I don't know what your upbringing was, but I was raised in a house where babies were pretty common...as the second-oldest of six children in my family, I "helped raise" my younger siblings and saw my mother regularly babysit as well. My mother is seriously the baby expert, in my opinion. I still marvel at her skill when I think of my own childhood. I was babysitting for a family with four challenging children by the time I was twelve. Honestly, I wasn't worried about being clueless when my daughter was born. I believed that I had a pretty good idea of how to care for a child, and if I didn't know what to do, my mother was a phone-call away. For the first several months, by the grace of God, we did okay (I believe). At the end of each day, our daughter was still growing and breathing, warm, clean, fed and at least partially-clothed. Beyond those obvious needs, we read to her, play with her, hold her, snuggle her, pray with her, sing and dance with her, let her "help" us, talk to her about Jesus...
So, the confident me has been totally humbled. I don't know what has changed over the past week or two, but our 10-month-old sweetheart has learned how to manipulate and throw tantrums with the best of them. I know that we are all born into sin, but I hadn't seen it so much before this, if that makes sense. Don’t get me wrong- she is still a sweet and wonderful girl most of the time, but now she has these terrible moments…sometimes many moments strung together…
Up to this point, discipline has been fairly easy: Using a calm, fairly quiet voice, and say the appropriate thing with the corresponding action. Be polite and concise, and try to put things in the positive when possible (telling what to do rather than what not to do).
“Not for you.” (move her hand away and repeat as necessary, maybe after three or four times and help her find something else to do.)
“Please don’t touch.” (move her hand away)
“Not in your mouth, please. Are you hungry?” (pull it out of her mouth and tap mouth gently with one finger)
“That’s Mama’s. Where’s [baby’s]______?” (help her find her things)
“That’s Daddy’s. Where’s [baby’s]______”
“Please come back here.” (retrieve her if she does not respond)
“We don’t eat books. Can I read it to you?” (remove book from mouth and read with her)
“Please don’t hit. Hitting hurts. Please be gentle.”(hold the hand and show it how to be gentle)
“Find something else to do, please. How about____?” (help her find a good activity)
“Please give it to Mama...(holding out hand or removing it from hand or mouth)…thank-you!”
"Please be gentle with the kitty. (demonstrate gentleness)
Rather than drastically baby-proofing the house, we are training our daughter to know what she can and cannot do. We do still have a gate at the foot of the stairs and one cupboard that has a baby-proof latch for bleach etc. We say “nay-nay” instead of “no” for discipline and redirection and use “no” or “no, thank-you” as an answer to a question.
Last month, she learned to point at things. What a cute new skill, I thought. "Uh!" she'd say and point to something. I'd give her the words. "Bottle brush, [baby]. That's a bottle brush. I use that to clean your bottles." Without missing a beat she'd point sweetly to something else, like the faucet. "Uh?" and we'd answer, "Water. Would you like to touch the water? Okay, [baby]...all done now. Where's your baby?" You get the picture. She still does this. Sometimes she can have or do whatever it is that she is pointing at and sometimes she can't. When she has had a good nap and is in a good mood, she is generally fairly polite and compliant with her "uh" inquiries, though fairly persistent, especially when she notices the kitty at the window and believes that it is very important for me to let her in immediately. Sometimes she can be redirected or distracted from something she is obsessing on, but recently she has tried screaming, crying, and lashing out physically to get what she wants. It was my husband who first noticed this new tactic of manipulation, but he was right in identifying it as such.
Last night, she bit my husband. I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but she was lashing out in anger during Bible Study and bit him. He immediately responded by removing her from the room and disciplining her. She is still quite young and her discipline looks something like this:
Parent: (immediate response, private if possible, using a stern, no-nonsense type face, and a low, calm voice, while putting slight pressure on her bottom teeth) “Please don’t bite. Biting hurts.” (Discipline is over, return to normal, though she may cry)
Last night, instead of responding in her usual way by turning her behavior around after discipline, she began pointing at the doorway and wildly screaming for Mama (to rescue her from Daddy). Now, at this point, discipline for biting was already over, and discipline for screaming began.
Parent: (using a calm voice and tapping her mouth gently with one finger) We don’t scream like that. Please use your quiet voice. (Wait until screaming stops, or calmly repeat after a few minutes if necessary)
She continued to scream for several minutes and got herself all worked up. She was tired and she may not have understood why she couldn’t go to mama, since this isn’t a battle we have seen yet. I went to her with a pacifier to help her calm down, but by entering the room, I was unintentionally sabotaging the discipline my husband was administering. It is hard to refuse that desperate cry for mama. When I realized what I had done, I tried to support my husband, so I hugged her in his arms and told her to calm down, use her quiet voice and listen to her daddy. I apologized to my husband for intervening, handed him the pacifier, and left her screaming in his arms. Then I turned around and walked out of the room. The screaming escalated and I was kicking myself…if I hadn’t gone in there, she wouldn’t be doing this, I thought. Maybe 10 minutes later, the crying stopped and my husband emerged from the room with a sleeping baby in his arms and all was well. When she woke up, she was the sweet girl I know and love, and she and Daddy were on good terms.
Parenting is hard, even for a baby who is less than a year old, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It would have been easier, and more pleasant, if my husband had simply given her what she wanted by bringing her straight to me when she screamed. However, it would have given her the clear message that when she throws a fit, she gets the results she wants. That is not the message we want to send, and my amazing and steadfast husband had the wisdom to see it through to the end, despite his wife’s foolishness.
This is only the beginning. We have years of parenting challenges ahead of us. I am hoping that we will learn lots of tips and tricks with this baby so that we are more prepared for the next, but my friends keep telling me that babies are all different. If you have any tips or suggestions for us, I would appreciate the help!!