Before Trystan, our first child was born, Shelly and I attended a baby nursing class that was focused on breastfeeding. The class taught us about different ways to hold the baby, the proper latch, nursing tips and most importantly to listen to your baby to anticipate its needs. That final lesson is something that I took to heart and have continued to apply ever since.
“A baby whose needs are met has no reason to cry.”
Trystan doesn’t cry for things that he wants. I attribute it to the exercise of trying to anticipate what he needs and giving it to him before he has a chance to cry for it. While he was an infant, when he rooted while he was sleeping, then Shelly would feed him as soon as he woke up. When he exhibited tiredness, then we swaddled him and rocked him to sleep. When he would squirm around, we checked the diaper. We tried to respond to his needs before he started crying so he didn’t know what it was like to cry for things.
Learning to listen to your baby is the foundation of listening to your child as they grow into adolescents, teens, young adults and adults. These four basic needs of rest, sustenance, comfort and cleanliness (health) are what all other needs come from. So if we know how to listen for them when our child is a baby, then we’ll better be able to listen to them when they’re older and have more complex emotions affecting their expression of these needs.
Here are just a couple of things that have helped me and Shelly listen and respond to Trystan and Zoey’s needs.
Getting your children on some sort of schedule really helps in anticipating tiredness, hunger and potty needs. A newborn’s feeding schedule is more frequent at about every hour or so. It is consistent, unlike bladder and bowel movements which you just watch for and change the baby when it happens.
Now that Trystan and Zoey are toddlers, they pretty much wake up between 7 and 8am, eat by 9am. They nap anytime between 11 and 2pm. Eat dinner about 7pm then bathe and sleep right afterward. So my daily schedule revolves around anticipating what they are going to need at specific times during the day. For example, I had a job interview yesterday at 3pm, so I put the kids down to nap at 11am and woke them up at 1pm to get ready to go to the sitter by 2pm. I could have skipped their nap risking leaving a couple of cranky kids with the person kind enough to help me out.
Another thing that helped was knowing their warning signs.
Warning Signs: Tired/Sleep
The different needs yield different warning signs. The most obvious for our kids are the signs of sleep. It starts with them zoning out and they start losing physical strength and coordination; Trystan even drifts when he runs (runs sideways when trying to turn). What comes next is giddy happiness followed by a meltdown. I know that the closer they get to meltdown the less capacity to reason they have. Therefore, I try to catch it early and start to mentally prepare them for sleep before the meltdown phase. If I can get them to bed before the giddy phase, I can usually reason with them to get to bed, then sing them to sleep without fuss or fight.
There is a thin line between the giddy phase and the meltdown phase… it is like the pressure relief valve on a turbocharger, it needs to blow off the excess pressure then you can feel the engine “relax”. So what I do with Trystan and Zoey is “over clock” their system so they hit the peak pressure sooner. In layman’s terms, I hold them in a hug providing resistance to wherever they are pushing against me and let them cry it out. After a while (shouldn’t be more than ten minutes) the cry becomes more breathy and less constricted and it usually comes with less of an effort when they push against me. I wait for them to set up for another push at which point I relax my whole body and let them push with no resistance. The most common response from both of them is that the screaming turns into whimpering, they relax and either curl up or sprawl out and then close their eyes and fall asleep within 2 minutes.
Warning Signs: Hunger
The first warning sign for hunger is usually schedule. You know the last time they ate, so you should know about when they are going to be hungry again. Some other signs are asking for snacks, or hunting for snacks. Some of us parents get frustrated that they keep asking for candy or cookies and don’t realize that we’ve been on the go and it’s already 2 o’clock and we still haven’t fed the them anything. The best remedy for this is good planning and scheduling, having on hand a small snack that would whet their appetite and keep them busy for a while if you’re running behind your carefully planned schedule.
Warning Signs: Comfort
Just like mommy and daddy, Trystan is a pretty emotional kid so there are times when he just needs to be comforted. Frustratingly, this usually comes after a confrontation with me and so I have to judge whether I should console him or let him “tough it out”. One of the things I watch out for is his “emotional win tank”. If he is on a slippery slope of getting in trouble and it has been the third time he’s been disciplined in a short span of time, then I know that I have to drop everything and just hug the kid. I just need to take him to his room and hold him and tell him how much I love him. Most of the time it is due to fatigue, so I consider if we had a late night the night before, or how long or how well he napped earlier in the day, or how close it is to bed time. After holding him and giving him words of comfort I ask him easy questions. Questions that have no wrong answer. Most of the time, the answer is “because I love you.”
Another time that Trystan needs comfort is because he is trying to do the right thing and the painful reality leaves him wanting. For example, Zoey takes something he is playing with and there is no way we can get it from her. In this case, he comes to me to “tell on Zoey” but it’s not only justice that he is seeking, it is affirmation. He knows not to snatch from her so he goes to us to either get the toy back, or to let him know that he is doing the right thing by not snatching. I think that affirmation in this circumstance is really important because it is forming his virtue of fortitude, his strength to stay true amidst adversity and injustice.