Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How do you teach a baby?

That is the question I have been asking myself for a while now. I know Jacob's only a year and he's too young to pick up on a lot of stuff, but I also don't want to underestimate him or get him in bad habits in the meantime. I tend to wonder how the learning curve works. Take his sippy cup, for example. I didn't start him on one until pretty late, mostly because we didn't start solids until late, and it took a while to get successful with that. If he would have been on formula I might have also started earlier, but with him breastfeeding most of the time at home, there wasn't a lot of motivation or opportunity to really work on it. Babies aren't supposed to drink a lot of water (the sippy cup practice beverage of choice), so I didn't want to go too nuts with it anyway. As of 3-4 weeks ago, I think I would consider him to have pretty much mastered the sippy cup. Not that he doesn't occasionally have messy moments, but at that point it seemed like he could drink cleanly most of the time. Now...if we had started earlier, would he have mastered it earlier? Or would he have fumbled around longer and mastered it about the same time, just because there's a window of time where his physical ability would have clicked in regardless of prior experience? I'm sure there's some degree of both things going on....that if we would have started really early he would have fumbled longer because he just wouldn't be physically able until a certain point, but ultimately he would have picked it up earlier than he actually did because he had more practice under his belt once he hit the point of being physically able. Now, keeping that in mind...

I'm just not sure how to teach him things. I'm not sure he's got the cognitive ability to understand that he shouldn't throw his sippy cup on the floor repeatedly. That's obviously just something that babies do...but at some point that's not going to be acceptable behavior anymore. If I let it slide now, why should he listen when I try to stop him from doing it down the road? I need to be consistent, right? And who knows, maybe he should be able to understand it at this point, or soon...though he may not care, of course. But I suppose it's important to keep working on that stuff. Even still...if he can't understand the words I'm using, how can I teach him? Obviously we try taking the cup away after he drops it a couple times, though for nutrition's sake we do have to give it back after a while so he can drink...because the way he's been eating lately, the nutrition in that formula (we're onto the Next Step stuff right now to help transition...way better than milk) is probably vital to keeping him functioning. We try to teach him to set the cup down and not to throw it, but beyond that...it's hard. I've tried a gentle hand slap a couple times when he's thrown it repeatedly, or other times when he's touched something he shouldn't (usually after we've repeatedly said no and tried to move him away multiple times), but he seems to like the noise and just smiles. Even a stern "No" elicits smiles. Ugh.

His biting has been an issue as well. While it may be playful to him, or just a way to relieve teething pain, it's really a problem now that he has teeth. On Sunday at church (more on that later) I was trying to stop him from screaming by covering his mouth...not in a suffocating way, of course, but in a shushy, muffling way so his screech wasn't so ear-piercing. Again, how do you teach a baby that an ear-piercing scream is not appropriate? I figure maybe he'll notice that covering his mouth mutes the sound a little and he'll take it as a hint to quiet down. Fruitless, I'm sure, but anyway...when I tried to do that, he bit me...hard! It left teeth marks! He's bitten me almost everywhere else...my leg, my stomach, my neck, my shoulder, my face...and yet I just don't know how to teach him to stop. I say no, and lately I've been trying to put him down so he equates biting with a lack of attention. But seriously...if he's not conscious of the fact he just did it, how will he know that it's wrong? I have to keep doing it to stay consistent, but it's been brutal and yet he just keeps doing it.

Jacob's a tough nut to crack, in part because he's not a mimicker. He never has been. Most babies blow raspberries and stick out their tongue early on in response to their parents doing those things, but Jacob did neither. He finally got around to raspberries a month or two ago. He rarely repeats sounds, which is why this new "uh-oh" thing is so amazing to me. I've been trying to get him to say "Mama" for months, and still nothing. He's never opened his mouth to eat when we've demonstrated it, and he generally just doesn't bother with our suggestions. It's not that he doesn't hear or see what we're doing, it's just that he's got such a mind of his own that he doesn't bother imitating. I may still ask the doctor and see if that's a problem, but I'm guessing he's just stubborn. So as far as teaching goes, it's hard when you can't use yourself as a model.

Sunday I was losing my mind at church because Jacob just didn't want to do anything we wanted him to do. He tried crawling under the chairs, then crawled up to the windows of the crying room and banged on them. We'd try to feed him snacks, get him to play with his trucks, and hold him so he could watch the action, but inevitably that would lose its appeal and he was off to something else. Nothing really seemed to work and eventually Craig had to go out into the hallway with him because he was inconsolably screaming. And when a baby's screaming too much for the crying room, you know it's a problem! While I know he's not ready to sit still for an hour of church, I also don't want him getting used to crawling all over the place or getting to go out to the hallway. I just feel a little stuck.

It's just been a rough patch in a lot of ways lately. He won't eat much of anything, which is worrisome. He likes fruit, yogurt, and meat, but even that loses its appeal after a while. It's not that he's not hungry, but it just seems like he gets bored and doesn't want to feed himself. Day care is seeing the same thing. We'll see what the doctor says when she sees our skinny little boy next week. But how can a kid like something one day and hate it the next, or just not want to eat food at all? He's never been excited by food, but this is taking it to a whole new level. Meals are torture.

Sleep has been tough, though in a different way than before. Lately we've needed to do some sleep training when we've put him down, because he's not used to going to bed awake. We'd let him cry for five minutes, comfort him for two (just rubbing his back and shushing), let him cry for 10 minutes, then two more minutes of comforting, then fifteen minutes and so on. As rough as it is to listen to him crying hysterically, he needs to learn to go to sleep without us, and not get used to us coming in in response to his cries. Again, seems harsh, but I think it's necessary. And strangely enough, each night that we did that he slept through the night (or had one brief wakeup) and slept later in the morning. Part of that could be that the crying has kept him up later, but still...it's quite the switch from waking up four times a night. Hopefully that's a sign he's learning.

Tonight was a microcosm of all of the problems that are plaguing me these days. He was in a good mood on the way home from day care, but got a little whiny shortly thereafter. Normally I would attribute it to sleepiness, but he took a long nap from 12:35 to 3:00, which is crazy long for him so I figured he'd be good to go until bedtime. He whined right through the beginning of dinner, and then drifted off in his high chair! He slept for about 30-45 minutes. All we could do was recline the seat and let him rest. After he woke up he flashed a few smiles, but for the most part he was still cranky. All I could do was bathe him, feed him and put him to bed. He was awake but sleepy when I laid him down, and I gave him a soft stuffed bear (we hadn't done the stuffed animal thing in bed yet). He snuggled up to it, and flipped right over. Not a peep since. So I guess that's the bright side of tonight, though how sleepy he was tonight scares me a bit. But I'm still quite concerned about his eating and how off our schedules are. I still wish I could drag my butt out of bed earlier so I could get out of work earlier and get home with him earlier. Then we could eat and play and still get him in bed before he's overtired. It's just so hard. I feel so stuck sometimes. Oh, and I'm also really convinced that a lot of his fussiness has to do with him associating me with how often I have to hold him down and give him his meds. Let's hope that next week's doctor visits allow us to get off of some of them. One less battle.

I love him like crazy but this has definitely been a tough week or two. I don't want to feel like we're battling all the time, but that's how it feels right now. The hugs and smiles help, but it's not easy right now.

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