Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Prepping Bub... for Bub!

Years ago I used to volunteer for a non-profit organization called First Steps while I was studying at university. First Steps offers several services to parents and children, one being a support network for moms who have just given birth in the hospital. A volunteer such as myself would visit the mom and dad in the hospital, provide them with information and answer any questions they may have regarding carrying for their new baby, breastfeeding and post-birth recovery. We would then follow up with the parents for three months after birth to ensure the family is doing well and to offer help if the mom develops postpartum depression (PPD). The family was given a parenting bag with heaps of brochures and samples of baby products. New parents really appreciated the visits and were very interested in the information provided. Seasoned parents generally had the attitude of 'been there, done there.' After all, they are pros now! There was one brochure however that made them perk up whenever I took it out of the bag; it was on the topic of sibling rivalry. Second or third time parents would take this brochure and chuck the bag on the other side of the room. They often had many questions or told war stories about how their first born drug the second born through the trenches and wanted to avoid any casualties with the third. I would sit and talk with the mom or dad and offer guidance on how they could involve the siblings in the new bub's routine which would make them feel important, unique and needed within the family unit.

But what about before bub is born? Often parents are not offered guidance on how they could prepare their existing child for the arrival of his soon-to-be brother or sister. Sure there are a few children's books you can buy with titles such as ; 'When Baby Comes Home' or 'Becoming a Big Brother' etc. These are a start but more can be done. In fact, most parents don't even think about making preparations beforehand. Generally they have a whole list of things for Junior to do after the birth such as; help feed or bathe the baby. Pregnant moms anxiously await for the moment when they can set the plan in action and wonder how it will all pan out. But how about right now while the baby is in utero? Don't kid yourself if you think that your child doesn't have a clue what is going on. He may be too young to understand what is exactly happening to your tummy, for all he knows mommy has just been dipping into the ice cream one too many times or wants to try out for sumo wrestling. He does know however that something is different. How can he not? The air in the room changes with a pregnancy--mommy's tired, mommy's sick, mommy's happy, mommy's sad. The hormones alone change the mood of your home. You may not believe it but I'm sure your hubby or older children will set you straight! Also we begin to use the word 'baby' a lot and not just 'baby' but 'the NEW baby.' Young children who do not know opposites might not think anything of this terminology but children who have mastered this might just start to wonder. "If this is a new baby, then what's the old baby." If they think they are the 'old baby' it can cause some issues for them. We don't for example want a child to think he's going to be sent to sleep in a box in the garage with all his 'old' pairs of shoes! Sounds silly and ridiculous to us but it is amazing the ideas that children come up with in their heads.

So what can us pregnant mommy and daddies do? It is really quite easy and I'm sure if you had some more free time on your hands you could come up with a lot of things all on your own but since you are here I'll share with you some of the things Lachlan and I have been doing:

1) Read a story to the baby. To say Lachlan and I read 30 books a day would be an understatement. Since reading is an obviously huge part of our day it makes since to incorporate bub-to-be and allows Lachlan to share something he loves with mommy's little (at the moment) bump. Lachlan always picks out stories from the shelf for me to read. Now when he is finished I ask him if he would like to pick one out for the baby. I expose my belly so Lachlan is clear that we are reading to the baby and we read the book for bub. This is wonderful as soon the baby will be able to hear and can enjoy the sounds of his/her mommy's and big brother's voice.

2) Sing songs to the bump! Do this the same as with the books but offer to sing a song to the baby. Lachlan for example loves finger playsongs. 'Round and Round the Garden' is one of his favourites. When we sing to the baby we tickle my tummy and make my belly button the little house.

3) Follow your child's lead. This is probably the most important thing of all to do! Don't push any of the above on to your child. He'll become interested in the baby when he is ready. If he doesn't want to share his story time with the baby then don't force him. Perhaps he sees that as a really special alone time with you, which may also carry over after the baby is born.

4) Play pretend! I would hope that you all have a doll for your child to play with or at least a stuffed toy that he can pretend to feed, put to sleep, take for a walk etc. I introduced the majority of these pretend/social toys when Lachlan was able to sit up and right away he began feeding his doll or putting Ted down for a nap. A little baby doll, especially one that can go in the bath is great. You can demonstrate to your child how we play gently with the baby doll. Children will imitate what you do so if you hold the doll gently they will be more likely do the same. We mustn't also forget about the sense of sound. Moms naturally talk to their babies in a special universal language called motherse; you may know it as 'baby talk.' Mothers instinctively change their tone and pitch of their voice to talk to their bubs in a more calming and soothing manner. Demonstrating motherese with a doll to your child is a great lesson. Your child will learn that we 'shhhhh' babies to help them sleep and sing to them very softly. Overall if you introduce all the above well before bub arrives home, you will have a sibling who is much better prepared for the new addition. It simply can't hurt and at the very least your child will have participated in a lot of social-emotional play for the day which has countless benefits to development.

5) Make big changes now or prepare to wait! If you are planning on making a big change that will affect your child such as; eliminating a pacifier, stopping co-sleeping or switching to a toddler bed or swapping bedrooms; do it long before the baby arrives. One thing we don't want to occur is for your child to associate a change that he may see as negative or unpleasurable, to the baby. For instance; if you want your child to be pacifier-free when he is two and your baby is due around that time, don't wait until then to wean your child from his paci. Children can only handle a certain number of stressors at a time. Remember that any change, whether it is good or bad, is a stress. It affects us physiologically and psychologically. Whether it produces adrenaline or the stress-hormone, cortisol, it will elicit some effect that can be difficult to cope with. If your child is weaned from his pacifier several months before bub arrives then you can be more confident that there will be smooth sailing in that department. You do however have to be prepared for the 'reverting back' that might occur is he is having a hard time coping with bub and then wants his paci again! That's were all this pre-prep for baby comes in handy. Of course, you may also decide you want to just hold off on such changes until after the bub is born and that is fine too. Just know it might be a long time afterward when you feel your first born can handle such a change and by then you might be having another one on the way! Bottom line is to think ahead and if there are changes you can make now that will save frustrations later down the track, then consider putting them into motion.

Well, that's all from this mommy's kitchen table. Our little prince is stirring from his afternoon nap. We'll share more ideas as we continue through our pregnancy journey with Lachlan. Hopefully I'll get my act together and post some videos with some finger plays for those parents who have no clue what I'm talking about! :-)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Just the Two of Us

Lachlan and I have just a little bit longer to go until it is no longer the two of us; two best buddies hanging out during the day; two of us sharing a special gelato treat that we hide from daddy; two of us who snuggle and give Eskimo kisses. Soon there will be a third in this mix. We are very excited to be able to welcome our new baby in April. This bub will bring a new dynamic to our family; Lachlan will become a brother and my hubby and I will become the proud parents of two children. It is all good stuff and we look forward to it. I do however think about all the last moments that I will have: the last time it will be just me and Lachlan. The last time I have all of his attention and that he has all of mine. It makes me just want to savour all of our special little alone time moments together.

Two weeks ago, Lachlan completely self-weaned hisself from breast milk. It was a bittersweet moment. I was very proud of him for doing this all on his own and proud of myself for allowing the process to occur naturally. One part of me was ready to say good-bye to the feedings but another part of me was going to miss the closeness that breastfeeding gives. For many months Lachlan was only feeding once a day right before his nap time. I could tell that he wasn't really hungry but he was only doing it for emotional comfort before bed as it helps him fall asleep. I figured I would test this and see if he would be happy if I offered him something else beside my breast. When he laid down for his nap I offered Numbi, the numbat he sleeps with. He was comforted by Numbi along with me laying next to him and he fell asleep and didn't care about feeding. Normally I would encourage my clients to continue the routine of keeping their child sleeping in their own cot but I was comfortable with the idea of us taking a nap together as I'm tired from the pregnancy and it offered Lachlan extra comfort while he's weaning and it has given me the chance to have a little extra alone snuggle time with him which will soon be no more. Soon I'll be snuggling with both of my children. The thought of it makes me smile, but for now I want to treasure this time with Lachlan. Fortunately, Lachlan will go to his cot to sleep if I put him there with no fuss so him napping with me during the day has not set up a problem in his routine. If it did, I would stop doing it and would recommend that to any parent. Moments like these are special treats but if they cause a problem then it is better to eliminate it then to create a problem you will have to spend a long time fixing. Most parents don't want to go back to the days of trying to get their child to sleep in their bed alone again! So please keep that in mind. Some children are more flexible than others and in this case it has worked out nicely us. Both mommy and bubby are happy.

So I have about 28 weeks to enjoy this alone time with Lachlan. Call me sentimental. I am and have always been. I'm sure I'll feel the same way when number three arrives and number four and so forth. I remember feeling the same way with my husband before Lachlan arrived as I think most couples do. After your baby is born though you think, what on earth where we doing before you arrived? You just can't imagine your life without your child/ren. Lots more of these moments ahead!

The Hundred Languages of Children

Like most professionals in child development, I have done a lot of reflecting. As a teacher I spent time reflecting on what I just saw a child do; why is he doing it? why is it so important to him? I may not know the answer but I know it important to let him continue for as long as he needs to achieve his goal. As a researcher I reflected in a similar way; what am I looking at? What could this possibly mean? If I altered this would I have the same effect?  As I parent I suppose I reflect in all the above ways while looking at Lachlan. I often think that this is how the great Piaget must of felt; watching his children, documenting them and wondering so many things. I do hope Piaget had time to enjoy his children's childhood and took the time to sit back at some point and just take it all in without wonder but just watch in pure delight and simplicity; those are the best moments for me, although I will continue to be fascinated my Lachlan's development!

It wasn't until after I graduated university that I began to explore a philosophy  that made me do more reflecting than I have ever done in my early childhood journey.The Reggio Emilia Approach, which you can read about in past blogs (search Reggio, on the blog and some snippets will pop up) is one that has fascinated the world. Thousands of educators/researchers flock to the mid-sized Italian town each year to study and tour their schools. I think like me, these people leave so inspired but yet feeling like they have so many more questions to ask. When you talk to the educators there, they provoke so many more thoughts and questions that you feel like Pandora's box has just been opened and you realise there is sooooooo much more that you need to try to wrap your head around. This is difficult for those that don't live in the Reggio culture and community. Culture and community is so important to their education of children in a way that busy Americans and Australians certainly can not understand. We say that these things are important but we really don't have a society structured for this. Our busy lifestyles and pursuit for individual dreams has left us more separated than ever before. Many people don't know their neighbours and couldn't call the parents of their child's classmates by their first names, let alone name all the children in their class without a reminder. All of this doesn't necessarily mean that our culture breeds selfish people or bad parents, I'm sure we make up for it in other ways. What it does mean is that we just can't take a philosophy such as the Reggio Emilia Approach and implement it into our own culture with a flick of a switch. We can take pieces here and their but it will become altered and transformed by our own influences; as it should!

Loris Malaguzzi is an amazing educator who founded the Reggio Emilia Approach (really the children 'founded' it but he was the one who recognised and labelled what he saw from the children and what educators could provide to further their development.) Below is his description of what he calls 'The Hundred Languages of Children' which is the foundation of the Reggio Curriculum. It has been translated to English. I hope you will read it and like all poems spend some time to reflect on what the words mean to you and what they would mean to your child.

The Hundred Languages

The child
is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.
A hundred always a hundred
ways of listening
of marveling, of loving
a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds
to discover
a hundred worlds
to invent
a hundred worlds
to dream.
The child has
a hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
but they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
separate the head from the body.
They tell the child:
to think without hands
to do without head
to listen and not to speak
to understand without joy
to love and to marvel
only at Easter and at Christmas.
They tell the child:
to discover the world already there
and of the hundred
they steal ninety-nine.
They tell the child:
that work and play
reality and fantasy
science and imagination
sky and earth
reason and dream
are things
that do not belong together.
And thus they tell the child
that the hundred is not there.
The child says:
No way. The hundred is there.

-Loris Malaguzzi (translated by Lella Gandini)

I was very blessed to be able to go a few weeks ago to The Hundred Languages Exhibition that tours around the world. An organisation that I belong to, the Reggio Emilia Australia Information Exchange, received some funding from the state of Victoria and was able to sponsor this brilliant exhibition. It was wonderful to not only see educators attend but parents who were just passing by drop in to see the exhibition. The exhibition was free and for the whole community and I really hope that it was enjoyed by many. There were certainly many parents in awe by what they saw and inspired by the work of children in Reggio, as it showcased many of the children's projects (ideas and thoughts they came up with at school which they used materials to explore and experiment). Parent and educators are fascinated by the concepts these children come up with and the ways they go about representing it. The exhibition is a great example of how far children can go to teach themselves if we provide the right materials and use provocation to send their questions down various trajectories. I highly recommend all parents to see this exhibition if you can and bring your children! It is interactive. I've included some photos of Lachlan exploring the exhibition hall in this blog.