I had an amazing conversation with one of the world’s foremost infant researchers last week, Dr. Joseph Campos. He’s at Berkeley, where he’s churned out tons of scientifically rigorous studies about the developmental changes in infancy. He’s come up with some transformative ideas about babies, the upshot of one being that crawling causes your baby to become your little social partner, for the first time. No longer just a passive lump in the social world, now she’s able to start to understand some of what’s going on inside your mind. She understands how important you are to her, and seeks your emotional support, presence and encouragement as she starts to scoot out into the world under her own power. She now gets reassurance from your presence and your emotions — your facial expressions and body language — not just from physically holding her.The flip side of this is that it also causes clinginess, fussiness, and sleep problems — some of the major complaints of parents at this stage. Turns out, crawling out into the wide world is fascinating — and terrifying. Your little adventurer gets it now — that as much as she wants to venture out on her own, she desperately needs you, and is panicked that she’ll lose you somewhere along the way. As Dr. Campos said to me, the baby’s drive for independence is equally matched by her fear of it.
So to you fellow parents of 9 to 12-month-old babies out there: I know it can be a challenging, difficult stage. Your little bug seems content to scramble around the house one minute, then wails in panic the next. What used to be stable sleep habits are now in a shambles. Feeding –and nursing — has become an unpredictable struggle — and separations are exceptionally difficult. And forget diaper changes! What a wrestling match! Immmobility is the enemy to her now — being restrained in any way is bound to be a fight. High chairs, strollers and car seats are demon baby torture devices. They keep her from exploring her brave new world.
What to do? Re-think your daily tasks with this knowledge in mind. Everything will take a little longer, as your baby goes through this unpredictable (but temporary) stage. Some days she may need you constantly. But don’t worry — when you’ve finally reached the end of your rope with your little Clingon, she’ll start to feel “refueled”, and venture out again — allowing you to catch up on that laundry and email. And make sure you get some help with nighttime wakenings — you’ll need extra rest too, since you’re up again with a fussy baby — but don’t forget to reinforce the sleep routines that have worked well in the past. She’ll eventually remember what her job is, at night — and now that her memory is better, she can hold on to her internal image of you a bit longer, giving her some comfort, despite being away from you to sleep. Feel some reassurance knowing that the earlier — and stronger — your baby shows separation anxiety, the sooner it resolves. Lots of parental support and understanding help her get through this challenging — but remarkable — stage.
Dr. Campos was generous and encouraging in my BabyShrink book-writing project, and I had a blast geeking out with him, picking his brain about the amazing new developmental capacities in normal 9-month-old babies. What a great experience! Now, please excuse me — I’ve got a 9-month-old baby clinging to my leg.
Mom of Four, Parenting Expert
There are still more people to thank, as I celebrate the first year of BabyShrink. But questions keep pouring in, so I thought I’d post this one today. It’s from a mom struggling with the “Dr. Jeckyll/Mr. Hyde” attitude change in her 3-year-old, following her new baby’s birth:
Hi Dr. Heather!
I have a 3-year-old daughter and a 2-month-old son. I was working full-time and had my daughter in daycare (where she was the apple of everyone’s eye) up until a few months ago. I stopped working and pulled her out of daycare to spend some “quality time” with her before the baby arrived.
Things were great for the first week or so, and then everything went downhill. I was trying to keep up with daycare by drawing with her, teaching her the alphabet, numbers, and how to write her name and other small words. She had fun in the beginning, but would start to become very upset and not want to have anything to do with it. She also started this “shy” thing. She hides behind me when we go anywhere and doesn’t want to talk to family…she tells them she is shy. All of this has led to a lot of frustration between the two of us. I can’t understand why she clammed up all of a sudden and have begun to lose my patience. She, obviously, doesn’t understand why I am frustrated, which has made it an endless cycle of irritation between us.
After our son arrived, and she began to realize he needs attention as well (I include her with everything I possibly can), life became even more rough for her. She basically does anything for attention, positive or negative. I decided to enroll her in a Montessori school just to get her out of the house and interacting with others again (and I needed some sanity after sleepless nights). This has turned into a chore as well. Getting ready in the mornings is a nightmare. She is the happiest child alive when she first wakes up…then as soon as I try to get her into the morning routine…her world turns upside down. “I don’t like this.” “I don’t want to do that.” I mean…she can’t even get herself dressed in the mornings! I am also concerned that she is doing everything backwards, upside down, and inside out. Letters, numbers, clothes, shoes…you name it. Is this an early sign of a learning disability? Could this be the root of our problems? The frustration just builds and builds.
I don’t know what to do. I try to nurse my 2-month-old before she wakes up so I can spend some time with her in the mornings (just us)…but everything just blows up in my face.
I love my daughter to pieces and want life to be happy again for her. Any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated.
I’ve been there myself. Your little angel becomes a terror when a new baby arrives on the scene. You try hard to arrange for some rare “special attention”, but they throw it back in your face. And your daughter is old enough to know which buttons to push to get you upset.
But don’t forget that kids REGRESS when a new baby comes on the scene. They also famously behave way worse for you, as opposed to a teacher. So your plans for “keeping up the schooling” after she came home were perhaps doomed to fail.
Getting ready in the morning (or NOT) is also a famous 3-year-old strategy for making parents nuts. So please don’t worry that your daughter is unusual or abnormal — she’s not at all, from what you tell me. (Of course I can’t evaluate her myself, so take what I say with a grain of salt, and check with her pediatrician to make sure).
All you can do is DIAL BACK YOUR EXPECTATIONS, try to EMPATHIZE WITH HER SITUATION, and try to TAKE THE EMOTION OUT OF YOUR REACTION TO HER. This doesn’t mean you should allow her to monopolize every situation; she needs to remember how to wait her turn and share. But you have to go back several steps in the “lesson plan” for her behavior. She’s been hit by a ton of bricks, in terms of a new baby on the scene, and she’s old enough to understand how much it jeopardizes her previous place in the sun.
You, as well, are in a different place — you’re exhausted with a new baby, and upset with your daughter. HANG IN THERE. This is sort of a “do whatever works” time. I know you want — and need — some kind of routine and predictability, but right now, you just need to get through each day as reasonably as possible. If she wears her pajamas to Montessori once in awhile — so what? If she’s late sometimes — so what? She’s only 3.
Focus on what she IS doing right. Praise her mightily when she behaves “like a big girl who knows how to wait for her turn so nicely”. Make her into your “helper” with her brother, and point out what she is able to do — and what he’s NOT yet able to do. When she regresses into a tantrumming 2-year-old, take a deep breath and try not to over-react. YES, she knows better, but she’s just not capable of it that second. Don’t take it personally, just deal with her as a 2-year-old in that moment. And when she’s a little angel again, don’t hold a grudge, even if she was a little devil only a minute ago (easier said than done, I know, but keep trying).
About her doing everything backwards and inside-out; it’s tough to say, but usually we don’t diagnose a formal learning problem until second grade. She’s obviously upset with you, and she knows it makes you upset when she does things backwards. So again, dial back your expectations and let that stuff go for awhile. You will have plenty of formal schooling time and firm rules for school in her future, but relax while she’s still in preschool. Try to get in some fun “big girl time” when she is open to it, but don’t put the pressure on her that “the baby is asleep and so we have to make the most of our time together!” If it happens, it happens. If not, maybe next time.
HANG IN THERE, and let us know how it goes.
Mom of Four, Parenting Expert