No 5 in our series ‘Using positive discipline’: Physical touch and relatedness.
Babies and children need warm, loving cuddles and touch. Premature babies do much better when ‘kangaroo mothered’. And babies in institutions may ‘fail to thrive’ if they get no loving physical care or interactions.
Sometimes we do get tired as moms of young babies and small children – sometimes we long for some ‘me’ time. We want our arms to be ‘empty’ for a bit. That is natural and pretty normal.
The only problem is that when we are tired like this we may emotionally and even physically start pushing our babies and small children away. They sense this and of course get afraid of being ‘left’ and ‘rejected’ by you. As their survival depends on you they will feel afraid – sometimes almost panic stricken.
These are the times we need to plan for a bit. If we can’t get the ‘me’ time right away (by letting someone else look after our offspring for a bit) then we have to develop our own coping strategies. This involves ones ‘mind’ and one’s ability to think and empathise even when exhausted – not easy! But if one can at least say to oneself ‘I am exhausted but it is ‘I’ that is exhausted and even if it is baby who made me exhausted it is not babies fault or wish or design.’ In other words ‘own your own feelings’. This should bring a slight emotional relief.
Then see if you can find a less exhausting way of being with baby or little child. Go for a walk, visit a friend or ask someone to visit you, put baby under a baby gym and sit near her, find a toy baby or child hasn’t played with for a bit and give it to him/her, go outside and let your toddler pick flowers, play in mud, or with water in a bowl – and a few things that pour while you sit in the sun (or shade) and think your own thoughts for a bit.
After a bit baby or toddler will be in a different mood and hopefully you will have recovered your energies and adoration a bit.
We need to always remember that we are our baby’s and toddler’s base. If we can spend plenty of time being this and letting him or her move away and move back as s/he needs to s/he will be most secure and most secure in his/her love and relationship with us.
I remember long plays my children played with their backs leaning against before they could walk. They loved the physical warmth but also the emotional security of having me there and were able to explore their toys and other objects with great and sustained interest (with me joining in when appropriate). As they grew older and became ‘walkers’ they would walk away and come back as if there was an elastic band between us. They preferred me to be ‘doing nothing’ or chatting to a friend (in the room) but being aware of them as they moved away and back to me. Their play was more intense and purposeful when I was aware and ‘there’ for them. As soon as my attention wandered or I picked up a book they would sense that I was no longer aware of them and come back to make me aware again! Play would become desultory and they might even start pulling at me and putting things close to my eyes. Why else do kids bother us when we are on the phone?
If we can be this base a lot of the time our babies and children will be secure and confident. Their play and learning will be purposeful and they will develop lots of healthy neural pathways...Which of course will translate into better brain development. But also your child will be happier and a happy child does not need to behave badly. This is the ‘positive discipline’ spin off from your warm, comforting relatedness with your child.
Of course we do need to switch off from time to time and as baby grows it will be more and more appropriate to allow baby and then toddler to manage on their own (emotionally or socially – they always need physical safety) for longer (but still short) periods of time. This ‘failure’ of attention is a normal way that babies and toddlers learn to separate from us. But without the security of a good attachment separation becomes a problem rather than a natural progression. Also we all move back and forth in our ability to cope (some days we will be wanting to shout at people in the traffic too!) and baby and toddlers are still very much moving back and forth in ‘age’ emotionally. When an 18 month old gets tired he could become like a 3 month old baby...so we need to accept and respond to that.
Unfortunately in places like children’s homes and even crèches children may not get enough of this attention and will either become more clingy and ‘whining’ or may get a veneer of ‘tough independence’. Neither are desirable for later life emotionally, socially or intellectually. Babies and toddlers are not really supposed to cope on their own – they need the relatedness of a one to one situation most of the time. So it should not be a point of pride that you can leave your baby under a baby gym for an hour or your toddler watching TV for an hour...you will have problems later and you are setting yourself up for some major teen troubles...
So if you are finding it very, very wearisome and resentful making to be baby or toddlers ‘secure base’ you will need to think of getting more support for yourself. If you cannot find it from friends or family then think about finding a therapist to talk to so that s/he can help you with this and with mobilising more support for yourself.