Category Archives: Authentic Parenting with Naomi Aldort

Separation Anxiety?

By Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, www.AuthenticParent.com.

Photo credit: Helene Souza
Photo credit: Helene Souza

When my children were young, it was common for me to take them when I traveled for speaking engagements. At their stages of development, they still wanted and needed to stay close to me.

I recall a psychologist friend of mine doubting my decision to take my then two-year-old with me. “If he cries it will help him to recover from past experiences of separation,” she said. She felt that the best way to get over separation anxiety is to encourage separations.

However, my child had no past experiences of separation to overcome, and I wanted to keep him free of such experience as long as he needed my uninterrupted closeness.

By nature there is no such a thing as “separation anxiety.” Instead, there is a healthy need of a child to be with her mother. Only a deprivation of a need creates anxiety. If we honor the need for uninterrupted physical closeness as long the child needs it, no anxiety develops. The concept “separation anxiety” is the invention of a society that denies a baby’s and child’s need for uninterrupted connection. In this vein, we can deprive a child of food and describe her reaction as “hunger anxiety,” or we can let her be cold and call her cries “temperature anxiety.”

My son, Lennon Aldort, says it well: “Our modern society and the nuclear family are large-scale experiments in extreme deprivation of the needs of both children and parents.” Parents are doing their best to move away from denying children their needs. Yet sometimes even the most securely attached parents, under pressure from extended family and friends, expect a child to live up to external expectations.

Some parents feel pressure to compare their children to others: “How come the other child is willing to be without his mother?” I always reassure parents by pointing out that the other child is a different person, and it is possible that the other child has, unfortunately, given up on what is best for himself. If your child is insisting on what is best for her, it is a reason to rejoice and to know that your parenting approach is empowering her self-confidence.

Stages of development

The confusion starts when we see a child as seemingly regressing. She was happy to stay without you at age two, and is suddenly back to needing you all the time at age three. But should we call this a “separation anxiety?” Or is it our own “intolerance for changing back and forth anxiety?”

Children try new things for a while only to recapture their old “baby” ways with gusto a year later. These changes are part of their steps forward. There is no rule that says that once a child achieves something, she must stick to it. In fact, observation tells us that most children go through such changes. They sometimes return to a former familiar stage to establish more confidence and gain a new momentum. Normal development in the early years may be two steps forward and one step back, a balance between exploring autonomy and feeling the need for security. They must feel secure and know that the door behind them never shuts, or they will not dare to try new territory.

Another reason children try things and then retreat is precisely because they become more aware. The world appears quite simple and safe to a toddler: Mommy, Daddy, couch, kitchen, doggy, yard, street, et cetera. As the child’s awareness grows, everything becomes larger and scarier. There is so much more unknown and so much that can happen. The child must be sure that springing out of the familiar doesn’t burn the bridge behind her. Being sure of that, she can try more new experiences with confidence.

Loving solutions

Sonya asked for my advice about her five-year-old child’s “separation anxiety.” “Haya wants to be with me at all times,” she said. “She even joins me in the bathroom.” Such a need can be natural even in a child who was never pushed too soon to be away from mom. But in Haya’s case, there was an early attempt to leave her at a nice, small preschool for half days. She seemed to enjoy the school but was having a hard time departing from her mother in the morning. “She was fearful and clingy, and over time she started to be more whiny at home and less happy,” her mother said.

I suggested stopping taking Haya to preschool. The result was immediate and dramatic:

“I got my child back,” Sonya said. “She is happy again and self-engaged, but she is still unable to be away from me.” Haya will regain her trust and confidence. She needs time in which there is no reminder of her experience of separation. She must know that it is up to her to be without mom. When we respond to the child, rather than try to manipulate her development, she can stay content. Keep a benign attitude of trust and peace with no hints of future expectations. On the other side, stay away from drama about her need for you. With no agenda, the child will act from within.

What if parents work away from home?

In many families, one or both parents work outside the home. Regardless of what options you may have, if you leave the baby or young child before she is ready, she is likely to develop anxiety about losing you. There are ways to alleviate the hurt and reduce the anxiety. If possible, the baby or child could stay in a familiar and loved space, such as at home or in another familiar home, with one or two intimately familiar people who love her, like Daddy, a grandparent or another consistent and loving caregiver.

Breastfeeding is nature’s magical way of telling you to stay close to your baby and toddler. When you go to work without your baby, do express milk for her but also minimize the time you are away. If after you return home your baby cries a lot, or your child is cranky and clingy, give her your full attention, validate her feelings and let the tears flow so she can heal.

Always validate and give outlet to self-expression. “You want mommy to stay with you. I know. I miss you too. I love you so much. Tell me about your day.” Make peace with your child’s anxiety about your absence, so you are not anxious yourself. Your child needs a secure parent who can listen to her.

Denial teaches denial

Some parents believe that by denying the child’s need repeatedly and consistently, the child will develop the “muscle” and learn to be comfortable away from mom. Unfortunately, the child does learn to be away from mom, but in doing so, she must detach emotionally and ignore her own inner voice. The process is not one of developing inner strength, but of resignation and of losing trust.

What we see externally is not always what the child experiences inside. As one three-year-old said to her mother: “At daycare I look smiling outside, but I am crying inside.” The innate drive of the child to please us and seek our approval causes her to comply rather than choose authentically. She learns to deny her own inner voice and follow external expectations instead because she yearns to fit in with our world. In order to do this, she must shut down her feelings and her sense of connection. Training your child to give up on herself and follow others leads to insecure teenagers and adults who, thoughtlessly, follow peer pressure, media and other external influences.

Each family must make the child care choices that they feel are best, and we must learn to love the life we have so the child will develop emotional resilience. But do allow for crying, validate the feeling and know that she may develop a separation anxiety that you will want to keep healing.

Rejoice in your child’s connection

When children rage and refuse to separate, I always celebrate. “Your child is not a tameable one,” I say. “You must have done a wonderful job of protecting her authentic being.” The more the child is rooted in herself, the less you can sway her away from who she is. We call it confidence.

When your child tells you confidently in words or actions, “I want to stay with you all the time,” and you respond to her need, she learns, “I can trust myself. My mom trusts me and takes my cues seriously.” The child who relies on herself and does not deny herself in an attempt to please you is developing self-reliance and confidence. She stays connected not only to you but to herself, creating bridges of love and inner independence.

 

For Grandparents: When Your Adult Kids’ Parenting Drives You Crazy

By Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, www.AuthenticParent.com.

Photo credit: Anissa Thompson
Photo credit: Anissa Thompson

Q: My daughter-in-law is into a way of raising our grandchildren that includes cosleeping, organic food, wooden toys and so on. She and our son are very protective of their ways and forbid me from bringing certain gifts and doing “grandma” kinds of things with them, like going for ice cream, taking them to a movie or buying toys. How can I have more relationship with my grandchildren in spite of these limitations?

A: As grandparents, we are in love with the little ones and yearn to be part of their lives. Your question is, therefore, very useful for every grandparent. And yes, there is a way to nurture the connection with your grandchildren when the parents are choosing loving ways that differ from yours.

I recall counseling a family when the young father said to his parents, “You did your parenting experiment, raising me and my sister. We are doing ours with our daughters.”

“Experiment?” The grandpa was horrified and offended. “We didn’t experiment. We knew how to be parents,” he said confidently.

“Did we?” asked an honest grandma, with a twinkle in her eye. “I often didn’t know what I was doing. I think our son has a point. Their way could be better, and anyway, it is their turn to be parents in their own way.”

Your children may be happy adults, so it is easy to feel sure that what you did was the best. But can you really know? Can you know how they would have matured if brought up in a different way? We cannot know, and it is indeed always an “experiment” to raise a child. There is more than one loving way to nurture a young one.

Creating connection

Some young parents follow the footsteps of their parents and welcome a grandparent’s ways, while others blaze a new trail. Your son is obviously on a different parenting path. Let’s imagine two different grandmas in this same dilemma, handling it in two different ways. One grandma wants do things her way, while the other respects her children’s parenting wishes. Who of the two is going to build more connection with the grandchildren and with the whole family?

Visits and gifts

In scenario one, Grandma arrives for a visit with gifts. She enters the house, and right away there is tension. As she gives the gifts to the grandchildren, the parents share glances of distress. They go to the other room to discuss how to get rid of what they see as harmful toys. They have worked so hard to keep the children away from such toys or influences, and they will tend to view Grandma as an enemy rather than an ally. Such parents call me for advice and say with anguish, “She is ruining everything.” If they try to talk to Grandma about it or get rid of the toys, there will be arguments instead of connection and joy.

The other grandma, who decided to honor her children’s ways, arrives either with gifts that have been agreed upon in advance or without gifts. After a while she may say, “I would love to see what you may want me to get for you from the wonderful catalog your mom told me about.” Everyone sits together excitedly, and the connection is strong. Grandma includes the parents in making the buying choices. Or Grandma’s treat may be going to the zoo or some other experience that the parents feel good about. Giving experiences together is a lifelong gift of love and connection.

Taking them out for ice cream

What about the ice cream? Some parents may be comfortable allowing treats like ice cream, for special occasions or more often, while others prefer not to. In our example, the first grandma either takes the kids for ice cream against the parents’ will or knowledge, or she doesn’t but she resents it. Either way there is secrecy and a sense of disconnection and anger. If the kids get a treat without the parents’ knowledge, the parents will probably find out eventually, and it will erode trust, connection and honesty between parent and child.

The second grandma is delighted to learn what natural sweets are available at the health food store or what the parents are making at home that is wholesome and sweet. She is learning something new and feeling excited and belonging. She may buy a recipe book for sweet treats without sugar and contribute to the whole family. She may also ask the parents for suggestions on where to take the children for special treats.

Going to the movies

The first grandma may have an argument with the parents and end up not going to the movie but feeling angry and disconnected. The children may feel that their parents are preventing them from having fun, and after Grandma leaves, they become aggressive and resentful toward their own parents. The parents resent Grandma and may reduce the visits with her. Or, if this grandma does get her way, the resentment will be even greater. The children may want more movies, toys related to the movie, and other items and experiences their parents were trying to protect them from. Grandma will end up with less connection, as she will be resented and not trusted to spend time with the children on her own.

Meanwhile, the grandma who chooses to respect the parents’ choices is spending her afternoon in the park instead of the movies. She is naturally connecting with the grandchildren but also staying connected with her grandchildren’s parents. This is not her turn to choose how to parent. She enjoys the freedom to follow rather than lead. She joins the ride and enjoys herself. When she observes something her old ways tell her to change, she questions her own convictions and opens herself to new ways of thinking. She doesn’t need to agree, only to respect. She has a wonderful time with the grandchildren and will be welcomed to visit or host the grandchildren often.

Choose the kind of grandparent you wish to be

What will bring more connection between you and your grandchildren, and between you and your children—defending some “rights” (which you don’t really have) or joining their ride?

When we defend our position, our “rights” and our opinion, we create separation, confusion, misunderstanding and struggle. When we defend, we are set on manipulating the people and conditions to fit our agenda, and it often hurts and brings stress into the relationships.

We are not talking here about parents who hurt their children but about loving parents whose ways differ from yours. When your son was four and wanted to play in the sand, you honored his wish, and he played his way. Now that he is a father, support him by offering to be with the children in a way that respects his well-thought-out efforts.

We often don’t realize that by exposing a child to something his parents oppose, we set him up against his mother and father, creating much strife even after our departure. The words “Mom, I want … Grandma said it is OK. … ” are dreaded by parents everywhere. If, instead of manipulating  people and conditions, we respond to their loving ways, we create the connection we want, and we build trust. Your son is more likely to listen to you when you show up as his ally.

Of course, you can express your concerns and opinions, just don’t expect your son and daughter-in-law to follow your advice. It is their turn. It is the time for you to follow and not lead. If you want to have an easier time, try to understand them, read the parenting books or articles they are reading, or listen to the CDs they are inspired by. Some grandparents contact professionals for advice in order to learn and support their children’s ways of parenting. Go for the ride as a passenger, not a driver, and you will have the greatest connection any grandparent can have.

 

Power Games for a Joyful Bedtime

By Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, www.AuthenticParent.com

Editor’s Note: The author invites us to consider a different perspective on children’s behavior. You may wish to read this in conjunction with API’s Balance Principle and many other articles on children and sleep available at API’s website and TheAttachedFamily.com. As always, we encourage you to trust your own wisdom and find what works best for you and your family.

Photo: David Castillo Domenici
Photo: David Castillo Domenici

Q: Why can’t my children go to bed and go to sleep? It takes us a couple of hours to put them in bed. They run away from putting pajamas on, and again they escape when we try to brush their teeth. It is such a struggle every night; they just don’t cooperate. Is there a better way?

A: Most parents go through the same exhausting and frustrating process you describe so well in your question. This can be both difficult and painfully disconnecting. You wish to tuck your children in bed with love and a calm heart, and instead you end up feeling frustrated and exhausted.

It is human and natural to want to stop the running child and get her to bed, but it actually thwarts her efforts to get ready for a good night’s sleep. Some parents tame their children to obey them, creating disconnection and not attending to the child’s emotional needs. From your question, it is obvious that you don’t want to dominate but to have your children go to sleep of their own free will and in response to your aware and loving leadership.

Any time we fight against the need or nature of a child, even with the best of intentions, we cause hardship and disconnection, especially if the children obey against their own inner voice. Instead of struggling to stop or control the child, we want to find ways to understand the child’s valid need and, when possible and safe, respond to it. The goal is not to control but to flow with the child’s real needs. Such care creates cooperation without coercion or domination.

The Wisdom of Power Games

Before being able to sleep, children may need to unleash the stress and energy of the day. If we consistently suppress that need, the child can develop emotional and behavioral difficulties. A child is eager to be independent, yet she often experiences feeling helpless–told what to do, unable to drive, buckled up in a car, unable to reach places or do things for herself, and overall excruciatingly dependent. At the end of the day, giving her yet another experience of someone else being in charge of her body may result in emotional harm and the kind of struggle you describe in your question. The child wants to unleash this stress before she can relax into dreamland. Though routine and structure are important for some children, they can be adjusted with sensitivity to meet a child’s needs for freedom and choice. Including power games can be part of the routine–a healing and joyful part.

Children running at bedtime are doing exactly that: unleashing energy and stress. I have coined this type of healing play “power games” because it is a way for the child to regain a sense of power and autonomy and undo some of the experience of being small and helpless. This responsive play has nothing to do with winning or having power over anyone. Instead, the parent plays the role of a loving play-therapist, meeting a need and creating a routine of healing games that prepare the child for sleep.

A child’s drive to run away at bedtime is healthy and deserving of care. I suggest you include it in the bedtime routine. Children initiate power games with their parents all the time, and parents tend to thwart most of them (by saying “stop”), not realizing the value of the game. In your example, your children start a power game by running away from the pajamas. I describe other types of power games in my book, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves.

It is wonderful that they love playing with you; it shows their wisdom and their trust of you. When you demand a smooth ride, on your terms, from the bathroom to bed, you disconnect yourself from reality and lose sight of what is actually needed. Indeed, when you don’t recognize the child’s need, you actually lose the ability to be the parent, the leader. Your choice is between a time of struggle or a time of playful and nurturing connection. Being a leader means knowing how to steer the ship in the direction of the stream.

Other Options

I can hear some parents say, “But I don’t want to. I want a quiet bedtime and a quick one.” What I suggest will give you a more peaceful, respectful and enjoyable bedtime in which you will not feel helpless because you will be in charge as a wise healer. If your child needs to unleash energy or stress through play, your desire for a quick bedtime causes you stress because it opposes the child’s real need that has to be met. Some children go to sleep with a story and a hug, while some children need an energetic game before going to bed. In addition, a child who needs power games one night may not need them the next night. The goal is not consistency in what we do but consistency in being loving, aware and responsive.

There are things you can do to increase the chance for a quicker or calmer bedtime:

1. You can respond playfully to power games earlier in the day. You can find more about how to play a variety of power games in my book.

2. You can minimize screen time and sitting and allow plenty of outdoor rigorous activity in daylight.

3. For health benefits and for better sleep, feed your children healthful and nourishing foods. A wholesome diet helps children sleep better, go to bed calmer, learn better and be more focused and peaceful. In my practice, I have found that eating carbohydrate, including fruit, in the evening may interfere with a child’s ability to fall asleep. You may wish to try offering protein-rich foods instead.

Power games during the day may lessen their need at bedtime, but they do not guarantee an adult-like bedtime scenario. If a child played power games in the afternoon and later experiences helplessness or sitting, he may need more release through power games and running before he is ready to sleep. It is a real need that should not be denied or suppressed. In addition, your anxious desire to put your children to bed ignites their desire to oppose you as a therapy game. Learning to enjoy the children is much easier and more beneficial than taming them to go against their healthy and needed direction. In fact, suppressing their needs often causes bedtime to take longer and leaves the children stressed and with unresolved emotional needs.

How to Play Bedtime Power Games

You may enjoy your bedtime with the children more if you flow with their invitation for play. Learn what your children need by observing them. If you are not a physical person, it may give you the exercise you need, or you can ask your spouse to chase them. Falling in love with reality can bring peace to bedtime with your children.

In a power game, your goal is not to change what the children do but to empower the game by offering pretend dramatic opposition, such as, “Oh no, they ran away again,” while you chase them over and over again. When you catch a child, bring her back to the bedroom while you huff and puff in “exhaustion” and declare, “I am going to hold you better this time. Oh, I hope … (in exasperation), I hope she doesn’t slip away again … ” Then pretend a desperate attempt to hold on as you put the pajamas on while allowing the next escape with a dramatic, “Oh no!” and a chase.

A true leader is a transparent one. Steer without controlling by making sure to let the children decide when to end the game, or else the healing is cancelled by your being in the position of power.

Transforming Ourselves

When we recognize the rightness of what the child is doing, we can provide for it without resistance, and the child then goes to sleep with ease. In contrast, when we resist, we become impatient and frustrated, and we tend to try to control instead of steer with wisdom. The child is not the cause of our frustration; our opposing thoughts and wants are. You may find peace and freedom in working on yourself to learn to enjoy the bedtime play rather than trying to change your children’s wise and healthy preparation for sleep. You may miss this time in their childhood all too soon.

Power Games at Our House

In our home the words “Lets go to bed” often came from the children. They recognized their own tiredness because we never went against their inner voice, and they loved bedtime because it was so much fun. Needless to say, they fell asleep easily and were always sound sleepers. Sharing our family’s bedtime routine is not as an answer for an “only” way but a window into one peaceful possibility that demonstrates the spirit of what I am suggesting.

The invitation to go to bed, regardless whom it came from, became the beginning of a joyful routine.The children often ran to the music corner and started playing the piano, drumming and dancing. Oh, how we loved that part of our routine. My husband and I would sit around to watch and marvel their creativity. When they thought it was a good idea to go to bed, they went to the kitchen for a snack. Food, laughter, clean up … we were all in the kitchen cherishing our daily tradition.

Next came the pajamas and teeth brushing, and yes, you guessed it, just like your children ours ran away, inviting a chase. We accepted the invitation, or I should say, my husband did. He would chase them to the end of the house, pretend to barely manage to catch them, and then bring them back to the bathroom, out of breath and saying repeatedly, “Oh, I hope they don’t run away again.” And of course, soon enough I would hear the playful dramatic declaration, “Oh no! They ran away again.” As the little ones passed by me with their father in tow, I could only wish that this joy would never end. I often joined at this point, wanting my part in the game. We never initiated the end of the game because that would have destroyed the sense of power the children were experiencing. It would have caused struggle and cancelled the healing.

Once the children had enough, they would get ready for bed eagerly and quickly. Of course once in bed, there were 20 minutes or so of heavenly joy: climbing on Daddy, snuggling, singing, laughing, rolling … These were some of the best hours of my life. In fact, if I could replay the best moments, bedtime with the children would be my very first choice.

 

My Child Doesn’t Want to Visit her Father

By Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, www.AuthenticParent.com

Q: I have recently gotten divorced. My daughter is three and initially enjoyed her time with her father, but since staying overnight she refuses to go. Each time he comes to pick her up it is a giant scene. I try to convince her and remind her what a good time she had before, but she won’t budge. What should I do?

Note to readers: This response relates specifically to the questioner, who is a mother and primary caretaker.  Though the terms “mother” and “father” are used here, other terms may be appropriate in individual families that may have different custody and caretaking arrangements.

A: It is the parent’s job to see to it that the child feels at ease during time together. My guess is that staying overnight must have scared your daughter, and/or there may be other issues that she does not feel comfortable with.489190_81593777 upset girl

Any time we try to convince a child to ignore her inner voice and follow our ideas, we teach her to become dependent and insecure. In essence, we tell her, “Ignore how you feel inside, and do what someone else tells you.” Unfortunately she may actually learn this undesirable lesson. She is learning to fall for future peer pressure, media sales, social pressure and to become more dependent on what others say in general. This is the nature of insecurity, a learned habit of undermining one’s own inner guide and following others. Continue reading

A Tantrum is a Choice

By Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, www.AuthenticParent.com

A tantrum can vanish before it starts if we put the spotlight on it with validation and playfulness. Six-year-old Danny (names and scenarios are changed) came into the kitchen and asked his mother for a dessert. His mother said, “If you want something sweet, there are grapes, peaches or dried fruit.” Naomi Aldort

“I want only watermelon, that’s what I want. Nothing else!” said the boy emphatically.

I was sitting close by and saw the tantrum building up. Danny stamped his foot lightly, he frowned, and his voice became tight as he was repeating his plea and was ready to explode. At that moment I said, “There is no watermelon, and you want to have some! You are getting yourself into a tantrum. Let’s have a tantrum about it together; a double tantrum, you and I.” The boy smiled and immediately relaxed. I then added, “A triple tantrum with Mom, too,” and seeing his Dad walking by, “no, a quadruple tantrum with Dad, too.”

The boy turned around laughing and looking at his Dad. Dad acted a slow walk, sneaking out of the room as though he wanted nothing to do with it. The boy went after him. His father returned to the dining room and produced an impressive tantrum. “I want watermelon,” he screamed theatrically as he stamped and jumped with a thump. Danny was so excited. He laughed and ran to tell his brother all about it. In a minute we heard the boys playing happily. Continue reading

When Relatives Criticize

By Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, www.naomialdort.com

Q:  My relatives criticize Attachment Parenting. They question my ability to parent and tell me that I am jeopardizing the children’s development and keeping them dependent and attached for too long. How can I best fend for my views and protect my children from my relatives’ intervention about breastfeeding, bedsharing, and wanting to be with me?

 

A: One of the main reasons we find it so hard to inspire respect from relatives and friends is because we seek their agreement. When my children were young, my father used to interrupt every one of my attempts to explain our parenting philosophy; he would say, “That’s rubbish” followed by, “Let me tell you how it works.” He never heard what I had to say. Continue reading

Cosleeping Reality: Your Toddler’s Bedtime May Be Yours, Too

By Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, www.naomialdort.com

Q: Every night, I put my 13-month-old daughter to sleep in our family bed, but shortly afterward, she wakes up and I have to start all over – breastfeeding her and helping her fall asleep. This keeps happening, and I cannot stay up with my husband so we can have a bit of time for ourselves. She also wakes up a lot at night. How can I help my toddler to stay asleep?

A: Some babies and toddlers sleep deeply even after you leave the room, while others become anxious sleepers unless you stay with them at all times. When you leave your toddler in the family bed by herself, her experience is the same as sleeping in a crib because you are not there. Your daughter is obviously not able to sleep away from you even for a short time.

Using sleep as a “babysitter” to provide couple time works well for some families, but not for everyone. Even babies who are able to stay asleep in another room often stop being so accommodating as they grow older. Continue reading

Breastfeeding after ‘Almost’ Weaning

By Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, www.naomialdort.com

Q: My two-year-old had almost completely weaned himself a few months ago. Then I got laid off from work and he began nursing all over again. Now he demands to nurse every two to four hours and will hold on to my boob saying he “doesn’t want it to fly away.” I put a limit of nursing at nap time and bedtime, but I’m not sure if he will re-wean himself. And, I’d really like to resolve his apparent fear that they are going away, or to somehow find a way for him to console himself with something other than the breasts.

A: This is a sweet misunderstanding between you and your son. He didn’t almost wean himself, and his fear that “they will fly away” is valid; he is sensing your intent to take breastfeeding away from him. Continue reading

What to do When Children Demean Each Other

By Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, www.naomialdort.com

Q: My daughter calls her brother stupid and he feels hurt. He does the same in return. I tried everything, but neither of them will stop. How do I teach them to stop hurting each other and to use proper language?

A: At a family counseling in my home, a girl called her sister “stupid.” Both girls then engaged in yelling at each other, “you are stupid,” and were getting very upset. I then announced, “Me too. I am stupid.” They looked at me and started laughing, relieving their own stress. I continued cheerfully and with rhythm, “I am stupid, Dad is stupid, Mom is stupid too, Grandma is stupid, Beethoven was stupid, the neighbor is stupid…” Then I shared my own stupid moments and the upset turned into laughter. The children got so excited that they started telling about their own stupid moments.

Two weeks later, the mother called to tell me that her older daughter said, “I can’t call her [sister] stupid anymore. It doesn’t work. She doesn’t get hurt.” To the mother’s surprise, the result was not a new vocabulary of harsh words but a greater connection between the girls. Continue reading

Respectful Potty Training

By Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, www.naomialdort.com

Q: I have read about raising babies without diapers, or getting them out of diapers by two. I am pregnant and would like to do that with my second baby. However, I did not do that with my first child, and now my daughter is three-and-a-half and still in diapers. How can I help her to toilet-train, and how do I start it better with my second baby?

A: Human beings of all ages must be the sole owners of their bodies. Like you, your toddler wants to make her own bodily choices and timing. It is very crucial never to “train” or entice a child to get out of diapers. It is her body. You don’t want to teach her that someone else can decide things about her body.

Any attempt to toilet-train can slow the child down. In addition, many children develop inhibition and emotional discomfort with their own bodies due to pressure to get out of diapers. If you have used disposable diapers, it will take the child longer to change a familiar habit that has little consequence for her.

I suggest that you change to cotton diapers and drop the subject completely. In cloth diapers, your daughter will fully feel her own eliminations. Without pressure, she will eventaully want to stay dry and she will use the toilet of her own initiative. Being autonomous, she will be emotionally healthier and self-reliant.

Infants are aware when they eliminate and can indeed grow without diapers or with a minimal need for them. In natural societies, a baby is often carried naked on her mother’s body and when she needs to eliminate, the mother knows it and holds the baby away from her body above ground or a container. In his book, Magical Child, Joseph Chealton Pearce tells of a doctor who visited a natural tribe and was perplexed by mothers’ ability to know when the baby has to eliminate. “How do you know when your baby needs to go?” this doctor asked a mother whose naked baby was snuggled against her bare body. She looked puzzled and said, “How do you know when you need to go?”

The first lesson most babies receive in Western civilization is that elimination occurs in the privacy of their own clothes and is then ignored some of the time. They learn to become unaware of their bodily functions because we don’t respond promptly. The child is so comfortable with these familiar sensations that giving them up may not be so easy. You are asking her to change what she assumed was part of life and of herself and is very convenient.

Babies Know Their Bodies

With your next baby, try using elimination communication and/or cloth diapers with communication. The following are guidelines on how to nurture natural elimination awareness, followed by ways to recognize babies’ elimination cues.

Nurturing the baby’s awareness of her own body functions:

When your baby is eliminating, acknowledge what is going on with a sound or words — With delight and ease, let him know what he is doing and change his diaper as soon as he is done (or take him to the sink or toilet to eliminate without a diaper.) An aware baby wants to be dry because that’s what he is used to.

For faster growth out of diapers, use cotton ones — With cloth diapers, the baby is instantly aware of his own experience. Your prompt removal of the diaper brings that awareness to a sharp focus. All-in-one cloth diapers are as or more convenient than disposable and they are better for your baby’s skin, her health, and the environment. Clear the soiled ones into the toilet and put all the dirty diapers in a pail with water and vinegar till you launder them.

Have your baby and toddler watch you on the toilet — Acknowledge what you are doing with the same sounds as you make when she eliminates.

As soon as your baby crawls or walks, put a potty next to the toilet — Just have it available without an agenda. Your wee one wants to be like you. With autonomy and self-awareness, she will take the initiative when ready and will become more independent by learning to rely on herself.

While I am diving into the details of moving from diaper to toilet, I would like to suggest that, as parents, we have the opportunity to bring to an end the habit of males who pee standing and leave a mist of urine all around. I have raised three boys who sit while they pee and so does their father. It seems much more civilized and makes the bathroom a nicer place for all.

Here are some typical cues babies and toddlers give when they are about to eliminate:

Timing — Many babies go at specific intervals and times. Notice if the baby eliminates at a set number of minutes after nursing, specific times of the day or fixed intervals.

Facial expressions — Babies give us cues like tensed face, raised eyebrows, frowning, concentrating, pausing as though listening, becoming motionless, squirming, fussing, making specific sounds and/or movements, sudden increase or decrease of activity, stirring or waking from sleep, looking intently or reaching for you.

Movement — For an older baby, signals could also include moving toward the bathroom, holding the genitals, grunting, struggling to get out of a car seat or a snugly, or trying to get off padded places.

Intuition — You may find that you develop intuitive recognition of your baby’s physical need to eliminate even before they occur. Your mind may actually tell you that your baby needs to go. Listen to it. If you need to pee, it is possible that your baby needs to as well. One mother told me that she gets the sensation of warm wetness on her lap while the baby is still dry and the baby pees shortly after.

When using diapers — When you know that the baby is going to eliminate, say, “You are going to pee now” and as soon as she does, add the sounds of whatever the event is and promptly change her diaper. After she has cleared her bowel, let her walk around naked as much as possible. If she ends up peeing when nude, give her the same verbal feedback; she sees, feels, and hears you and her awareness will grow.

Using the sink or toilet — With your baby, you may be able to get to the bathroom before the diaper is soiled. However most babies, once they start to crawl or walk, are too busy to bother with the bathroom and you may have to use cotton diapers. Respect the baby’s or toddler’s choice, but if she is inclined to try the potty, let her. Respond to the child’s preference not as the director, but as the nurturer of her path. If the child senses that you want her to go in the potty, she may resist doing so and stay in diapers for a longer time; it must be her own desire.

No cheerleading — Stay neutral in your attitude. If your child senses that you are invested in her choices, she will either back off and delay getting out of diapers, or become dependent on pleasing and seeking approval. Children who are in diapers for longer are often waiting for parents to get out of the way so they can be in charge of themselves.

Have you noticed that when you are with your adult friends, you cannot tell when each one of them got out of diapers? If you already used manipulation and your child is resisting the toilet, make peace with reality and stop showing any interest. Enjoy every minute of surrender and delight. Early toilet training does not mean anything, and it often makes life with wee ones more difficult as you have to stop the car, interrupt dinner, and take junior to handle his business.

If you do elimination communication from early on, your child maybe a reliable user of the toilet. Or, she may pee on the floor sometimes. Living mostly indoors, I find that providing a child with cottom diapers is more respectful of her than having her pee on the rag. Trust your child’s inner guidance. It is reliable. Everything unfolds right on time as long as we understand the cues and respond to them.