Ask Amma

Posts Tagged ‘communication’

“Don’t Cry.” What does it mean?

In Why on 19 June 2015 at 1:37 pm

How-Tears-Work-2What does it mean when people oliday “Don’t Cry!”

Are they supporting you?  Dismissing you?  Or possibly, threatening you?

As an expression of sympathy, “don’t cry,” is meant to reassure a person that things will get better and that they are not alone in their sorrow.  It would be more supportive if one simply said, “It will be all right,” or “We’ll get through this,” but a comforting tone and open arms can override the hardness denoted by the imperative, “don’t cry.”

More often though, it expresses anything but sympathy.   I shudder when I hear “don’t cry.”

Read the rest of this entry »

What to say instead of “Don’t Cry”

In What on 18 June 2015 at 8:00 pm

Continued from Part 1:  “Don’t Cry: What does it mean?”

I remember once many years ago when I was holding my crying daughter a friend of mine came and told her, “don’t cry.”  I said, “It’s okay, crying is allowed.  You don’t have to tell her not to cry.”  She looked surprised.  “What should I say then?  Cry?” That conversation revealed to me that people may simply believe that the way to console or show concern for someone who is crying is to say “don’t cry.”   It is as if not to say that means that you want them to cry, to be unhappy.

Scene from Ezra Jack Keats, Maggie and the Pirate

Scene from Ezra Jack Keats, Maggie and the Pirate

I might have fallen into the same groove had it not been for two teachers who came into my life as soon as I became an Amma.  The first was Vimala McClure whom I have never met.   Read the rest of this entry »

Communication without Words

In Field Notes on 17 January 2014 at 3:16 am
Srihari, Nanna to 6 month old Vibha in Pune, writes about the looks and gestures that help him and his daughter understand one another without words.
Vibha with her Nanna

Vibha with her Nanna

Ever since I heard about elimination communication, I wondered whether it was possible for months old babies to communicate subtle feelings.  And if they can communicate, whether we adults can receive that communication, given how dependent we are on verbal and written communication.  It is said that 93% of human communication is non-verbal (largely body language).  But body language is not universal and can be misunderstood.  Still, having communicated with pets through my childhood, I was hoping something similar would happen with our daughter. Read the rest of this entry »

Why is my baby so calm?

In Why on 17 October 2012 at 8:10 pm

Every one around me wonders, when I say, my son doesn’t cry much or he just wakes up only once during night for a feed and never cries for milk. I have seen him cry a very few times from the time he was born. The maximum he does while he is hungry is put all his fingers in his mouth or keep rolling and turning right and left.  My dad came 2 days ago and was astonished to see that he doesn’t cry while having bath. He seems very active otherwise. 
Does such behavior and gestures reveal the personality of of my little one when he is grown up? Will he be a shy and a introvert personality? 
– Amma of a 3-month-old in Baltimore
     Are you keeping a journal of these observations and questions?  What a rich experience it will be to revisit them. I am no behavioural scientist so I will start with the obvious – your observations are coloured by your expectations.  One person’s shy is another person’s gregarious.
     Now to your first question.  Crying is a form of communication.  Putting his fingers in his mouth or rolling and turning seem to be other signals that you have learned to read.  Eye contact, squirming, tense fists, craning neck, can all signal needs.   If he is able to communicate in other ways then he has no need to cry.
Dr Sears says:

 We have been led to believe that it is “normal” for babies to cry a lot, 
 but in other cultures this is not accepted as the norm. 

So one answer could be that he is not crying because he feels heard and is content.
     But if you feel that he is not only not crying but also not communicating very much, then I would suggest being more receptive.  Just as adjusting the tuner on the radio can make the sound come through clearly, there are ways you can tune in to the questions, concerns and messages your baby conveys.  The more you listen, the more baby tells you.  The more baby is involved in the happenings of those around him, the more he has to talk about.
     One lesson offered to modern society in Jean Liedloff’s groundbreaking work, The Continuum Concept is to let the world of babies be integrated with the world of the adults around them rather than keeping them in his “baby spaces” e.g. bed / cradle / playpen and with baby paraphernalia.  Some new parents are so concerned not to disturb baby’s feeding and sleeping that they separate baby from the rest of the family, household and social activities.  This often means missing out on all the fun – and remember that for baby, your work is a big part of the fun.  If you have to leave what you are doing in order to attend to baby, the atmosphere may be stifled.   Why not drop the formalities, carry on while carrying baby and let the ideas flow freely? The sling helps parents do just that.  Babywearer-in-chief, Dr. Sears, writes:

 Because baby is intimately involved in the mother and father’s world, she is exposed to, and participates in, the environmental stimuli that mother selects and is protected from those stimuli that bombard or overload her developing nervous system.

– Dr. William Sears, “Benefits of Babywearing
     The sooner a mother gets comfortable nursing anytime, anywhere, the easier life will be for both mother and child.  If one feels the need to go to a separate room or cover up every time baby nurses, it limits one’s mobility – no fun for mother or child.  While Ask Amma does not endorse any diaper, she offers for your amusement this advertisement for Lugs featuring a mother nursing freely in public.   No special clothing is required to nurse in public but if a nursing top nursing makes you feel more comfortable, by all means get one and nurse away.  Jivika nursing kurtas are zipper-free, making for discreet latch-on and latch-off.
     The sling and the nursing kurta are two garments that helps moms stay involved in various activities, even while attending to little ones.  This attention and involvement allows children greater exposure into the social behaviour of adults and also gives them a safe space to talk, listen and think.
     In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain describes how she came to embrace her quiet nature after a lifetime of trying to conform to social expectations to be the opposite, and invites readers to recognize the often overlooked strengths of introverts.  She contends that contemporary American society has over the decades, come to presume a higher degree of extraversion than in the past, and than is comfortable for a large part of the population that thrives on solitude.  She urges everyone to nurture environments that accommodate diverse personalities.  When allowed to blossom on their own, introvert and extravert qualities will develop along with other aspects of one’s personality.

Raising a multilingual baby

In How on 5 September 2012 at 10:17 pm
Since babies learn languages easily, I want to fill my home with languages.  My husband and I speak three languages, and I thought we could add one more, and find a friend to come over and speak a fifth one – probably Chinese since that is so important globally.  Do you think learning 5 languages will be too confusing?

  ~ expectant mother in Cambridge

Babies learn easily because they learn by doing.  They will learn language from someone who is speaking the language, over one who is teaching it.  After all, if it were useful, would it need to be taught?  Remember that babies also make up language from scratch as if no one had ever done it before, and this bushwhacking through the jungle of sound and sense is an adventure of a lifetime.  
If the baby’s environment comprises people using various languages then just as with any other interesting object, baby will pick them up and put them in her mouth.  Since English is everywhere, I would urge you to speak your other native language(s) at home.  
Little multilingual speakers seem to know which language is which.  My parents tell a story about me translating English for Telugu visitors, not realizing that they too were multilingual. 
In our family we spoke only Telugu when my daughter was young.  Once she learned to read, English leapt ahead.  Why?  Children’s books with simple words in large print, and computer fonts in all sizes were abundant in English but not in Telugu.  All that has changed today.  All the languages you speak can go with you when you enter the written world.

Baby Sign Language

In How on 5 September 2012 at 10:16 pm

What do you think of baby sign language? Will it delay our baby’s ability to learn to speak?
– expectant parents in Cambridge

What most encourages a baby to speak is to be heard. Nonverbal communication precedes verbal and continues right along with it. Facial expressions, body language, and hand gestures let us know what our baby considers to be worth telling us and help us to become good listeners.

In early months, you may notice squirms, muscle tension/ relaxation or facial expressions that your baby makes before relieving herself, or when hungry or sleepy or wanting to go outside. Around 8 months we noticed that after completing any task, our daughter rotated her hand. We picked up these signs, devised our own for such common requests as water or open, and also used some ASL signs. She continued to dabble in ASL long after she started speaking.

See also: Steve McCurry, To Be Human,
Look how people talk with their hands in Tibet, Lebanon, Yemen, Lebanon, France, Kashmir, France, Thailand, Turkey

EC Fail?

In How on 5 September 2012 at 10:15 pm
 I may have jinxed my ec fun. [My newborn] peed and pooped several times in the sink after a feed but now since yesterday every time I hold her in the ec position she squirms.  I didn’t have this with [my firstborn]. Do you think I started too early?  Don’t want to put her off.
– mom of a newborn who is not exactly like her first-born

Remember, the “c” in ec stands for communication, not catching.  Some ec parents say that when you stop talking about catches and misses, you start listening and observing.  Baby is not put off by someone who listens and observes.

Enforcing Bedtime

In How on 23 August 2012 at 3:34 am

Last night was a bad one.  When it was time to go to bed, my 7-year old flat out told me no and that I couldn’t make her do anything, that she would do whatever she wanted.  She is testing her boundaries big time.  Combine that with screaming, crying, throwing things, kicking doors… horrible, horrible night.  All because yesterday I let her stay up late.  Or maybe raging pre-tween hormones!   Normally I discuss and compromise.   A friend told me to stick to my guns.  How would you instruct a child who is demonstrating zero respect for elders and breaking items in the house?

– Mom of a 7-year old in Maryland

Regarding respect for elders, I am in favour of it (as well as respect for children) and regarding breaking items (or will) I am against it. When tensions escalate it can become very difficult to handle these situations, so it helps to have a plan. “Stick to your guns” is not a constructive plan.  Your daughter’s screams and throws are not her guns.  Your job is not to outgun her with threats and punishments, but to look behind the outburst.  What is the child trying to say?  Has she in fact tried to say it in quieter, constructive ways but just not been listened to and then resorted to louder means?  Secondly, as Alfie Kohn reminds us to ask, is what we have requested reasonable?  Can we explain our reasons?  Can we listen to our children’s reasons for their requests – if we start from the premise that they are reasonable, then we are more likely to hear them.

After the screaming has begun it may be well past the time for reasons.  But if you are reading this, I take it there is no screaming going on at present, so you can use this time to think about these questions.

Regarding the specific case of staying up late, I can claim some experience in this area.  Rather than telling an alert and eager child that the lights must go out, I find it more effective to plan the day so that it is full and satisfying.  If waking up on time is becoming a problem, then I would talk about that with my child and see what suggestions she might have, while also being prepared to offer some of my own, if needed.

You say that you also normally discuss and compromise, but she is crossing the limit.  Limits can serve as a topic of conversation, exercising our ability to hear each other’s point of view.  Children (and adults) may need limits, but these limits can be set by mutual consent.  Not in the heat of the outburst, but some other, cooler, closer time.

Crying for no reason

In Why on 11 August 2012 at 8:00 pm

My baby is crying, yelling without any reasons and wants me to play with her all day round.  Can’t do anything!  Help!

– Ma of an 18-month-old in Kolkata
La Leche League Pan-India: Breastfeeding Resource

Times when my daughter was crying or yelling “without any reason,” I thought back and tried to put myself in her shoes.  More often than not, the reason became apparent.  Maybe she had asked for something in a quiet voice but no one listened.  Maybe the day had been rushed.  I had a checklist I would use when in doubt: “Are you well-rested, well-fed, well-read, and well-hugged?”  It became a kind of calming routine that allowed us to troubleshoot.  Sometimes we used “well-worked”  or “well-played.”  You can substitute anything you enjoy doing together like “well-danced” or “well-bathed” or even “well-turned upside down.”  Even now, sometimes she herself comes and tell me, after observing her own anger or frustration, “I am not well-fed.” or “I am not well-hugged.”   There will also be times when we don’t know the reason – this happens to adults too.  You may not be able to make your child’s tears go away, but you can offer a shoulder.

Maybe, like you, she too is thinking, “Can’t do anything!  Help!”  My first thought when looking at the two pieces of the puzzle – her desire for more play and your need to do other things, is – involve her in the things you do.  At 18 months, my daughter was never happier than when at work.  She could water plants, dig in the garden, wash and dry clothes, rinse, dry and put away dishes, sweep and mop floors, dust tables, pour dal into jars (one of her top jobs), sort fruits and vegetables and wash them if needed (and even if not needed.)  Before cooking I would often give her a vessel with rice or dal and ask her to wash and mix it.  She would do this for a while and then I would cook it.  My memory is hazy with the ages, but “helping” make chapatis was also a favourite chore of hers, and by age 3 her creations were edible.

Letting her help will slow down the pace of your work, but it will meet her (and your!) need for play, which to her is not different from work.  The work is not only “your” work.  It is her work too.  As kids become verbal, these times of shared work become the setting for very interesting conversations as well.  If we think back to earlier times, or visit our rural cousins, we find that children enjoy the company of all ages, throughout the day.  They naturally take part in a range of activities, sometimes in the lead, sometimes in the background.  It can be difficult to provide such diversity of company or of activity in modern urban settings, but we can acknowledge that we are missing something important.  With a bit of creativity and if possible, help from extended family or neighbours, we can try to make up for it.

Losing Patience

In How on 3 July 2012 at 8:10 pm

I feel I am often losing my patience these days. I end up raising my voice, or at least having that tone of anger, admonishing, or worse, I fall into the popular trap of bribing her with something to take her away from something else.

Right after I have talked to my daughter in a harsh tone, I often give her a hug, say sorry, and explain, but that is still not where I want to be.

– Mom of a 3 year old in Texas

To get where we want to be as parents, there are a number of good sources of help. You will get there. I will get there. Along the way there will be times we wish we could go back and do differently, or more likely DO NOTHING (in capital letters). Those moments hold the potential to be our best teachers. Read the rest of this entry »

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