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The Scent of a Parent

At least two of our three kids had a hard time being put to sleep at night.  It wasn’t so much that they objected to sleeping—once they were out, they stayed out all night—as they got very anxious about being left alone.  I’m not talking about one-week-olds here; I’m talking more the 3-9 month range.  We’d cuddle them to sleep, put them down very gently, cautiously trace a silent path along the non-creaking floorboards, noiselessly pull the door shut…and then the wailing would start.

But then we noticed that when we went back in to pick them and soothe them, they would take a great big indrawn breath, hold it, release, and settle down.  We wondered: could they be relaxing because they smelled us, and that scent was triggering feelings of comfort and safety?

From then on, we would put the little one down to sleep, take off our shirt, and arrange the shirt in a wide horseshoe around the head and upper body of the sleeping baby, at least a foot separated on every side to avoid smothering risks.  And…it worked.  There was a lot more sleeping and a lot less waking up wailing.  The scent seemed to give them what they needed to stay relaxed and asleep.

It probably won’t work for every child who has trouble sleeping, but if you’re having the same problem we did, try (safely!) surrounding them your shirt or some other article of clothing that smells like you.  It might be just what they need to settle down and let you get some rest.

Parking Lot Safety

When you have children who are new to walking, getting things out of a car while in a parking lot can be a nerve-wracking experience: you know that your kid is capable of walking in any direction, and also that they’re not really aware of the dangers a parking lot can contain.

Following the philosophy of “don’t baby-proof the environment, make the baby proof for the environment”, we had two parking lot rules that worked out pretty well, used for different stages of development.

  1. Hand on the car.  When out of the car, one of the child’s hands must always be touching the car unless a parent is holding their hand.  This sets a bound on how far away they can get from you.
  2. Feet on the yellow line.  The lines separating parking spaces are treated as if they’re balance beams.  The child can walk along the line, but not step off of it, unless a parent is holding their hand.  This keeps the child between cars and away from the flow of traffic.

Obviously, these require training periods, and during that training you have to keep an eagle eye on the kid.  And of course you can’t rely on these rules to keep your children completely safe in a parking lot—only you can do that.  In our experience, though, it greatly reduced our stress levels even in busy Christmas-time lots; plus, it was another way to stress the importance of both safety and obedience.

Plugging Up

I get asked from time to time for my number one tip for new parents.  My answer is always a single word.

“Earplugs.”

Seriously.  Get some earplugs.  They don’t have to be fancy; the squishy yellow foam plugs you can get in a cardboard holder for a dollar work just fine.  If you already have some fancier in-ear jobs for rock concerts or woodworking or whatever, those are good too.

Because as much as you love your new baby, and as much as you will work to keep them calm and happy, there will almost certainly be times when they are hurting or uncomfortable or just generally upset and unable to be soothed.  No matter how much you cuddle and sing and swaddle, they will scream and cry.  Some kids will do this rarely.  Others will do it all the time.  (A friend of ours tells how her eldest child screamed more or less non-stop from the day she was born until the day she walked.)  I don’t honestly know which is harder to handle, but I do know that the screaming worked its way through my eardrums and into my brain to induce a panicked pseudo-flight-or-flight response.  It was cumulatively, enormously stressful.

Earplugs do not shut out the cries completely.  You will not be denying your baby’s distress or placing unwarranted distance between you and your child.  Earplugs simply take the raw, serrated edge off their cry, giving you some mental space to cope with it and be a calmer and therefore better parent.  It lets you hang in there longer, putting off the point where you have to put the baby in the crib and walk away for a few minutes.  (And that’s okay too; the baby won’t die if you take five to regroup.)  That means more direct contact with your baby, and possibly a shorter time to a calm baby due to longer, more continuous periods of parental contact.

So: earplugs.  Probably the highest-ROI parental purchase I ever made.

December 2014
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