“We Have No Life”
When parents don’t start as they mean to go on, they may end up doing what I call accidental parenting.
I get calls from parents who didn’t start as they meant to go on. They make comments such as “He won’t let me put him down” or “She only eats for ten minutes at a time”, as if the baby is deliberately resisting what’s best. What really has happened is that the parents
unintentionally reinforced a negative behaviour.
My purpose in this chapter is not to make you feel bad but to teach you how to turn back the clock and undo the unwanted con-sequences of accidental parenting. And believe me, if your baby does something that upsets your household, disrupts your sleep, or prevents you from having a normal everyday life, there is always something
that you can do about it. However, we must start with these three basic premises.
1 . Your baby isn‘t doing anything willful or spiteful.
Parents are often unaware of the impact they have on their children, and that, for better or for worse, they shape their babies’ expectations.
2. You can untrain your baby.
By analyzing your own
behaviour— what you do to encourage your baby—you’ll be able to figure out how to change whatever bad habits you’ve unwittingly encouraged.
3. Changing habits takes time.
If your baby is under three months old, it usually takes three days, or even less. But if your baby is older and a particular pattern has persisted, you will have to make changes in steps. It will take more time—usually each step
takes three days—and require a fair amount of patience on your part to “fade out” whatever behaviour it is you’re trying to change, whether it’s resistance to nap time or feeding difficulties. You have to be consistent
, though. If you give up too soon, or if you are in¬consistent, trying one strategy one day and another the next, you’ll end up encouraging the very behaviour you’re trying to change.
The ABCs of Changing Bad Habits
Often, parents who find themselves in situations and feel desperate. They don’t know where to begin. Therefore, I’ve devised a strategy to enable parents to analyse their part in the problem and, in doing so, help them figure out how they can change a difficult pattern. It’s a simple ABC technique.“A”
stands for the antecedent
: what came first. What were you doing at the time? What did you do for your baby—or not do? What else was going on in his environment?“B”
stands for the behaviour
: your baby’s part in what’s happening. Is she crying? Does she look and sound angry? Scared? Hungry? Is what she’s doing something that she usually does?“C’
, stands for the consequenses
- what kind of pattern has been es¬tablished as a result of A and B. Accidental parents, unaware of how they may be reinforcing a pattern, keep doing what they al¬ways did—for example, rocking the baby to sleep or thrusting a breast in his mouth. The action may stop the present behaviour for a few minutes, but it will strengthen the habit in the long run. The key to changing the consequence, therefore, is to do something different
- introduce a new behaviour in order to allow the old one to fade out..
Taking It One Baby Step at a Time
I had to help parents retrace what was actually a series of antecedents that contributed to their LO’s behaviour, and then break down the solution into steps. In other words, we worked backward to undo what had been done. Let me take you through the process.
- Observe and figure out a strategy.
- Do each step slowly—you can ‘t rush the process.
- Solve one problem at a time.
- Expect some regression, since old habits die hard; you must commit yourself to the plan.
The Secret to this Three-Day Magic
I employ my ABC strategy to analyze precisely what kind of three-day magic I’ll need. Often, it comes down to one or two techniques, all of which involve encouraging the old behaviour to fade out. In three-day increments, you withdraw whatever it was you favour of something that builds your child’s independence and resourcefulness. The older babies get, of course, the harder it will be to discourage the old behaviour. In fact, most of my calls for help come from parents with babies five months or older.
In the “Troubleshooting Guide”
on pages 272—274, I offer a quick review of the most common bad habits I’m asked to help change. However, in each case there are common threads.
The ABCs of Change
Whatever bad habit you’re trying to break is a consequence
(C) c what you’ve done—the antecedent
(A) - which has inadvertently caused the behaviour
(B) you now want to eliminate. If you keep doing the same thing, it will only reinforce the same consequence. Only by doing something different—by changing what you
do—can you break habit.
The following is not meant to be an exhaustive list of every problem you might encounter, but these are the kinds of long-term difficulties I’m often asked to interpret and correct. If your baby has more than one, remember that you have to take one at a time
. As a guide, ask yourself, “What do I want to change?” and “What do I want in its place?” When both feeding and
sleeping issues are involved, the two are often interrelated, but it is impossible to work on either one, for example, if your baby is frightened about being in his own crib. When trying to figure out what to do first, use your common sense—the solution is often more obvious than you think.Taken from The Secrets of the Baby Whisperer
Specific case studies can be found in chapter nineNote - the troubleshooting guides that were attached to this post have been lost, but as mentioned above, they can be found on p. 272-274 of The Secrets of the Babywhisperer.