Tag Archives: infant psychology

The Santa Situation: To Lie or Not to Lie?

Have you ever questioned this? It’s a topic that will make some people upset. Which tells us we need to take a good, honest, serious look at it. That’s a good thing—so let’s dive in!

Santa listMany of us grew up receiving toys from Santa Claus every year. How was it for you when you figured out that Santa wasn’t “real”? As an adult and a new parent, do you have any new perspectives? How will you raise your child?

If you’ve had any tinge of uncertainty, by all means, stay in touch with that gut feeling! The magic of childhood is often cited as a reason to do Santa, along with innocence, fun, and joy of the season.

But is it really?

Invitation

This is not a judgment on parents. But it is an examination of values, habits, thinking, and action. I speak for the children and for healing. If you feel judgment or guilt, turn it around! How wonderful that you now have a new awareness. You get to make a choice—that’s where the beauty lies.

The Disappointment Can be Debilitating For Life

For real, though? Yes. For. Real. Some children don’t appear to be bothered by it. (But how do we know? Culturally, we’re usually taught to disguise—even disregard—our true feelings.)

If you have a highly sensitive child, this can be a very serious issue. High sensitivity is real—it’s a trait found in 15 to 20% of the population. Even if you’re not highly sensitive, your child might be. (Even if no one is, Santa still warrants investigation!)

I am one of those. The occurrence of figuring out Santa wasn’t real at age 8 sent me on a downward spiral. It was too good to be true. Anything, then, that’s that “good”—can’t be true. Good cannot be true. Life is disappointing. The thing I hoped in did not even exist. I can’t trust life itself.  Good and magical stuff doesn’t really happen. I was disappointed and disillusioned, and that process took many years to unwind.

This is not a judgment on my parents. It’s the way things were done, and my mom was honest when I asked. I’ve always appreciated that. Nor is my process above reflective of other potentially missing values. We were still all about family and giving.

I’m not the only one—there are many of us out there, and some of today’s children are more sensitive and honesty-detecting than ever. It’s time we looked this issue in the face. Are we really doing what we think we’re doing—fostering love, magic, and innocence?

What’s Wrong With Santa (the way it’s usually done)?

Santa toys pointManipulation Do we want children to behave in certain ways in order to get toys from a figure who’s not even real, or because of their own motivation and respect for others?

Creepiness “He sees you when you’re sleeping”? Come on! How is Santa good and a ‘peeping tom’ bad?

Disappointment and disillusionment

Potential distrust in parents and in people in general. Do you really want to risk this?

Lying Your child will take you seriously—he trusts you. We want our kids to be honest with us, right? How can we sincerely ask them not to lie to us if we’re lying to them? And if we’ve lied to them, we really have no ground from which to be unhappy when they lie to us. If your child takes you seriously, then major repair may be needed later.

Dealing with being tricked. It’s a disturbing feeling. Let’s really get in on their world: Young children depend on grown ups for safety, love, and basic needs. They believe what we say—only to find out later that they were intentionally deceived. How can one truly trust people after that? It’s not only being deceived by parents, it’s by an entire society, complete with movies, advertising, and big (scary) Santas at shopping centers. First, there’s processing the present moment of disillusionment, which can be confusing because the deception came from the people he depends on and from the society in which he lives. Then, he must grow up in a world where, on one hand he receives messages to be “good,” “honest,” and “do the right thing”; while all around him is a counter-message that deception is okay, dishonesty is sometimes the way to go, and “right” is relative to what one wants.

And… are we really preserving a sense of magic? Or are we preserving our grown-up sense of power?

As David Kyle Johnson says in his post, Say Goodbye to the Santa Claus Lie, “We need to pay attention to that twinge of guilt to steer us clear of immoral and potentially dangerous behavior. … I [suggest] the Santa Lie should be avoided for three reasons. (1) It’s an unjustified lie, (2) it risks damaging your parental trustworthiness and (3) it encourages credulity and ill-motivated behavior.

Society is full of deception. Raise children with lies disguised as “magic” and “joy,” and we raise a society of deception.

What’s the Deeper Meaning Behind Santa, Anyway?

Other than general “giving,” I didn’t know. So I looked it up. Check it out!

Was St. Nicholas a Real Person?

Who Is St. Nicholas?

But I Want Holiday Magic for my Child! What Else, Then?

Babies are amazing, aren’t they? Children “say the darndest things.” Sometimes they say things that make us stop and think, or they wow us with their compassion. They’re crazy-amazing learners, mastering language and a whole slew of milestones in relatively little time. They love and they want to relate.

Add in the story of Saint Nicholas from Patara…

That’s magic! That is where holiday fun lives—within your amazing children and your own awesome parent selves. You and your children are beautiful, wonderful, fun, and loving. You have the resources within yourself and in your family to create meaningful times. You do! Creating holiday joy and meaningful traditions can be done in complete honesty, and I believe with more satisfying results in the long run.

Age 4, preparing for the annual Christmas pageant

Age 4, preparing for the annual Christmas pageant

Stories and imagination are wonderful! So are myths and traditions! Keep those alive! Play-acting that Santa exists and believing that he actually does are very different! Problems have arisen for centuries once a symbol/story/myth is taken as “real,” deconstructed from its deeper meaning.

Invitation, curiosity… how could you start from the realm of honesty and create magic from there? It might take some creative thinking. To get started…

Ideas From Other Parents

Mom Ali: “My son is 2.5 and I decided last year that I was definitely not going to do “Santa.” I don’t want him to feel like he is missing out or feel like the odd one out when other kids are talking excitedly about Santa. I also don’t want him to feel or speak negatively about Santa to other kids who believe. So I’m going with the explanation that Santa is a character played by people who love you and who want to do something to bring you joy. You can also play Santa for other people. I will get him a Santa present and it will be a surprise, but he will know it was from me. I will also help him make presents for others and he can give them “from Santa.” So Santa can still be “real,” we have just changed the definition to suit ourselves!!”

Mom Kate: “…we tell our kids that Santa can be anyone dressed up in a red suit and a beard. They like to know this! They still ‘believe‘ in Santa. They still get a kick out of seeing Santa. Yet, they know that Santa is just another person.”  (Have a Merry Honest Christmas)

Mom EW: “I’m so tired of seeing children have to deal with all these Santa lies! Once you give it up and understand how amazing your relationship with your children can be without it, the lying becomes even more repulsive. We don’t do Santa in any way, we just give each other gifts from ourselves.”

Mom Heather: “I do not believe in lying or in telling my kids to lie, but also don’t feel it’s my place to tell other kids there is no Santa.”

And here’s another post: “Thoughts on Santa: Tainting Trust and Magic”

Begin with your favorite values (Generosity? Quality family time? Whatever the “reason for the season” is to you) and then create activities from there that become yearly traditions. Creating ritual can bring a sense of magic. To this day, I feel “magic” when I transform my living room with candlelight. How long did the ‘magic’ of Santa last? Relatively minuscule, and it came with a high price.

Back to the Story of Saint Nicholas:StNicholas clip-mj

It’s lovely: giving to those in need, love for children, standing up for the innocent: now we’re talking! It’s one of those cases where a real person takes on mythological stature over time. Joseph Campbell’s definition of “myth” (or one of them) is: the experience of life.

Now we have Christmas –> Santa –> St. Nicholas –> generosity, protector of children, etc. –> application of this myth to current life –> the experience of giving and loving.

That means: go and do it! Go out into the world—or into your own living room—with your children, who are beautiful just as they are without manipulation, and make some magic!

© Eliza Parker 2014, All Rights Reserved. Eliza Parker is a certified Infant Developmental Movement Educator®, Aware Parenting Instructor, Body-Mind Centering® Practitioner, and Feldenkrais® Practitioner.

Advertisements

Signs of Emotional Stress: How to Recognize When Baby Might Need to Have a Good Cry

I’m reposting this because I have some really helpful new pics, and I think this topic is super important! 

Your partner seems tense. Your best friend seems agitated. What do you do?

from wernative.com

Check in with “Are you okay?” Or offer some help or a kind word? Would you rather avoid him/her? Or maybe you freak out yourself too, or maybe feel you don’t know what to do.

What about when you’re angry, sad, frightened, anxious, or frustrated? Or even when you don’t know what’s bothering you. Or you’re just having a hard day…

Let’s really look at how we can tell—it will be useful regarding Baby in a moment!

  • Do you (or can you see your friend) hold your breath?
  • Feel those certain tense spots (i.e., shoulders)
  • Clench your jaw or tighten your lips
  • Grip objects tightly
  • Throw something (or feel like it)
  • “Check out”—become vague, depressed, low on energy, spaced out
  • Speak to others in ways you wouldn’t otherwise
  • Start rushing or feel hyper
  • Become irritable

These are signs and symptoms of being stressed, not expression of the emotion itself.

Consider babies (and toddlers)

Pensive sadBaby comes equipped with the full set of human emotions! A baby is just as much a “person” as we are. Some people assume that babies “don’t feel anything” (beyond wanting milk, mama, or a toy). I often hear parents wondering, “how much stress can a baby really accumulate (especially one in a loving home)?”

It’s true. Babies Feel. The difference is, they are thankfully still really good at expressing it—they haven’t yet lost touch with their emotions or with their beautiful healing instincts!

(If the word “stress” as applied to your baby worries you, please take a deep breath. All babies experience some sooner or later, even the healthiest ones. It does not mean you’re a ‘bad’ parent.)

Do you ever experience times when Baby cries even after all her immediate needs have been met, and you don’t know the reason? Crying (with loving attention) is healing. You may or may not already be familiar with how to support this need to cry in-arms (for more info, and why Baby might be stressed, see my blog posts). This crying or raging is the expression of the emotion itself.

Emot stress3

But sometimes Baby will show signs of feeling strong emotions, yet won’t be crying. Some of these actions and behaviors can be misinterpreted as ‘the way babies always are,’ ‘cute,’ ‘discipline problems, or manipulation. but you can learn to read when they mean Baby might need to have a good cry in your arms.

Watch for the following signs that potentially signify emotional stress:

  • Grabbing more often or holding objects more tightly than usual
  • Clingy (beyond a typical desire to be held)
  • Hitting
  • Playing fast—moving quickly from one thing to the next
  • Chewing on objects almost nervously
  • Constantly asking for milk
  • Putting fist, fingers, or toy in mouth repeatedly, may or may not also have a vacant or worried lookEmot stress-trepidation, finger in mouth
    • Note, “mouthing” is a very healthy activity for young babies. Mouthing (hands or toys) tends to be accompanied by attentiveness, curiosity, contentment, and/or deep rest, and often whole-body digestive tube wriggling. What I mean above is not “mouthing,” but an action that holds back emotion (“if Baby didn’t do it, he’d cry”).
Compare the expression on this baby's face with the one above. This baby was playfully focused on 'mouthing' Sophie until the camera also became interesting, and he has a growing smile.

Compare the expression on this baby’s face with the one above. This baby was playfully focused on ‘mouthing’ Sophie until the camera also became interesting, and he has a growing smile.

Here's another view of 'mouthing'--note how his whole body, as well as his attention, is involved in the activity. Stress-related sucking typically has less whole-self involvement and interest, with either blankness or concern.

Here’s another view of ‘mouthing’–note how his whole body, as well as his attention, is involved in the activity. Stress-related sucking typically has less whole-self involvement and interest, with either blankness or concern.

  • Baby seems higher-toned than usual—not as peaceful while being active (by tone, I mean the “firmness” of muscle, actions, or comportment)
Thumb-sucking (See note above about mouthing. Mouthing the thumb is one way the hand develops from fist to functional fingers.) Thumb sucking can also be used to stop emotion from flowing, and can be accompanied by a vacant, concerned, or un-confident look.

Thumb-sucking (See note above about mouthing. Mouthing the thumb is one way the hand develops from fist to functional fingers.) Thumb sucking can also be used to stop emotion from flowing, and can be accompanied by a vacant, concerned, or un-confident look.

  • Hanging onto a particular toy or blanket–sometimes called a “lovey” or “security item”
  • Baby looks “checked out” or vacant
General fussiness is often an indication

General fussiness is often an indication

A pacifier seems to be the only way to “keep baby calm”

A pacifier seems to be the only way to “keep baby calm”

Healer-Baby: what to do about that “stress”

Now, how can Baby release that tension? Crying can be a release of the above “symptoms.” Laughing, yawning, and coughing also release tensions, but I find that sometimes the fullest release comes through a good cry.

This is their wise and wonderful way of feeling better. They feel what they’re feeling, express it through crying and get it out, and then they go on with their day.

When you think Baby seems stressed, do one of those “check ins” with her that you might do with your best friend. She’ll let you know if she wants to cry. Here are some ideas:

  • High chair talk 12mo cropGet down on her level or pick her up, look in her eyes, and ask “how are you, are you okay?” Pause and truly wait for her response.
  • Before a nap or bed, hold her and ask, “How are you, do you need to cry? It’s okay to cry if you need to.” Pause and observe. If you and Baby aren’t used to doing this, it may take several invitations for each of you to trust the process.
  • Find a way to meet her intensity playfully and/or verbally. Such as, if Baby tosses something strongly with a shout, respond lovingly (not aggressively or angrily) with a vocal expression of similar intensity: “OOPH! I saw you toss that!!” I find that if Baby’s toss/shout came out of a need to express strong emotion, this “meeting” her in similar intensity  lets her know I’m tuned in, I understand her, and she may start crying or laughing right then.
  • If Baby/Toddler is hitting, provide a firm boundary. Keep everyone safe, and say, “I’m not going to let you hit, but I will listen if you need to cry.”
  • If Baby is chewing nervously, sucking on a pacifier, or hanging onto a security item, you could pick her up (without the toy/item) and tell her you see her, inviting her to cry if she needs to. She may frantically search for the pacifier or item—another common sign that Baby is feeling something that she’s not yet expressing. Try again later.

Crying upright

Babies don’t cry for no reason, so you can trust that if she’s crying, she needs to. After a good cry with listening attention, which releases stress, babies will often either sleep very well or stay awake very peaceful and content.

Note, some of these symptoms and behaviors, as well as repeated prolonged crying, can signal serious physical or emotional problems. The above is based on an assumption that Baby is healthy internally and externally. Please see a doctor if you have a concern.

Your baby is a wonderful communicator, and communication requires relationship. Growing in your ability to read subtle signs can deepen your bond with Baby and build a fantastic foundation for the trust that you can share in each other throughout life.

Please see Aletha Solter’s Aware Parenting website for more information about crying in arms.

© Eliza Parker 2014, All Rights Reserved (Links are welcome. If you’d like to share my writing in your blog or materials, please ask permission.)

Much of my work comes from Infant Developmental Movement Education®, part of the Body-Mind Centering® Approach to Somatic Education, and Dr. Aletha Solter’s Aware Parenting. I am a certified Infant Developmental Movement Educator®, Aware Parenting Instructor, Body-Mind Centering® Practitioner, and Feldenkrais® Practitioner.

“Good Job!”, Or Not?

It’s habit, I know. “Good job!”  We love our babies. We get excited when they do new things.

But why “Good job!”? Is it necessary? Is it helpful? I mean, let’s really look this question in the face. We all have different influences. Why do you say “Good job!”?

  • To show love and pride?Clapping hands
  • Grow Baby’s self esteem?
  • Because popular literature says to?
  • To avoid behavior issues?
  • That’s what was said to you?
  • For the satisfaction of Baby looking to you for approval? (hey, honest question!)
  • Were you accepted as a child simply as who you are? Or for what you did (or didn’t)?

Invitation: does “Good job!” really foster what you think it’s fostering? I point you to an article by Jennifer Lehr: “Good Job!”  Please indulge in her words as I try to keep my post shorter! 

Let’s challenge popular thinking and make sure we’re actually saying what we mean to say!

For more reading, see:

Eliza Parker is a certified Infant Developmental Movement Educator®, Body-Mind Centering® Practitioner, Feldenkrais® Practitioner, and Spiritual Counselor. She also uses Aletha Solter’s Aware Parenting.

© Eliza Parker 2012, All Rights Reserved (Links are welcome. If you’d like to share my post in your blog or materials, please ask permission.)

The Importance of Measuring (or, The Importance of Not Propping in Sitting, Standing, and Walking)

It’s something we do automatically. It’s how we know where the floor is; or gauge how much to move our legs when going up and down stairs. If we didn’t have a chance as infants, or we have other challenges with balance, it’s part of why we feel clumsy or uncertain about our movements.

This mysterious activity? Measuring. Babies are masters!

We can see this baby feeling what she's doing. She's starting to push up to sitting. In the process, she's "measuring," or sensing where she is in space and in relation to the ground.

We can see this baby feeling what she’s doing. She’s starting to push up to sitting. In the process, she’s “measuring,” or sensing where she is in space and in relation to the ground.

When babies learn to move, they begin lying on the floor. Over time, development brings them up off the floor, from lifting head and chest to crawling to walking. Pushing off the earth comes before, and leads into, being able to reach into space. That is, measuring comes before, and leads into, freedom of movement and innate trust in our own movement abilities.

So what is measuring?

This brilliant design of the human nervous system gives infants a chance to “measure”—to experience their distance from the floor. It allows their brains to read gravity and know where they are in space.

Imagine this. You (your adult self) have been picked up by someone strong and set on your feet on a 5-inch-wide wall several feet above the ground. (And you happen not to be a gymnast or tight-rope walker.) What do you do? How do you feel? What happens to your breathing? Is this familiar? What’s your sense of heights and distance from the ground? Did you want to be put up here? Would you have been able to get here on your own? How will you get down? Do you know yourself and your abilities right this moment?

Imagine this. Perhaps you’re hiking and you have come upon this stone wall. You’re curious. You touch it, lean on it, and want to get on top of it to see the view or to get to the other side. You have desire, intention, motivation. You make attempts at climbing it, try a few things, discover what works, and make it to the top. How do you feel? What are you thinking about, or not? What’s your sense of heights and distance from the ground? How well do you know yourself and your abilities right this moment?

In the second scenario, you measured. YOU experienced the journey from the ground to the top of the wall. You know where you are in space. You got there yourself, and you’re likely to be able to get yourself off of it.

In the first scenario, you had no opportunity to measure. You were dependent on someone else to get you up there, and because you didn’t experience how to get up, you may also be dependent on someone else to get you down. You weren’t given a chance to know your own ability; rather, someone more powerful has done something to you. While it may be thrilling, you may also be apprehensive.

Watching your amazing baby: How do babies measure?

Watch for:

  • The nose-bob or nose-to-mouth. At the breast or on her tummy, you may see Baby bobbing her nose, then latching on with her mouth. If she’s holding something, you may see her bring it to her nose, then slide it down to her mouth. This is one form of measuring or orienting—setting herself up to know where something is and where she is and how to make the two meet.
  • From tummy, lifting head and pushing up on hands. Get on the floor with Baby and try it yourself too! Lying on the floor > pushing up > down to the floor > pushing up. Clock some time doing that, and you understand how to “be” at that distance off the floor. You know where you are in space.
  • Baby spots a toy and either pushes backwards on belly or belly-crawls forward. She has spotted what she wants and sets up her movement to attempt to get it. She gets feedback from the outcome—did her actions get her what she wanted? Please don’t move the toy, as she won’t get correct feedback about measuring what she had set herself up to do.

    Spotting what he wants, figuring out how to get it, trying it out, discovering the outcome: measuring.

    Spotting what he wants, figuring out how to get it, trying it out, discovering the outcome: measuring.

  • From sidelying, watch Baby push with her hands into sitting. Try this one too. Here I am lying on the floor; and feeling each moment of the journey up to sitting; back down, back up; measure, measure; ah, now my proprioceptive system (inner ear) knows where I am in space, and I know how to get back down.
  • Pulling up to standing—it’s all about measuring! Up, down, up, down. Reading distances, feeling gravity, knowing her own ability. “Down” may be falling or plopping at first, but she’s not afraid because she got herself up there. Her brain is reading this distance and what she needs to do to move within it.

The truth about propping

When we prop babies in sitting, standing, and walking before they are able to get into it and out of it by themselves, they don’t get this experience of knowing themselves and measuring. They become dependent on us to get them up higher and to get them down again. We put them into the situation of the first scenario above.

In a society so focused on achievement, allowing Baby her full time and space necessary to discover movement on her own takes trust! But we are designed to be able to do the next thing when we are ready.

Sometimes there are stressors that prevent babies from finding milestones. But in general, each milestone will happen by itself once all (ALL) previous and necessary preparations are in place.

It’s a common myth that we need to teach sitting, standing, and walking. Baby will benefit the most from finding these on her own. It’s also a myth that babies learn it by practicing it. She’ll learn because she did all the preparations and ends up in the new milestone.

Remember that Baby is a master at measuring and knowing her own abilities, and you can point this out to all the people who come along and say “your baby isn’t sitting yet?????”!

Eliza Parker is a certified Infant Developmental Movement Educator®, Body-Mind Centering® Practitioner, Feldenkrais® Practitioner, and Spiritual Counselor. She also uses Aletha Solter’s Aware Parenting.

© Eliza Parker 2012, All Rights Reserved (Links are welcome. If you’d like to share my post in your blog or materials, please ask permission.)

Crying Is a Need Too

Yes, your baby is an amazing little miracle! We are born as self-healers: compassionate, communicative, confident, and empowered. This is largely accomplished by …crying!

[Crying? What!! Of all things… ]

Indeed! Crying-in-arms, to be specific. And, of course, a supportive, loving family and environment.

Anyone who’s been around babies knows they cry when they need something or are uncomfortable. The usual list contains hunger, to be held, diaper change, pain, and too hot/cold.

But there’s more: crying is a need in itself. Babies also cry to heal.

Crying is both physiologically and emotionally healing. When you’re upset, do you feel better after you “have a good cry”? Tears can release stress hormones that run through the body. When babies cry, they release emotions in-the-moment, rather than “stuffing” them for later (or never), like many of us grown-ups learned to do. How many of us are in need of therapy to unwind our childhood experiences?!

When basic needs have been met and Baby is still crying, he’s communicating with you. It’s often labeled “colic.” But what if we toss out that term completely? What if you perceive how your amazing little bundle is a self-healer and is able to express beautiful, pure, unsquelched emotion? How beautiful and empowering!

But how to meet this need–Baby’s need to cry? By holding and listening. Not by shushing, bouncing, pacifying, or even nursing–but by being present.

But what is there for such a tiny, loved being to cry so much about? Plenty! Our world can be a crazy place, even for some of us sensitive adults. Babies cry to understand and heal:

  • birth trauma
  • prenatal stresses
  • overstimulation (sometimes we big people don’t realize that something was overstimulating for a tiny new nervous system)
  • frustration (which, to some degree, is normal and healthy in natural development)
  • family stresses at home
  • separation from loved ones, especially Mama
  • startling experiences (including loud sounds, visual surprises, and being held and moved in ways that induce a startle response)
  • sometimes we don’t know why, and that is okay

Your loving arms, listening ears, and open acceptance will establish healthy ongoing communication–because Baby knows you will listen and that he is loved no matter what he feels. Rather than distracting, ignoring, or “waiting until he has words,” begin the journey together now. This process will keeps babies–people–whole. And present. It maintains their natural awareness, compassion, and confidence. Their sleep improves and they are peaceful truth-seekers.

And hey, babies help us heal too. You may need a good cry yourself!

For more information on crying in arms, as well as a look at both the “Cry-it-out” approach and Attachment Parenting, see Aletha Solter’s article, “Crying for Comfort: Distressed Babies Need to be Held.”

For in-depth support and background, see Aletha Solter’s books such as The Aware Baby and Tears and Tantrums.

© Eliza Parker 2012 and 2014, All Rights Reserved, links welcome

Much of my work comes from Infant Developmental Movement Education®, part of the Body-Mind Centering® Approach to Somatic Education, and Dr. Aletha Solter’s Aware Parenting. I am a certified Infant Developmental Movement Educator®, Body-Mind Centering® Practitioner, Feldenkrais® Practitioner, and Spiritual Counselor.

Is It Really Okay When We Say “It’s Okay”?

“It’s okay” and “you’re okay” are common phrases. Most of us have heard and used them all our lives, especially for calming down upset children. But I like to take a serious look at the things we communicate to our children and to each other.

You and I have adult-sized brains and life experience, and we know that it often is “going to be okay.” But even so, in the moment we’re upset, we’re feeling whatever we’re feeling, and that feels real–right? If a baby is crying… then it really doesn’t feel okay to her. In other words, it’s really not okay. Babies are in-the-now, new to Earth’s realities, and they express their honest feelings–until they learn to squelch them.

If you find yourself saying “it’s okay, darling” (it’s a hard habit to break!), I encourage you to change it up a bit. Something like: “It’s okay to cry,” “that was scary for you,” “you sound angry,” “you bumped your head, did it hurt?”–an acknowledgement of feelings being felt or of what just happened, rather than just “it’s okay.”

This will help preserve her trust in her own feelings and intuition. For if Baby feels that it’s not okay, but we say it is okay, we have just created a conflict–a potentially confusing internal mismatch that eventually can lead to mistrust or denial of one’s feelings. Think of manipulative or abusive situations that could happen later in childhood or adulthood. We want to make sure our children stay safe, right? How do we truly empower them to know the difference between safe and unsafe situations? What if an abuser or kidnapper were to say “it’s okay, honey…”? What if the child gave in, bypassing her internal red flags because she’s used to adults knowing (and telling her) what’s okay and what’s not. We want her to trust her gut feelings that it’s really not okay.

So, in a counter-intuitive way, not saying “it’s okay” now, when we assume from our adult perspective that it really will be okay, builds trust and healthy communication skills for recognizing situations when someone with ‘power’ says “it’s okay” but it’s really not.

That’s an extreme, but extremes are all around us. On the loving-home front, this will support good stuff like self-trust, honest communication, and emotional literacy. The ability to identify our emotions is an important skill that many adults actually find very difficult. No wonder!

For another read on “It’s okay,” see this post by Good Job And Other Things You Shouldn’t Say Or Do.”

For more info about how to support a crying baby/child, without ignoring or distracting, see Aletha Solter’s Aware Parenting books.

© Eliza Parker 2012, All Rights Reserved (Links are welcome. If you’d like to share my post in your blog or materials, please ask permission.)

Much of my work comes from Infant Developmental Movement Education®, part of the Body-Mind Centering® Approach to Somatic Education, and Dr. Aletha Solter’s Aware Parenting. I am a certified Infant Developmental Movement Educator®, Body-Mind Centering® Practitioner, Feldenkrais® Practitioner, and Spiritual Counselor.

The Socially Acceptable Very Happy Baby

  • “Our baby is good-natured and not much of a crier.”

    VeryHappyBaby1

    Hey folks, read my shirt:
    “Very Happy Baby.” You might be, my friend! But it’s ok too if you need to cry.

  • “He is very happy, never cranky at all.”
  • “I need a nanny for my mild-mannered, happy baby”
  • “He’s happy, he never cries”
  • “She’s easy-going”
  • “He is very happy and he loves everyone.”
  • “You won’t have any problems with her, that’s how good she is.”

I often work as a Specialty Nanny for infants. While scanning posts by parents searching for nannies, I often–very often–read comments such as the above. How do you feel when you’re presenting your baby to the world? Many parents feel they are presenting themselves through their baby’s behavior. What if the posts said:

  • “Our baby cries a lot”
  • “Sometimes our baby is happy, but sometimes he needs to cry”
  • “Our toddler throws tantrums”
  • “She’s often quite colicky and fussy”

Would they attract the great nanny they’re hoping for? Would this choice of words make them look bad? I think this topic speaks volumes about cultural acceptance of emotions, perceptions of behavior, self image, and generations of habits and rules about what’s polite and socially acceptable.

When someone cries, there is often a general discomfort–with good intention, we try to console with “it’s okay!” (when really it’s not); or to stop the emotional outburst with “oh, don’t cry!”; or in public, we may ignore it as if it’s not happening and perhaps think the person is crazy. And anyway, who wants to be Nanny to a crying baby?

Crying in-arms with loving, listening attention is babies’ normal, healthy, wise, and beautiful way to communicate and heal.

Well, I do! Babies cry both to communicate and to heal. Emotion is a normal, beautiful, and healthy part of being alive. Why, then, is there a need to say that Baby is good-natured? This is unfortunate! It implies that it is socially unacceptable for a baby to be–or to have a baby that is–upset. Or that a family has less chance of attracting an excellent nanny if the baby is cranky; or that crying is “bad behavior;” or that ‘something is wrong with me’; or that a baby who’s happy all the time will cost less when hiring a nanny.

Are we happy all the time? What if our boundaries are encroached upon–do we stay happy and easy-going? What if a friend or family member dies? We need access to a wide range of feelings and expression for our well-being and survival. If we hold to the perception that baby should always be happy, it makes his normal and healthy moments of upset seem like a ‘problem.’

‘Easy-going’ may be a baby’s natural state, as also “happy.” Fantastic! It is nice for tired caregivers to have a happy, easy-going baby. However, it is human to experience different states of being, and it is healthy to be able to express them without bottling them up. I challenge you to see anger, grief, and frustration as “nice” also. How gigantically wonderful that your baby is able to express herself so fully, remain so connected to herself, and know what she needs! She will have fabulous relationships and a boatload of physical and emotional health if she keeps this up! And she trusts you enough to tell you how she feels! How perfectly “nice”!

If a baby really never cries or remains easy-going without experiencing moments of “umph” or frustration, these can be signals that Baby doesn’t feel safe enough to release his emotion or is not able to activate a needed reflex for movement. This is okay—it’s communication, not something to hide. I would like to see parents supported more, rather than shunned.

Many parenting articles present tips about distracting Baby when she gets cranky and maintaining control over babies’ behavior. I encourage all of us to be real with ourselves, what we expect of our babies, and the perceptions we guide our children into as they grow up.

Here’s to those parents whose babies cry, have “colic,” get frustrated, and are cranky! You are welcome in society and we love your babies.

For support with continued crying-in-arms after needs have been met and crying as healing, see Aletha Solter’s books, “The Aware Baby” and “Tears and Tantrums.”

© Elizabeth Parker 2011, All Rights Reserved (Links are welcome. If you’d like to share my post in your blog or materials, please ask permission.)

Eliza Parker is a certified Infant Developmental Movement Educator®, Body-Mind Centering® Practitioner, Feldenkrais® Practitioner, and Spiritual Counselor. She also uses Aware Parenting.