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Swaddled in Cotton Wool or Free Range? Stimulation in Children and Babies

Safety First! My over-cautious two year old.

Most people would agree to keep a newborn stowed away in those first few weeks and they would say it’s because of their immune system being weak. While this may be true, how about the stimulation a newborn gets from being out in the big bad world!

I know that some days, at 3 1/2 months, just taking Goldie out in the car to go somewhere 20 minutes away is traumatic enough to warrant at least a good 20 minutes of crying before she goes to bed. People would call it ‘colic’, but I don’t believe in ‘colic’. Babies get indigestion, true. But, they also get over-stimulated very easily! Crying is a way for them to cope with and digest the stresses of the world. Ok, so eventually, the baby moon is over and life goes on, especially if you have an older child, there is only so much sheltering from the world you can do for so long before you have to start going about your business. But, how do we know when to expose our children to certain stimulation and environments as they grow into older babies, toddlers and then children? The reason I’m writing about this is because a friend of mine was saying that she doesn’t want her 2 month old baby to be in front of a laptop (bwahaha, she might be reading this…. no friends and family are safe from my blog!). Well, that was a bit funny, I thought at first (I didn’t ask her why.. radiation maybe?). But, hang on, why do I think that it’s funny to not want your baby in front of a laptop?! Ask me where my tv is? Yeah, it lives in the closet, Margo doesn’t even know what a tv is! I distinctly remember shielding her eyes from the view of a huge television that was on in some shop when she was about five months old. She wouldn’t stop staring at it, and I was like, surely she was going to be harmed for life if she sees a television when she is so itty bitty!!! Ah, the first born, truly swaddled in cotton wool… In fact, I grew up WITHOUT a tv. Well, without cable anyway. I remember in third grade, all the kids were talking about Lisa, Bart and Maggie Simpson and I had no idea who they were talking about! At the time, I royally complained to my parents about being the only kid in town without cable… but now look at me, all tv-in-the-closet-mom. Are all my Simpson-watching comrades better or worse off than me for watching tv as kids? I don’t know? Looking back, I’m glad that I grew up without a tv. I did lots of other thing, like learn how to sew. I read books, played outside, etc. And, just because everyone called me Amish, I could still get pretty rotten with my parents at some points (hi mom, I know you’re reading this). It’s not like absence of a tv made me some angel child. And, I think (although not sure), they mostly thought it was a waste of money to pay for cable. Now, while it’s true that Margo has never watched Dora or The Wiggles, she does play with my iPhone!

Ask any parent with a smart phone if they can keep their phone away from their kid. I was reluctant to let Margo use our phone, but it’s sort of hard to say ‘no‘ when they see you using it. It’s not just my phone. It’s my camera, internet, GPS, email, etc. So, around two years old, we let her start to play with it. And, you know, she does play with it a little, but she’s not overly attached to it. She plays with it for about ten or fifteen minutes and it’s usually when I’m desperately trying to do something… like put here sister down for a nap. The apps she plays with are, for the most part, educational apps. As I was putting Goldie to sleep for a nap today, contemplating if it’s ok that I give her the phone to play with, I hear this little jingle, ‘Abe the Alligator Plays the Accordion‘. It’s from a really awesome app from Wee Sing, totally educational… (you can get it here), and totally better than me getting all hot and bothered trying to put Goldie to sleep while Margo jumps on the bed! I would be more happy if she did other things than play with my iPhone,,, but us first class citizens have created a stupid system of everyone-live-in-their-own-house-isolated-do-it-yourself-child-rearing, so sometimes, you just need something to divert the craziness, even if it’s for a few minutes! And, how about life situations?

What happens when we’re in a situation that is clearly way above our child’s prior experiences? For example, the other day, I took Margo to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving dinner in Australia. Margo has just recently started in with this intense fear of dogs. Just as we were leaving the house to go dinner, the thought popped in my head, ‘Hmmm… I wonder if there will be any dogs there?. Well, not only was there a dog.. but there were THREE and two of them were slightly taller than Margo’s head. There was really no way to contain the dogs in one spot, all the doors were open and they were free to run around. Margo was terrified! Everything would be fine and then she would see one of the dogs and climb up Art or I like a monkey up a tree, making this annoying whimpering scared sound that made me want to seriously throw her out the window! But, what can you do? Should we have packed up the car and left because Margo was scared of a few dogs? (Well, maybe everyone else who had to deal with Margo’s complaining and crying would have liked that). We stayed. It was a bit exhausting for Art and I because we had to pick her up as soon as she started complaining and crying. We certainly picked her up when she asked for it, and we didn’t belittle her feelings, and we didn’t force her to pet the dogs (although, she did touch the paw of one of the tiny dogs right before we left). We got home, me not knowing if we had done the right thing by staying and sort of making her fess up to her fears. She had a huge crying emotional release when we got home, before bed, and that was that.

Not afraid to touch a blue tongued lizard at kindy… but scared of dogs!

The next day, at the playground, I saw what must have been the hugest dog on the planet Earth right near the swings where Margo was playing. Matter-of-factly, I said, ‘Margo look at that BIG dog‘. Margo took one look at the dog and said, ‘That’s a big dog, is he on a rope?’. ‘Yes‘, I said. And she continued playing, not once asking me to pick her up (glad too, because it’s sort of hard to pick up a toddler with a baby also strapped to your front.). So, who knows what synopsis fired in her little brain at that Thanksgiving dinner, but a few days later, she has that much more confidence around dogs than she did before, and I was suddenly proud of the way that I had dealt with the ‘Thanksgiving Dog Situation’. The same thing happened when we first took her to swimming lessons. She really complained, did the whole whining/moaning, noise thing. I wish I could describe it, maybe like a wounded koala? Anyway, I never told her to ‘stop being afraid‘, or to ‘stop being such a baby’, etc. I was like, ‘Yes, I know you’re scared. But, I’m right here, and it’s ok‘ (and, no, I’m not an angel, I was also getting seriously ANNOYED and IMPATIENT with at her). Of course, sometimes we didn’t finish a lesson… but that only happened a few times. Each time we left from the class, she would be pretty upset and have a big cry in my arms then sleep. But, I didn’t want to give up on it. After all, we live at the beach, she needs to learn the skill of swimming! This crying to let go of stress, is just a normal part of the learning process for babies and young children, I don’t try to stop it because I know that crying is good to process their emotions. Plus, they always sleep better after they’ve had a good cry (I repeat, in my arms crying). She now LOVES swimming lessons. Like, loves it to the max and is getting very good at becoming an independent swimmer.

The babies always sleep better after a little emotional release (the little baby, that is).

Yesterday, Goldie had been awake for about an hour while Margo was at the playground. I was wearing or carrying her the entire time and she was really alert and looking all around. Then, she stayed awake when we went out to get our favorite vegetarian sushi. Two and a half hours total awake time and we were in the car, after dinner. I could tell she was getting ready to loose it. Loose it from only LOOKING around for 2 1/2 hours! It doesn’t take much! She was busy looking around in the car and too busy to settle down and have boobs. I was holding her facing me and she was standing up in my lap and CRASH went the flopsy head, onto her shoulder. It was just her young uncoordinated body saying, ‘Whoa baby! We’ve had enough! Your nervous system isn’t ready for all of this!’ She instantly started crying (Margo timed it perfectly to start crying too and Art asked me if I would also like to join in for a crying chorus). She screamed her head off for about five minutes, I didn’t offer her boobs because she had just ate. I didn’t try to say anything, I just held her and let her have a big sob. Then she settled down and we drove home. I knew that Goldie was probably over tired by the time we got to the restaurant. But… one does have to eat… and there was a mountain of dirty dishes to do before I could even start to cook dinner. I knew there was going to be a big cry, but I wasn’t going to go crawling home to cook dinner, even though I knew that the baby was over stimulated… There are too many unexpected independent variables when it comes to parenting. Of course you want to do the best for your baby and small child to not overwhelm them with life. It’s not like I’m going to take my tv out of the closet after writing this blog! And, I will certainly wear a baby or young toddler in a baby carrier, wrap or sling when we are out anywhere (even though that stupid book, ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting‘ says that baby wearing causes you to have an under stimulated and baby’. Excuse me!? How could any baby be ‘under stimulated’. What a load of crap!). I certainly respond to my children’s needs when they are clear, like feeding them and taking them to eliminate, etc. But, it’s a good reminder that even just watching the world go by is enough to overstimulate a small baby and we need to understand that kids are constantly processing what they’re experiencing, even if to us, it may seem like nothing. How do you know when you’re baby or kid has had enough? Do you let your kids roam free range, or do you swaddle them, or do you do a little of both? Do you sometimes feel like you’re running away from challenging situations because you don’t want your child to be uncomfortable (within reason, running away from a lightening storm, or something truly dangerous is not what I’m talking about!). Do you notice that they have a big emotional release after their ‘over stimulation button’ has been pushed?

9 Responses »

  1. I guess I’m what many might call a lazy parent? I try to be pretty back to basics when it comes to things like that. I take my Littles just about anywhere and don’t give it a second thought other than to note when they get tired. I think, WWCWD? What would Cave Woman Do? LOL Would cave woman stay in the cave because foraging would be too stimulating? I doubt she spent time over analyzing her daily life because she was too busy threatening predators and keeping mooches out of her favorite feeding spot. Our babies are the descendents of those babies who survived and they have coping mechanisms and as long as they are in baby habitat (in arms at boob level, or latched on a lag, or clinging to the back) they can explore and view the world with confidence. As long as they have the option of being able to turn away, snuggle, or crash wherever and whenever…most of them probably will choose their own decompression method and I just kind of “roll with it”. My Littles thrive on activity and get crabby when not stimulated enough! Woe to the slothly introvert who likes to sit and read books 🙂

    We do TV though I try to keep it limited to the evening and educational, and we got DD a LeapFrog LeapPad last Christmas which has really improved her letter skills, logic, reasoning, and dexterity — and it gives me time to focus on nursing the baby. Probably the most difficult “over stimulation” place we go is the toy store…so much to look at and so many buttons to push!

    I do try though to point out to DD when DS has had enough of being picked up and manhandled (when he became as strong sitter and crawler and was enticing play I taught DD how to pick him up around his chest). Most of the time I think we make OTHER people feel uncomfortable! You should see the look on peoples faces when he’s being picked up by his sister. Other parents freak out, and freak out even more if their three and four year-olds pick him up despite the fact he’s LAUGHING and inviting them to play with arms up in the air and screals of glee. When he’s had enough he’ll crawl away, crawl to me, or scream at them.

    DD has what I call “freak outs” over things I NEVER think about like… worms on a rainy day and toy squishy sticky silicone balls!

    It is just anecdotal, but I see more nervous issues with children who are always shielded from new situations, kept in a quiet house on a strict routine, or left in their strollers/prams rather than be let out.

    Sorry this is disjointed my 9mo son is trying to use the laundry basket to climb up on the toybox to join his sister. HELP me…

    • Why can’t we be neighbors! I’m curious to see what will happen when the wee one gets a little bigger… Right now, I’m still in over-protection mode because she can’t defend herself just yet and the older one is so clumsy with her ‘loving crush’. I know the cave people would not have had iPhones or tv… But they would have had aunties, uncles and cousins to help! Silly isolated society that we’ve created!

    • Hey, do you still bf your eldest? I remember you saying something like your toes curled and skin crawled when you had to feed them together… I feel like that now with my older one! In fact, feeding her now tapping on my iPhone so that I don’t have to think about how I want to run away and scream!!!

      • Yes, we nurse once a day (occasionally twice). I still have to limit her to ten minute sessions because it still curls my toes. BUT, I noticed that since m boy turned 9 months and is bigger (and his head is reaching the size of hers) my DD latch doesn’t seem make me want to pluck my own eyes out quite as much (at least not the first five minutes–an maybe one eye and maybe some hair plucking-an improvement for sure!). I to do the distraction with the computer…lol. I am really wondering if it is a designed hormone thing stimulated by their different latches, sizes, and pheremones to ensure priority to the infant because my DD was over age two. I wonder if it would have felt the same had she been under 18 months? I even tandem nursed them once last week for a few minutes and it wasn’t as “eeeeeek! getoffame!” 🙂

      • I’m sure it’s a hormone thing! I never imagined I would feel like this! Yes, if I’m all busy and crazy and sit down to tandem feed, I’m sometimes a few minutes into it and think, oh, I was ok for a minute, but yeah, only lasts for a few micro seconds and then… Go away!!!! I was wondering too if it would be different with a younger toddler…

  2. Great post, I learned a lot! Just curious, if you had put one of those covers over Goldie’s seat at dinner, would she have fussed or fallen asleep? I always thought they were for keeping it dark or keeping people from staring, but I could see it being good for stimulation too!

  3. We are free range here–she tells me when enough is enough, or just takes care of it herself by turning away or doing something different. I too believe babies-and all kids- are too stimulated in our culture. All other animals spend an awful lot of time just ‘being’. We are not human ‘doings,’ as a friend once said. 🙂
    I think about this topic a lot, too, especially as we are heavily leaning towards home schooling and self-directed learning.

    • Yes, it’s nice to just ‘be’. That’s why I do love meditation so much. It makes it so that you can just ‘be’, but also participate in the activities of the world without going bonkers!


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