Let’s recap: 3 – 4 months is iffy, but for some, sleep training works

Here's a question from N., the gist of which represents a significant number of emails that I receive.

My baby is about to turn 3 months (currently 2.5) and I would love
to try sleep training.  I am very sleep deprived and it is causing
marital strife.  Our baby gets up at night every hour to three  and
sometimes he will only fall asleep while lying on us.  Naps are a joke
as they simply don't exist or, if the do, they are 5-45 minute catnaps
in my arms….there is no schedule.  I am not functioning well and it
is terrifying me!  I would like to try CIO when my baby turns 3 months
but I have a feeling that within 10min our baby will begin screaming
fits and my husband won't (right or wrong) go for this…he will only
let the baby cry for 5-10 ….I'm willing to go for much longer because
I am that desperate!
I can't wait an additional 3 months until the 6 month mark…any ideas or wisdom would so greatly be appreciated!

and foremost, this is SUCH a tough age. I remember the panic I felt
when I realized how much longer this whole infancy thing was going to
last. At the time, I couldn't imagine making it "to the other side." A
few thoughts: First, your baby actually does need to wake up at least a
couple of times during the night to be fed. That doesn't mean she needs
to wake up every hour for that nourishment, but it's good to keep in
mind that the vast majority of infants need their stomachs re-filled
every 3-4 hours or so. Second, you may find that your baby hits 3
months old and naturally starts sleeping longer stretches (and not
necessarily on top of you either). These shifts may occur naturally,
without you doing anything at all because those first 2.5 months are filled with huge biological changes
that are settling down right about now. But if your baby DOES continue
to wake up every hour or two and does not settle down easily afterwards
and if you simply can't go on like this much longer, you can certainly
consider some form of gentle sleep training methods.

As I
mentioned in Part I of the 3 to 4 month stage description, this is the
only stage that I am somewhat hesitant to recommend because the
distress levels of the baby really do need to be monitored by the
parent. But on the other hand, there are several reasons why we
included this stage — in the book — as one of the
possible periods to sleep-train:
1. There are DESPERATE mothers like the one who posted the question who
can't go on feeling sane without some change. I don't know this
particular woman's circumstance, but many mothers also either need or
want to go back to
work by the time their child is 3 months old. These mothers often have
choice but to try SOMETHING. My main point is that if you feel you
have to do something, don't try sleep training at 4 months if you can
avoid it and earlier than 2.5 months isn't wise either.
2. We have heard remarkably consistent reports from parents who did
gently sleep train (i.e., not CIO methods, more like "no-cry sleep
solutions") at this window with great success. Although I personally
didn't feel comfortable doing any kind of sleep training with my boys
this age (especially since they were 4 weeks premature and I had "issues", let's just say…), I strongly
feel that it's important to provide the developmental
and let parents make the decisions for themselves.
I think it's important to consider the unique properties of each
developmental stage and think about whether there are some special
considerations that should be made in terms of methods that might work
best. From my perspective, I'd like to emphasize that whatever method
is used
during this period, it shouldn't result in letting the baby cry for
more than 5-10 min max (I don't know about your baby, but mine cried
more than that if they were in their carseat and I stopped at a red
light). This is the only age at which I'm careful to dissuade parents
from picking a method that will involve prolonged distress because
the baby is simply biologically incapable of regulating intense
distress by herself; she
needs mom and/or dad to bring her back down (of course, some babies DO
calm themselves down at this age, but very few can do so when they are
really, really wailing).

you find that your baby doesn't take to sleep training easily during
this age, and you feel you need to stop, then there ARE things you can
do to maximize your own sleep. Some common suggestions: (1) Enlist your
partner to take half the night shift and you do the other half. So, if
you're breastfeeding, you can consider pumping or supplementing with
formula and asking your partner to take the 10 pm – 2 am shift and you
can take over for the 2 am – 7 am shift. That way, each of you are at
least getting a 5-hour chunk of sleep in a row. (2) Hire a "mommy's
helper" if you can afford it. This person can help soothe your baby to
sleep after you feed her during the day and maximize nap times for you.
She can also take your baby for a walk while you catch a nap. (3) Every
3 days or so, you can ask your partner to take the full night shift so
you can catch up. Again, your partner can give the baby a bottle of
breastmilk or formula when the baby wakes up. That way, you can always
refuel twice a week and feel just a little more human. (4) If you can
afford it, night doulas or night nurses that come very highly
recommended can be serious life-savers when your partner can't help.
Hiring someone even once/week might just give you enough energy to get
you through the worst of this time. (5) Some people also find that
co-sleeping during the worst of the frequent wakings works for them. It
really DOES come to an end eventually and although 6 months seems
completely impossible to imagine getting to at this point, your baby
WILL get to that stage when sleep training may take much easier
(believe me, I really DO get it, having had twin babies who woke up
every other hour — and NOT the same hour — througout the first 6
months, I feel your horror like I was there yesterday).

What do you
think? Words of encouragement or wisdom for N.? Anyone out there who sleep-trained during this age and was
thrilled with the results (I know you're out there because I've talked
to many of you)? Does anyone want to respectfully gasp in horror at my
recommendation to try sleep training at this age?

Let’s recap: 0 – 3 months is all about getting through alive…

Sorry everyone. I was in Philadelphia, at this conference on research on adolescence (I'm of the mind that one can start obsessing about your pre-pre-pre teen's adolescence during the preschool years, aren't YOU?!). I had to just call uncle last week and this one also — I can't keep up with my "day job" requirements right now and write at the level with which I feel comfortable in this blog. So, instead of just filling this space with thoughtless musings from my 4 am ruminations, I thought I'd take this week to re-post some stuff I wrote around a year ago (I see that my archives have dropped my April and May entries… grrrr…). And I'll actually improve on some of the post, if I can, with better links or clearer writing (there was a learning curve for me with this blog, obviously, so in some cases I kinda cringe at what I've written and I'm happy to take this opportunity to make it better). Most of you (well, let's face it, NO ONE) were not reading at that time and may have missed some information that might now be relevant to you. I'll start with the earliest ages and pick one or two entries from each stage. Please feel free to comment and share your experiences. We had very few comments when I first started, so this is another chance for those of you who need it, to brainstorm through some of the toughest ages and stages. The posts will be most relevant to sleep training, but as you get by now, I think these sensitive windows of development are pertinent to so many other developmental issues. So, without further ado, let's begin at the beginning…

     The period of birth to 3 months is often considered the time when
babies learn to regulate their basic bodily reactions, their states,
and their physiology. These little beings have spent a long time in the
womb, developing all the bodily mechanisms necessary to live on this
planet, to eat, to breathe, to expend energy in motion, to coordinate
muscles and senses so that motion accomplishes something, and to sleep
when replenishment is needed. They have also developed the mechanisms
for acquiring knowledge and skill—mechanisms that will allow them to
pay attention to what is most important, especially the faces, voices,
and actions of other humans.
    Most important, this is an age when
the baby’s states—alert attention, quiet wakefulness, and sleep—become
practiced and differentiated from each other, creating a predictable
cycle of daily rhythms. And these rhythms gradually become synchronized
with the day-and-night cycle of our planet, so that, starting around 6
weeks, babies sleep more at night and less in the day. And, as they
develop, these rhythms will also become synchronized with your rhythms
and the household routines that underlie them. During the end of this
stage, you will also notice a rapid increase in face-to-face gazing,
more smiling and other expressions of pleasure, and a general decrease
in fussiness at the end of this stage. Babies learn, by about 2 to 3
months, that they are part of a complex but exciting world of cycles
both inside and outside their bodies.
    From my perspective, sleep
training prior to 3 months is not a good idea. There is too much going
on. The synchronization of brain and bodily systems, the establishment
of cycles for eating and sleeping, the coordination of these cycles
with the outside world, all need time to develop and stabilize. The
sheer number of biological and psychological systems getting wired up,
and the rapid rate at which they are becoming connected with each
other, staggers the imagination.  A lot of biological events, including
cascades of changes in neural pathways and organ systems, unfold with
uncanny precision, almost as if there were a master schedule posted
somewhere and your baby is diligently following it. Scientists still do
not know exactly how this cascade of changes progresses so effectively.
But what we do know, as child psychologists, is that it’s better not to
mess with it! To attempt sleep training before your baby does the
majority of her sleeping at night would be to miss a massive biological
leg-up. Why not let natural biological processes do their work, before
you begin adjusting the fine points?
    Sleep training during
this early period may simply be ineffective. It may be difficult or
impossible to establish desirable sleep habits before sleeping at night
becomes routine. But it could also confuse your baby’s evolving
capacity to synchronize her interest, excitement levels, perception,
and communication. Imagine that your baby is just learning to smile at
you and to expect a smile in return. This reciprocal smiling sets off
an episode of communication that is designed to increase arousal,
because arousal is part of pleasure. And now imagine that this smiling
takes place just as you are turning out the lights and leaving the
room, a necessary step in most sleep-training methods. Now your
aroused, excited baby, instead of receiving the ongoing communication
she expects, is faced with the prospect of lying still and going to
sleep. This might simply not work. Fine. But it’s quite possible that,
after a few such scenarios, your baby will become confused as to what
to expect when mutual smiling or gazing take place. Maybe the smiling
means “game over”. Maybe I should disengage rather than engage when Mom
and I make eye contact. This sort of social confusion could result from
mixed signals, as the baby sees it. So, my take is better to wait until
the interpersonal routines of smiling and gazing become solid habits.
As they solidify, security and trust will solidify as well, making the
ordeal of sleep training less of a challenge to your baby’s sense of
himself, his sense of you, and his sense of your relationship.

if you're in the throes of this stage with your baby, you  might be
saying:  But I'm DYING over here!  What can I do to maximize EVERYONE'S

Our answer (seriously, click the link… I found it SO cathartic when I was in this stage with my boys):

"Whatever gets you through the night,
is alright… Do it wrong or do it right, it’s alright.” Use a swing, a
bouncy chair, tuck your baby in the crook of your neck, lay him across
your chest, rock him in a chair, a glider or a hammock, bounce him in a
sling or a baby carrier, throw him in a car seat on top of the dryer
(my husband insists on my warning you to be careful that the seat can
fall off the edge), in the back seat of a car, or in the stroller. Have
you tried the quarter-time bounce (oh man… I need to videotape this
"bounce" and share it with you all… It seriously worked with EVERY
infant I've laid my hands on)? Anything you do, you can undo with
proper sleep training at a later stage of development.  This is not the
time to stress out about “creating bad habits.” What you’re creating is
a tight bond with a rapidly developing little organism that needs your
warmth, flexibility and consistency. During this early newborn stage,
whatever gets you (and your baby) through the night is just fine.

Anyone out there just making it through the night? Anyone want to share their darkest night during this stage?

Happiness, meta-analyses, sex, pain au chocolat… it’s all here!

So, at the tail-end of this week's Parenting Challenge, I've noticed two interesting trends in the emails/comments I've received: (1) Many of us don't know where to start when it comes to taking care of ourselves and (2) A lot of us don't so much want "me" time as we want quality "us" time with our partner (AWAY from the kids). 

To address the first issue, I wondered if we could all contribute one or two ideas for those parents out there so sleep-deprived and stressed that they can't even begin to THINK about what might make them feel just a little bit happier. If you're one of those parents lucky enough to have figured out how to balance (well, ok, at least CONSIDER) your own needs, what do you do to feel good? We could all use a little inspiration. And let's take stuff like exercise and taking vitamins OFF this list for now. These things often trigger too much guilt for those of us <cough>LIKE ME<cough> who can't get our butts out to the gym or remember to get to the health food store. What makes you feel lighter, happier, taken care of, centered? Even for just a very short while?  

I'll go first: (1) dropping my kids at preschool and then hightailing it to the local French cafe ALONE, with only my cappuccino and pain au chocolat to keep me company and (2) Going to a movie with a girlfriend after putting the kids to sleep (and leaving my husband to babysit).

Now, what about all of us who are craving a bit more quality time with our partners? First off, let me tell you that you are NOT alone. A relatively recent meta-analysis confirms what most of us suspected, kids are NOT good for romantic relationships. Are any of you in the mood to read a whole meta-analysis? I didn't think so. Here's the abstract at least, to give you the gist of the results:

Parenthood & marriage
From a less rigorously empirical perspective, I have to admit that it's been a real eye-opener for me to read emails about how many people find this so challenging. So many of us wish we could spend more time "like the old days" before kids, talking with our partners about something other than diapers and hours of sleep clocked. And then there's that whole sex thing… yeah, not so much. Just the other day, one of my favourite bloggers, Julia (of Here Be Hippogriffs... you guys DO read her, right?) posted about the ever-so-common libido dip (or in my case, more like PLUNGE) that mothers so often report. Not only did Julia fess up to her own concerns, but her readers provided reams and reams of comments, most commiserating with her, some suggesting strategies that have helped get things back on track (ahem). Go read them. If you're like me, you'll find the discussion very informative and perhaps even inspiring.

 Aaaaand, finally, I leave you at the cusp of the weekend with another awesome source of inspiration: The Mominatrix's Guide to Sex. This fabulous little advice book is aimed specifically at parents who want to get their mojo back (suffice it to say that I had the book Express Mailed to my house;-)). It's full of fabulous tips that cover everything from the early post-partum pragmatics all the way up to fun toys and video reviews. It's written by Kristen Chase (of Motherhood Uncensored), another one of my all-time favourite bloggers and mom of THREE kids who still manages to nuzzle up to her husband more than once per season <gasp>. She's funny as all get-out and dares to write about all the stuff I wish I had the guts to ask my OB. What I like best about her book is that it's clear she has SO been there: the sleep-deprivation, the body image issues, the awkward silence when the toddler walks into the bedroom. And for those of you who are sick and tired of me talking about partners, she's got a chapter for the single mothers out there too.

That's all I've got… What about you?

A boatload of links to research on depression in mothers

This week's Parenting Challenge is to be good to ourselves. One of the reasons this is so important is that when we forget to take care of ourselves, to eat properly, get some rest (as much as possible, given the extenuating circumstances of parenting sometimes), to socialize, laugh, exercise, and so on, we are setting ourselves up for serious distress, even depression, and that's problematic for all sorts of reasons. When we are down in the dumps for weeks and months on end, that effects not only our own well-being, it effects how well we parent and connect to our children.

Here's just a smattering of some of the research findings on maternal depression:

  • Children of depressed parents are at increased risk for
    developing aggressive behaviour problems, NOT just through genetic
    transmissions of risk, but through parenting practices that are
    disrupted when parents become depressed (Kim-Cohen, Moffitt, Taylor, Pawlby, & Caspi, 2005).
  • When mothers are feeling depressed, their actual parenting (of course!) is compromised; that's one of the main ways that the depression has an
    impact on children's functioning. Here's a meta-analytic review that
    covers the basics: (Lovejoy, Graczyk, O’Hare, & Neuman, 2000).
    • To summarize the review: depressed mothers are less attentive towards their children
      (Gelfand & Teti, 1990), they provide less consistency and structure
      (Goodman & Brumley, 1990), have pessimistic perceptions about
      themselves (Teti & Gelfand, 1997), and often harshly judge their
      children (Caughy, Huang, & Lima, 2009).

We also know that when you intervene and help alleviate mothers' symptoms of depression, their children's problem behaviours also improve significantly. In fact, some amazing findings have come out recently that have shown that mothers who participated in a prevention program aimed at boosting parenting practices and reducing depressive symptoms not only improved their own mood, but also improved their children's outcomes for over a decade to follow. Not everyone is in need of a formal intervention or prevention program, of course. We know that good ol' social support, exercise and mindfulness meditation can do wonders for alleviating or preventing depression. The obvious implication is that we should be trying to hook up with our friends more, get more "me time", and just generally do what it takes to make ourselves feel whole… as women (and men), not just as parents.

(The obvious RANT I could go on and on about is that it should not be left entirely up to women — and their sometimes helpful friends, family and partners — to deal with the incredible amount of stress that's heaped on mothers. It is a given to me that there should be government-supported / funded programs that can help moms connect with one another, obtain affordable health care, access affordable child care, and so on. No, I will NOT rant… But I could. I'm just sayin').

So… do all those links to hard-core empirical studies convince you to go on out there and try to take care of yourself? What are your biggest barriers to doing so?

You all know I'm not AT ALL trying to make light of this subject, right? For those of you who are feeling depressed or know that you are actually experiencing depression, if you're not already doing so, please reach out to someone that can help. Talk to your friends and family. But also talk to a mental health provider that you can trust (start with a family doctor for a referral if you don't know where else to turn). There ARE ways of making the load lighter, but when you're full-blown depressed, it's so hard to see it, so ask someone to help.

Parenting Challenge #4: Be good to yourself

Ok, I've got one for you. It's a little indirect, in terms of actual parenting practices. But it may just be one of the most important things you can do to improve your own parenting and your child's behaviour: Take some time to take care of YOURSELF. I am not kidding and I am not exaggerating when I say that this really may be one of the most important things you do in your parenting gig.

I have said it before in the context of sleep training: To be good parents, to function with balance, humour, tenderness, understanding and, yes, with authority as well, we need to feel healthy, strong and relatively ok ourselves. So often, parents (mothers in particular) are led to believe that all their needs must be put aside for their child. I'm starting to think that this is one of the most damaging messages sent out to mothers (by the media, but just as damaging, by fellow mothers): that they should feel guilty for working outside the home, for getting that massage, for leaving their child to go to the gym, for stopping for a coffee with their friend WITHOUT bringing the baby <gasp>, and so on. SUCH B.S. is what that is! (and if I wasn't trying to be so damn "professional" on this blog I might say a whole lot more colourful things).

We know how damaging postpartum depression can be: for the woman and her baby and their experience of bonding in the first year of the child's life. And it's not just new moms, far too many mothers in general are experiencing serious symptoms of depression. Maternal depression, as I keep learning in my own work and through a large body of research that I've been reviewing, can have a significant impact on children's health and well-being. In tomorrow's post, I'll review a bunch of this research, to give you a sense of how prevalent maternal depression is and how important it is to try to prevent these problems, if we can.

But for today, let's just see if we can take up this challenge: Try to do one SIGNIFICANTLY "good thing" for yourself this week. This is going to feel almost impossible for some of us and very easy for others (a lot will have to do with the age of your child/children and how much support you have).

  • For those of you still suffering through major sleep deprivation, with a wee one who has just come into this world a few weeks or months ago (or many months ago, for that matter), this challenge may even piss you off: how on earth can you do something nice for yourself when you can't think straight, take a shower, or sleep more than 2 hours in a row?! For those of you in this camp, a few suggestions: (1) Think about the EVENTUAL possibility of sleep-training (even if you're not ready for it yet) and read this to remember that YOUR sleep is integral to your health and well-being and your ability to parent. You can deal with the sleep deprivation now… we all eventually get through it. But don't feel guilty when you and your family are ready for a change. (2) Do something nice for yourself, even if it feels like a tiny thing. This will require you getting some help from your partner, your friend, a family member, a paid sitter… ANYONE. And then choose that ONE thing you really want this week, whatever YOU most want: Take a bath instead of a shower for a whole 30 min, meet a friend for a coffee WITHOUT the baby, get someone to take ONE of the 10 bajillion feedings you do at night and sleep through it with ear plugs, order in your favourite type of food, go shopping for a spring dress, WHATEVER. Just choose that something and follow through with it. You are SO worth it.
  • For those of you with slightly older children who are getting SOME sleep, this is a much more open challenge. What have you been dying to do for yourself but feel too guilty to indulge in? Is it a massage? Take it. An hour or two alone reading a book? DO IT! A date night that you've been meaning to book with the sitter for 4 months? Do it THIS week. A girls' night out without kids? A weekend getaway? Joining the gym and making the committment to go? A movie night alone?  Doesn't have to be a big deal, doesn't have to cost anything… just something within your reach that you will do for yourself.

You get what I'm driving at here. This parenting challenge is meant to get us to PLAN for something, ANYTHING, that will make us feel happy. Of course, this challenge will hopefully be a good thing for many of us personally. But I promise you that this IS important to your parenting as well. You'll see in tomorrow's post: I'll cover the research on the many detriments to children and the challenges mothers face when they do become depressed. For now, let's try to get out of our funk if we're in one, and take care of ourselves.

Tell us: What are you going to do for yourself this week? What are your challenges when you try to take care of yourself? Does this feel doable to you? Does it feel relevant to your life?

On a lighter note…oh, and thanks for the therapy

Funny - Mom 1 It might be the relatively low ebb I've been operating on the last two weeks, the fact that – after a relatively snow-free (yes, I am in Canada) winter – I came to work in slushy armageddon this morning, that the last few pounds have turned into the last several pounds, the planning now for activities in August when I can hardly even imagine what we'll look like by then…I don't know. But I need a break! Levity please, enter stage right. 

I was truly heartened to hear readers owning up to a mix of parenting styles and, better yet, to how comfortable many of you sound with the parenting you are STRIVING for. That's key isn't it?  Take the self-judgement and blame out of it. Do your best, adjust as needed and then just accept the kind of parent you are (are still becoming). 

I am a working Mom. Do I do my best? I try to. My style – strong authoratative flavour with a pinch of permissiveness, garnished with authoritarianism. Hey, we have places to get to on a schedule. I cannot use every "putting on coat" opportunity as a teaching point. It just isn't going to happen.

I yell. Oh how I yell. Not often, but when I have to. I don't say anything demeaning or humiliating, I don't shame. It's not about my child's character. It's about his behaviour. Period. We get past it. I am sensitive enough to notice that I am not crossing his emotional boundaries – you know how you can sometimes see someone's face fall when they've just heard something hurtful? I think I've have managed to avoid that. 

I'd say we generally get along really well. He's pretty reasonable, I try to accomodate with an eye toward safety, good health, progress in education and long-term social and emotional well-being. The rest is me – flawed, human. I sincerely hope he is learning something from that too. I certainly wouldn't trade being a parent for anything – anything.

What I am really trying to say with this ramble…is thanks for making me feel so much better today. Seriously. When readers write comments that shows "hey, I'm doing my best, I've taken some lessons from my own childhood, I make mistakes, but I am giving it my best effort and I'm okay with it" (all far better expressed than I've just summarized here), it actually makes me feel relieved. There is a connection in that I find very reassuring. It's the reason you should get out of the house when you have a new baby and go join that play group. The other moms may or may not become your friends, even best friends, but they are like you. It isn't all rosy all the time but you can make peace with that and still enjoy the whole thing.

Some may let the house (or their hair) go when things get overwhelming. Be of no doubt that those things happen to me to. But when I feel overwhelmed, I need levity. I need to see the lighter side of the whole parenting/homemaking process. Call it a salve for my winter-beleaguered soul. This somehow allows me to tolerate leaving the upside down house with what my mother would call "a rats nest" for hair (I've got a lot of wavy/curly stuff) in the knowledge that it will eventually not always be this way.

So with warning that it could just be my mood that's causing me to see the humour in this stuff, here's a bit of levity to get you through…

Scroll down and read "Patience of a Saint".

On baby names…

See also this clip

And this one…hope he isn't getting a stomach ache, oh and this!

Have a great weekend.



Parenting styles

Developmental psychologists have been studying parenting for around a century. It's a general topic that's received lots and lots of attention. One of the most popular and productive approaches to research on parenting has been the studies and theories around the idea of "parenting style." We've been talking a lot about parenting "techniques" or "methods" — those ideas are supposed to be much more specific than parenting style. Many methods or techniques may fall under the same parenting style umbrella. Parenting styles are supposed to describe the complex pattern of parenting; they are more approaches than specific parenting behaviours per se.

The research on parenting style is largely based on Diana Baumrind's seminal work in the area, starting in the 1960's. The styles that she identified are meant to describe variations among all sort of "normal" families — in other words, this classification system was not a way to identify clinical or seriously distressed families. The categories capture two main components of parenting: Parental warmth (or "responsiveness") and parental demandingness (or "control"). BOTH aspects are considered to be important dimensions of parenting that predict children's well-being later in life.

Most people talk about 3 styles, but there are actually 4, if you take all the possible combinations of the two dimensions:

1. Permissive Parenting: Also referred to as "indulgent" (because child psychologists can sometimes be mean with their labels). This parenting style is characterized by HIGH warmth and LOW demandingness. So, there's lots of affection and love that's expressed in the family, but there are very few rules and boundaries that are set. Limit-setting is minimal and discipline is often either unenforced or very lax.

2. Authoritarian Parenting: These parents are LOW in warmth or responsiveness (it's usually the latter — they aren't focused on responding to the child's emotional states, basically) and HIGH on demandingness. These are families who place a great deal of value on children being obedient. They set firm rules, have firm disciplinary consequences and they provide highly structured, organized and predictable home environments.

3. Authoritative Parenting: These parents are HIGH on both dimensions. They are warm and responsive to their children's emotional needs at the same time as they set clear standards for behaviour and enforce those standards with predictable discipline strategies. They are assertive with their children, but they also place high value on raising responsible, cooperative, but also self-regulated children.

4. Uninvolved Parenting: Most parents reading this blog will not fall into this category, given you're reading about PARENTING and are searching for information about your child and his or her well-being. The uninvolved parent is low on both dimensions: there is little warmth and little demandingness.

You can probably find yourself in one of these categories quite easily. The tricky part is that they're not "pure" categories in that each category can be further divided according to a third dimension: PSYCHOLOGOCIAL control. This is a really important aspect to consider, I think. It refers to control attempts that CAN BE intrusive and disruptive to the child's emotional and cognitive well-being (they aren't always, let's keep in mind). The prime parenting strategies to psychologically control children include: guilt induction, shaming and strategically withdrawing parental love. So, within each of the parenting styles, you can be high or low on psychological control as well, and that makes for a very different type of parent in each case. Classically, the big difference between Authoritative and Authoritarian parents is that the latter is much higher on psychological control — both types of parents set out clear limits and follow up with predictable consequences/discpline if those rules are not followed, but Authoritarian parents do so through strategies that induce shame and guilt while Authoritative parents more often use problem-solving, explanations and negotiation.  

It's probably going to come as no surprise to hear that Authoritative Parenting has been empirically linked to better outcomes for children than the other types of parenting styles. Children and adolescents of Authoritative parents turn out more socially skilled and more skilled at the pragmatics of everyday life than kids from the other types of parents.

Also not surprising, the Uninvolved parents produced children with the most troubled outcomes; compared to the other types, these children were more socially, emotionally and academically impaired. 

There are some interesting variations in these results when you consider ethnicity and cultural background differences, but in general, the Authoritative parenting style usually wins out on almost all outcomes we would care about for our children. Of course, WITHIN each category, there are lots of parenting BEHAVIOURS that are more or less effective for children's well-being. And you can probably predict by now that I will say that temperament will play some role — some children will be able to flourish under Authoritarian parents, if they're less sensitive to shame or guilt and/or if they simply were "born with" a sense of their own efficacy in the world or a less rebellious spirit. Another child in the same family may not fare as well. Also, surely parents' own personalities will have a large impact on how these parenting styles are actually manifest in day-to-day interactions with their children.

I think it's interesting to consider these dimensions of parenting as a first step, but I'm much more interested in the boundaries between the typologies and how various parenting behaviours can feel really wrong in some parenting contexts, but just right in others. For example, I think guilt can be a very effective, useful and PROSOCIAL way to influence our children's behaviour, especially as they get older than 5 or so. Too much is no doubt detrimental, but perhaps a little may be necessary to promote empathic, ethical behaviour from our children. How high would I rate myself in psychological control?  Does its detrimental impact depend on the larger parenting context (the love, warmth, connection, openness in a family)? Does that control work differently at different ages? You won't be surprised to know that I think the developmental age of the child is critical to consider: As children get older, it may be optimal to move from being relatively high on demandingness/control to relatively low, ending at the end of adolescence/early 20s with an ALMOST equal balance of power. In terms of warmth, I suspect high levels of it would be important throughout development, but perhaps the way we express this warmth will be less overt as children grow up and get creeped out about us wanting to rock them to sleep just one more time… (Yes, THAT book comes to mind).

Do you think these dimensions are useful when you consider your own parenting style? What were your parents' style of parenting and do you think that influences yours? What's missing in these dimensions for you?

The post that almost was…

Wow!  I feel like I've been gone for YEARS from this space. Sorry about that. My day job (which turned into a night-job when I was overseas) got the better of me and it's been hard to find the time to sleep, nevermind write a coherent sentence on this blog. I was going to post on parenting styles today (following some requests in the comments section): differences among authoritarian, authoritative and permissive parenting and some of the child outcomes associated with these styles. But I'm going to be lame and just say tune in tomorrow because I can't finish it yet.

For now, as I'm catching my breath, I'm wondering: What do YOU let go of when everything becomes overwhelming (in other words, when 24 hours can't possibly cover the things you need/want to do in a day)? And what do you never, ever compromise?

For me, the three things that go to hell when I've got too much work to do are sleep, writing this blog and exercising. (This past week, I can also add: emailing back friends, reading blogs, reading books, cooking, eating or drinking anything other than bread, butter, cheese and wine). The two things I almost never compromise (if I have any teeny-tiny bit of choice) is time with my kids on the weekend (I don't work until they're asleep) and deadlines my boss has set for me. What about you?

More Ideas On Dealing With That Anger: Wear It Out, Hug It Out

Video-thumb-activity-184I'm picking up on a theme here from the many awesome comments received in response to Bella's last post. A few people mentioned that the empathising-with-the-angry-child strategy didn't seem to work as well, especially for some younger kids. Many of you pointed out that the anger seemed to need to run it's course and that trying to reason or empathize, in the moment, just seemed to make things escalate. Someone expressed concern about the message we send when we immediately act to divert attention away from the anger. Are we teaching our kids that expressing bad feelings should be avoided at all costs? Let me pass on a couple of thoughts.

To "Mom2boys" and others with little ones that start to strike out when they are angry, you might want to get your
hands on "
No Biting" or "No Hitting" by Karen Katz. Fun, light, lift-the-flap books that are great for redirecting toddler misbehaviour. E.g. One page on the left in "No Biting" says "No
hitting mommy" with appropriate picture. On the right page it says, "What can you hit?". Lift the flap and it says "A drum!". There is a great picture of a mini drummer letting rip!.  My son LOVED the whole series
by Karen Katz (the art work is beautiful) but particularly this book and it seemed to work. After a couple
of readings he would run and find his toy drum when he was mad and just have at it.

This brings me to my first suggestion: Wear it Out! 

Perhaps with younger and/or more intense children who are not yet able to self-regulate very well, you can help them wear that anger out and therefore get to a more reasonable place. My son was not actually very big on "tantrums" (I'd know way before that the anger was brewing, which was a bonus because I could move to cut it off at the pass) but he sure is intense and when he did really lose it, it wasn't subtle. He couldn't even hear me, even if I was empathising, so I would try to help him work the anger out. I'd say, "It's fine to be mad/angry, let's go in your room and punch your pillow until you feel better."  Sometimes I would bring the pillow to him and he'd actually lay into it. After a few minutes of me actually ALLOWING the anger, he (or is it we?) wore it out. My take on it is that it is a more action-oriented way (as opposed to psychologically-oriented) way to empathise or acknowledge that anger and then help your child get to the point where other techniques like distraction can take effect. I remember this to be especially helpful at around the 18 months to 3 years age, when kids really are more action-oriented anyway, generally speaking. 

My second suggestion?
Hug it Out! 

Your anger is pretty scary to children -
justified or not, non-maligning or not and we need to acknowledge this. Even if
you are totally justified in your anger (and in parenting, there are MANY times when we are), it's important to repair. 

It's not that different from any other relationship. Lord knows I've had very justified outbursts towards spouse, but even then I think it's good to "make amends" when you've had your say. It puts things on a more even footing rather than having the memory of the interaction being more like that of a powerful-figure-scolding-the-helpless. The repair can help re-establish a sense of partnership and hopefully lead to more co-operation on the issue in the future. It also says, it's okay to be angry and to express it. We'll come out the other side and it'll be okay.

Maybe not right away, but even
when X seems fine after the outburst has subsided and we've moved on, I try to revisit the issue briefly, say at bed time. I usually say that "I don't like
yelling, don't want to make you feel bad…I just get frustrated and then I
don't know what to do anymore. So I yell. Can we please try to avoid that
next time? Can you please try to listen to me when I ask you to….?" Then I usually say, "I think maybe we should hug it out." And we do, and we feel like comrades again.

And on that sweet note…I leave you to a lovely weekend.

–by Tracy

(with apologies for the varying font, I cannot for the life of me, fix it!)

Parenting challenge #3: I feel your pain… now do as I say

I'm traveling overseas for work, so I'm going to have to keep this short (for me, anyway). This week's strategy was mentioned on this blog a few weeks ago, on the post dealing with temper tantrums.  (If you're new to the blog: WELCOME! You can find the first and second Parenting Challenge here and here). 

I have found this method useful for both my kids since they were about 18 months or so. It can work in loads of different contexts… but, as usual, it won't work for all kids, at all ages. For this strategy in particular, I think it would be really helpful for parents to pipe up with their experiences because I find that temperamental differences and our own emotions play a particular large role in how well this works.

The step-by-step discipline strategy comes from the fabulous book, How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk. It's meant to convey to your child that you understand his FEELINGS, but do not approve of his BEHAVIOUR. Unfortunately, I left my copy at home so I'm hoping I've got the precise sequence here (feel free to correct me, for those of you well-versed in the method). The idea is that when your child begins to melt down, argue, tantrum or otherwise freak the frack out, try the following steps: 

(1)  When he’s starting to whine/complain (but is NOT tantruming yet), give him words to express what he feels (e.g., "Jonny, you’re feeling so mad that mama won’t let you watch TV! Mad, Mad, MAD!" or "You're really frustrated that no one will listen to you!") 

(2) Scrunch up your face and look mad, so he gets that that’s what he looks like and YOU get that that’s what he’s feeling. 

(3) Repeat your rule, accepting his feelings, but not his behaviour ("You can only watch TV after dinner; You can be mad at mommy but you can’t throw things/scream, whatever"). 

(4) Fantasize with him: "You know, I ALSO wish it was TV-watching time. I LOVE watching TV with you O! I wish mommy didn’t have to work, but I can’t WAIT until after dinner when we can watch together." 

The idea of trying to empathize, accept and "join" with our child while she's feeling particularly vulnerable and out of control is a fabulous one, I think. For many children, the core reason why they become so upset sometimes has less to do with the surface features (e.g., I want more candy/tv/to push baby etc) and more to do with the frustration of feeling misunderstood or not heard. So these steps are meant to address that core need and, as a result, can work miracles in diffusing a stressful conflict. 

As we discussed at length with the Playful Parenting challenge, I think one of the most challenging things about implementing these steps is REMEMBERING to do so when we are frustrated, angry and/or anxious about our child's behaviour. Also, some children feel overwhelmed when they're faced with their parent mirroring their emotions too intensely, so it can be difficult establishing how much is too much "empathizing."

I've gotta run now. I may be less involved in the discussion early on in the week, given my trip, but I'll be checking in regularly and hope, as usual, that you can join in the challenge if it feels right for you and tell us about how it's going in the comments.