Even though it admittedly feels like a little piece of heaven on earth that your baby needs you in so many ways, ultimately you want to raise your baby to be confident, independent, strong — and able to depend on himself some too. The surest way to achieve this is to allow for it by teaching self-play, self-soothing, and the opportunity to be what the French call, “Sage.”
The Ability to Self-Play and Self-Soothe
You don’t want to create a child who won’t sit in his car seat, won’t fall asleep without you, and/or needs you to play with him every time he plays — you don’t want to be the court jester, after all! You don’t want your baby to know that when he cries, you will rush over and remove him from the situation every time. Because babies learn quickly and peacefully how to adjust to their new environment outside of the womb and you want him to know that you’re always there but that you’re also teaching him how to handle the circumstances of life. Don’t get us wrong, we’re not at all saying not to give your baby tons and tons and tons of physical affection…we’re just saying to give your baby a little breathing room too so he gets the chance to assimilate and discover — because he’s completely ready and able to do so. Give him the chance to learn how to self-soothe and fall asleep on his own. And allow for some self-play without rushing to pick him up when he gets frustrated by something — give him a little moment to figure it out for himself!
In backing off just a little, you’ll be giving your baby the opportunity to gain some self-confidence… and that’s a priceless gift. In his first year, it’s your job as a practical parent to teach your baby how to sleep and eat, how to feel and deal with frustration, and how to gain some independence and, consequently, some confidence. Otherwise, you create a child who is literally attached to you and dependent on you to do everything for him. If you respond to his every cry right away, you are teaching your baby that he can’t rely on himself to soothe, to sleep, to play, or to do anything independently of you! When your baby is hurt or startled, that’s a different matter — of course you should go to him, pick him up, and comfort him.
But if your baby is protesting a nap, crying between sleep cycles, or simply frustrated by something, it falls to you to also utilize some other tool(s) to help your baby:
1. If your baby is crying in the crib because he’s protesting going down or waking up early from a nap, use our 15-minute rule so that he is given the opportunity to learn to self-soothe.
2. If your baby is crying because he’s frustrated with a toy or he’s “over” being restrained to a car seat, play pen, or highchair, you can give him a minute to see if he can work it out and then you can offer some side-by-side soothing talk. But picking him up or removing him from the restraint right away will only prove detrimental to his ability to deal!
Remind yourself of your teaching goals:
-I will teach my baby to discover and learn through self-play.
-I will teach my baby to comply when being restrained for his own safety.
-I will teach my baby confidence through the successful independent activities he engages in.
The Ability to Be “Sage”
What does it mean to be “sage?” According to the book Bringing Up Bebe, in French parenting sage is a term that describes an ideal quality in children: “Sage (sah-je)—wise and calm. This describes a child who is in control of himself or absorbed in an activity. Instead of saying “be good,” French parents say “be sage” (60).
However the author, Pamela Druckerman, describes the term means much more than just good behavior: “When I tell Bean [the author’s daughter] to be sage, I’m telling her to behave appropriately. But I’m also asking her to use good judgment and to be aware and respectful of other people. I’m implying that she has a certain wisdom about the situation and that she’s in command of herself. And I’m suggesting that I trust her” (60).
And it’s not that French parents expect their children to be insipid — a sage child, says Druckerman, has more fun: “Being sage doesn’t mean being dull. The French kids I know have a lot of fun,” (60). Druckerman explains it is because of their sage quality that French children are able to have fun: “In the French view, having the self-control to be calmly present, rather than anxious, irritable, and demanding is what allows kids to have fun” (60,61).
In teaching your baby how to self-play and self-soothe, you are showing him that he too can be sage. And when he is no longer your baby but your toddler (!), he will show you that he (unlike many of his peers) has learned the powers of self-assurance, self-awareness, and self-reliance — tools that will serve him beautifully when finding his way in this big world.
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