Jan. 8th, 2008

ritaxis: (Default)
Yesterday we got a new baby, three months old. She's to be my primary xcare kid, and a good thing, too, because she's needy and I'm the one who can take that in stride. I'm the one who doesn't get insulted when the baby cries and wants to bde held more than is convenient. She's got a heightened startle reflex, which one of my other kids used to have too, and I've got it down. This kind of kid is crying and thrashing around because their little nerves are overwhelmed by small stimuli. The thrashing around and the loud noises coming from their own bodies startle them further until their in a complete tailspin. What they need is, first of all, to be swaddled: this keeps them from startling themselves further, since their mobility is lessened -- some of them hate the process of being wrapped like that, but it's not a straitjacket, it's a blanket, and it goes with the human touch they need.

Then they need just to be held like that, in arms not a swing or crib or whatever, until they are not just quiescent but calm. Quiescent is just the end of physically struggling and is not the goal. Now comes the human voice. Usually you can sing lullabies or anything -- this little kid was getting "Black is the color of my true love's hair" (the one about the dead soldier, I'm afraid, not the Donovan one) and "red rocking chair" because that's what I felt like. My big guy used to startle at the sound of singing, so we talked to him. Baby talk. Yes. The anathema of intellectuals. But it was just this: soft in volume, a little high in pitch, a little enhanced in rhythm, repetitive, very cheerful and gentle. One of my cowoerkers used to say "Are we going to have to have a little talk? Let's have a little talk. Let's talk about this crying thing. Oh no, we don't want that. None of that." Looks creepy written out like that, doesn't it? But imagine this said gently and with humor and cheer, a reassuring smile, and twinkly eye contact -- it doesn't so much matter what you say, as how you say it.

One of the things we hold as gospel is that babies today need to learn how to soothe themselves, and particularly babies in day care need to learn additional ways to achieve comfort and social contact besides being held, so they can be held for less than the whole day and you can do stuff like cleaning up the diaper table and the high chairs so you don't spread disease, and taking care of other babies in the room, and so on. I believe quite strongly that you can't do this without a modicum of holding. It is a natural drive of babies to be held. That's how they don't get left behind when the little band flees the grass fire. That's how they can get the nipple in their mouth a kajillion times a day. But it's also a fact that human beings are quite flexible and can have certain activities stand for other activities. So human beings invented cradleboards so babies can feel like they're being held when they're being slung over a shoulder or hung from a tree branch so mama can hoe corn and beans and squash: and human beings invented cradles so babies can feel like they're being walked in mam's arms when they're really in a box being kicked by mama as she sews thick clothes so they don't all freeze to death in the idiotic weather they live in.

So we can have baby swings, and cuddly pillows, to imitate holding, and pacifiers and chewy toys for sucking and gnawing, but none of this works without the application of liberal amounts of real human contact+: talking, singing, holding, rocking, touching in passing, and eye contact. It's important in group care to elevate the more attenuated forms of contact, so babies can get more out of them: so it's important to attach the more attenuated forms of contact to the more intimate ones. I mean this. You cuddle that baby, and then you put that baby down, making eye contact and talking sweetly. You give that baby little pats. You make eye contact from across the room, and respond when the baby complains.

This can be pretty intensive labor, but it's not exhausting. What's exhausting is a room full of babies who are yelling and yelling because somebody keeps telling them "You just ate, you're fine," and refusing to pick them up because "they're spoiled!"

Some other time I'll talk about what spoiling really is and how to avoid it and how to treat it.
ritaxis: (Default)
So I said I'd think about "spoiling" and write about it.

Usually if we're talking about a kid and we say they're spoiled, it means that the child in question has a particular constellation of behaviors. They demand a lot of things, and they whine about it. Getting what they want doesn't make them happy: they begin to demand something else. They're almost frantic when someone else gets attention, or presents, or slack. They're hard to be around. They often have tantrums beyond the developmental normal (like they're ten and still having tantrums).

But sometimes when someone says a child is spoiled they mean something else. They're talking about the kid who wants a lot of attention or asks for a lot of things but doesn't do any of those other things. That's not a spoiled child: that's a high-need child. If the child is pleased and grateful to get what they want, and happy to share (according to their developmental ability), and pleasant to be around: that child isn't spoiled, even if they get everything they want as soon as they want it. Indulging is not spoiling.

Spoiled is a bad word anyway. What's spoiled? Milk you can't drink, rotten fruit, blue bread. A "spoiled" child is just an unhappy kid who makes other people unhappy.

Indulging doesn't make this happen. Show me an indulged child, and I'll show you a generally pleasant child. This is a kid who's getting all the attention they want. They're often intrusive, these kids, having a notion that they can join in any conversation whenever they want, and they're often surprised when they have to wait for gratification, to the point of getting upset sometimes. But they'll have appropriate empathy, and they'll be generally satisfied and fun to be around.

You "spoil" a child, not by indulging them with all the things they want, but by poisoning the ask-and-be-given transaction. You heckle them about how they want too much and jerk them around until getting the thing has no satisfaction in it any more. And then you give them the thing you said they shouldn't get and castigate them for wanting it and for getting it. You chastise them for wanting your attention -- not only for some irritating behavior meant to capture your attention, but for wanting it in the first place. You do all this subtly, so the child doesn't know what's being done to them, and you comment on what a spoiled, unpleasant brat they are. You give them no special reason to develop empathy: what good is it understanding people if you're only going to learn something nasty from it?

However, it's possible in generally supportive, nurturing environments for a child to become "spoiled" in a transient fashion. Normal devvelopmental crises will do it. A lot of two-to-four year olds go through periods of miserable, inchoate yearning, expressing itself in demands and tantrums. Naturally, this also happens in late pre-adolescence and early adolescence too. The kid's just frayed to the least fiber, and doesn't get why, and thinks a pony or a driver's license or a shot of bourbon's going to knit the ravelled sleeve, and of course that's not true, so the kid is on about something else, pouting, stomping around the house, glaring, throwing things, yelling, refusing to talk, or to eat, or to feed the cat.

The treatment for this is to indulge the kid with appropriate experiences. You talk through what can be talked through, you stand firm on what must be astood firm on, you totally give way on what can be given way on. Empathy teaching appropriate to the age is essential. Distraction is helpful sometimes and especially with the very young. The peri-adolescent child needs more along the lines of not-distraction: a little truth-telling, calm, firm, unconfrontational, and a bit more asking questions and a lot more simply listening. Refusing to be overwhelmed by the child's state of being overwhelmed.

We had a kind of rough day today. About half the babies had pinkeye, and most them were wearing themselves out trying to walk and crawl, exhausting themselves but refusing to rest. But "Yonder she comes" and "I had a little rooster" and "Whimper and whine" did the trick, anyways. That and sitting, plop, down on the floor, allowing myself to be used as a climbing gym, opening my lap to the multitudes (well, the eight).

Dog help me, I've taken to giving babies pointers in rolling over, sitting up, crawling and walking. Not that I think it will hasten the process. But to assure them that I appreciate the enormous project they're working on, and that I've got their back. It always helps if someone cares about what you're doing.

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