No matter how diligent you are in recognizing trigger causes, your child will still have meltdown moments.  Or even meltdown days.  The following tips can help you handle those inevitable bumps in the road.  Be flexible and practice those solutions that seem to bring the best results.

Offer choices
You may be able to avoid problems by giving your child more of a say in his life.  You can do this by offering choices.  Instead of saying, "Get ready for bed right now," which may provoke a tantrum, offer a choice, "What would you like to do first, put on your pajamas or brush your teeth?"  Children who are busy deciding things are often happy.

Get eye to eye
When you make a request from a distance your child will likely ignore you.  Noncompliance creates stress, which leads to fussing and tantrums - from both of you.  Instead, get down to your child's level, look him in the eye and make clear, concise requests.  This will catch his full attention.

Tell him what you DO want
Instead of focusing on misbehavior and what you don't want him to do, explain exactly what you'd like your child to do or say instead.  Give him simple instructions to follow.

Validate his feelings
Help your child identify and understand her emotions.  Give words to her feelings, "You're sad.  You want to stay here and play.  I know."  This doesn't mean you must give in to her request, but letting her know that you understand her problem may be enough to help her calm down.

Teach the Quiet Bunny
When children get worked up, their physiological symptoms keep them in an agitated state.  You can teach your child how to relax and then use this approach when fussing begins.

  • You can start each morning or end each day with a brief relaxation session.  Have your child sit or lie comfortably with eyes closed.  Tell a story that he's a quiet bunny.  Name body parts (feet, legs, tummy etc.) and have your child wiggle it, then relax it.
  • Once your child is familiar with this process you can call upon it at times when he is agitated.  Crouch down to your child's level, put your hands on his shoulders, look him in the eye and say, let's do our Quiet Bunny.  And then talk him through the process.  Over time, just mentioning it and asking him to close his eyes will bring relaxation.
Distract and involve
Children can easily be distracted when a new activity is suggested.  If you child is whining or fussing try viewing it as an 'activity' that your child is engaged in.  Since children aren't very good multi-taskers you might be able to end the unpleasant activity with the recommendation of something different to do.

Invoke his imagination
If a child is upset about something, it can help to vocalize his fantasy of what he wishes would happen: "I bet you wish we could buy every single toy in this story."  This can become a fun game.

Use the preventive approach
Review desired behaviour prior to leaving the house, or when entering a public building, or before you begin a playdate.  This might prevent the whining or tantrum from even beginning.  Put your comments in the positive (tell what you want, not what you don't want) and be specific.

When it's over, it's over
After an episode of misbehaviour is finished you can let it go and move on.  Don't feel you must teach a lesson by withholding your approval, love or company.  Children bounce right back, and it is okay for you to bounce right back, too.

Excerpted with permission by McGraw-Hill Publishing from The No-Cry Discipline Solution(McGraw-Hill 2007). 


Tantrums are becoming an increasingly discussed topic in my mother's groups, and I noticed that my last post that discussed them seemed to generate some interest (see an excerpt from The Emotional Life of the Toddler that discusses why toddlers have tantrums).  So I thought it might be useful to follow up with a book that gives practical advice on handling tantrums.

The book refers to 'No-Cry' solutions because it comes from the author's series of books started by 'The No-Cry Sleep Solution', which was all about gentle methods of encouraging your child to sleep through the night.  If you can actually deliver these methods without some tears and tantrums then either you are a miracle worker and/or your child is a robot.  But that said, the ideas in this book are gentle and respectful ways to manage the toddler (and preschool) years.

What I like most about this book is that it takes a long term view.  Many toddler books seem to ask: 'how can I survive by whipping my hideous bratty little toddler into shape?' whereas Pantley's philosophy is to  say: 'I'd like an open, trusting, respectful relationship with my teenager, how can I guide my child towards respectful behaviour while nurturing our relationship?'  Which, I have to say, sits a lot better with me than the 'toddler taming' philosophy.  The focus is on positive guidance and encouraging cooperation, and avoiding escalating conflict by doling out punishment focused on the behaviour rather than the underlying causes of that behaviour.  There is also quite a lot in here about helping parents manage their own anger and frustration at being given the responsibility for (but limited control over) the behaviour of a little person.  It is not a permissive or unschooling approach, and does advocate setting clear 'expected behaviour' and firm limits.

Some of the methods in this book could be considered methods based on punishment or manipulation.  For example, there is an alternative to a star chart system which involves having happy faces that are turned to sad faces every time a child breaks a rule.  There is also a short section on how to do a 'time out' - but this is very much included as a last resort method.  Depending on your point of view, these inclusions are both a strength and weakness of the book.  As a plus, it makes the book something you could feel comfortable giving to a 'mainstream' parent, and it is much more compassionate and flexible approach when compared to the infamous Toddler Taming; but on the downside the more punitive suggestions are not entirely consistent with the no-cry gentle philosophy and parents who are looking for an approach that avoids manipulation and punishment may need to read selectively.

The book is written in friendly plain English and is more practical than theoretical.  It is a smorgasboard of tools, and there are many chapters with ideas on how to handle specific situations: eg. hitting, dawdling, bath time trouble, going shopping, biting, bossiness, bad language etc.

I think the biggest shortcoming of the book is that it could be clearer what approaches are aimed at different age groups, what kind of 'misbehaviour' is age-appropriate and likely to be a passing phase, and where guidance is needed.  The author just assumes parents will work this out.  To some extent as a parent you know these things by watching your child, but I think it can be very difficult to see inside your child's head, and it is easy to read 'misbehaviour' into ordinary and appropriate developmental behaviour (eg. early tantrums, exuberance, dropping objects off the highchair etc).

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Bethany is 1 tomorrow!

Dear Bethany,

You turn one tomorrow!  I can't believe it.  Somehow this year has gone excruciatingly slowly and far too quickly at the same time.  You still look like my baby, but you are fast starting to turn into a little girl.

"Who are YOU looking at?"

Life with you just keeps getting better.

You have the most adorable cheeky smile (and you know it!)  You love to play hide and seek, and to get me to chase you.  And when I catch you and whirl you up in the air and kiss your tummy, you giggle like crazy.  That is the best part.

Here are some giggles with an ice block:

You say 'dat' (I want that), 'der' or 'der idiz' (there it is!), and 'ta' (thanks), and sometimes 'bel' (ball), 'sda' (star), 'duck', 'dad', and 'gah' (car).  You push your toy dump truck around saying 'voom voom voom'.  You also put your hand in a fist to your chin repeatedly if you want food, water, or a breastfeed.  When you do that I say: 'water?', 'food?', 'num-nums?' and you giggle when I say the one you want.  If you want a breastfeed and I'm not giving it to you, you point very definitively at my boobs and say 'dat!'  I didn't teach you to sign that way - you worked it out on your own.

You understand far more language than you can say.  You can point reliably at the right object when I say: blocks, box, container, baby, mum, dad, granny, Bethany, ear, nose, toes, fingers, foot, belly button, head, wee-wee, piano, slide, swing, door, light, fan, boy, girl, baby, car, moon, star, sky, sun, dog, cat, duck, bunny rabbit, teddy, book, keys, cross, sippy cup, bath, jamies (pajamas), nappy, food, water, hat, shoes, leaf, outside, peg, pen, steps, and lift.  You also understand 'where's the [x]?', 'ta for [x.]' (meaning give what you're holding to x], 'get the [x]', 'put it back', 'put the [x] in the [y]', 'put your arm through', 'press the button', 'bye-bye', 'cuddles', 'splash', 'shake', 'sit on my lap' and 'lie down'.

Sometimes you can distinguish between 'where's mum's nose?' and 'where's your nose?' but mostly you have trouble with that one - any nose will do (and occasionally an ear instead).  As far as you're concerned 'no' means yes, and no amount of feminist exhortations have thus far convinced you otherwise.

In the last few months, since you learned to walk and have started to understand language, everything has changed.  Now, for the first time in your life, you are not perpetually frustrated.

From the day you were born, you seemed so frustrated to be trapped in your baby body.  You were never a baby who would just happily lay there and gurgle for more than a couple of minutes at a time - and god forbid if I tried to enforce tummy time (this is about 3 months):

You didn't even like being held in a cradle position across people's chests.  You had to have your head up on their shoulder so you could see around.  (Fortunately, this seemed to compensate for the lack of tummy time when it came to neck and back muscle development).  As soon as you could lift your head, you were frustrated because you couldn't crawl.  As soon as you could crawl, you were frustrated because you couldn't walk.  But whatever you couldn't do, you would try and try to do it, and not quit even if you were in evident pain.  I would have to pick you up and give you a cuddle just to get you to take a break.

So compulsive was your desire to move and explore that you never stopped to have a cuddle, except to breastfeed or be rocked to sleep.  I wondered if I had done something wrong as a parent that you didn't want to cuddle me, or look into my eyes.  You screamed at being restrained for more than ten-fifteen minutes at a time, whether it was in your car seat, a stroller, or in a high chair.  I took to the perilous practice of letting you ride in your stroller sitting up and unstrapped - until we ditched the stroller altogether.  I fed you on the floor so you could crawl around.  I stopped the car half way through a twenty minute journey just to calm you down.

You never let me just put a spoon in your mouth.  People say babies learn to say 'no' at 2 years.  Well, you might not know the word, but you have been completely clear and determined to say 'no' when you don't want something since 5 months.  Even your Dad gave up trying to get you to take food off a spoon, and he's the most stubborn person I know.  We watched amazed as you somehow 'knew' what was a vegetable without even tasting it, even when the whole meal was covered in curry, and methodically picked through the finger food we gave you, throwing every vegetable on the floor until you found a piece of meat to eat.

Then, within days of learning how to walk, around ten and half months, everything changed.  You started to give me cuddles, and just stare into my eyes when we breastfed, and you spontaneously lie down on a pillow or mattress and give me the biggest grin.   You play happily in your car seat and even relax and fall asleep.  You still don't like to be in the highchair for very long, but you are getting better at it.  And I can see now that what I hoped was the case was true - that you were so upset at being restrained because your urge to move was constant and compulsive, and because you had that first, intense separation anxiety where you were learning that I would always be there for you.  It was just a developmental thing that came and went all of its own accord.  I can also say 'in a minute' or verbally redirect you to another activity when you want my attention, and mostly you will go and do that for a few minutes.

We have had some hiccups in working out these new ways of communicating.  While I don't believe that you can be deliberately 'naughty' at this age - you just like to experiment, and you are interested in my reactions - I have been willing to use punishment to deter behaviour that is actually dangerous, if the danger can't be removed.  For example, we cannot keep the hot oven out of your reach, and sometimes we go to places near roads.  It worries me that I can turn my back on you and you could severely injure yourself or worse.

I tried a severe, grumpy 'no' to keep you away from something hot.  You thought it was funny.  I tried a smack on the hand.  You thought that too was hilarious.  Then I tried moving you abruptly and said 'no', and you burst into tears.  I calmed you down.  Then you tried to touch the hot thing again.  Not so successful.  Physical pain seems to be little deterrent for you.  Even when you got your arm caught between the sliding door and window at the bank (bad mother!), and you cried for a couple of minutes, you ran back to exact spot it got caught!  At that point I ruled out using smacking for the time being, just because it was completely ineffective.  I suppose it makes sense.  You fall over and smack your face into the tiles several times a day and it doesn't remotely deter you from walking.

(Quick aside: Big thanks to the ANZ lady who came running over to me to ask if I needed an ambulance, and when I responded with 'hang on, it's probably ok' replied, 'We just don't want you making a claim against us'.  I was touched by your concern.)

I was thinking I just had to be vigilant until you were older.  But then on the weekend I was cooking and I looked away for a moment, and when I looked back at you you were walking towards the hot oven.  I cried out and just managed to grab you in time, my heart in my mouth.  I cuddled you to me for a little while, then when I put you down you looked warily towards the oven and pointed.  I got down on the floor with you and shook my head very seriously, and said 'no, very dangerous, you'll get hurt', my voice still shaky.  And to my amazement, you understood.  You didn't go near the oven, although you did point to it a few more times and look at me questioningly.

And I thought - wow, you actually care what I feel!  It means more to you than physical injury.  I have tried to follow the positive discipline path by limiting how much I say no, and redirecting, and not punishing, but I have to say I've had a lingering skepticism about whether it will work.  To have it work more effectively than punishment has just been wonderful.

My biggest method of guiding you is playing games.  I want to rehearse those neural pathways until certain behaviours come naturally to you.  We started with the 'ta' game, which is just handing objects back and forth and saying 'ta' - to get you comfortable with letting go of objects and to teach you how to do so politely.  The game 'put it in' and its more recent variation 'put it back' has also been very helpful.  We are also trying a 'loud' and 'soft' game.

Sleep is still not your strong suit.  But after persisting with the partial night-weaning, you now wake for 1-2 feeds a night plus usually 1 resettle - which is all in all a massive improvement over the 3-10 month period, when 5 wakings a night was a good night.  I'm still sleeping on a mattress next to you.  Funnily enough, I know when you can finally sleep through without me, I will miss our midnight snuggles.  I will miss looking over at your beautiful face, your soft hair.  You are perfect to me just the way you are.

You have taught me to be strong and flexible.  I can get up in the morning with little to no sleep and be patient and pleasant, or even go to work for the day, without caffeine and even when sick.  I can fall asleep anywhere for any time.  I can carry you in one arm and bags in the other and walk for about 10 minutes.  I can start and stop writing in 10 minute bursts.  I can do an amazing number of things one-handed.

Physically, you are very capable and quite coordinated.  You bump into less door frames than I do.  You have beautiful baby rolls but quite a lot of muscle underneath, I think.  You are 9.6kg (which is about 70th percentile for girls), but quite short at 71cm (which is about 15th percentile for girls).  I am afraid you've inherited the short DNA from my side of the family.  The truth is that your Nanna is descended from the rather short 'Runting' family, and yes, they were aptly named.

You are into books.  I tried to read to you perenially from when you were born, but for a long time it only frustrated you or you would take the book and try to eat it.  I didn't push it - just tried a few pages every week or so.  Then one day it was like a light switch went on (round the 10.5 month mark) and you got right into them.  Now you bring me a book and want to sit on my lap and have me read it to you 10 times in a row.  Then you get another one.

Food wise, you love meat, carbs, and curries.  You are a baby with the food preferences of a 19yo boy.  It is only in the last week or two that you have started to be happy to eat vegetables and fruit.

You also are into slides since your Granddad Peter introduced you to them about a month ago, and you love climbing up and down steps.  I have spent a lot of time with you practising how to negotiate them safely.

You adore your Granny, who looks after you twice a week when I go to work, although you are very happy to see me for your lunch-time num-nums.

You love to come into work and 'help':

It has been wonderful that both your Granddad Peter, your Nanna Rain, and your Aunt Steph and Uncle Leighton have been able to see and spend time with you a few times over this first year, given we live so far away:

You were definitely the cutest flowergirl-in-arms I've ever seen:

Finally, just for fun, here's a photo of you and me, both at around 12 months.  You have your dad's eyes but there's no doubt you're my daughter!  (In case you can't tell, you're the one on the right.)

So here's saying thank you for a wonderful first year, for teaching me so much, and for inspiring me to learn and try harder.

Lots of love,

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Quote a Day #5 - Parenting for a Peaceful World Part 2

The Book:

Parenting for a Peaceful World by Robin Grille.

Quote 1:

Praising and rewarding kids is just plain common sense, and good parenting - isn't it?  Who would doubt that it's good to give children praise, or prizes when they perform to our liking?

The praise-and-reward method has a scientific seal of approval, since it is backed by a ton of evidence from the most methodical and ingenious research that money can buy.  Actually, it springs from the work of psychologists who painstakingly discovered that they could train rats to run mazes, pigeons to peck at coloured buttons, and dogs to salivate at the sound of the dinner bell - by giving them a controlled schedule of rewards. ...

One problem, though.  We don't particularly care about the quality of a relationship we develop with a lab-rat.  We are not concerned with rodents' developing self-esteem, their sense of autonomy or independence, nor do we give a hoot whether the rat will get interested in trying bigger and better mazes of it's own accord, long after we stop rewarding it with little food pellets.  And that, as most of our experts have failed to tell us, is where the whole fancy technology of 'reward, praise and reinforce' falls to pieces. ...

When the little gold stars or jelly-beans stop coming, the behaviour we were trying to reinforce tends to peter out.  Children who have grown used to expecting praise, can feel crushed when it doesn't come.  This dampens their perseverance.  There is plenty of evidence that in the long term, reward systems are ineffective.

Contrary to popular myth, there are many studies showing that when children expect or anticipate rewards, they perform more poorly.  One study found that students' performance was undermined when offered money for better marks.  A number of American and Israeli studies show that reward systems suppress students' creativity, and generally impoverish the quality of their work.  Rewards can kill creativity, because they discourage risk-taking.  When children are hooked on getting a reward, they tend to avoid challenges, to 'play it safe'.  They prefer the minimum required to get that prize. ...

There are many more studies showing that, while rewards may well increase activity, they smother enthusiasm and kill passion.  Individuals anticipating rewards lose interest in activities that were otherwise attractive.  It seems that the more we want the reward, the more we come to dislike what we have to do to get it.  The activity required of us stands in the way of our coveted prize. [If we want kids to read it would be] smarter to just give the kids more interesting books, as there is plenty of evidence that intrinsically enjoyable activity is the best motivator and performance enhancer.


If you read this blog regularly, you will know I've looked at this book before.  Last time I took a quote from this book I focused on the first half of the book which is concerned with a history of parenting styles, and I wasn't that impressed with the author's approach to history.  However, I think the second half of the book, which discusses child psychology and current parenting strategies, is stronger and a better fit with the author's professional expertise.  The author is a psychologist and psychotherapist who particularly focuses on child development and parenting.

I also thought I'd come back to it because I'm going to attend a talk by Robin Grille in Darwin on 3 September on setting boundaries with your toddler, and I thought I'd explain why I'm still interested in hearing from him on this topic.  (If you live in Darwin and are interested in getting tickets, they can be bought from the Childbirth Education Australia NT branch - he will also be giving a talk on babies and their emotional development, and a talk on issues with our education system.)

So, to the quote, Robin Grille's argument is not actually that 'praise is bad' but that we should try to build a relationship with our children that is not built on dominance and judgement, or making children feel that our affection is conditional on them 'performing adequately'.  So it's about the right kind of praise.

Robin Grille suggests praise like 'good girl' or 'you're a great piano player' is ok occasionally and spontaneously.  But it would be better to say, 'I love the way you play the last bit' or 'you can hear how much you enjoy playing that piece' or 'did you enjoy that?' or 'what do you like most about playing piano?' or 'wow, I can really hear how much time you've spent practising'    Where the first kind of responses are about judging a child and making them feel they have to live up to an image, the second kind of responses are about tapping into the child's inner experience, encouraging them to think for themselves about what they are doing, showing them what is going on in your head, and just generally connecting.  Specific praise feels more sincere and is generally more useful than being told generally that I'm great, though I definitely don't mind being told I'm great occasionally.  

My own experience is that I grew up in a praise-heavy environment, both at school and at home.  There was praise delivered with selfless intentions - to grow my confidence, to make me feel that 'girls can do anything', and to recognise my own pleasure in my success etc.  and some delivered with more selfish intentions - to encourage convenient behaviour, and to encourage me to perform impressively.  I don't remember being unhappy because of praise generally.  I was a very confident little kid.  But it largely worked because I genuinely enjoyed and was good at doing the things I was being praised for.  I do remember hating praise where I felt it was manipulative.  For years I hated learning piano, and I felt that I was being brought out just to perform so my parents could show off how clever I was.  I hated my dad talking about my achievements to his colleagues, because I felt like he saw me as some kind of performing monkey.  I understand now that I'm older that he was genuinely proud but that's how it felt at the time.

So addicted to praising me was my dad that he would think things I did were cleverer than they were.  Like this time I had to write a story for school inspired by a picture of an old woman in a rocking chair - the gist of the story was that she was stuck in the same memory in her chair (like a groundhog day type thing), and he told everyone how clever it was that the story itself kept going back and forth - a 'rocking chair story' he called it.   What was so weird about him saying this was that he hadn't asked me if I intended to create a 'rocking chair story', and in fact I hadn't.  I was in middle primary school and couldn't have come up with an abstract structural concept like a 'rocking chair story'.  He quite happily read things like that into lots of things I did, and I usually didn't say anything because I didn't want to be stupider than he thought I was/ought to be.  I know my dad was genuinely happy for me when I succeeded, but I know a lot of the praise was to make himself feel good - praising your kid for things they didn't even do is a pretty clear sign that you are living vicariously through your child's success.

And the truth is that everything I persisted with and ultimately did really well at - reading, writing, cello - I did because I loved them, not because I was praised or displayed.  In fact, I was frequently criticised and belittled by teachers because I read and wrote the 'wrong' kind of stories - melodramatic and often violent fantasy novels.  But I found them so enjoyable that I didn't care what my teachers thought and did it anyway.

It was not until much later that the drawbacks of even benevolently intentioned constant praise started to manifest.  Once I left school I remember feeling so lost.  Even at uni, I felt lost, because I switched from doing sciency subjects to doing Arts/Law.  Doing science and maths there are usually right answers, and it's just a matter of understanding and memorising them.  It was very unnerving to have a 5000 word essay to write and no idea whether you were even on the right track with your answer.  When I did poorly at law exams, getting a Pass/Credit average, it really hit me hard, and I realised how much of my self-identity was caught up in achieving.  And even though I knew rationally there was nothing wrong with me - the Melbourne Uni Law had a policy of ensuring 50% of the students who passed only got a 'Pass', and no one doing the course could be described as stupid or slack, so the bell curve pressure was enormous - I couldn't help feeling... well... shite.  And what was most frustrating is not even understanding where I'd gone wrong, or recognising the problem but not knowing how to do better within the time limit.

Let's not get into self psycho analysis but I'm fairly sure I wouldn't be driven to do all the research on this blog if I wasn't so terrified of 'failing' as a parent.

So even though I intimately understand the problems with over-praising, it has been with me for so long that I find it a very, very hard habit to break.  I have terrible trouble not saying 'good girl' to Bethany. It just slips out of my mouth all the time.  And Grille's right - the times when it slips out of my mouth it's entirely manipulative - like when I've been trying to persuade Bethany to come to me and she eventually comes, or she finally holds still and lets me change her nappy.  

I have been making a conscious effort to try and say why I'm happy with her behaviour rather than just label her.  For example, 'That's really helpful if you hold still so I can do your nappy up.  That makes it much easer' or even just 'good holding still' rather than 'good girl'.  She doesn't understand the difference yet, but she's understanding language so rapidly now, I want to change my habits before she understands what I'm talking about.  Moreover, I am trying to make an effort to play games with her that are not about getting the 'right' answer.  I play letter and number games and 'what's that?' with her cause that's what I played as a child.  She enjoys these games, and I don't pressure her to answer or get the answers right, but I don't want our relationship to just be me telling her whether she's right or wrong.  I'm trying to dance more, to play more chasey and tickling games, to play hide and seek, read her the stories she brings me in silly voices, and just muck around.

That said, I think there will be times where I will be using praise in its manipulative form.  I'm perfectly willing to use it to get my baby to eventually sleep in her own room alone, if that's what it takes.  I'll be using rewards and star charts, if that's what it takes.  But being aware of the potential problems, I will try not to use these kind of solutions on an everyday basis, and only after giving other more pro-social techniques a good go.  

(As to what the pros-social techniques are, I have some books on this topic, but they'll have to wait for another post on another day.)