Friday, October 5, 2012

Developing Independence with confidence for Baby and Frustration for MOM

All of a sudden one day, your sweet baby becomes clingy and whiny. After checking that she is not sick and that no one is bothering her, you wonder what is going on. This goes on for days.  The fact of the matter is that during times of great development children become difficult and clingy.  It has to do with needing your support in order to explore away from you. This explains quite a bit and may make it easier for you, as a parent, to get through these times.
What have we here?!?
Children of all ages need a secure base (you) to explore the world from. They need to feel safe so that they can be brave. The world is a big place and infants are curious about it but it is an unknown. From the start, adults play a big role in the development of confidence. A very new baby needs to know that someone will respond to his cries and that someone will see that his needs are met. Armed with that knowledge, he can think about the rest of the world. Your role, then, is to assure him that you “have his back” by answering his cries and by providing for his basic needs.
Another factor in confidence is having success. Children need to succeed in the tasks they have to do. However, these tasks need to be challenging as well. You do not get a sense of accomplishment at succeeding at something you have done a hundred times easily.  At the same time, you don’t get a feeling of accomplishment if you fail at a task that is too difficult. Your role as a parent is to provide activities that are challenging but not too difficult to be completed with a little help. The psychologist Vygotsky suggested the term “The Zone of Proximal Development” to describe the level that a child needs to be working at. I have always liked this term. It means that you work at the level just above the one that is securely accomplished. These are things the child cannot actually do himself but can do with a little guidance.  A parent can help the child “learn” to do these things using a process called “Scaffolding”. You see what your child can do and offer something just a little more difficult. Help with the parts that are too difficult to have a successful experience. Decrease help and the child’s ability increases. This last step is very important. Nothing erodes confidence more than having someone else do everything for you as if you are not capable. There are many lists of activity ideas connected to developmental levels around the internet, including those on the pages in this blog where suggested activities are listed after milestones by month for the first year.
Providing security and success is an ongoing process. However,  there are certain times in a child’s life when they seem to be generally very “testy”. They can be both clingy and contrary. They leave you wondering what you are supposed to do. These times are times when major jumps in independence are taking place. They are difficult to get through but it should help to know that your child will be a stronger individual after each one of these periods. Some of the major periods of this behavior are the famous “terrible twos” and the ‘teen years”.  They are noted because they are especially difficult but these times are major steps forward in independence. If you think about it, your child’s job is to become an independent, productive adult and this is a scary thing. Their behavior seems unreasonable but it is simply testing their safety net and their ability to cope with the next level. Both levels are accompanied by rapid physical changes and major changes in social expectations.  There are many other periods (of increasing length as the child gets older) where you have this phenomenon in a milder form. Three are in infancy and will be discussed below.
The first occurs when the lenses of the eyes clear (around 4 months of age).  A baby’s world suddenly becomes much bigger.  At this time, your baby may seem distracted during routine tasks, e.g. feeding and diaper changing. There may be changes in sleep patterns including less nap time. Baby may seem a little clingy to you at this time. As the world expands, she needs to know that you are there to support her as she discovers the rest of the world out there. She may express fear at new things or fast moving animals or people. This phase usually passes quickly as baby recognizes and catalogues her “new” environment and routines get back on track.
The next period like this occurs when mobility begins. This is a bigger step and the response is bigger. In fact, it has been called “Stranger Anxiety”. Babies cling to their parents and seem afraid of people they do not know.  Babies at this age will move away from their parent but will continually check to see that the parent is there. If they lose sight of their familiar people the panic. They can be very brave if they trust that their support will be there. They will even approach unfamiliar people in a short time if you are present and the “stranger” does not approach them and they see that you are alright with the person.
Walking provides a third period of great expansion of a baby’s world and a period where baby may express insecurity. At about the time they begin to walk, babies revert to clinginess again. In addition, babies may try to do things that they know you do not want them to do, such as climbing up stairs or playing with electric outlets. They will do this in front of you while checking for a reaction from you because they want to insure that you are there, watching out for them.
Handling these early periods by being supportive and firm, especially while keeping him safe, (for security) while encouraging your little one to explore his expanding world will help him trust you to guide him through those later, bigger moves towards independence that you will both face as he grows into a confident, productive adult.
A few of the article used for this post:

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