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Thinking Points for Parents

by Dr. Heather Wittenberg | March 28, 2011 | Child Development

Child development reassuranceWhen I was first pregnant, in the doctor’s office I loved reading the magazines that offered handy-dandy little tips for solving all the major parenting problems. Sleep, discipline, feeding, potty training — it all looked so easy!

Then reality hit. Wake the baby to make sure she nurses enough? AS IF! None of my babies ever slept more than an hour or two at a stretch — for months after birth. Take away the baby’s bottle at 12 months? Yeah, right! She loved that thing more than life itself. And what about the weird, wacky behavior of my toddler? The parenting mags had nothing to say about that. The solutions were hit-or-miss at best, making me feel like a parenting failure.

Over the years, I’ve combined my clinical experience, research and hard-learned lessons as a parent to come up with some general principles you can apply to your own unique kids that can offer you individualized solutions. Understanding the psychology of your child, and making a parenting plan based on these thinking points are keys to finding your way with your child.

AGE matters. Sleep issues, among other things, change dramatically over even a few weeks of your child’s life. A newborn isn’t a three-month-old, who isn’t a nine-month-old, who certainly isn’t a three-year-old. You shouldn’t expect your newborn to put himself to sleep — nor should you try. But it’s very reasonable to work on it with your 12- or 15-month-old. Similarly, you shouldn’t expect a one-year-old to know how to share or take turns — but you can certainly help your two- or three-year-old with those lessons. Vary your approach based on age.

TEMPERAMENT matters. What works for an “easy” baby might be worthless for your “fussy” baby. An “intense” toddler needs a totally different approach than a “shy” one. A “bold” preschooler needs a different approach than a more “sensitive” one. Pay close attention and figure out temperament — it will help you decide what’s best. For instance, you might press an “easy” baby to give up his Binky at six months. But an irritable, easily overstimulated little guy might be given a pass until age two (or even three).

FAMILY NEEDS matter. Culture, style, the state of the parents’ relationship, and personal preference matter. If you don’t mind co-sleeping — if it works well for your family — great. But if the baby keeps you awake, interferes with your relationship, or you just don’t want to — then don’t. Your baby takes cues from you, and he’ll be fine either way. It’s the trickle-down theory of family happiness.

READINESS matters. The fact that your child can do something doesn’t mean she will. Having a skill doesn’t mean your child is psychologically ready to use it. I know it can be frustrating when you know she can dress herself (but refuses to). Readiness to sleep through the night, potty training, talking and most other issues have strong psychological components. Handling an aspect artfully helps your child navigate the issue more completely, and with less chance of later problems. Sometimes just a little bit of help and patience are all the encouragement she needs.

And finally — REGRESSION HAPPENS. Psychological development doesn’t follow a straight line. There will be regress and there will be progress. This is normal and expected, so don’t stress about it.

Keep these points in mind as you confront the 70 bazillion or so challenges you face each day, and you’ll be on your way to greater parenting confidence.