Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Giving Babies their Space

I am an all out supporter of attachment parenting. I read The Baby Book from cover to cover when my oldest was a week old (because I couldn't figure out what I was supposed to do with this screaming, sucking, ball of frustration that had thrust himself upon us). I have practiced Attachment Parenting with all my kids. But I've discovered that even in the midst of bonding and babywearing and breastfeeding, sometimes babies just need a little room to breathe.

My oldest son was a classic high needs baby - he wanted to be on me 24-7 for the first six months of his life. He wanted to be in arms reach of mom for the first three years of his life. Even now he regularly checks in on me if I'm not in the same room as he is. He has always been an intense guy.

Because I was always so close to him, I could always watch when he was learning something new. I would often point out to him when he was doing something new. "Look, you just caught the ball!" " You shook the rattle!" "You used the spoon yourself!" "You drew a circle!". I thought this encouragement and parental excitement would encourage him and help him to realize the connections he was making.

Over time, I've realized that its actually had the opposite effect. The first time kids do something, they are just starting to try it. They need to repeat their effort and practice to become competent at a skill. By getting all excited, I am actually distracting them from whatever they are concentrating on, and short circuiting their learning. I am over-noticing them.

Not only that, but the noticing can have adverse effects of our children's psyche. My oldest is nervous about trying anything new. When he does try something new it takes a lot of noticing and noise making on my part to get him to continue to do it. Sometimes he does something new once and then shies away from it - worried to try it again until weeks or even months later. For example, he drew his first human figure the September he turned four. He drew two more, and then got frustrated. And didn't draw anything again until April of the same year. All my noticing and commenting has given him a huge case of performance anxiety.

In the last year or so, I have struck more of a balance between letting him know that I am proud of his increasing skills ("Hey, I can read what your wrote in your agenda book today!") and just letting him be. This has gradually caused his anxiety to ease off, and helped him to try new things.

I have remembered this lesson with my two younger children. They get less notice and praise for the things they do, and consequently, my second child tends to be more self motivated. He will do things just becuase he wants to, and maybe show me. If I give him too much attention over something he has just done, he will wreck it.

The other day, Emma (my new baby) was sitting in her bouncy seat, looking at some toys. She is just starting to reach out and bat at things, and she was waving her arms aimlessly. Then, I watched as she stopped, concentrated, and purposefully reached out and batted at her little cow. My first instinct was to get excited, distract her from her activity and engage her in talking to me. Instead, I let her be. She kept focusing on the cow, reached out and batted it again, and then smiled. She was happy about her new ability, and I had allowed her to enjoy her moment of mastery over those flailing little arms.

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