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Friday, July 28, 2017

A Reader Asks About Three-Year-Olds Relating to Newborns

A reader recently wrote, "I totally agree with your approach to dealing with big emotions outlined in your tantrum post and did most of what you are saying when my older son was an only child... The difficulty that I am having is finding ways to do this for my older son in the moment while he is having big emotions, while also taking care of the newborn, especially when I’m the only adult in the room. I find that the big emotions happen most often when the newborn is needing my attention. And, no surprise, the big emotions are bigger and more frequent now that the newborn is here! Please let me know (and I’m sure many other parents out there!) when / if you find good resources for this issue that fits in to your objectivist parenting philosophy."

First, for those of you that haven't already had the newborn, please consider waiting. All of my research has led me to conclude that children (and parents) do much better when children are spaced five or more years apart.

Next I would recommend reading, in order of importance, 1,2,3... The Toddler YearsHow To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, Dear Parents: Caring for Infants with Respect, and Tears and Tantrums: What to Do When Babies and Children Cry.

And in the mean time, here are some ideas:

Prepare the three-year-old. Talk to him about what is going on, about all the things he might be feeling. Talk to him about how when the baby cries, he will feel a great deal of stress in his body, and that the stress will make him want to freak out about something too. Tell him you feel the same way. Nature has programmed us to freak out when babies cry so that we deal with it. (Babies who cry in such a way as to destroy all those around them until they are no longer crying were, surprise, more likely to survive and pass on their genes. So the theory goes.) Tell him that it is normal to want to run, jump, scream, yell, hit, throw, or even cry himself when he hears the baby cry.

Tell the three-year-old that this will be an uncomfortable experience, but you want to teach him how to deal with a crying baby, so that he can be an amazing dad one day. Tell him that crying babies are okay, that we must take deep breaths and move slowly and just be with them. Tell him the next time the baby cries, you want him to run straight to you so that you can teach him about crying babies. Then, when it happens, pick him up and take him to the baby. Invite him to put his hand on the baby's chest. Speak softly. "She's sad. It's okay to feel sad."

Practice with the three-year-old. Tell him to pretend the baby is crying. Make eye contact. Show him how to move slowly and softly. Show him how to go to the baby and just watch. "The baby can't tell us what is wrong, so we have to figure it out." Is it the diaper? (Maybe it can be his job to check.) Is it gas? (Teach him how to rub her belly.) Is it the light shining in her eyes? Is she hungry? Make this a game and practice it as many times as you can before a real episode happens.

Tell him that as he gets more used to the baby, he will able to take action when the baby cries, trying to help the baby instead of focusing on his own inner stress. But tell him that for now, when he is just getting used to his inner stress, if he needs to run to you for a hug the minute the baby is crying, that could help both him and you. Look in his eyes. "THIS FEELS SO UNCOMFORTABLE!!!!!" You can yell to him! Try to connect with him about the sheer discomfort of the sound of a crying baby.

But tell him if he can't handle it, if he is feeling something too big, he needs to tell you. Because often, the baby can wait. Tell him you won't want the baby to wait, because the baby's cries are soooooo stressful to you, and it will be hard for you to focus on his issue while the baby is crying, but that if he really, really needs you to, you will tell the baby to wait. He will test you on this, and in that case, you put your hand on the baby's chest and you say, "I hear you and I will be with you when I can." And then you focus on the older child. Perhaps you take the older child into a different room so you can really focus on his issue. Let him know that his needs matter. As soon that is dealt with, tend to the baby. He will feel much more secure knowing that if he ever has an emergency, you will be there for him. The goal is to help him feel so secure, that he does not need to use this and weaponize it against the baby. (This is also a good gage of how well you are doing at giving him enough attention. When he is not feeling like he is getting enough, he will want to punish the baby.)

And the of course always newscast. "Erin is crying. She needs me to find out what is wrong. Oh no. The crying is making Erik crazy too! Erik is only three! He needs help dealing with his big feelings! I want to be there to help him. I want to be there to help the baby too!"

And of course later, when everyone is feeling good, talk to the older child about how it feels for you, about how sad you are that he is not your only child anymore, about how hard it is to have two children that need you, about how much you want to do right by him and take care of him and give him all that he needs, about your fears that you won't be able to. I have always found children to be much more empathetic and less self-centered when they know I am having a hard time too. In this way I disagree with pretty much every parenting expert out there. They think children need Mountain Mom who is always calm and never has issues. I think that is presenting a false reality to children that they see through anyway. I think children do better with Real Moms who talk and express what is going on with them, who model how to deal with big, stressful feelings, and who let the kids know that all humans, no matter their age, are dealing with big, stressful feelings and we do better if we support one another during those times. This shouldn't be abused, of course as it is in alcoholic households, but three year olds love feeling competent enough to support their parents when they are having a tough time. I don't think it "stresses children out" if they are generally well cared for and have a secure attachment. On the contrary, I think it raises their self-esteem and makes them feel competent at life.

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