Infant specialist Magda Gerber used to say, “What children get they come to expect and eventually need.” Many of the problems parents ask me about have to do with habits that their children have acquired that the parents find undesirable, even if at one time they supported these habits and maybe even created them.
“My baby won’t sleep unless I carry her around.” Or “He will only eat mac and cheese and hotdogs.” Or “She is too old to have a pacifier, but she won’t give it up.” Of course, in each of these cases the parents carried the baby, repeatedly served the mac and cheese and gave the child the pacifier in the first place.
It is without a doubt much easier not to start these habits in the first place. The problem is that we as parents feel such desperation when the baby won’t stop crying, or won’t eat anything at dinner, or just won’t sleep. Believe me I have felt this desperation. I too have tried six different pacifiers to see if she would take one and stop crying. I fed mac and cheese several times in a week because I knew everyone would eat it. I even carried my first born around and around in a circle in my house. When you are completely exhausted and feel clueless about what you should do you will try anything. Fortunately for my children and me I found RIE and began to trust my children to know themselves and be able to learn to self-sooth and eat nutritious food when they are hungry.
I began to ask myself “If I give my child X will I be ok with it when they decide they NEED it?” Now I’m not saying you can’t ever give your child ice cream or they will instantly feel that they need ice cream all the time. However if you give your child ice cream every night for dessert for a week don’t be surprised when they demand ice cream on day 8.
So when you consider letting your child fall asleep in the swing take a moment to think in the long term. First, she can not sleep in the swing when she is three so at some point you are going to have to help her find a way to sleep in a bed, so why not now. Secondly, in the long long term we want to promote good sleep habits for our children that will serve them well for a lifetime and this is not one of them.
So if you are like me and succumb to one of these temptations is all lost? No, absolutely not. Change can happen and in fact is always happening. Now, it may not be easy, because as Magda said the children have come to NEED what we gave them. Changing a NEED is not easy. I strongly recommend three approaches when making such a change.
1. BE HONEST: I do not recommend having the pacifier fairy come and take away the pacifier and leave cookies. These things are important to our children and this will be hard for them. Out of respect for them and the struggle they will have to go through I believe we at least owe them the truth.
2. ACKNOWLEDGE HOW THEY FEEL. The chances are good that your child will have a big reaction to having to figure out how to carry on with out this needed thing. These emotions are genuine expressions of loss and they have every right to feel them. The best we can do is accept their feelings, acknowledge those feelings and offer support. Be sure that support does not come in the form of another crutch, i.e. in order to help you overcome sleeping in the swing I will carry you around the house until you fall asleep.
3. CONSISTENCY: If the child has to go through the ordeal of overcoming this need, the least we can do is not make it harder. When we set a limit, for example, no TV on school days and then we are so busy on Thursday and we just need a few minutes to finish our work so we let them watch a show, we are really making the change so much harder for them and for us. The limit no longer seems firm and they will test and test and test to find its weakness.
I don’t advise any of this lightly. I know how hard it is. I have made many of the mistakes I talked about above, and many of the changes. It is hard in the short term but well worth it in the long run.