What not to say to the mother of a high needs, firecracker baby (and what to say instead)

It can be hard to know what to say to a friend who is living and breathing a high needs baby right now, especially if you’ve never experienced it yourself, so here are some tips on what is best to avoid saying to the mother of a sensational little firecracker and what may be more helpful to say instead.  

1. If you are in the company of a mother whose precious wee bundle is only happy or able to sleep in her arms in the first few months of life, DO NOT suggest she needs to teach her baby to self settle or mention any ‘rod’ she is creating or even use the word ‘habit’ to her.

Instead, congratulate her for meeting her baby where they are at and assure her that this is completely normal behaviour for many new babies as they live and breathe the Fourth Trimester. If she hasn’t heard of the concept of the Fourth Trimester, here are a couple of articles from BellyBellySarah Ockwell-Smith and Pinky McKay on this precious time with our newborn babies.

2. If you have a friend who has a baby who is incredibly hard to settle to sleep and the whole process can leave her feeling exhausted and defeated DO NOT tell her it is because she needs to teach her baby to self settle. A little firecracker baby is one of the very worst candidates to expect to calmly pop off to sleep when left to their own devices. It will not happen as they, like all other human infants, are physiologically incapable of soothing themselves from a place of distress and if you want to see distressed, you should see the absolute panic, terror and sheer desperation of a high needs baby being expected to sleep unaided and away from the person/people who help them regulate their system and find their calm.

Instead, tell her that she is doing incredibly important work and while it is ever so intense right now, her baby will need her less and less as the days, weeks, months and years pass by and it is okay to surrender to the intensity of now and to see how much her little bundle is struggling and how much they need every ounce of help they can get. THEN make that mama a cuppa, if she’s not already discovered the joys of babywearing, help investigate a local babywearing group or library who can help get her started. If her sink is full, wash her dishes, drop off some dinner once a week, if she hasn’t showered, offer to hold babe while she has a nice long, hot one. Listen to her, let her vent, give her a hug and check in on her regularly. She’s not necessarily going to be in the headspace to keep asking for help so you need to show up. Above all, help her to keep seeing her baby as a whole and worthwhile person who is more than their ability to sleep and help her see herself for the hugely valuable, dedicated nurturer she is as well as a wonderful woman, mother, partner and friend.

3. If you have a friend with a baby who is easily frightened, super sensitive to their surroundings and easily upset, please DO NOT tell her that she has created an unhealthy attachment and that her child behaves this way because of her mothering.

Instead, tell her that some babies experience this world more vividly and intensely than others and by providing her child with comfort and reassurance each and every time the world appears too scary, they are creating a safe place for their child to rest and build their own confidence in this world. There is no rush. There is no magic time where a baby needs to stop being ‘afraid’ or ‘clingy’. They are so new to this world. Comfort them and help them feel safe and secure. They will find their confidence as they grow at their own rate.

4. If you have a friend who has a baby who wakes and nurses extremely frequently Every. Single. Night. Not just during developmental leaps, sickness or teething DO NOT tell her that she needs to sleep train her baby. DO NOT tell her to top up her otherwise well nourished baby with formula or solids to stop them waking. DO NOT tell her she has created this situation and that her baby only wakes this frequently out of habit. DO NOT harp on about how early or easily your own child started to sleep long stretches or through the night. She doesn’t need to know. It doesn’t help her in this moment and can have a very damaging effect on her mental state and relationship and expectations of her own unique child.

Instead, firstly reassure her that she is doing an incredible job by nurturing her child at night and that her efforts are worthwhile. Then let her know that waking and nursing frequently at night for the first year and beyond is actually the biologically normal way for a human baby to behave. It is not a sleep problem. IF that baby is waking in an extreme fashion, then talk with her about possible underlying issues that may be exacerbating her baby’s normal wakeful behaviour.

  • Has babe been checked by a qualified IBCLC for tongue and lip ties and had any other nursing issues looked into?
  • Has babe been looked at for reflux, intolerances, allergies or food sensitivities? A Paediatrician and/ or Dietician can help with this.
  • Is baby a noisy breather while they sleep or do they snore? If they do, suggest they head to the GP for a referral to an Ear Nose Throat specialist to check on tonsils and adenoids. If these are enlarged, they can cause Sleep Apnea.
  • Could babe be experiencing residual pain from birth trauma? An Osteopath or Chiropractor may be able to help alleviate any physical discomfort.

If it turns out nothing else is at play, help her find her tribe with the wonderful world of mothers with High Needs little Firecrackers.

This article from Dr William Sears helped me immensely.

I have also written a few articles that may assist getting their head in the game-
Extreme Night Waking- living, loving and surviving the ultimate sleep thief
If you don’t want to sleep train but you are past the point of tired
Surrendering to your baby’s sleep needs does not mean becoming stagnant
There are many support groups on line and pages such as Pinky McKay, Evolutionary Parenting, The Milk Meg, The Possums Clinic, and Sarah Ockwell Smith can help you keep a handle on normal behaviours of infants while supporting their needs in a gentle way.

5. If you have a friend who is well into the first year and beyond with a high needs baby who is as wakeful as ever, DO NOT tell her it is time to let her baby Cry It Out and do not wash your hands of her just because she is not willing to sleep train. All you are doing is devaluing her huge efforts and asking her once again to doubt herself, her instincts and her baby.

Instead, keep her in mind and keep showing up for her. Keep on listening, keep on nurturing this incredibly exhausted nurturer, keep on building her confidence in herself and her baby. Keep her head in the game but let her let it all out when she needs. Let her lean on you and let her feel safe to just be. In the eyes of most, she’s now a seasoned mother but she is still living with the same intensity of the newborn days. She hasn’t yet made it out of the fog and she will still benefit from all the things that would have helped in those very early days and months. Make sure she is eating, showering and getting out of the house. Delivering dinners, popping on a load of washing, surprising her with a cup of coffee. Nurture the nurturer.

With these 5 tips, if you can now recognise a mother of a treasured little firecracker, I hope you will have more of an insight and some useful ideas to be the friend she needs so much right now.

Mothering a high needs baby can be an incredibly isolating and lonely experience especially if every one around her have babies who seem to find sleep and calm so easily.

Be the connection she needs. Help her to feel real, validated and important.

Be the light she needs as she lives this intensely weary season in her life.

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‘Kids these days’ are the product of mainstream parenting and yet mainstream society can’t see that

With the regular rounds of memes and articles that get around harping on about ‘kids these days’ and how they lack discipline and are basically entitled, disrespectful little blighters, really come as no surprise whatsoever. Throughout time, older generations have bemoaned ‘kids these days’ and waxed lyrical about ‘back in my day…’. It’s nothing new.  

What is interesting today, is that with social media sending these things viral, it isn’t just the older generation having a dig. Nope, now everyone, sometimes even those who would still be categorised as a ’kid’ these days, or even those currently raising the kids of today are buying in and jumping in on the bandwagon of blame.

Nearly every single one of these posts will recommend a stronger, more authoritarian approach to child rearing. From Cry It Out for babies, to smacking toddlers and children, to shaming and humiliating children and teens, all for their own good. So they know their place. As they apparently did, ‘back in my day’. All of the problems we face as a society with the youth of the day stems from parents being too soft, too easily pushed over, lack of boundaries and lack of physical punishment for consequences.

I am a parent of young children and also a primary school teacher so I have a pretty good exposure to mainstream, commonplace, socially accepted parenting practices that are happening right now and I have to say I am deeply confused.

Mainstream parenting is mainstream because it practiced by the MAJORITY of parents in society, right?

Well mainstream parenting IS pretty much all of these authoritarian components! I know, because I choose to parent differently and I am completely at odds with the vast majority of parents around me.

Mainstream Parenting Toolkits are full of- 
Sleep training  
Rewards, Bribes 
Threats, yelling and standover tactics 
Control and obedience  
Non logical consequences 
Isolation through time outs 
Withdrawal of affection and approval 
Smacks, taps and clips around the ears 

I honestly cannot see very much room for many families to take a ‘tougher’ approach than they already take without it becoming downright cruel.

But this brings us to the main point- if most people are already parenting in this harsh authoritarian way that people so wholeheartedly believe will raise the children we want and need for the society of the future then WHY is this current generation still bemoaning ‘kids these days’?

If after all is said and done, the majority of children are still not growing to be the adults we wish to see in this society, then maybe the way the majority of people raise their children may not indeed be the best way to achieve the goal.

Very few families raise their children using gentle, peaceful or attachment parenting principles. Very few people are indeed ‘soft’ with their children. But as someone who is living and breathing a gentler style of parenting, I do not fear that my own children will grow to be simply ‘the kids these days’. I do not fear it because I do not rely on my children needing me or their dad to put the fear of god into them to make good, fair, respectful choices. I do not fear it because my children will be raised as fully connected, fully understood, fully appreciated people in their own right who are comfortable in their own skin so they feel comfortable with those around them. I do not fear it because they are being raised as empathetic, thinking, feeling humans. I do not fear it because they have had boundaries set and held with compassion as their age and needs have dictated.

That’s right, boundaries. They are healthy and necessary. The difference is, they can be fair and they can be held with compassion, not just because, ‘I said so!’

You cannot blame the woes of society and youth on practices that are rarely employed and rarely the issue.

Permissive parenting is an issue but I have very occasionally seen parents of the gentler ilk who genuinely struggled to guide their child and establish the boundaries that were needed but more often the permissive parents I’ve come across have been mainstream but more ambivalent to their children in general. I can vividly recall many occasions of parents yelling, threatening and telling their child, ‘no’ before giving in as though they’d been defeated. This isn’t them being in any way aligned with a gentle approach. Their decision to change their mind does not mask their very mainstream approach to behaviour and it does not mask how it fails frequently when it comes down to power plays and power struggles.

Mainstream society- it’s time to take responsibility. It’s time to reflect on what is really going on. It’s time to see that maybe ‘tough love’ isn’t the way we are going to see any real change in society that is already a harsh enough place as it is.

If you want more responsible, empathetic, independent thinking people, let’s start treating our children with respect from their very first days so that they know that they belong, that they matter, that those around them matter. Let’s stop teaching them to only do things because there is a reward or punishment attached. Let’s stop expecting them to blindly obey us and then wonder why they are so easily lead as teens.

When you are at your lowest and most challenging, you always learn more from those who bother to listen, connect and support you. Our children are no different.

The time for change is now. If you have recently clicked ‘like’ on any of these ‘kids these days’ posts, it’s time to do a solid review of what is really at the heart of the issue.

If tough love isn’t working, is tougher love the answer? Or perhaps, is simply love the answer?

It’s worth contemplating and discussing further. .

Our kids these days are worth it!

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All I have gained by ‘giving in’

My big baby will be three in less than a month and I know how cliché it is to say I can’t believe how much he has grown and how far we have come but for me, it truly does blow my mind.  

For the last few months, a miracle has occurred on a nightly basis- my big guy has happily snuggled in with his dad and gone to sleep. I know right … miracles do happen.
Yeah, okay, I can hear many a sneer of, ‘wow, your almost three year old still needs his dad to go to sleep.’
But, if you thought this, then you have no idea of the ride we’ve been on and also haven’t gained all we have gained from the process, so bare with me while I share some of the beauty of this with you.
My guy was an extraordinarily high needs baby and I have written of the tumultuous first few months of life as a new family in many articles. We followed in the footsteps of many who have walked the sleep training path and despite our deep commitment, persistence and consistency (which in hindsight bordered on obsessive lunacy), we failed. Our baby did not comply. He resisted all attempts and life was a living, sleepless hell. Nobody slept while we sleep trained. Not me, not my husband, not our poor dog and most certainly not my poor exhausted, desperately helpless baby.

Our failure lead us down an even darker road with me plunging into the depths of Post Natal Depression. I was so very unwell. I saw no light. I saw no joy. I saw no end to this sleepless torture. I saw myself as a terrible mother. I thought I was too weak and useless to be able to meet the needs of my baby. I was sure they were right, all the times I was told that if I couldn’t withstand his will at this age, what kind of hope did I stand when he was a toddler or heaven forbid a teenager!

I dreamed of running away. I thought on numerous occasions my baby would be better off if I just left.  
Why couldn’t I get this baby the sleep he needed? 
Why couldn’t I get this right? 
Everyone seemed to know that you just had to Feed Play Sleep.  
Everyone seemed to know if you just taught your baby to self soothe, they’d sleep.  
Everyone seemed to know that it was because I’d rocked my baby, nursed him to sleep, been unsuccessful at putting him in his cot and hadn’t taught him to sleep alone, that it was all MY fault. He only slept like crap because I had developed such bad sleep habits, associations, crutches … whatever you want to call it.  
My baby was a ‘bad’ baby. He was ‘naughty’ for not letting his mother sleep.  
Everyone pitied me and my weariness.  
They all wished and willed it to end and that my baby would somehow miraculously become the sleepy baby he wasn’t.  
What an absolute pack of failures, outcasts and a cautionary tale of what not to do with your baby.

Life was ugly.

But then, something gave.

I gave it all in.

I surrendered. Hands in air, do whatever. I was so done trying to get it right. I was so done hating motherhood. I was so done with people not seeing my baby for anything other than his ability/ inability to sleep the way he ‘should’.

I went back to every bad habit there was.  
Anything, as long as I didn’t have to hear him cry.  
I fed him to sleep and held him for every nap.  
I rocked with him in the chair and held him tight if boob didn’t work.  
I brought him to my bed after his first wake up at night.  
I never ever resettled him in any way other than boob again.  
I threw away the clock in our room and stopped counting wake ups.  
I sang, soothed, comforted, nursed, snuggled, breathed in and savoured every inch of my baby’s being.  

I gained and regained my world.

I was happy though I was tired.  
My heart sang while my eyes sagged.  
I found peace of mind while exhausted right through to my weary bones.  

My baby gained and regained his world.

He was happy and well rested.  
His heart was full and never in doubt.  
He found peaceful slumber though his body still challenged him daily.  

I have gained an inner strength, faith and confidence in myself that only stems from having lived through a truly life changing experience.  
The same way people gain discipline and strength through taking vows of silence or abstinence, I gained it through a vow to be constant, to show up no matter what.  

It hurt and it tested me. I thought at times I could not go on. I doubted myself and my baby again and again and still, I kept going.  

And my faith and my vow to be constant has meant that I have gained more from this time in my life than I ever dreamed possible.  

    The hours spent with that baby in my arms, at my breast, rocking, singing, humming, holding, cuddling and loving. The months. The years.


    An enormous investment and enormous commitment.

    It was interpreted by others at times to be the behaviour of a martyr or at least that I was being selfless and at the mercy of my child.

    But from the inside, it was as much for me as it was for him.
    We needed each other. He needed me in the whole sense of a dependent, deeply feeling, highly sensitive new human. I needed him to teach me things about myself I never knew were there.

    The fact that this intense sweet man, is now finally in a place where he can comfortably find sleep with his dad is momentous.
    It is an enormous source of joy for his dad, who has longed to be able to comfort him at night and has remained ever patient through nearly three years of rejection.
    It is an enormous milestone for me, to know he has reached a new level of comfort and dare I say it, independence from me and this make my heart swell with pride while also ache with memories of what was.

    He’s nearly done with day sleeps and only ever drops off when exhausted in the car now, no more sleepy nap snuggles.

    He’s in bed and asleep with daddy before I’m done settling his brother at night, no more bedtime snuggles for the most part.

    He still sneaks in to his little mattress next to our bed during the night though and reaches out to hold his mama’s hand and I cherish this little gesture as I celebrate and reflect on all that has been on our unconventional sleep journey.

    All the cuddles and all the settles seemed ever so intense and overwhelming while I was in the thick of it all. But here I am, poking my head out the other side with tears streaming down my face wondering where has the time gone.

    I will never regret giving in.
    All I have gained is the riches of the deepest most constant love there is.
    It is an honour and privilege to be his mother.

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