I have always been proud of my ability to help parents understand and care for their young children, and feel honored whenever a family asks me into its life. During this time, on my Web site and in my e-mail in-box, I’ve been inundated with requests for help: maybe a parent is confused about why their child isn’t doing what other children are doing; or maybe they’re faced with a deeply entrenched feeding difficulty. Of course, every young child and every family is slightly different. When parents come to me with a particular challenge, I always ask at least one question, if not a string of them, about both the child and what parents have done so far in response to their situation. Then I can come up with a proper plan of action. In this book, then, I want to show you how to empower yourself as a parent. My goal is to help you understand my thought process and get you in the habit of asking questions for yourself.
Baby whispering begins by observing, respecting, and communicating with your baby. It means that you see your child’s personality and her particular quirks—and you tailor your parenting strategies accordingly.
How often have I witnessed a scene like this: a mother says to her little boy, “Now Billy, you don’t want Adam’s truck.” Poor little Billy doesn’t talk yet, but if he did, I’d bet he’d say, “Sure I do, Mom. Why else do you think I grabbed it away from Adam in the first place?” But Mom doesn’t listen to him. She either takes the truck out of Billy’s hand or tries to coax him into relinquishing it willingly. At that point I can almost count the seconds until meltdown!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that just because Billy wants the truck, he should be allowed to bully Adam—far from it. What I am saying is that we need to listen to our children, even when they say things we don’t want to hear.
Those same skills—observing body language, listening to cries, slowing down so that you can really figure out what’s going on—are just as important as your baby grows into a toddler and beyond. Those of you who know me undoubtedly recall my love of acronyms, such as E.A.S.Y. (Eat, Activity, Sleep, and time for You).
I don’t think that coining a series of expressions or acronyms makes child-rearing a snap. I know firsthand that parenting is anything but “E.A.S.Y.” But in the middle of a tussle with your child or children, it’s easy to forget good advice and lapse into old patterns. So I’m trying to give you tools to use when you might not have your wits about you. And here’s another acronym for your parental bag of tricks.
Be a “P.C.” Parent
A P.C. parent is patient and conscious, two qualities that will serve you well no matter how old your child is. And it’s not just problems that require P.C. parenting; so do everyday interactions.
Patience. Today’s Big Problem becomes a distant memory a month from now, but we tend to forget that when we’re living through it. It takes patience to parent well—those who, in the heat of the moment, take what seems like an easier road, only find out later that it leads them to “accidental parenting” and a dangerous dead end.
Having a child can be messy and disorderly, too. Therefore, you also need patience (and internal fortitude) to tolerate at least the clutter, spills, and finger marks. What toddler manages to drink from a real cup without first spilling pints of liquid on to the floor? Eventually, only a drizzle slips out the side of his mouth and then finally he gets most of it down, but it doesn’t happen overnight or without setbacks along the way.
Consciousness. Consciousness of who your child is should begin the moment she takes her first breath outside the womb. Always be aware of your child’s perspective. I mean this both figuratively and literally. Squat down and see what the world looks like from her vantage point. Take a whiff of the air. Listen. How loud is the din of the crowd? It’s good to expose children to new sights, sounds, and people. But, if your infant repeatedly cries in unfamiliar settings, as a conscious parent you’ll know that she’s telling you: “Try this with me in another month.”
Consciousness means paying attention to the things you say and what you do with and to your child—and being consistent. So if one day you say, “No eating in the living room,” and the next night you ignore your son as he does just that, your words will eventually mean nothing.
Finally, consciousness is just that: being awake and being there for your child. Crying is the first language children speak. By turning our backs on them, we’re saying, “You don’t matter.” We are their best teachers, and for the first three years, their only teachers. We owe it to them to be P.C. parents—so that they can develop the best in themselves.
But Why Doesn’t It Work?
“Why doesn’t it work?” is by far one of the most common questions parents ask. Whether a mom is trying to get her seven-month-old to eat solid food or her toddler to stop hitting other kids, I often hear the old “yes, but” response: “Yes, I know you told me it will take time, but . . . ,” “Yes, I know you said I have to take him out of the room when he begins to get aggressive, but . . .”
Granted, I know that some babies (and some periods of development) are more challenging than others but my baby whispering techniques do work; I’ve used them myself with thousands of babies. When problems persist, it’s usually because of something the parents have done, so you need to ask yourself if one of the following statements applies to you:
You’re following your child, rather than establishing a routine. I’m a firm believer in a structured routine (see Chapter 1). You start, ideally, from the day you bring your little bundle home from the hospital. Of course, you can also introduce a routine later, but the older the baby, the more trouble parents often have.
You’ve been doing accidental parenting. Unfortunately, in the heat of the moment parents sometimes do anything to make their baby stop crying or to get a toddler to calm down. Often, the “anything”—walking, rocking, jiggling or feeding them their favorite “bad-for-them” treat—turns into a bad habit that they later have to break. And that’s accidental parenting.
You’re not reading your child’s cues. “He used to be on schedule, and now he’s not. How do I get him back on track?” When I hear any version of that phrase, “used to be” and “now is not,” it usually means they’re paying more attention to the clock (or their own needs) than the baby himself.
You’re not factoring in that young children change constantly. I also hear the “used to be” phrase when parents don’t realize that it’s time to make a shift; the only constant in the job of parenting is change.
You’re looking for an easy fix. The older a child is, the harder it is to break a bad habit caused by accidental parenting, such as demanding a feed, or refusing to sit in a high chair for a proper meal. Be patient.
You’re not really committed to change. If you’re trying to solve a problem, you have to want it solved—and have the determination and stamina to see it through to the end. If you stick with it, your child will get used to the new way.
Parents sometimes delude themselves. They will insist that they’ve been trying a particular technique for two weeks and say that it’s not working. Often they’ve tried for three or four days, and it worked, but a few days later they didn’t follow through with the original plan. The poor child is then confused.
If you’re not going to see something through, don’t do it. If you can’t do it on your own, enlist backup people.
You’re trying something that doesn’t work for your family or your personality. If you’re not comfortable doing a particular technique, either don’t do it or find ways to bolster yourself, by having the stronger parent take over for a bit or enlisting a relative or a good friend to help.
It ain’t broke—and you don’t really need to fix it. Babies are individuals. Your child may be eating less than another child the same age or have a smaller-than-average build. If it isn’t a concern to your pediatrician, just observe your child.
You have unrealistic expectations. Toddlers can’t be managed with the same efficiency you apply to projects at work. Children require care, constant vigilance, and lots of loving time.
Where We Go from Here
I’m not a big fan of age charts and never have been. Children’s challenges can’t be sorted into neat piles. Still, I have broken down my advice and tailored various techniques according to age groupings to give you a better understanding of how your child thinks and sees the world. You’ll notice that the age spans are quite broad. That’s to allow for variations among children. In Chapter 1, which deals with E.A.S.Y., I cover primarily the first five months but this is fundamental to everything that follows. I urge you to read all the stages, because earlier problems can persist and, particularly as children move into toddlerhood, you’ve got to plan ahead.
You can read this book cover to cover, or just look up the problems you’re concerned about and go from there. However, I strongly recommend that you at least read through Chapter 1, which reviews my basic philosophy of a structured routine for your child. Throughout, I’ve tried to zero in on the most common concerns that parents have when it comes to their child and feeding, and then share with you the kinds of questions I typically ask to find out what’s really going on (when I’ve reprinted e-mails and Web site postings, names and identifying details have been changed) and what I would suggest to deal with these concerns. You might be surprised by some of these, but I have lots of examples to demonstrate how successfully they’ve been applied in other families. So why not at least try them with yours?
© 2005 Tracy Hogg