Is My Crying Baby Manipulating Me or Communicating With Me?

crying baby manipulative or communicative?


I want my children to feel safe and secure to talk to me about their needs, wants desires.

I want them to feel like they can complain to authority when something is not right.

I want my child to become a teenager who speaks to me about things they're worried about and feels like they're a part of a family rather than an individual who can only sort things out by themselves.

All these things (from my fluffy, idealistic viewpoint of having a toddler and a newborn) to me stem from listening to my baby when they are young.

There is substantial scientific evidence that shows that the affective (emotional) needs of people, their reaction to stress and ability to interact in a social group are skills and responses which are encoded in our nervous system right from the beginning - in utero - and fairly concretely laid down by the time our children are 3.  This makes me really then start thinking about everything I can try to do for my children in that period of time to help them become healthy, well adjusted adults.

With this in mind, I really feel that beginning parenthood gave me an opportunity to reassess all my old beliefs and habits.  It's really easy to just blithely live and make decisions based on things that you've learnt as a child (such as don't walk across the road if the light is red) but when you start to take on a more complex and important role such as parenting and react to situations based purely on thoughts others have given you then it can make for tough times.

My first encounter with this was when my baby wouldn't settle down to sleep.  I knew parenthood would be difficult to adjust to and that "nothing anyone said could prepare me for it" but no one had really talked about the emotional journey you go on as a parent.  I was just aware that I would be sleep deprived.

In those first six months I really started to question common rhetoric I'd always taken for granted and tried really hard to listen to my instincts and take little to no notice of those around me if their advice didn't feel right.

This led to me breastfeeding my baby every 2 hours or so during the day for the first 6 months of his life (because I drink or eat something that frequently) and really trying to tune in to my bodily reactions to anything I said or did with my baby.

Over a period of time I started to notice the power of language.

Parents who were talking about their child being "naughty and not sleeping" or "using their crying to manipulate me" were often merely quoting what they'd read in some sleep training book (yes, you all know which one that might be……) or had heard from their parents or grandparents who were a product of the times where children were seen and not heard.

It made me really careful about how I spoke about my baby.  Every now and then I'd catch myself using language like naughty and I would feel awful.

After all, going back to science - a baby is only capable of emotional reaction with how their brain is wired in the beginning.  There is no possibility of calculated action really until they are started to engage the left side of their brain which deals with the questions of who, what, when and how.

Why don't' we talk about that cry as saying something like "I'm hungry, please feed me" or "I'm tired and I have no idea how to go to sleep" or "I'm scared of lying here where I can't see you, I know I need you to survive, please don't forget I"m here".

Really, babies are constantly communicating with us and the sooner they notice that something other than crying is getting their parents attention, the sooner they start trying to use other ways to communicate than crying.  We are the adults in the situation and we can show them what is and what is not appropriate - I'm not suggestion all their communication is going to be something that is right (for instance if your older baby starts undressing you in public to get a breastfeed), but they can only learn through us, and they can only distinguish different needs and wants as being responded to differently if we give them appropriate feedback.

So, at the end of this rant, I encourage you to think about how you speak to or respond to your child - are you using language which will positively reinforce them or will they just know the label of naughty or manipulative and come to learn that really their parent thinks they are naughty or manipulative and so that is who they become as a young child, then teen, then adult?




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