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  Subject: (1) baby throws objects (2) baby disturbs parents' sleep in family bed

Question:

I'm very pleased to come across your web site. We have a wonderful daughter who will be two years old in August. She was born premature (which we knew in advance would be the case). We've worked hard to give her lots of love and attention and can truly say she is the center of our world.

I have two questions I would appreciate your commenting on. The first one is her reaction when we correct her on something. She sometimes deliberately spills her milk/juice on the table or into her bowl of food. We tell her not to waste milk/juice. She gets angry and throws away the cup/spoon or other object across the table at one of us. She doesn't aim at our heads thankfully! How should we respond?

Also, she's been sleeping with us since we got her home. We enjoy the comfort and security it brings us to know she's sleeping safely between us. As she gets bigger, however, she tends to move around for portions of the evening and disturb our sleep. We'd like to get her into her own bed (not her own room yet) but don't know how to proceed. What do you suggest?

Name Withheld


Jan's Reply:

Thank you very much for visiting my site and for writing. I understand how frustrating it can be when we can't figure out what a small child's behavior is meant to communicate.

Your child is not yet two; still a baby. Babies have few ways to communicate frustration. Throwing an object at someone is simply a means of communicating an unmet need - it is nothing more. It is not meant to anger you, it is not meant to cause damage, it is not meant to be "bad", it is simply her baby way of saying, "Excuse me, but I really need more undivided attention than I'm getting right now." If she could communicate this way, she would do so. Gentle parenting requires trust and a belief that the child is always behaving as maturely as possible, given her experience and circumstances. I'm glad to hear you have given her "lots of love and attention", so I wonder if you have been extra busy or preoccupied lately.

The best thing you can do is to prevent her from needing to communicate frustration, by ensuring that her legitimate needs for affectionate eye contact, gentle touch, and undivided attention are fully met. If she does throw something, take the communication seriously. When her needs for attention and affection are being fully met, she won't need to throw things. Treat this behavior the way you would treat an "empty" signal from the car gas gauge: meet the need.

It may seem to you that she has received plenty of attention, but in our busy world, we are often called away by ringing telephones, household chores, unexpected visitors, appointments, and so forth. Trust your child to tell you the truth about matters like this, and allow her to help you learn what she actually needs and when she needs it. She is the resident expert on the care that she requires.

Regarding your thoughts about moving her from the family bed, restlessness during the night can be a symptom of food allergy. Allergies can also contribute to the need to express emotions in strong physical ways - so I would recommend a visit to a naturopathic physician.

Family co-sleeping has so many important advantages that I urge you to consider other alternatives than giving this up. Some families have dealt with restless sleep by making sure the child has had sufficient exercise each day, and by limiting foods such as sugar, artificial color, and caffeine that tend to disrupt sleep. One practical solution is to place a separate bed adjacent to the parents' bed.

However, restlessness can also be a sign of worry, so it would not be a good idea to separate her at this time, especially when she is already communicating some anger and frustration. She obviously needs more attention and connection with you now, not less.

I highly recommend the book The Family Bed by Tine Thevenin. 

Articles:

"Ten Reasons to Sleep Next to Your Child at Night"

"Helping Children Resolve Emotional Hurts"  

"The Critical Importance of a Child's First Years: a Baby Speaks" 

I hope this is helpful for you. Give your little girl a hug, and write again if needed.

Jan

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